Remembering Professor David Haley

The scholar of Early Modern literature taught U students for nearly six decades
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Professor Emeritus David Haley died in Minneapolis October 13 at the age of 86, surrounded by family. According to his daughters, he was quoting Shakespeare sonnets, Swinburne, T.S. Eliot, and Tennyson to the end.

“David was a friend, colleague, and scholar I held in the highest regard for his encyclopedic erudition, his graceful writing, his ready wit, and his kindness and ever-good nature,” says Professor Emeritus Tom Clayton.

Professor Haley retired from the Department of English in the spring of 2022. He came to the U in 1964 after receiving his PhD and AB from Harvard University, where he received the Detur Prize and Phi Beta Kappa and completed the dissertation “Elizabethan Drama on the Restoration Stage.”

A scholar of the Early Modern period, Professor Haley was the author of two well-received books: Shakespeare’s Courtly Mirror (University of Delaware Press, 1993) and Dryden and the Problem of Freedom: The Republican Aftermath, 1649-1680 (Yale University Press, 1997). He also published a wealth of journal articles and anthology essays. From 1996 to 2009, he presented a paper almost every year at the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies annual meeting.

Over his 58 years of service at the University of Minnesota, Haley instructed generations of undergraduate and graduate students on the subtleties of Shakespeare, Milton, Dryden, and Spenser. He also taught such themed courses as “The Literature of the King James Bible,” “Politics and Poetry in the Renaissance,” “The Italian Epic in England,” and “Problems in the Criticism of Shakespeare’s Sonnets.”

“Students found his scholarship awesome (in the pre-clichéd sense) and his readiness to help them a quality not always to be found and greatly to be appreciated,” Professor Clayton notes. “He was always willing, indeed eager, to serve on a dissertation committee, and always an indispensable member. He helped students, and he helped me. I was deeply saddened to learn of his death. I somehow cannot imagine his not being there when needed by anyone who called upon him.”

Professor Haley’s assistance to others extended to administration: he served on the College of Liberal Arts Assembly 2004-2007 and was a member of many English department committees over the years, from the original Curriculum Committee in the mid- to late 1960s to multiple stints on the Faculty Affairs Advisory Committee, Graduate Advisory Committee, and Undergraduate Advisory Committee through the 2000s.

“David was at the U before I was,” says Professor Emeritus Edward Griffin, “but he quickly sought me out and showed me around the campus. That established a friendly relationship, one that lasted a long time! He studied England, and I studied New England. Often, when I was researching a conflict that had taken place in the American colonies, I’d ask David about it and he’d zero in on the British viewpoint, thus giving me a perspective I could use in class. I am very sorry to learn of his passing.” 

Beyond his published work, Haley completed half of a manuscript exploring the implications of Sonnet 144 within Shakespeare’s sonnet sequence—having memorized every sonnet. His memory was by all accounts extraordinary. And he brought it to bear on many fields: “David was a Renaissance man who made everything human his interest,” according to his (unpublished) obituary, “notably politics, philosophy, literature, art, music, sports, and languages.”

As just one example of those wide-ranging interests, current English Chair Kathryn Nuernberger recalls a tour of Pillsbury Hall during its renovation that Professor Haley also attended. “The building was mid-demolition and a complete wreck,” says Nuernberger, “but David was mesmerized by all the potential he could see in the grand spiral staircase. He told me all about the ingenious engineering strategy borrowed from French cathedrals to vault the cupola at the top of the stairwell.

“Now, whenever I pause on those stairs to look up,” continues Nuernberger, “I think about David.”

As will many of us in the department, now and into the future.

Professor Haley is survived by his three children and five grandchildren. His wife of 52 years, Cornelia Haley, predeceased him. The Department of English offers deepest condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues.

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