The Public Interest

Shakespeare— “For all time”?

Paul A. Cantor

Winter 1993

THE CONTENT of the curriculum tends to be the focus of contemporary debates on the humanities in college education, as if our only concern should be exactly which books are being taught on our campuses. Many people, for example, are understandably concerned about ensuring that Shakespeare remains in the college curriculum. But if the parents who clamor for the teaching of Shakespeare knew how his works are being taught these days, they might not be so eager to have their children study them. In fact, despite all the attacks from academic radicals on the so-called Great Books, Shakespeare courses continue to flourish on our campuses. For example, Harvard Magazine reports that “Shakespeare” was one of the most popular undergraduate courses at Harvard in the fall 1992 semester, second only to “Principles of Economics.” As encouraging as this fact may seem, we must be awake to the possibility that radical professors of literature have found more subtle ways of attacking our cultural heritage than outright canon-bashing. Having learned to treat traditional authors in untraditional ways, they can still pursue their political agenda under the guise of teaching canonical works. The case of Shakespeare shows that the issue of the humanities in our colleges is more complicated than is often supposed, and that as several writers have begun to argue we must pay attention not just to what is being taught but also to how it is being taught. [1]


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