Thursday, April 19, 2007

Brush Up Your Shakespeare!

Yes, I know, this is a Classics blog, and how many of us are sick of people asking, "Oh, so you study Shakespeare?" But fear not, I shall related this back to our world of Classics.

I actually did attend phenomenal performances of both Taming of the Shrew and Twelfth Night last weekend, so it saddens me to read that Shakespeare, like our Classical studies, is on a decline. It does not, however, surprise me. I started as an English major, and I too was vexed that my school did not make Shakespeare a requirement for the major. And I have to agree that "earning a bachelor's degree in English without the study of Shakespeare 'is tantamount to fraud.'" (And speaking of which, I think reading these books would also be "tantamount to fraud!)

At this point in college, we cannot assume that every student has read Shakespeare in high school before--because they haven't. Moreover, even if they did, they weren't analyzing his work at the level you do in college. How can you possibly be an English major--no matter what your field--without some Shakespeare?

Back in my earlier undergraduate days, when I was still naive and filled with grand illusions about, well, many things, I took a class called Shakespeare & His Contemporaries. One of the works we were reading was Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida. There were English majors in that class who hadn't read Shakespeare before (an upper-level English class, and thank goodness these were the ones honest enough to rectify that situation), and moreover, when the prof asked if there was anyone who didn't know the basic story of Troy (this was before the bad movie), sure enough there was at least one person willing to admit that she didn't. She, at least, was willing to learn, but I wonder about a system that allows us to get by without Shakespeare and without Homer. How many English majors are walking away without Shakespeare and thinking that the wretched movie Troy IS actually Homer? There was a time when studying English literature meant you knew something about the Greek & Latin Classics also. Now, some English departments still teach it, but I had a Classics major friend who was seriously told by his English grad student TA that the Iliad and Odyssey were written around 2700 BC (yes, you read that right). My friend told the TA that he was wrong. The TA would not back down. My friend pulled out a reference. The TA said, "Well, there's some debate."

I could tell other horror stories about the Classics (or lack thereof) in English classes, and it's bad enough that Homer's going, but Shakespeare? What kind of English majors are they producing??

8 Comments:

Blogger Dave Csonka said...

Instead of reading the major works of Shakespeare, I elected to watch the movie Shakespeare in love. It was much quicker and the words were easier to understand. I'm joking btw.

9:17 AM  
Blogger Choppa said...

Well, let's look on the bright side. This means that lots of good people have a tremendous world of delight to discover when they start looking into real culture and its roots. And the distance it gives us means we don't need to pay lip service to everything - like Shakespeare's royalism and his obsession with order. It's like enjoying the Greeks without the superstition, philosophical idealism, and slavery.

Very optimistic, really, if you think about it... If they can achieve all this despite all that, what the hell won't we be able to do once we can engage with all humanity worldwide artistically and intellectually! It's amazing enough with the glimpses of potential we get with the Net.

10:44 AM  
Blogger Choppa said...

Exam time?? ;-)

4:46 AM  
Anonymous ucsbclassics53 said...

The Odyssey written around 2700 BC? My God!

6:36 PM  
Blogger Daniel Kaplan said...

I think he meant 2700 years ago... or rather should have meant it. That's pretty sad. I think if one of my students caught me out like that, I'd have to quit.

10:13 PM  
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2:47 PM  
Anonymous mkv to avi said...

Hello there. Nice to see that you're still kicking.
Love your blog. And I really enjoyed this entry on Shakespeare. He's one of my favorite writers ever!

1:14 AM  
Anonymous wma to mp3 converter said...

Personally, I read Shakespeare much earlier than we had to do that at school, starting with Romeo And Juliet and his sonnets and then getting to read all his other famous works. I did that for myself, no one forced me, and I was really interested. When I was a senior, I started attending acting courses where we always staged plays by Shakespeare, and it made me a fairly good actress as well.

3:58 AM  

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