Obituary: Virginia Scott, Professor Emerita of Theater

March 11, 2014
Virginia Scott

Virginia Scott, 79, professor emerita of theater and a founding member of the theater department, died March 1 at her home in South Amherst.

Born in St. Louis, she began her life in the theater when she played Jo in a production of “The Little Women” at age 14. After receiving a B.A. from the University of Iowa, she spent the next four years in New York City. She then returned to Iowa for an MFA in playwriting and a Ph.D. in history and criticism of theater.

She served as a visiting assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, UMass Amherst and Tufts University before joining the theater faculty in 1977. She taught dramaturgy and playwriting and also chaired the department from 1995-97. She retired in 2002.

Scott was an internationally recognized scholar, author and teacher in the field of dramaturgy. Adam Gopnik, reviewing her 2000 book, “Moliere: A Theatrical Life,” for The New Yorker, wrote, “She is a refreshing guide. She has an excellent eye for period detail and fills the empty corners of Moliere’s life with neat pen-portraits… and unfussy accounts of his dealings as an actor-manager.” Publisher’s Weekly said, “As the first substantive English-language biography of Moliere since 1930, this is a happy arrival for students of the theater and of French literature and culture.”

Her translations of Moliere’s plays (some with her former playwriting student Constance Congdon) have been widely produced in regional theaters. Her original produced works include the plays “Letter to Corinth,” “Bogus Joan,” “Lesser Pleasures: A Secret Opera” with music and lyrics by Joshua Rosenblum, and “A Living Exhibition of Sweeney Todd.

Among her many honors were the George Freedley Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Literature of the Theater; the Outstanding Scholar Award from the American Society for Theater Research; and the 2011 Barnard Hewitt Award for Outstanding Research in Theatre History. She was a Guggenheim Fellow, a fellow of the Camargo Foundation (twice), and received several awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities, including a senior fellowship.

Her published works include “The Commedia dell'arte in Paris(University Press of Virginia, 1990), “Performance, Poetry and Politics on the Queen's Day: Catherine de Médicis and Pierre de Ronsard at Fontainebleau,with Sara Sturm-Maddox (Ashgate, 2007), “Tartuffe: A Critical Editionwith Constance Congdon (Norton, 2008), and the forthcoming “Women on the Stage in Early Modern France.”

Scott described herself as “a late-blooming academic.” In a 2010 interview in The Frenchmag, she said, “Finally, when I was 50 I received a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation that enabled me to spend a sabbatical in Paris and begin archival research for my book on the Comédie-Italienne. I realized then that, although I had enjoyed wearing my many hats, the one that best suited me was research and historical writing.”

She leaves her three children with former husband Nicholas Scott: Peter Scott of Bozeman, Montana, Garet Scott of Upper Nyack, N.Y. and Sarah Scott of Riverside, Calif., and nine grandchildren.

Memorial gifts in lieu of flowers may be made to SOS Children’s Villages International (sos-childrensvillages.org) and to VNA Hospice of Cooley-Dickinson (vnaandhospice.org).

A memorial celebration of her life will be held May 3 at the Amherst Woman’s Club.