Professor Thomas P. Roche Jr., who recently passed away, was a legend to generations of students. He was especially important to those of us who took part in campus theater productions. Tom was not only an enthusiastic participant in and supporter of productions on campus (I acted with him in several productions and even wore a suit of his as a costume in one), but also a generous host, friend, and mentor. Tom was one of the principal financial backers of a play that I produced in New York City my senior year — an off-off Broadway production of Damian Long ’98’s thesis project. He gave us the seed money we needed to rent the theater, and didn’t complain at all when we lost most of it.
The memorials of Professor Roche that I have seen so far have emphasized his kindness, personal generosity, and charismatic spirit. I feel that it is equally important, however, to note his exceptional scholarship. Tom was a scholar who surpassed Harold Bloom in his analysis of Shakespeare, Petrarch, and English Renaissance Literature. He used a rigorous understanding of religion and classical literature to completely upend about 150 years of Shakespeare scholarship. In his brilliant and frankly revolutionary analysis, he applied numerology and theology to Shakespeare’s sonnet sequence, putting the tired trope of biographical analysis (Shakespeare must have personally loved a Dark Lady and a Young Man!) to rest, and uncovering the allegorical nature of the entire sequence, in which the poet’s “wit” (the young man, and his poetic nature) competes with the poet’s “will,” (his work as a playwright and actor), all against the backdrop of a precisely structured chronological sequence that aligns with the calendar. Sonnet 33, for example, the “resurrection sonnet,” not only invokes Christ’s age and the trinity, but also falls exactly on Easter when the sequence is superimposed on a calendar. Tom showed us that in all this, Shakespeare not only created the best example of a renaissance sonnet sequence (there were many), but turned the form inside out — analyzing and transforming it into a meditation on creation and immortality. I know this seems esoteric, but as an undergraduate, it was like being handed a cypher to the Enigma machine. It was this experience, more than any other, that made me appreciate that I was at Princeton, because I could not have studied with Tom anywhere else. His analysis was like having a veil lifted from your eyes — it was impossible to un-see the truths he revealed. This was particularly detrimental in his Hamlet seminar, which left one with a deep loathing of the title character and an inability to watch almost any production.
Tom Roche was a world-class teacher and a true friend — funny, brilliant, generous, and kind. He will not be forgotten by those who knew him.