Hartley Burr Alexander

by Marianne Johnson Finlay '37

The summit of the intellectual scale was reached for me when I signed up for a course in “The Tragedies of Shakespeare.” It was to be held in a very small room in Balch Hall just off Palm Court and would be taught by Dr. Alexander.

I hated Shakespeare, couldn’t get a thing out of reading anything but his sonnets, felt that his archaic style of playwriting was hopelessly beyond me, and wondered why I signed up for the class in the first place.There were about 12 of us, mostly guys from Pomona, which made it seem that the class might not be so bad after all.

Dr. Alexander was late for the first class.We sat there for ten minutes, getting acquainted and more rowdy by the minute, when he suddenly rushed into the room. Instantly, we all came to attention as he said,”So, you’re all wondering why you signed up for a class about someone you all dislike?” There were instant chuckles.

Fifty minutes later when he left the room, we sat frozen in our chairs, mesmerized by the way he had been able to transform us into people who eagerly awaited the next session and suddenly needed to know more and more about William Shakespeare. Long after Dr. Alexander was out of earshot, the 12 of us spontaneously and simultaneously broke into insane, very loud clapping.Then, without saying a word to each other, we got up and marched silently out of the room. We had been changed forever.

It was the moment when I discovered the richness of the intellectual experience.