Rex Gibson

Editor of Cambridge School Shakespeare

Rex Gibson was awarded the first Shakespeare's Globe Sam Wanamaker Award in 1994 "for the most outstanding contribution by an individual or organisation to the world's knowledge of Shakespeare". The prime mover of the Cambridge School Shakespeare series, launched in 1991 by Cambridge University Press, Gibson was not only the series editor but the editor or co-editor of 16 of the 31 titles in it now published.

David Rex Gibson, educationist: born Bristol 29 October 1932; Lecturer in Education, Cambridge University 1973-2002; Series Editor, Cambridge School Shakespeare 1990-2005, Cambridge Student Guides 2000-05; married 1963 Margaret Powell (died 2002); died Cambridge 1 May 2005.

Rex Gibson was awarded the first Shakespeare's Globe Sam Wanamaker Award in 1994 "for the most outstanding contribution by an individual or organisation to the world's knowledge of Shakespeare". The prime mover of the Cambridge School Shakespeare series, launched in 1991 by Cambridge University Press, Gibson was not only the series editor but the editor or co-editor of 16 of the 31 titles in it now published.

Each one of the plays had been specially prepared to help students in schools and colleges. In the preface to each play, Gibson makes it clear that the series does not offer a cut-down or simplified version of the play:

This is Shakespeare's language, filled with imaginative possibilities. You will find on every left-hand page: a summary of the action, an explanation of unfamiliar words, a choice of activities on Shakespeare's language, characters and stories. Between each act and at the end of the play, you will find notes, illustrations and activities that will help to increase your understanding of the whole play. There are a large number of activities to give you the widest choice to suit your own particular needs . . . Choose the activities that will help you most.

Schoolchildren the world over found this formula irresistible: sales of the series have exceeded a million copies. As Director of the Shakespeare and Schools Project, and a member of staff of the Faculty of Education at Cambridge University, Gibson travelled all over Britain to conduct inspirational workshops and tutorials at schools and colleges.

In parallel with Shakespeare and Schools, he was also series editor of Cambridge Student Guides (17 titles, of which he wrote six) aimed largely at A- and AS-level Shakespeare students, to equip them with the skills to "justify your interpretations with independence, confidence and authority". In addition, he wrote The Language of Shakespeare (2001) for the "Literacy in Context" series and Shakespearean and Jacobean Tragedy (2000) for the "Cambridge Contexts in Literature" series.

Born in Bristol in 1932, Rex Gibson gained his school certificate at Kingswood Grammar before going to Bristol University, where he graduated in Commerce in 1953. He served as a lieutenant in the Dorset Regiment for his National Service before returning to Bristol for his Certificate of Education (at Redland College) in 1958. At the time of his marriage in 1963 to a fellow Bristolian, Margaret Powell, he taught at and became deputy head of a school in Mangotsfield, south Gloucestershire. He continued to gain further academic qualifications, culminating in a PhD from London University (for a thesis entitled "A Study of the Professional Socialisation of Student Teachers in a College of Education") in 1973, the year he was appointed to the staff of Cambridge University.

Rex Gibson and his wife Margaret (a teacher) lived and breathed Shakespeare. There was not a play of the Bard - or any of his compositions - that they had not seen or savoured. Their enjoyment of Stratford, London, the Cambridge colleges and Shakespearean festivals far and wide, was obvious. To meet him on the roadside - he was a neighbour of mine for a quarter of a century - was to appreciate, by a kind of cultural osmosis, the beauty of the English language, the emotional depths Shakespeare plumbed, the intellectual heights he scaled. Gibson seemed to be aware of every conceivable new interpretation of Shakespeare, whether in the United States or Australia. When, in March 2004, I told him that I would soon be lecturing at Northwestern University, Illinois, he urged me to go and see the brilliant new production in a modern setting of King John. When I did, a month later, the producer and director of the Chicago Pier Theatre, Barbara Gaines, told me how much she and members of her profession revered Rex Gibson.

Yet Gibson and his wife were extremely private persons. They loved long walks, especially along the Norfolk coast, and in the vicinity of south Cambridge - the Gog Magog hills and Wandlebury in particular. But I could seldom persuade him to come and meet friends of mine or my wife's - except on one rare occasion in May 1991. I had invited the late Lord Morris of Castlemorris (then Chairman of the Museums and Galleries Commission, but a former Professor of English Literature at Sheffield and General Editor of the New Arden Shakespeare) to give a Friday Evening Discourse at the Royal Institution, in London. The abstract of the proposed discourse contained the following passage:

The theatre is, after all, an utterly artificial construction. We go there, we sit in rows, we may even eat chocolates, but when the lights go down and the curtain rises we enter the magical state, which Coleridge describes as "the willing suspension of disbelief". And then the theatre with its painted scenery, its costumes, its blank verse, its lighting effects and its sound effects works its miracle upon us and can reduce us to helpless laughter or uncontrollable tears. The relationship between the deepest truth and the merest trickery is profound and complex and the various forms of illusion which go to make up the performances of poetic drama are none the less mysterious for being more understood.

Rex and Margaret Gibson were hooked. After the discourse, they joined us afterwards in the Director's flat, where they entered into animated discussion with the speaker and with another member of the audience that night, Sam Wanamaker.

When, nearly four years ago, Margaret was diagnosed with cancer, Rex's life was transformed. He curtailed his visits to schools; he spent most of his time caring for his beloved wife. For a year or so after her death in 2002, he avoided all contact with his neighbours. But, in due course, he returned with renewed vigour to his activities as Director of the Shakespeare and Schools Project, and to working on his series. His The Merry Wives of Windsor appeared in Cambridge School Shakespeare in 2003, The Tempest, Coriolanus and Antony and Cleopatra in Cambridge Student Guides in 2004. New editions of 10 titles in Cambridge School Shakespeare will be published later this year.

When Rex Gibson himself was diagnosed with cancer, he told his niece Christine that it was somehow fitting that he had the same diagnosis as Margaret, "the light of my life". He continued to work prodigiously long hours, and, over the past year, became progressively more frail bodily. Though he looked gaunt and emaciated, his intellect and spirit shone undiminished.

A few hours before he died, his niece was called to Addenbrooke's Hospital. Out of his jacket pocket she found sticking a piece of paper. On it was written:

Why grow the branches when the root is gone?

Why wither not the leaves that want their sap?

John Meurig Thomas

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