Was Shakespeare an Inspiration for UC’s Alma Mater?

By:  Kevin Grace

William ShakespeareWho knows for sure? As we celebrate the quadricentennial of the playwright’s death this year by exploring our Shakespeare holdings in the Archives & Rare Books Library, we tend to run across the many phrases and words that he coined or brought into the common lexicon. And, one of those is “Tower of Strength.”

In the first verse of the University of Cincinnati’s alma mater, composed by physician Otto Juettner in 1907, are the words “A fountain of eternal youth, a tower of strength, a rock of truth.” Dr. Juettner, a German immigrant to Cincinnati, completed his undergraduate work at Xavier University in 1885 and then earned a degree in 1888 from the Medical College of Ohio, now the UC College of Medicine. Ever devoted to his college days, Juettner wrote the fight song for Xavier as well as several songs for UC, including the alma mater. And of that song, even William Howard Taft was

Otto Juettner
Otto Juetnner

moved to say, “It is the finest, most inspiring college song of any I have ever heard.”

But, prithee, whence the “tower of strength”? The line is credited as the creation, or at least an adaptation, by William Shakespeare in his play Richard III. King Richard has taken a stand at Bosworth Field to battle the armies of the Earl of Richmond. He has three times the number of soldiers as the future Henry VII but has lost his confidence. Informed by Norfolk in Act V, Scene 3 that the Earl’s armies number only six or seven thousand, Richard responds:

Why, our battalia trebles that account!

                        Besides, the King’s name is a tower of strength,

                        Which they upon the adverse faction want.

Richard IIISome scholars assert that Shakespeare borrowed the line from the Book of Proverbs, 18:10, which states: “The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe.” Be that as it may, the words entered popular parlance after Shakespeare’s play and was used frequently to indicate a bastion of character and fortitude. And whether Otto Juettner was a fan of Richard III or a close reader of the Bible, it is of no matter now, more than a century after the alma mater’s composition. But it is rather nice to lend the authority of both the Bible and the world’s greatest playwright to the tune.

To learn more about our Shakespeare celebration, please visit our special web page at http://libapps.libraries.uc.edu/exhibits/shakespeare400/ or to learn more about the holdings of the Archives & Rare Books Library, email us at archives@ucmail.uc.edu, call us at 513.556.1959, or visit us on the web at http://www.libraries.uc.edu/arb.html.