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Home :: Archive :: 2007 :: July ::
Degree in Shakespeare
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0470  Wednesday, 11 July 2007

[1] 	From: 	David Frankel <
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	Date: 	Monday, 9 Jul 2007 10:34:03 -0400
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 18.0462 Degree in Shakespeare

[2] 	From: 	Larry Weiss <
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	Date: 	Monday, 09 Jul 2007 12:54:14 -0400
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 18.0462 Degree in Shakespeare

[3] 	From: 	Nicole Coonradt <
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	Date: 	Monday, 09 Jul 2007 17:45:24 +0000
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 18.0462 Degree in Shakespeare

[4] 	From: 	Kathy Darrow <
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	Date: 	Monday, 9 Jul 2007 16:26:07 -0400
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 18.0462 Degree in Shakespeare

[5] 	From: 	Harry Connors <
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	Date: 	Monday, 09 Jul 2007 23:57:41 +0000
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 18.0462 Degree in Shakespeare

[6] 	From: 	John W. Kennedy <
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	Date: 	Monday, 09 Jul 2007 20:53:57 -0400
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 18.0462 Degree in Shakespeare


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		David Frankel <
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Date: 		Monday, 9 Jul 2007 10:34:03 -0400
Subject: 18.0462 Degree in Shakespeare
Comment: 	RE: SHK 18.0462 Degree in Shakespeare

"Does the study of Shakespeare make us better people?"

No.

Hopefully, it makes us better students of Shakespeare (and related areas).

I don't think that the study of anything, by itself and without taking 
into account a much larger context, makes us better people (as Janet 
Costa asks "Better than what?").

Reading and viewing Shakespeare's plays provides opportunities, among 
other things, to think about aspects of human relations.  They provide, 
in Kenneth Burke's term, equipment for living.  Like other equipment, 
however, they can be used for good, ill, or not at all.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Larry Weiss <
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Date: 		Monday, 09 Jul 2007 12:54:14 -0400
Subject: 18.0462 Degree in Shakespeare
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0462 Degree in Shakespeare

 >If we all had English Literature degrees what sort of foreign
 >policy would we have?

If this List has taught us anything, it is that literature does not 
inform our political opinions.  It is vice versa.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Nicole Coonradt <
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Date: 		Monday, 09 Jul 2007 17:45:24 +0000
Subject: 18.0462 Degree in Shakespeare
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0462 Degree in Shakespeare

Janet Costa's "Better than what?" is a good question, as is Sam Small's 
qualification of "If so, how?"

But this all seems a bit of a dead-end now.  All of the posts in this 
thread have argued for one aspect or another re the value of the study 
of literature, specifically Shakespeare.  Collectively, I think pretty 
much everything has been covered, from political to escapist qualities. 
  Bottom line is that we study lit-- and lit these days, any canon, with 
the exception of Shakespeare, has shifted, in part to privilege "other" 
voices that may have been marginalized in the past-- to learn important 
lessons about the human experience-- those in the stories, those in 
history, and ourselves.  Most would argue that lit does offer a moral 
lesson (though individuals may differ significantly about what 
constitutes "morality").  But having said that, even if all lit had an 
agreed-upon moral lesson that was meant to *make* the reader a better 
person:  smarter, wiser, more courageous, humble, honest, humane, ergo a 
better *human*, there is no proof that the readers of said lit, would 
internalize those lessons and then apply them in their own lives.  And 
two people could read the same text and see different "lessons."  Look 
at the myriad interpretations out there on the Bard's work alone.

I think in the end it comes round to what is really, for many, a 
starting point:  free will.  What does the reader **choose** to do with 
the lessons with which s/he is confronted in literature?

There's the rub!

Of course great art (if we can even agree on this very subjective issue) 
has the potential to improve people-- POTENTIAL-- but, unfortunately, as 
with so much regarding human nature, there are no absolutes or guarantees.

Best,
Nicole Coonradt
Univ. of Denver
Denver, CO  USA

P.S.  RE this issue of agreeing upon messages and values (morals?):  for 
fun, see Laura Bohannan's "Shakespeare in the Bush."  I know many are 
familiar with this famous piece (always fun to revisit), but some may 
not be.  Enjoy!  (Hope the link works.)
http://www.naturalhistorymag.com/master.html?http://www.naturalhistorymag.com/editors_pick/1966_08-09_pick.html 


[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Kathy Darrow <
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Date: 		Monday, 9 Jul 2007 16:26:07 -0400
Subject: 18.0462 Degree in Shakespeare
Comment: 	RE: SHK 18.0462 Degree in Shakespeare

This thread, while at first thought-provoking, has descended into 
absurdity. Mr. Small demands answers to unanswerable questions and is, 
not surprisingly, disappointed by the response. Does studying the Bible 
or religious literature "make you a better person?  A more peaceful 
person?  More mature?"  Truly, does merely studying any subject generate 
these positive results?  Obviously, knowledgeable persons are not 
necessarily "better" persons. Enough already.

Kathy Darrow

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Harry Connors <
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Date: 		Monday, 09 Jul 2007 23:57:41 +0000
Subject: 18.0462 Degree in Shakespeare
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0462 Degree in Shakespeare

I believe Sam Small has misstated his question. This has caused 
considerable confusion and has resulted in his claim that his actual 
question has not been addressed. In his July 8 response he states:

 >What I was asking was quite clear.  Does the study of
 >Shakespeare make us better people?  Perhaps I should have added extra
 >clarification of "if so, how?"

Phrased this way the question means, "How does studying Shakespeare make 
us better individually?" I believe most of the responses have addressed 
this question as Sam Small asked it. However, Sam Small goes on to state:

 >Which brings us full circle to the original premise of my question.  If
 >we all had English Literature degrees what sort of foreign policy would
 >we have?  Do Shakespeare anoraks make a better and more joyful world?
 >If you agree, please tell me how, Dan. (or anyone)

Here, the question has morphed into two different questions. The first 
is, "How does the study of Shakespeare make us A better people?" 
Personally, I think society would be much poorer if no one studied 
Shakespeare. But that isn't precisely what Sam Small asks, either. What 
he is really asking is, "Would the world be a better place if everyone 
had a degree in Shakespeare?" Speaking as one who does not have a degree 
in literature, I find other fields of study to be of use, too. As much 
as I might admire PhDs in literature, I'd rather they didn't pilot the 
airplane, run the power grid, etc. I don't think the world would be a 
better place if everyone had a degree in literature. As for the 
potential impact of universal literature degrees on our foreign 
policy--the mind reels.

I believe that the question makes sense only in Sam Small's original 
phrasing, the one which means, "How does studying Shakespeare make us 
better as individuals?" We can answer that. Several have tried. The more 
metaphysical questions that, apparently, Sam Small was really asking 
can't be answered this side of science fiction. In our Brave New World 
only Shakespeare is taught and only degrees in literature are 
awarded--and how does that affect the nature of the world?

Harry Connors

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		John W. Kennedy <
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Date: 		Monday, 09 Jul 2007 20:53:57 -0400
Subject: 18.0462 Degree in Shakespeare
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0462 Degree in Shakespeare

I hesitated to jump in here, as I lack even a bachelor's degree, and, if 
I had one, it would be in physics. But perhaps I can contribute all the 
same.

As to what sort of foreign policy we would have if everyone had degrees 
in English, surely history already shows that we would surely have one 
better than is produced by a load of MBAs.

Do Shakespeare students make for "a better and more joyful world"? Well, 
to begin with, does Shakespeare? It seems to me that the answer is a 
certain "Yes!" But if that is so, how can honest study of Shakespeare, 
entered into with clean hands and purity of heart, fail to do so, too? 
For Shakespeare, even to his own contemporaries, even to the most 
brilliant of them, cannot be easy to understand fully in the same way 
that a mathematical theorem can be (being written in a language 
carefully constructed to avoid all equivocacy and uncertainty) when 
Shakespeare's special study is that most ambiguous of all things, the 
human soul. We, worse off than those contemporaries, live long after 
Shakespeare's language was current -- "solid/sullied"? 
"pollacks/poleaxe"? -- it is a wonder that we manage at all.

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