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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: July ::
Cliffs Notes
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.1211  Thursday, 1 July 1999.

From:           Margaret H. Dupuis <
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Date:           Wednesday, 30 Jun 1999 12:23:08 -0700
Subject:        Cliffs Notes

Although there may be valid criticisms of Cliffs Notes, I don't think
that the argument that such guides "prevent students from coming up with
their own interpretations" is one of them.  Surely, if academic research
teaches us anything, it is that most of us rarely, if ever, have
"original" interpretations.  We all build upon the work, thoughts, and
ideas of others and, at best, add our two-cents' worth to the
conversation.  At any rate, when my students (university level) do come
up with "original" interpretations of material from Shakespeare's plays,
these readings are usually completely "out of the blue" and not based on
historical evidence.  (I had a student paper that argued that
Shakespeare based the character of Olivia in *TN on Elizabeth because
they both had broken hearts.)  It seems to me that if Cliffs Notes
wishes to revise their publication in order to add more background
material "including sociopolitical, historical, religious, and economic
issues"-to quote from Mr. Tubach's letter- then these additions can only
enhance students' understanding of the text.

As has been pointed out, students do abuse Cliffs Notes, but as many of
you have suggested, there are very effective ways for teachers (of all
levels of students) to get around these attempts at laziness or
desperation.  And although Cliffs Notes may be more accessible than
other secondary sources, and thus more available for abuse, students are
just as adept at cribbing other sources, e.g., I once received an
"adaptation" of an essay by Northrup Frye on The Tempest from a student,
complete with a note about how he "fell in love with the play" and hoped
that I wouldn't mind that he didn't write on one of the assigned topics!

Margaret Dupuis
Dept. of English
University of Oregon
 

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