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Home :: Archive :: 1993 :: February ::
Shakespeare Test
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 106. Thursday, 25, February 1993.
 
From:           David Knauer <TB0DJK9@NIU.BITNET>
Date:           Wednesday, 24 Feb 93 17:39 CST
Subject:        Shakespeare Test
 
In light of the ongoing discussion of whether Shakespeare is entrapped by or
escapes from his (and our) dominant cultural conceptions of differences racial,
religious, economic, etc., the following passages demonstrate how partisan this
debate appears to have become, at least in England. They are extracted from an
article in the *Chicago Tribune*, 24 Feb., 1993 (sec. 7, pp. 13-14).
 
Britain's government has decreed that 14-year-olds must take a standardized
test on a Shakespeare play. That has enraged teachers and brought on a skirmish
between Old Guard and avante- garde over the true meaning of Shakespeare's
work. "Shakespeare was a subversive," claims director Michael Bogdanov, who has
gone into the breach with left- wing forces. "Anarchists need to reclaim him
from the establishment, which has hijacked his words to shore up the status
quo."
 
"Shakespeare was an upwardly mobile fellow who knew the value of money," says
Brian John, an English teacher who recently challanged Bogdanov at a public
debate. "There's no doubt that he was a man of the political right."
 
Directors and academics have joined the fray, which has grown so hot that most
teachers now say they will boycott the tests. Sheila Lawlor, an education
specialist at a right-wing London think-tank, says she stands by old methods
such as memorizing soliloquies "because you carry Shakespeare through life." As
a 12-year-old, she says, the "quality of mercy" speech in "The Merchant of
Venice" meant nothing to her. But in middle age, "it comes back to me often as
a wise bit of poetry that I'm glad to know."
 
Those on the left dismiss such notions as elitist. Alan Sinfield, an English
professor at Sussex University, says the tests are a way "to re-create a prole
class" by making poor students feel that "they don't even have what it takes
when it comes to an icon of our national culture."
 
Bogdanov, for his part, is something of a nihilist. "There should be a
moratorium on Shakespeare," he concludes. "Close the shows, burn all the
theses. Then people can start fresh in 20 years and we can see what a rebel he
really is."
 
Does anyone out there still doubt that this is just as much a debate about the
*uses* we want Shakespeare to serve as about the truth value or historicity of
his texts?
 
David Knauer
Northern Illinois University
 

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