In Nomine Shakespiri, Amen...
I am going to risk being burned at the stake (or, if folks are feeling generous, simply poisoned) and say it:
Shakespeare is usually overrated.
People? We are talking about a HUMAN BEING here. Not a late arrival to the Greek pantheon. Not the savior of the human race. Not even the savior of the English language!
(What's really creepy is that there are probably people who would honest-to-Will try to debate that last one with me.)
I'm not saying that Shakespeare's work is either insignificant or shoddy. Quite the contrary. In fact, given the two genres in which he worked, it would be theoretically possible to structure my entire course around his works and still meet all the state standards.
Hm. That would be a really interesting challenge. However, it's not one I'm prepared to tackle right now ... maybe over spring break or at the start of next summer...
But it's like ... I mean, it's worse than dealing with the Bible. Most people are willing to agree that English translations are a good thing (don't get me started on the KJV-only crowd; that's a whole 'nother... ugh). And there's definitely a lot of debate about how closely you have to follow the words of the Hebrew or Greek, and how much you can kind of work with it to achieve what you believe was the intended meaning.
For example, IIRC the Gospel of John begins en arche kai ton logos which translates directly as in longago was the word, and I doubt you'll find that in any English Bible. But "In the beginning was the Word" is absolutely fine by the very strictest standards.
But when you're working with Shakespeare, YOU MUST NOT CHANGE ONE JOT OMG YOU PHILISTINE!!!
There are several excellent discussions over at the EC Ning that do a really good job of showing diverse viewpoints, mostly without getting hairy. That was kind of what brought all of this from the back of my mind up to the front.
See, there are lots of great reasons for teaching Shakespeare's work. But any time you choose to focus on one particular work, you are by definition also choosing to exclude every other work out there for as long as you focus on that one. Mostly? That's okay. It's a good trade-off; you sacrifice some breadth for some depth. I've deliberately gone that way with my English II course schedule, and I'm ... content with it. Maybe even happy with it. (We'll see.)
But I think that at our school - and probably at many others - Shakespeare takes up more instructional time than is reasonable. We study sonnets and a play in both ninth and tenth grade. Junior year gets a pass because it's American lit, but the senior curriculum more than makes up for it because they study more sonnets and Hamlet AND Macbeth and sometimes also Othello!
There is a whole WORLD of literature out there beyond Shakespeare. And it's a little disappointing to realize that there's no way I can do an intensive unit on Antigone, because I have to teach Julius Caesar. And even if other students are exposed to it with another teacher, there's no way there will be time to do it justice.
What other works are we willing to sacrifice on Shakespeare's altar?
Image thanks to http://learn.swancoll.ac.uk/
Thursday, August 05, 2010
In Nomine Shakespiri, Amen...