June 10, 2007

The Real Reason Literature Majors No Longer Study Shakespeare

The June 7, 2007 issue of The Wanderer has an editorial by Mr. Frank Morriss lamenting the absence of the study of William Shakespeare in Literature degree programs. Mr. Morriss has a lot to say about the Bard's absence being due to his expressions of human conduct in ways that are too uncomfortable for our modern society to take. I found his editorial interesting but I'm inclined to disagree.

In my undergraduate days, Shakespeare had his own semester long course. I also remember studying Shakespeare in Junior High and High School English.
I applaud Mr. Morriss' column but let's just cut right to the chase shall we? The Bard is absent from many Literature programs because:

* He's white
* He's male
* He's not contemporary
* He's not relevant
* His language is too difficult to read
* Harold Bloom

Before the Bard fans start howling, be aware that many Literature programs have been taken over by professors who would rather spend their time exposing us to modern literature and literature by writers who are not native English speakers. Shakespeare's language can present difficulties because it's, obviously, not the way we speak now. Beowulf and Chaucer are not popular with this crowd either.

This all can tie-in to the "dumbing down" of U.S. society. Because it's difficult, does that mean it should not be attempted? The Constitution is difficult to read too, isn't it? Obviously, people don't speak that way anymore either. Should we neglect to expose ourselves to the Constitution? In many ways, that has already happened. Do kids even read the Gettsyburg Address anymore? Four score and what? What the heck is that? Yet, aren't the Gettysburg Address and the Constitution relevant to our history? To our very way of life? Neither of these documents are contemporary, yet, don't they transcend time?

This is a nice point to bring Harold Bloom into the mix because he would probably agree with the points in my paragraph just above. Good literature transcends time and culture. Harold Bloom is a frequent critic of the dumbing down of our society. He is controversial and he can be an almost unbearable snob but he makes some good points.

Mr. Bloom is an unapologetic, unabashed fan of Shakespeare. He's written about him several times. Most notably in : Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. Literature profs had a field day with Mr. Bloom's book: The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages. In The Western Canon, Mr. Bloom made a list of works from various countries that, he felt, are essential reading. The list engendered a lot of debate. However, what I remember hearing the most was how male the list was (though, really, there are a lot of women on the list. In some circles, it's just not the RIGHT women). Mr. Bloom advocates just reading the works for what they are, not reading INTO THEM.

I think there were a lot of reactionary forces who ran away with literature programs after Mr. Bloom's books came out that said: "We need to stretch the Literature programs more. We need to almost, not, include the works on his list. We need to expose students to less tried and true, but, to more unknown and contemporary."


Blogger Emily said...

All is not totally lost...I graduated from college in '04 as an English/Poli Sci major, and we also had a whole semester on Shakespeare that was required. We focused on, I believe, 10 plays, and we had to act out at least one act from a play we didn't study as 25% of our grade. So William is alive and well...at least in some places...

June 10, 2007 12:35 PM  
Anonymous Tommy and Kattie said...

Yeah, Shakespeare is not dead - well, yeaah he is dead, but they make movies outta his stuff all the time - like his play "Shakespeare In Love" - wasn't Gwinyth, or is it Gwynith? Paltrow in it? So if college students don't read it they can watch it on DVD. Not to worry my little pretty.

June 10, 2007 4:52 PM  
Blogger Emily said...

And Shakespeare In Love also has the bonus of being written by one of today's best playwrights, Tom Stoppard!

June 10, 2007 8:46 PM  

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