I took a Shakespeare course, English 351, with
Professor Corkrum my junior year at Puget
Sound, and it changed my life. Thirty-two years
later, I am holding the textbook from that class,
The Riverside Shakespeare,
a classic compendi-
um of the Bard’s work along with indispensable
commentary and history of the Shakespearean
era. It is 6 inches thick, contains 1,923 pages,
and weighs 5.7 pounds. It is as substantial as
a concrete block, but that is not why I lugged
it between graduate school apartments and to
each of the four houses I’ve owned. The book
has been baked in attics and saturated in wet
basements, fouled by rodents, and frozen in an
unheated garage. Its cover is so warped that I
had to duct-tape the spine in place, and its pag-
es are stained and distorted from the elements.
I have saved
The Riverside
because it is an
intellectual touchstone. It is an artifact of a class
that illuminated a path for me to the writing
The Riverside
is a conch shell I hold up to
my ear to hear an ocean of wisdom. When I
crack its musty, mildewed pages, the sound of
Professor Corkrum holding forth in a small,
windowless classroom on the second floor of
Collins Library comes rushing back to me. I can
hear his phlegmy cackle bouncing off the chalk-
board in the notes I scrawled in blue ballpoint
pen in the margins of
A Midsummer Night’s
Dream, Richard III, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, King
Lear, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra,
and the
A few examples of my marginalia:
“Marvelous catfight between Helena &
Hermia … Reverse the love cliché … Delicious
… Puck gloats … Hastings ig-
nores dreams, has tragic fall from grace …
Dripping with
… Richard a great
con man and lying has worked for him …
Stichomythia=comic exchange of one-liners
… Lear’s daughters the epitome of evil bitches
… Death doesn’t matter since Lear has reached
his recognition scene … The colors of Macbeth
are blood red and black night … Knee-deep in
butchery … Rebirth imagery for Scotland …
Antony’s death speech filled with fatalism, ac-
ceptance and self-pity.”
Professor Corkrum had a mantra when it
came to teaching Shakespeare: “Read for the
juuuuicy parts.” He dragged out the adjective
with tabloid pleasure and delivered the exhor-
tation with such forceful glee that spittle flew
from the side of his mouth. He loved to have
us read from the plays in class and he encour-
aged us to pump up the drama with our tone
and inflection. He seemed to relish taking on
the women’s roles, which he embellished with a
gravelly falsetto. He often held a gnarled fist up
when the lines called for an exclamation point,
while clutching the lectern with his other hand
to steady himself. He had an unruly shock of
gray hair and a walleyed visage that could be
off-putting because it was hard to tell if he was
looking at you when his left eye wandered off
track. We knew nothing of his personal life, and
he maintained a Faulknerian sense of mystery.
He never mentioned his disability—it may have
been polio or some type of palsy—and neither
did anyone else, but I considered Professor
Corkrum a profile in courage. It was obvious
that he faced daily physical challenges and some
degree of pain, and that he had to labor twice as
hard as anyone who took mobility for granted.
But there was never a complaint, not a whit of
self-pity in him. He just got on with it. And that
was a life lesson I learned from him, too, albeit
an unspoken one.
Professor Corkrum was a great teacher who
made Shakespeare come alive and gave the 16th-
century drama relevance for our young lives. He
connected the dots of knowledge and put the
plays and sonnets into context and showed how
they had meaning for us. He drew us in with the
juicy parts—the sexual double entendres, the
gropings and groupings and occasional ménage
à trois—so that he had us fully engaged and
ready to reflect on the lust, greed, regret, hubris,
enlightenment, and the full spectrum of the hu-
man condition that Shakespeare presents.
Professor Corkrum assigned us several es-
says in the class, and his insightful, encouraging
remarks gave me confidence as a writer. He con-
vinced me that I had something to say and that I
needed to say it.
I majored in English and minored in theater
at Puget Sound. I worked the summer after my
junior year at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival
in Ashland, went on to graduate school in
English literature, and earned a master’s degree
at UAlbany. I make my living as a journalist and
a writer, and I teach as an adjunct at UAlbany.
I take my daughter, Caroline, a senior in high
school, to Shakespeare productions. I keep
on a shelf in my writer’s study.
I take it
down from time to time to hear once again the
voice of a remarkable teacher—and to read for
the juicy parts.
Since 1984 Paul Grondahl has been a reporter at
Times Union
in Albany, N.Y., where his ar-
ticles have won numerous state and national writ-
ing awards. He’s written four books under his own
name and was the ghostwriter for several more.
He says, though, he may be best known to
readers as the son of Bonnie Grondahl, beloved
cashier at the Puget Sound campus bookstore for
more than 25 years.
e drove faster than was prudent down the narrow alleyway beyond Kilworth Chapel, swung his yellow Volkswagen Beetle wide and braked
hard into a handicapped parking spot on the side of Collins Library. Professor Ralph Corkrum emerged from the car with considerable
effort, steadied himself on leg braces, and willed his way up the sloping walkway. His jaw was set in a grimace as he churned up the incline
with a herky-jerky forward momentum, preceded by a battered leather briefcase he swung ahead to help propel his withered body two
dozen paces into the library and up an elevator to his office in the English department on the second floor.