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Professor J. R. (Ronnie) Mulryne (1937–2019)

Professor Emeritus Ronnie Mulryne
English and Comparative Literature
MA, PhD (Cambridge)


J. R. (Ronnie) Mulryne: inspirational colleague, teacher and scholar 

It is with great sadness that we write to let you know that J.R. (Ronnie) Mulryne died on Monday 28 January. He had become increasingly unwell in the past two months and, although he remained mentally alert, his body had become very frail as the cancer had spread and the treatments became more difficult to cope with. He died at home in his sleep. 

Ronnie was a tireless and distinguished contributor to academic teaching, research and publication as well as to the theatre community more widely. He has inspired generations of students and scholars, developing resources and a scholarly framework for the interdisciplinary study of European Renaissance culture and of the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries in performance in their own time and today. 

Born in Belfast in 1937 Ronnie attended the Methodist College, becoming the first pupil from his school to gain entry to the University of Cambridge where he was both an undergraduate and postgraduate. On completing his doctorate at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, his first university post was as a Fellow of the Shakespeare Institute (1960–1962). He then joined the staff of the English Department at the University of Edinburgh, becoming head of the department in 1976–1977.

Ronnie came to Stratford, with his wife Eithne and their children, when he moved to the Department of English at the University of Warwick in 1977 as a Professor and then Chair. He served on numerous academic committees within Warwick including years as Chair of the Board of the Faculty of Arts and as Pro-Vice-Chancellor (1982–1987). He was Chair of the School of Theatre Studies for two years and Director of the Centre for the Study of the Renaissance from the 1980s to 2003. He also took up roles as a visiting research fellow at Jesus College, Oxford (1987) and Magdalen College, Oxford (1991). He was a general editor of the Revels Plays series and founding general editor of the Shakespeare in Performance series as well as a member of the academic committee for the reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe in Southwark. In 1989 he became co-founder and partner of Mulryne and Shewring Ltd., a small publishing company with a focus on theatre buildings and the day-to-day work of theatre companies including the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre.

As Director of the Centre for the Study of the Renaissance, Ronnie was determined that postgraduate students would benefit from being a part of an interdisciplinary grouping for teaching and research at MA and doctoral level. With colleagues associated with the Centre he convened numerous interdisciplinary conferences at Warwick, Warwick in Venice, Columbia University New York, Bergamo and the Warburg Institute (University of London) as well as two EURESCO-funded conferences in Lucca, Tuscany. Ronnie actively promoted international partnerships with the University of Venice, Ca’ Foscari, the University of Paris-Sorbonne and the University of Tours. Under his directorship, the Centre developed European academic exchange programmes (ERASMUS and SOCRATES) with colleagues and postgraduate students in Venice and Paris. Ronnie’s own frequent contributions to conferences of the Société Internationale de Recherches Interdisciplinaires sur la Renaissance (S.I.R.I.R) at Paris-Sorbonne, and his subsequent publications on aspects of Renaissance literature and performance, were recognised by the French Ministry of Education and Culture in 1992 when he was made a ‘Chevalier’ of l’Ordres des Palmes Académiques.

In the late 1990s Ronnie led Warwick’s successful application for funding from the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Board for Warwick’s Centre for the Study of the Renaissance to host the AHRB Centre for the Study of Renaissance Elites and Court Cultures, chairing this Centre for three years and leading one of its interdisciplinary research programmes with a focus on court and civic festivals of the European Renaissance, a project that resulted in a 2-volume, large-format publication making available to readers the texts of court and civic festivals, transcribed, translated and annotated with scholarly introductions. He also led the creation of a website, in collaboration with the British Library, to make more than two hundred and fifty festival books from the Library’s collection available in searchable, digital format.

An active member of national academic and professional bodies, his roles included chairing the Drama and Theatre Board of the CNAA (Council for National Academic Awards), membership of the management committee of UCCA (forerunner of UCAS), membership of the Drama Panel of the Arts Council of Great Britain and chair of the Art’s Council’s Drama Projects Committee for the funding of non-building-based performance companies. He was a member of the British Council’s Drama and Dance Advisory Committee (1991–1997, as chair 1993–1997), a Trustee of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, a member of the Board of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, a Governor of the Royal Shakespeare Company and Chairman of Governors and Trustee of King Edward VI School, and a member of the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (formerly Board) as the convenor for the English Language and Literature panel and a member of the research committee (2000–2004).

On his retirement from Warwick in 2004 Ronnie was made Professor Emeritus. He continued to be an active scholar, editor, conference convenor and participant. As a co-founder of the Society for European Festivals Research he continued to collaborate in conferences in Warwick, Venice, London, Bergamo, Mons and Trinity Hall, Cambridge. (See SEFR website) He particularly enjoyed our collaboration with the European Science Foundation’s PALATIUM research network. As a general editor of the European Festival Studies, 1450–1700 series of books he encouraged interdisciplinary research in an increasingly international context for students, doctoral and early career researchers and more senior scholars, collaborating in research networks with curators, archivists and performance practitioners. For more details of his publications click here.

His enthusiasm, determination and passion for academic integrity also resulted in a collaboration between scholars of history, education and performance studies, archivists and experts in architecture and restoration, to publish a study of the Guild and Guild Buildings of Shakespeare’s Stratford. This, in turn, led to him working tirelessly to enable the establishment of Shakespeare’s Schoolroom and Guildhall as a major heritage destination.

At Holy Trinity Church he has been involved in the leadership of services, a church warden, a Chair of the Friends of Shakespeare’s Church and a President of the Choral Society as well as actively engaged in the restoration of the Beckett Chapel and the creation and development of St Peter’s Chapel.

His energy, his generosity in encouraging others and his love of theatre, music, poetry, architecture and history have been an inspiration to many. He will be greatly missed.

Ronnie’s funeral will take place at Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon, on Monday 25 February at 12.00 noon.

Dr Margaret Shewring
Theatre and Performance Studies