Effie Schaver | November 17, 2003
I know I'm not a regular participant, but I do occassionally check in to read what is posted here. From doing so, I know you are the perfect audience to turn to with this question. Every year I am faced by freshmen who demand to know why they must read William Shakespeare. I tell them the teacher answer--They live in a cornfield and need cultural exposure, Shakespeare maybe be dead but what he wrote about still applies today, the characters in Romeo and Juliet are their age and going through "similiar" problems, and some other junk that I currently can't recall. They just look at me like I'm a trained monkey. What do you think? Do you think it's important to read Shakespeare? Why?

Erik Bates | November 17, 2003
[hidden by request]

Kris Weberg | November 18, 2003
I have a friend, a student of medieval and renaissance literature, who contends that Shakespeare scholarship is a self-sustaining field, that Marlowe and Spenser are far superior to the Bard of Avon, and that Shakespeare was less talented than he was prolific.

Naturally, I disagree with her assessment in large part; yes, Shakespeare is likely idolized more than he shouldbe, and perhaps to the detriment of other good writers of his period. But no, in that Shakespeare represents, to me, a major point of convergence in Western sociopolitics and culture, the context for the lives of most of the students at your colege or any other American university.

In Shakespeare, we have not only the sources of a number of common idioms, but also a kind of poetic stylization that arguably structured literary language well into the 2oth century. (In fact, if one considers that much of the experimental verse of the 19th and 20th centuries was a reaction to traditoonal poetic conventions that were concentrated and bets exemplified by old Will, that influence continues perhaps to this day.)

There's also the broader significance of Shakespeare outside literature -- how many essentially Elizabethan notions and semi-Classical motifs shape the humanties precisely because they were present in Shakespeare? While one can go to the Aristotelian Poetics and claim them as the root of Shakespeare's art -- a claim problematized by Samuel Johnson's effective criticisms that Shakespeare did not in fact adhere to Aristotelian unities -- most notons of tragedy and comedy are shaped by our recollections and readings of those genres through Shakespeare. Indeed, broader cultural notions of romantic love and "real-life" tragic figures often adhere to the thematic and narrative model found in Shakespeare's plays.

I could list more examples, but I think it's best to make my larger point -- it doesn't matter if, as my friend argues, Shakespeare has been unfairly valorized and, yes, canonized. The fact that he has been a part of not only the canon, but arguably the head of it for so long means that a study of his works and reactions to them are essential in understanding even one's own context, let alone the broader contexts implicit in a liberal education. One may argue to overturn him, or give him more company in time, but now and here Shakespeare's cultural provenance make him a valuable object of study.

Matthew Preston | November 18, 2003
Culture is a great reason. I am thankful for all the Shakespeare I was forced to read in High School for one reason: Media! There are countless movies based on his works and numerous television shows and video games with Shakespearian influences. I would be missing out on a great deal if I hadn't had the base knowledge. And it's like Erik said, it makes for some interesting and captivating stories.

Scott Hardie | November 18, 2003
What everybody else said.

I remember overhearing two girls in my junior-high chemistry class complaining about having to learn the basics of the periodic table. They didn't see how it would matter unless they specifically went into the field. I hated that subject as well (still do), but I understood that it was to create an educational foundation. We had to know that stuff in order to make it in high school and college, and even in an unscientific life, one benefits by having an understanding of the concept of the periodic table and how the main elements interact, even if it's just to better understand the latest "C.S.I." episode. I think Shakespeare's the same way: Like Kris said, you can't study other works of literature without noticing Shakespeare's tremendous influence, and like Matt said, you'll find allusions and make connections to his work throughout the course of your normal life. When it comes to literature, Shakespeare is the basics, and we all need to know the basics.

Anna Gregoline | November 18, 2003
Agreed. But still...it would have been nice to have a "Shakespeare Highlights" course.Unrelated: I saw "Quills" last night, about the Marqui de Sade. Highly recommended.

Scott Hardie | November 19, 2003
P.S. Welcome back Effie!

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