Posted tagged ‘Shakespeare’

The Bard as burden?

August 28, 2011

I recently took part in a conversation that I found extraordinarily troubling. Those taking part were two schoolteachers, one university lecturer and two businesspeople. The topic of conversation was secondary school reform. And the consensus of all those taking part, except for me, was that it was time to retire William Shakespeare from the curriculum. The arguments given in favour of this proposition included the amount of time given over to Shakespeare that could be spent on more contemporary drama; the way in which highlighting Shakespeare perpetuated an ‘English’ perspective on the world at a time when many other cultures needed more attention; the difficulty in making students understand the archaic language; the obvious problem inherent in the white maleness of Shakespeare.

So are these good points? Should we see Shakespeare as just one more dead white male taking up too much of our cultural attention?

In this anniversary year of the Authorised Version of the Bible (the ‘King James’ Bible), it may be worth recalling that this translation of scripture and the works of Shakespeare together more or less created the sound and flow of what we now know as English. Shakespeare was not just another author, he was a designer of what became the world’s primary language. Nor was his work focused on England, or even on an English understanding of history, culture and politics.

I am strongly in favour of encouraging today’s students to engage with modern literature, in English and other languages. But to imagine that this requires us to abandon Shakespeare seems, to me at least, to be absurd.

Texas, Part II: are we really so bad at explaining education to the doubters?

June 6, 2011

Here is a statement attributed to Texas Governor Rick Perry regarding higher education research: he and others are said to be wondering ‘whether there’s a need for more critiques of Shakespeare and other esoteric research that doesn’t generate income for the state.’

This is said to have ‘stirred a tempest on Texas campuses’. It is easy to see that it would, but the problem may be that many people don’t understand why research is funded, and universities have not been particularly good at making the case in all circumstances other than where research specifically addresses a very practical need. This extends beyond research, because if Governor Perry believes that Shakespeare doesn’t merit further research, he may not think much of his plays being taught either.

The case for higher education, and the capacity for diversity within, need to be re-explained to the wider public, urgently.