College Shakespeare is not required in all but four of the top 25 Ivy League and top 25 Liberal Arts schools, even for literature majors!
As much as I love Shakespeare, I don’t care too much if colleges don’t require it for all graduates. I think obsessing over the “perfect” curriculum for a four-year education only encourages the horrible myth that our education is something done to us at school and then stops when we graduate. No! Education should be ongoing and we should be working on a plan to educate ourselves over our lifetimes. So the time when we interact with Shakespeare can vary.
But to have people teaching English and English literature without ever having studied Shakespeare is a cultural atrocity.
Yet that is what is happening, according to Ryan Cole writing at the National Review: “English Majors sans Shakespeare.”
There is hardly a pioneer’s hut which does not contain a few odd volumes of Shakespeare,” Alexis de Tocqueville writes in Democracy in America, recalling his travels across the country in the early 19th century and suggesting the scope of the Bard’s influence. From the log cabins of our young republic to the classrooms of contemporary China, where he is known as Shashibiya, Shakespeare has been arguably the most read writer in the English language. He is also certainly the most translated. His work has been rendered in Zulu, Mandarin, even Klingon.
Why, then, is he vanishing from the curricula of America’s colleges?
A new study by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) reveals, depressingly, that only four of the nation’s top colleges and universities require a Shakespeare course, even for English majors. ACTA, a non-profit based in Washington, D.C., that encourages college trustees to act on behalf of academic freedom and excellence, surveyed U.S. News and World Report’s top 25 national universities and top 25 liberal-arts colleges. Of the former, only Harvard (the lone Ivy League institution to make the cut) and the University of California–Los Angeles require English majors to study Shakespeare. Of the latter, only Wellesley College and the United States Naval Academy do.
Now there may be some possible pushback on this. Perhaps some of these colleges require an Elizabethan Survey course, and cover Shakespeare along with Christopher Marlowe. But Shakespeare wrote a lot, and virtually all of it was incredibly influential. So even if there is some exposure for English majors it is a really bad sign that only four colleges require it.
Worse, for those who don’t want to study Shakespeare, they are encouraged to replace it with political fluff:
What today’s English departments do offer is the expected cocktail of popular culture and political correctness. Princeton’s “Literature, Food, and the American Racial Diet,” for example. Or “Punk Culture: The Aesthetics and Politics of Refusal” at Cornell, or “The Politics of Hip Hop” at Emory.
Part of this, as Cole acknowledges, is pure marketing. Students are more interested in taking courses on hip hop than they are interested in learning about and reading Shakespeare. Colleges try to attract students, and divisions try to attract students, by inventing stuff that appeals to them. Shakespeare doesn’t have that appeal because students haven’t developed the taste for it.
But the other part is toxic Leftist politics—“involving academia’s devaluing of Western classics and its hostility to anything white, male, or old, adjectives that supposedly mean irrelevant and ethnocentric.”
The result is going to be a hollowing out of America’s culture. Eventually some country in South America or Asia will experience a cultural flowering, partly due to a discovery and appropriation of Shakespeare, and will become a global leader while America descends into the banana republic it is striving to become. People claim that Shakespeare is “White” and “Western,” but so is the firearm, a technology that is now used by all cultures. Shakespeare is also available to all, and without nearly as many negative consequences.
ACTA wants colleges to be lobbied by alumni. But why not start a movement that has nothing to do with political academia? DVDs of Shakespeare’s plays are widely available as are cheap paperback scripts. Since plays are meant to be performed, not read, there is no shame in “preferring the movie.” Educating oneself in Shakespeare and learning to enjoy him is a relatively easy and rewarding task.
College may now be mistreating Shakespeare, but the real scandal is that they ever were able to take him hostage in the first place.