I recently came across this editorial from the Toledo Blade detailing the wane of Shakespeare’s influence in English departments across the country. Here are two amazing paragraphs:
Just 15 of 70 institutions surveyed require their English majors to take a course on the 16th-century author. And since a similar study was done in 1996, at least six of those schools either dropped or weakened those requirements.
It’s hard to believe that Shakespeare is not essentially “a dish fit for the gods” for students studying English at the top 25-ranked universities and liberal arts colleges in the nation, plus schools in the Big 10 and a selection of California and New York colleges.
It boggles my mind how anyone can have an English degree without at least devoting one semester to Shakespeare. He’s essentially the basis of all modern English literature. In some way, any author writing in English has, if not directly at least indirectly, been influenced by his work. This includes Carribean writers such as V.S. Naipaul who, it could be argued, writes, at least partially, against the patriarchy and imperialist sympathies some critics read in Shakespeare’s work. However, even if a writer is smashing his or her views against the views of the previous norm, it is still being influenced by that earlier work. Shakespeare helped shape centuries of minds, and while some of the ideas propagated are now seen to support imperialism, sexism, or racism, we can revise how we read Shakespeare in light of our changing awarenesses. This is the more acceptable and scholarly responsible way to approach English departments’ move toward a greater awareness of world literature.
I fully support a given university’s autonomy and respect an English department’s decision to, say, scrap Hemingway or Steinbeck, or limit the amount of time students spend on 18th century English Literature or whatever, but I cannot believe that Shakespeare could somehow be dropped from the canon of Western Literature.
Ugh. Put his mug on a milk carton.
Have you read me?