Obituary: Mark Eccles

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NO ONE has made fuller and better use of England's public records than the American Shakespeare scholar Mark Eccles. His researches in the manuscript records of the Public Record Office, the London Guildhall, the Corporation of London, Westminster, and London and Warwickshire parishes were the basis for a career of biographical writing that made him the world's leading authority on the lives of English Renaissance writers and actors.

His Christopher Marlowe in London (1934) uncovered numerous facts about Marlowe's many run-ins with the law. Shakespeare in Warwickshire (1960) exhaustively documented the facts of Shakespeare's early environment - ancestors, family members, his Stratford school, friends, and Anne Hathaway. Eccles also discovered circumstances that might explain Shakespeare's entry into the London theatre - that about the time when Shakespeare must have moved to the city, a London acting company on tour near Stratford found itself suddenly short by a man, and perhaps replaced him with local talent.

Throughout his career Eccles published journal articles on many writers and dramatists, and near the end of his life published biographical notes (Brief Lives) on more than a hundred Tudor and Stuart writers (1982) and almost as many Elizabethan actors (1990-93). In the words of Stanley Wells, Chairman of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, "His contributions to scholarship are invaluable."

Eccles was born in Oxford, Ohio in 1905, and grew up in Washington, DC. In 1927 he graduated from Oberlin College summa cum laude in English and Classics, and became an instructor at Harvard University in 1930, earning his PhD there in 1932. From 1934 until he retired in 1976 he was on the staff of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, teaching Shakespeare, drama and contemporary literature, and supervising 50 doctoral dissertations.

During this time he published extensively on medieval and Renaissance literature, and especially on Shakespeare. For the Early English Text Society he edited, from the unique manuscript in the Folger Shakespeare Library, The Macro Plays (1969), the most important extant group of medieval morality plays.

As a Shakespearean he produced a commentary on King Lear, popular editions of Othello, Twelfth Night, and Richard III, and finally, in 1980, his magisterial Measure for Measure in the New Variorum Shakespeare edition, published by the Modern Language Association. He published articles in the Encyclopedia Britannica, and was a regular contributing correspondent to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Eccles served as president of the Madison Literary Club and was active in the Association of University Professors of English, the Modern Language Association of America, and the International Association of University Professors of English. He was a Fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies, a Guggenheim Fellow, an International Research Fellow at the Huntington Library, and in 1955- 56 a Fulbright Lecturer at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon.

All who knew Mark Eccles were awed by his vast erudition and complete recall of every detail of it. Though somewhat reserved in manner and austere in prose style, he was a warm friend, host, colleague, and mentor, and a devoted husband and father who wrote weekly to his children and enjoyed yearly reunions with all of them. He took great pride in sharing his knowledge and love of literature with several generations of students.

Mark Eccles, Shakespeare scholar: born Oxford, Ohio 13 July 1905; married; died Madison, Wisconsin 9 November 1998.