Why We Need Shakespeare Now More than Ever

 

Yes, the War Against Shakespeare has been going on for years now. But the Woke Supremacists in universities are stepping up the volume, because, you know, Shakespeare is not relevant today. It’s not just because he represents white-supremacy, racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, and all other -isms. No. He’s not relevant.

What can Shakespeare possibly have to say to today’s youth, or today’s young adults, or even today’s old adults? How can Shakespeare possibly be relevant to them? Let’s take a moment to imagine…

Imagine that you have entered, a little late, the classroom of a crotchety, old, dinosaur professor at a major university. You find a seat in the back and look around.

The professor is lecturing from behind a podium using lecture notes and does not look up when you enter. Only half the seats are taken. He wears a worn gray tweed jacket, faded blue shirt, and a darker blue, thin tie. His mottled gray-white hair is splayed out in a classic Einstein.

The students look like first-year university students. Bored, fidgety, a couple actually sleeping. One handsome young woman with short black hair, milk chocolate skin, wearing a black dress and black lipstick, has her hand raised, arm waving slightly, supporting it with her other hand. She looks like she has been waiting awhile.

“…presents the reader with many challenges, not the least of which is Elizabethan diction and Shakespeare’s poetic compression. But every reader willing to take the time will discover a bounty of humanistic treasures.” The professor stops and looks at her over his silver reading glasses. “Yes?” One word conveys his lack of good cheer. Questions are not encouraged.

“I’m sorry, professor, but I just don’t get it,” she says, exuding the sweet arrogance and mimicry of intellectual youth. “Shakespeare represents the view of the classic white-male Eurocentric patriarchy, one that’s hundreds of years old, in a dated vocabulary that’s hard to understand. What’s his relevance today? I mean, what could Shakespeare possibly have to say to me?”

As she speaks, the professor’s eyes glaze and his head lowers slowly until he is staring down at his podium. He gives every appearance of being an old man in constant mental and physical pain. Several students murmur at least partial agreement. The professor stands silent for almost a full minute before turning to the blackboard. He picks up the chalk with a trembling hand and writes two words on the board—chair and stool. He turns and stares at her. He speaks softly.

“Would you say, Miss…..”

“Ms. Powers.”

“Would you say, Ms. Powers, that the words ‘chair’ and ‘stool’ distinguish two similar things?”

“Uh, I think…yes, of course.”

“And do you think, Ms. Powers, that these represent a distinction worth preserving? For example, if I were to ask you to bring me a chair and you brought me a stool, would we have reason to believe there existed between us some failure of communication?”

“Yes,” she said confidently.

“What would be the nature of the failure?”

“Uhh…a chair normally has a back for support while a stool does not.”

“Good. So you concede, Ms. Powers, that vocabulary helps us more clearly distinguish the specific differences between like things?”

“Yes.”

“Is it a good thing to distinguish more clearly the specific differences between like things?”

“I suppose.”

“And that it would be better to possess a mind with a larger vocabulary than a mind with a smaller one?” Although he still speaks softly, the air begins to thicken.

“But just because someone has a better vocabulary doesn’t mean that they are a better person.” She speaks less confidently now.

“Ms. Powers,” he said a little bit louder. “If we are going to understand each other, it is best that you respond to what I actually say rather than what you think I am saying. I did not say anything about a better vocabulary or anything to do with being a better person. I asked if you thought it better to possess a mind with a larger vocabulary rather than a mind with a smaller vocabulary. Especially since you have already conceded that it is a good thing to more clearly distinguish the specific differences between like things. Or do you see another way of distinguishing specific differences in ways other than a versatile and specific vocabulary?”

“No.”

“Ms. Powers, suppose you and I walked into a garden, and while I was a novice in gardening, you were an expert gardener who had a command of the technical language and knowledge of botany and gardening. Would our experience of a particular garden be any different?”

“Uh….” She is beginning to sense the trap being set for her. She tries to avoid it. “Yes, a little. We would both see the same thing, but I would probably be more knowledgeable about it if you asked me questions.”

“No, Ms. Powers,” he says preparing to close the trap. His face is reddening. His voice gets louder. “I’m afraid you are entirely mistaken. We would not be seeing the same garden at all. I would merely see pretty flowers, maybe some trees and grass. I may be able to tell the difference between a rose and a tulip, but that is all. I would see the mere surface of the garden. It’s mere appearance. But you, Ms. Powers…

“You would see an entirely different garden. You would be able to penetrate its depths. You would be able to recognize not only the different flowers—the carnations and snapdragons and pansies and hyacinths and lilies—you would also recognize the relative health of each of those flowers. You would recognize any pests or diseased plants. You would be able to spot where each plant and flower was in its life cycle. By their arrangement and care, you would know their past. In some cases, whether or not they were recently planted. You would know how much the person who tends the garden knows about his or her occupation. You would also know the difference between annuals and perennials.

“And this knowledge would allow you to see not only the present garden, but the future of that garden. You could predict its course and suggest actions to alter that course. No, Ms. Powers, you and I would not see the same garden at all. Because a true and rich vocabulary opens one to higher levels of perceptual and conceptual awareness. A specific vocabulary rewards you with a greater awareness, and the possibility of a deep causal awareness. The ability to distinguish true causes and their array of effects. And, were you so inclined, you would naturally begin seeing the world in terms of the garden. You would begin constructing metaphors and similes, perhaps even analogies, connecting life to that garden through an array of subtle similarities.”

He pauses and surveys the room. Ms. Powers has lost the desire to respond. He no longer looks at her.

“Do you know the number of distinct words in the average person’s vocabulary, Ms. Powers? About three thousand words, assuming that all forms of a word—like run, ran, running—counted as one. Three thousand words, enough to get an average person through the day, and through their lifetime. Do you know how many distinct words are in the King James Version of the Bible? Around four thousand three hundred, not counting names. That means that all of the history and philosophy and meaning, all of the variety of ideas expressed in the Bible, can be transmitted in a vocabulary of forty-three hundred words. Enough to challenge the average reader. Soon we will get to John Milton’s Paradise Lost.

“John Milton commanded an incredible vocabulary. He mastered several languages, including Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, and French. He wrote not only epic poetry but many rigorous political tracts. Some of his sentences are so powerful and complex in their vocabulary, grammar, and meaning that they contain several dozen clauses. John Milton was a genius who mastered and crafted meaning out of a vocabulary of almost eight thousand words, more than almost all living writers.”

He pauses, and looks out through slitted eyes.

“But Shakespeare,” he says and chuckles. “Shakespeare exists in his own genus. When a rhetorician reads Shakespeare, she,” he glares the sarcastic concession at Ms. Powers, “points out that Shakespeare was a master rhetorician, who knew not only all the technical terms, ancient and modern, but was a master practitioner who applied that knowledge throughout his poems and plays, in ways that have stood as examples for generations to follow.

“When a gardener reads Shakespeare, she says that Shakespeare must have been a gardener, because he not only displays the technical terminology of botany and gardening and herbology, he demonstrates the kind of knowledge that comes from working in or studying closely a sophisticated English garden. When a lawyer reads Shakespeare, she tells us that Shakespeare must have had a legal education because he not only displays an astonishing range and accuracy with his use of legal terms, be he also commands an understanding of the history and philosophy of law. And you can point to other professions: actor, soldier, physician, courtier, historian, politician.”

He pauses, taking a breath, and when he begins again, the tempo and volume increases.

“But that’s not all. In his plays, he explores the range and depth of human emotions and experience. He explores love, but not just the young romantic love of Romeo and Juliet. He explores love between siblings, and parent and child, and comrades in arms, young love, middle-aged love, old love. Love between the low and the low, the low and the high, the high and the high, false love, true love, jaded love, betrayed love, self-love, love of good, and love of indulgence. Like turning a diamond in the light, he explores every facet of love and hate and envy and greed and lust and jealousy and innocence and sweetness and revenge, and a hundred subtle emotional and intellectual states of which you have yet to take conscious stock.

“His capacious mind wandered everywhere, and in almost every way he has arrived there before you have, articulating it with a mastery that leaves later writers sick with wondering what territory of the human heart, human intellect, and human action is left to explore. He seems to have experienced the full range and depth of common human experience and encapsulated that experience more beautifully than any other.”

His head jerks to her. “Shakespeare, Ms. Powers, displays a vocabulary of over twenty-two thousand words, almost three times Milton’s vocabulary, and you wonder why you find reading him challenging, and you dare to wonder if Shakespeare has anything to teach you?”

She sits frozen, unable to respond to the blast that has everyone stunned. In the spacious silence, the professor begins speaking softly again, with a sardonic smile.

“May I suggest to you, Ms. Powers, that you have a choice. You can continue to dwell on the surface of life, holding up external appearances as if they were everything, parroting the rhymes and rhythms of a fast-food consciousness, flaccid and without true self-animation, smug in the knowledge that you have comfortably given yourself over to a group numbness, submitting to mere external authority—or maybe, just maybe, with personal effort, a healthy skepticism, and a sense of individual exploration, you may become your own authority, by expanding your mind in a constant effort to comprehend Shakespeare’s.

“May I suggest that until you are well along into that journey, your mind and emotions will remain susceptible to every sophistic thought that knocks on your door, seeking to enslave you with its mere appearance of originality. It’s time, Ms. Powers, that you begin feeding on Shakespeare rather than on that damned fast food.”

He pauses.

“That’s all for today.”

_________

A life of reading Shakespeare is a life of constant, surprising growth.

It’s a life that will offer thoughtless youth an increasing opportunity to actually become thoughtful adults.

And that, truly, is the reason that the Woke Supremacists cannot allow Shakespeare to become relevant.

Published in Education
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  1. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    The endless demands for Relevance by ‘educators’,  and by those who train and selected the ‘educators’, suggests to me that these people really don’t find *knowledge* very interesting, and can’t believe that anyone else does, either.   

    Years ago, I read about a new approach to science education in the UK…it didn’t include much actual *science*, but was all about the Social Relevance.  Melanie Phillips said:  “The reason given for the change to the science curriculum is to make science ‘relevant to the 21st century’. This is in accordance with the government’s doctrine of ‘personalised learning’, which means that everything that is taught must be ‘relevant’ to the individual child.” 

    I was reminded of a passage in C S Lewis’s A Preface to Paradise Lost, in which Lewis contrasts the characters of Adam and Satan, as developed in Milton’s work:

    Adam talks about God, the Forbidden tree, sleep, the difference between beast and man, his plans for the morrow, the stars and the angels. He discusses dreams and clouds, the sun, the moon, and the planets, the winds and the birds. He relates his own creation and celebrates the beauty and majesty of Eve…Adam, though locally confined to a small park on a small planet, has interests that embrace ‘all the choir of heaven and all the furniture of earth.’ Satan has been in the heaven of Heavens and in the abyss of Hell, and surveyed all that lies between them, and in that whole immensity has found only one thing that interests Satan.. And that “one thing” is, of course, Satan himself…his position and the wrongs he believes have been done to him. “Satan’s monomaniac concern with himself and his supposed rights and wrongs is a necessity of the Satanic predicament…”

    Huge harm is being done by ‘educators’ who encourage this ‘monomaniac concern’, and the harm is squared and cubed when the monomaniac concern is focused on Race.

     

     

    • #1
  2. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Even faux conservative columnist Kathleen Parker recently published a piece against this cancelling of Shakespeare . . .

    • #2
  3. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    They are determined to eliminate Shakespeare from English and correct answers from mathematics. What’s next? And what will they teach them instead?

    • #3
  4. Paul Stinchfield Member
    Paul Stinchfield
    @PaulStinchfield

    David Foster (View Comment):

    The endless demands for Relevance by ‘educators’, and by those who train and selected the ‘educators’, suggests to me that these people really don’t find *knowledge* very interesting, and can’t believe that anyone else does, either.

    Indeed. Remember when leftist teachers were pushing I, Rigoberta Menchu as a replacement for Shakespeare and other classics? Not only was I, Rigoberta Menchu a fraudulent memoir, it was not good literature. The people who held it up as a desirable work to “diversify” the curriculum did not recommend recognized great works of South- and Central-American literature; instead they chose Marxist tracts. They did not love literature and want to pass it on to the next generation; instead they merely wanted to indoctrinate children into Marxist ideology.

    • #4
  5. Fritz Coolidge
    Fritz
    @Fritz

    I worked hard to earn my BA in English lit from U. Penn decades ago, wading through and learning Shakespeare, Chaucer, Beowulf, Milton, Spencer, Pope, Donne, Keats, and many, many others.

    And to Penn’s shame, it made news in 2016 when the English department’s long displayed portrait of Shakespeare was banished and replaced with that of one “Audre Lorde.”

    Not exactly a widely studied literary icon, but Lorde is [surprise!]  black and female, so she “has that going for her, which is nice.” 

    Sigh.

    • #5
  6. Paul Stinchfield Member
    Paul Stinchfield
    @PaulStinchfield

    Percival (View Comment):

    They are determined to eliminate Shakespeare from English and correct answers from mathematics. What’s next? And what will they teach them instead?

    Marxism. And all sorts of inter-group hatreds–race, sex, ethnicity, religion, dietary preference, physical fitness, height and weight, recreational preferences, and so on.

    • #6
  7. JoelB Member
    JoelB
    @JoelB

    This is a fascinating display of logic. My own experience with Shakespeare is very superficial, but I applaud the defense presented here. I believe that much the same kind of thing could be argued for learning foreign languages, music or arts of various kinds. Even engineering, with which I am a bit better acquainted, cannot be fully appreciated unless one has attempted to learn it and to make things work. Bravo. Well said, Mr. Alexander.

    • #7
  8. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    JoelB (View Comment):

    This is a fascinating display of logic. My own experience with Shakespeare is very superficial, but I applaud the defense presented here. I believe that much the same kind of thing could be argued for learning foreign languages, music or arts of various kinds. Even engineering, with which I am a bit better acquainted, cannot be fully appreciated unless one has attempted to learn it and to make things work. Bravo. Well said, Mr. Alexander.

    Yes! So true. Thank you.

    • #8
  9. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    That’s the best defense of Shakespeare I’ve ever read. 

    • #9
  10. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    That’s the best defense of Shakespeare I’ve ever read.

    Wow. Thank you…

    • #10
  11. EHerring Coolidge
    EHerring
    @EHerring

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    That’s the best defense of Shakespeare I’ve ever read.

    Yes, indeed, and he didn’t even get into the life lessons or the influence his works have on theater and movies today. Bookmarked.

    • #11
  12. The Scarecrow Thatcher
    The Scarecrow
    @TheScarecrow

    David Foster (View Comment):
    Huge harm is being done by ‘educators’ who encourage this ‘monomaniac concern’, and the harm is squared and cubed when the monomaniac concern is focused on Race.

    Why are we insisting that Biden re-open the schools, let the children back in to complete their education?

    Keep them the hell out of there!

    (Send them to Mark Alexander!)

    • #12
  13. The Scarecrow Thatcher
    The Scarecrow
    @TheScarecrow

    Man, everybody should read this.

    Not everybody on Ricochet, everybody.

    • #13
  14. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    The Scarecrow (View Comment):

    Man, everybody should read this.

    Not everybody on Ricochet, everybody.

    It’s part of Chapter 1 of a book I’m writing on Shakespeare and Great Literature. Originally it was a chapter in my unpublished novel, The Satan Maneuver.

    • #14
  15. Doctor Robert Member
    Doctor Robert
    @DoctorRobert

    Mark Alexander (View Comment):

    The Scarecrow (View Comment):

    Man, everybody should read this.

    Not everybody on Ricochet, everybody.

    It’s part of Chapter 1 of a book I’m writing on Shakespeare and Great Literature. Originally it was a chapter in my unpublished novel, The Satan Maneuver.

    Get it published quickly.  Please.

    • #15
  16. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    Doctor Robert (View Comment):

    Mark Alexander (View Comment):

    The Scarecrow (View Comment):

    Man, everybody should read this.

    Not everybody on Ricochet, everybody.

    It’s part of Chapter 1 of a book I’m writing on Shakespeare and Great Literature. Originally it was a chapter in my unpublished novel, The Satan Maneuver.

    Get it published quickly. Please.

    Actually, it’s the second book of a trilogy, The God Game, The Satan Maneuver, The Human Hoax. I’m posting chapters from The God Game on my Patreon. It’s comedic fantasy and not publishable in today’s woke environment. The Satan Maneuver would need to be rewritten to come into alignment with the newer first novel.

    Of course, if you mean Shakespeare and Great Literature, that’s going to take some time…

    • #16
  17. OmegaPaladin Moderator
    OmegaPaladin
    @OmegaPaladin

    Here’s the problem with Shakespeare – everyone starts with Romeo and Juliet.  It’s nowhere as good as most of the other tragedies.  Also, these are plays, and they are much more engaging on stage than in a textbook.  The Bard was not just for the elite, he was for the common man buying a place on the ground to stand and be entertained.  Shakespeare should never be boring.

    Also, buy Gargoyles the cartoon series on DVD and show it to your grade school kids. Lots of Shakespeare references to set up the actual plays when they are older.  It’s one of the most clever and interesting children’s cartoons, so you might want to watch it with them.

    • #17
  18. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    Ricochet Editors, kindly invite Mark Alexander to become a Ricochet Contributor. 

    • #18
  19. Annefy Member
    Annefy
    @Annefy

    Bravo. 

    I am no Shakespeare scholar, but I give him a full throated vote whenever the opportunity presents itself. 

    Current culture and education is brilliantly malevolent. Limit what people can say, while at the same time denying them the vocabulary to develop or convey a thought or idea. 

    • #19
  20. Hartmann von Aue Member
    Hartmann von Aue
    @HartmannvonAue

    Percival (View Comment):

    They are determined to eliminate Shakespeare from English and correct answers from mathematics. What’s next? And what will they teach them instead?

    Easy. How to hate anyone who thinks differently than  they do and values things they do not value. 

    • #20
  21. Hartmann von Aue Member
    Hartmann von Aue
    @HartmannvonAue

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):

    Here’s the problem with Shakespeare – everyone starts with Romeo and Juliet. It’s nowhere as good as most of the other tragedies. Also, these are plays, and they are much more engaging on stage than in a textbook. The Bard was not just for the elite, he was for the common man buying a place on the ground to stand and be entertained. Shakespeare should never be boring.

    Also, buy Gargoyles the cartoon series on DVD and show it to your grade school kids. Lots of Shakespeare references to set up the actual plays when they are older. It’s one of the most clever and interesting children’s cartoons, so you might want to watch it with them.

    Not so much a problem with Will, but with the way he’s taught. Start ’em on the Henry IV-V plays and include Merry Wives of Windsor, along with Schiller’s Maria Stuart in translation.  Drama, comedy, action- all in one delightful package.

    • #21
  22. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):

    Here’s the problem with Shakespeare – 

    The best commentary on Shakespeare is Harold C. Goddard’s “The Meaning of Shakespeare,” which has been continuously in print now for 70 years.

    Here are a few passages on poetry from Chapter 1:

    Poetry is not something that exists in printed words on the page. It is not even something that exists in nature, in sunshine or in moonlight. Nor on the other hand is it something that exists just in the human heart or mind. It is rather the spark that leaps across when something within is brought close to something without, or something without to something within. The poetry is the spark. Or, if you will, it is what the spark gives birth to, something as different from either its inner or its outer constituent as water is from the oxygen or the hydrogen that electricity combines…

    Imagination is neither the language of nature nor the language of man, but both at once, the medium of communion between the two–as if the birds, unable to understand the speech of man, and man, unable to understand the songs of birds, yet longing to communicate, were to agree on a tongue made up of sounds they both could comprehend–the voice of running water perhaps or the wind in the trees. Imagination is the elemental speech in all senses, the first and the last, of primitive man and of the poets…

    Poetry, the elemental speech, is the like the elements. Its primary function is not to convey thought, but to reflect life. It shows man his soul, as a looking glass does his face. There hangs the mirror on the wall, a definite object, the same for all. Yet whoever looks into it sees not the mirror but himself. We all live in the same world, but what different worlds we see in it and make out of it: Caesar’s, Jesus’, Machiavelli’s, Mozart’s–yours and mine…

    To our age anything Delphic is anathema. We want the definite. As certainly as ours is a time of the expert and the technician, we are living under a dynasty of the intellect, and the aim of the intellect is not to wonder and love and grow wise about life, but to control it…

    Art is given us to redeem us. All we are in the habit of asking or expecting of it today is that it should please or teach–whereas it ought to captivate us, carry us out of ourselves, make us over into something more nearly in its own image…

    “King Lear is a miracle,” wrote a young woman who had just come under its incomparable spell. “There is nothing in the whole world that is not in this play. It says everything, and if this is the last and final judgment on the world we live in, then it is a miraculous world. This is a miracle play.”

    https://amzn.to/3pDqFCo

    • #22
  23. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):

    Ricochet Editors, kindly invite Mark Alexander to become a Ricochet Contributor.

    “In a surprise move today, Ricochet editors invited Mark Alexander to become a Contributor. Asked for a comment, Mr. Alexander responded, ‘Wait… Wha…?’ before collapsing on his porch. Peter Robinson indicated that the decision was not unanimous. ‘We must maintain high standards.’ Mr. Alexander is recovering and is, for the first time in his career, appreciating the consequences of writer’s block.”

    • #23
  24. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    “Shakespeare” and “numbers of words” always reminds me of this:

     

    • #24
  25. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    And of course there’s his sister…

     

    • #25
  26. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    Hartmann von Aue (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    They are determined to eliminate Shakespeare from English and correct answers from mathematics. What’s next? And what will they teach them instead?

    Easy. How to hate anyone who thinks differently than they do and values things they do not value.

    Hmm.  Interesting.  How does one place value without numbers?  Comparing-rods?

    • #26
  27. Benevolus Coolidge
    Benevolus
    @Benevolus

    This splendid piece justified my $50.  Thank you!

    • #27
  28. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Flicker (View Comment):

    Hartmann von Aue (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    They are determined to eliminate Shakespeare from English and correct answers from mathematics. What’s next? And what will they teach them instead?

    Easy. How to hate anyone who thinks differently than they do and values things they do not value.

    Hmm. Interesting. How does one place value without numbers? Comparing-rods?

    Feelings. How does the answer make you feel?

    • #28
  29. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    If the answer makes you feel empowered, it it the right answer, whether or not it is correct.

    • #29
  30. Marjorie Reynolds Coolidge
    Marjorie Reynolds
    @MarjorieReynolds

    kedavis (View Comment):

    And of course there’s his sister…

     

    Aw I loved them when I was 15😀

    • #30