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UCI professor’s dedication keeps Shakespeare ‘thriving’ in O.C.

UCI professor’s dedication keeps Shakespeare ‘thriving’ in O.C.
UC Irvine professor Julia Lupton poses in front of a display of authors coming to campus as part of UCI Illuminations’ Authors Series. (Steve Zylius / UCI)

Julia Lupton recalls being shocked in high school that one of her classes was devoted to only one author — William Shakespeare.

“It began really in grad school when I decided to write my dissertation on Shakespeare,” Lupton said. “Then I got more and more kind of committed to teaching about Shakespeare, writing about Shakespeare, thinking about Shakespeare …”

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Now a UC Irvine professor, she has devoted the bulk of her career to researching and sharing his works on and off campus.

Lupton, 54, earned her Ph.D. in Renaissance studies from Yale in 1989, the same year she began her first and only post-doctoral job: UCI English professor.

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Now an associate dean of research in the School of Humanities, Lupton has been involved in several programs that keep Shakespeare “thriving” in Orange County.

As co-director of the UCI Shakespeare Center, she organizes seminars and lectures for the college’s New Swan Shakespeare Festival, which features a popup, reduced-sized replica of London’s Globe Theatre each summer.

She also hosts free workshops for middle and high school teachers, runs a countywide series of book clubs that read Shakespeare works aloud and helped create The Hamlet Trial, which blended aspects of law and humanities into an interactive lecture.

Humanities Dean Tyrus Miller said Lupton leads hundreds of events each year, describing her passion for the bard as “infectious.”

“I am continually inspired by her tireless energy for sharing the pleasures and wisdom of the humanities with the wide world outside the university,” Miller said.

Perhaps most notably on campus, Lupton directs Illuminations, a program founded by Chancellor Howard Gillman, which has funded about 400 arts and culture events for more than 20,000 students and community members, according to UCI.

“As director of our Illuminations program, she brings some of the most renowned authors, artists, performers and more to campus to engage with the campus and the public,” Gillman said. “She truly demonstrates the power and potential of partnerships between the university and the community.”

None of these off-campus engagements have diminished Lupton’s lectures, at least according to students.

Justine Wang, who graduated from UCI in 2012 with an English degree, considers Lupton a favorite instructor.

“She’s so enthusiastic about the subject matter and occasionally slips in her own special brand of quirky humor throughout the class,” Wang said. “Even though Shakespeare’s works have been talked about and done in so many classes, I’ve truly never had a better experience learning about the classic bard’s works than when I was in Lupton’s class.”

One online — and largely anonymous — barometer backs up the sentiment. Her reviews on Rate My Professors are laudatory.

Lupton, a Guggenheim and Learned Societies fellow, has authored and co-authored five books on Shakespeare. She and her identical twin sister, graphic designer Ellen Lupton, have written two design books together on all-together different subjects: “DIY Kids” and “Design Your Life: The Pleasures and Perils of Everyday Things.”

The professor’s current book project, “Shakespeare’s Virtues,” explores “the different qualities of personhood that are put to the test in Shakespeare’s plays” and positive attributes like courage, hope, trust, wisdom and endurance.

“We live in a very negative moment, and people are so polarized, but we can think about these areas of humanity and say, ‘Look, don’t we agree that empathy counts?’” Lupton said. “I want to do a service project, not just a book.”

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