Renowned Shakespeare scholar Peter Holland receives 2012 Sheedy Award

Author: Chris Milazzo

Peter Holland, associate dean for the arts in the University of Notre Dame’s College of Arts and Letters and McMeel Family Professor in Shakespeare Studies in the College’s Department of Film, Television, and Theatre, has been selected to receive the 2012 Sheedy Excellence in Teaching Award.

The highest teaching honor in the College, the Sheedy award was founded in 1970 in honor of Rev. Charles E. Sheedy, C.S.C., who served as dean of the College of Arts and Letters from 1951-69.

“I’m delighted by the choice of Peter Holland as this year’s Sheedy award winner,” said John McGreevy, I.A. O’Shaughnessy Dean of the College of Arts and Letters. “Peter’s eloquence makes him a riveting lecturer, and even conversation partner, for undergraduates and graduate students alike.

Peter Holland Peter Holland

“His infectious enthusiasm for the work of our students beyond the formal classroom — most notably in Notre Dame’s nationally acclaimed Shakespeare program — has had a transforming effect. His presence and his passion for the arts have made many of our recent advances in the arts possible.”

The award ceremony took place Dec. 5 at the Notre Dame Conference Center in McKenna Hall.

Holland, a concurrent professor in the Department of English, is an internationally recognized expert on Shakespeare in performance, and his contributions to scholarship, teaching and performance are as impressive as they are expansive.

He spent 28 years at Trinity Hall, part of the University of Cambridge, where he served as a member of the faculty after having received both his undergraduate and doctoral degrees. Before coming to Notre Dame in 2007, he was director of The Shakespeare Institute at Stratford-upon-Avon in England.

In 2009, Holland was named an honorary fellow at his alma mater — an honor bestowed on only a select group of people, including renowned physicist Stephen Hawking.

Despite these and many other accomplishments, Holland says he was “amazed” to learn he won the Sheedy Award.

“In a place that doesn’t value teaching, a teaching award doesn’t mean much. But in a place that does, like Notre Dame, it’s the most extraordinary honor,” he says.

The students and faculty who nominated Holland lauded him “as an inspiring, energetic teacher who demands the best from his students and who sparks their intellectual curiosity,” says JoAnn DellaNeva, the College’s associate dean for undergraduate studies and professor of French.

“Professor Holland is a remarkable individual who, despite having a very busy schedule, has never ceased to prioritize his students,” one student remarked.

Another student nominator says Holland “continually stunned me with his knowledge and his contagious passion for Shakespeare.”

That contagious passion began for Holland when he was just 9 years old, and his parents took him to Shakespeare performances at Stratford-upon-Avon.

“I am unashamedly stage-struck,” says Holland. “I get excited going into any theater. I meet actors and I think, ‘These are astonishing beings, how do they do that?’”

Holland’s goal, he says, is to encourage in his students a similar enthusiasm.

“If an excellent teacher doesn’t get students excited, then something is not working,” Holland says. “The teaching should resonate beyond the topic of the class; it’s about more than a narrowly defined academic topic.

“One of our responsibilities in the arts at Notre Dame is to give students an arts habit for life — a kind of art appetite.”

The pleasure Holland gains from teaching comes from working alongside smart students not only as a professor but also as a partner in learning, he says. “It’s not about me. It’s about something that happens between me and the students.”

Notre Dame students engage differently, Holland adds.

“They are concerned about ethical issues in a way you do not get in other schools, and that’s highly significant. It’s a different type of discussion in the classroom.”

Besides being a beloved professor, Holland is a prolific writer. His books include “English Shakespeares: Shakespeare on the English Stage in the 1990s” and “The Ornament of Action: Text and Performance in Restoration Comedy.” In 2007, he completed publication of a five-volume series of collections of essays titled “Redefining British Theatre History.” From 2007-08, he served as president of the Shakespeare Association of America.

Holland has also edited many of Shakespeare’s plays including “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” for the Oxford Shakespeare series. He also is co-general editor of the Oxford Shakespeare Topics series and of an 18-volume series on “Great Shakespeareans.” His new edition of Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus” for the prestigious Arden Shakespeare appears next month.

Although he is himself an accomplished scholar, Holland says he continues to learn from his students. “When I take students to see a particular Shakespeare production, I’ve never seen it before; I have to work on it with them. This working alongside is beneficial.”

And, he adds with a laugh, “I’ve never been to an American high school … so when we work on a movie like ‘10 Things I Hate About You,’ which is ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ set in an American high school, the students understand the culture in a way that I simply don’t, so they have to explain things to me.

“I’m still learning — even with a film I’ve taught a number of times,” he says. “That’s fun.”


Originally published by Chris Milazzo at on Nov. 30, 2012.