Few English Majors Have to Take Shakespeare

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.224  Thursday, 14 May 2015


From:        David Frankel <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         May 14, 2015 at 12:39:43 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: English Majors


It’s interesting to read about the “lack” of required Shakespeare in English programs, especially in light of the ongoing discussion of whether Shakespeare wrote with readers in mind.  As a theatre teacher/director, I tend to regard the plays as scripts — and, while being aware of the many issues regarding the particular text we may be using in class or in performance, I encourage students to read the plays for all those things that English majors might do (looking for image clusters, dealing with strange syntax, questioning motives of characters, etc.), but always with an eye to how those things might matter in performance.  After all, how a line is said (or how it is heard in one’s head on reading) contributes to one’s ideas about what is going on.


Here at USF, we do not require theatre majors to take a course on Shakespeare, but our Shakespeare for the Theatre course is one of a group of required courses — and many students opt to take it.  Individual plays are required in other courses — and the acting students encounter some of the plays in some of their acting classes.  The plays, also, feature regularly in our performance series.


One of my concerns, both for English and theatre majors (and the public at large) is that many of them think that Shakespeare existed by himself — they have little or no acquaintance with the plays of his contemporaries.  That’s why I have, on occasion, taught a class on Elizabethan and Jacobean Plays other than Shakespeare.  I have also directed student productions of ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore and Women Beware Women, and wish there were opportunities to do more.


Ars longa, vita breva est — and funds are even shorter.



C. David Frankel

Assistant Director of Theatre

School of Theatre and Dance


University of South Florida 


Criticism of Erne

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.223  Wednesday, 13 May 2015


From:        Steve Roth <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         May 12, 2015 at 2:25:43 PM EDT

Subject:    Erne


The ongoing contentions about Erne’s work, in my opinion, result largely from our failure to address the same questions. We inevitably get different answers.


There are two questions that are of interest to me:

  1. Was Shakespeare writing for both readers and auditors, for both the page and for the stage?
  1. Is there interpretive value in reading Shakespeare as literature, or only as scripts -- as we would read Hollywood screenplays?

We can’t plumb Shakespeare’s mind, of course. But various evidence bears, beginning with...


o The complete lack of evidence for Shakespeare's involvement in his plays' publication. One can adduce from this that S didn't care about the details of his plays' publication during his lifetime. But not much else. This absence tells us little about his concern with whether his plays were to be published at some point.


o The sonnets seem to tell us that he was obsessed with his own literary immortality. This may not be safe, of course: perhaps he was just creating a fictional persona that was so obsessed, with that persona serving Shakespeare’s literary, artistic, poetic, narrative purposes.


o That that obsession was so widespread (though not demonstrably ubiquitous) among his literary coevals suggests that S probably shared it; we should at least use that high probability as our Bayesian prior, with any adjustments to our confidence estimate starting there.


o I think everyone will agree that S knew his plays were being published, purchased, read, quoted, commonplaced, and discussed, and that by his best, best-educated and best-read, highest-status, and most discriminating customers. To suggest that that reality had no effect on his writing strikes me as fantastical.


o The sheer density of his plays, far beyond the capacity of even the most perspicacious of auditors to plumb even on a second or third hearing, suggests an expectation that they would be plumbed by that known, large body of skilled readers. 


o Ah, play length. The contention, it seems to me, circles around whether long plays were cut sometimes, often, always, frequently, never, occasionally... We’re just lacking the data to answer that numeric question. Holding up my thumb and squinting, I’d say the quantity of available data falls approximately an order of magnitude short of what we’d need. Squinting again, I’d say that “often” falls within the bounds of medium to high probability. 


For me, all that suffices to suggest that S was consciously writing not only for auditors, but for readers—not just scripts for stage production, but also works of literature that he knew would have lives in print, realized only in his readers’ minds. He was writing (in part) for that known audience of readers.


Does Steve Urkowitz or anyone else think that’s a crazy suggestion?  

The corollary: we should (feel free to) read his plays as literature (while keeping a clear eye on their theatrical/dramatic roots, purposes, effects, etc.). The revelations we find therein as readers, inaccessible to auditors, are perfectly valid objects of consideration and discussion. To deny that is to denude Shakespeare of much of the manifest prowess and power that makes him “Shakespeare.”


Nobody would claim that Shakespeare was only writing his plays as literature, only for readers. Many have claimed that he was only writing scripts, only for auditors—and that any suggestion of purely literary virtues are spurious and sadly anachronistic. (Decades of pertinent quotations are easily assembled.)


Those asymmetrical positions go far, in my opinion, toward determining which position merits widespread adoption, and which should be eschewed.



My gentle readers may feel free to argue matters of degree (how much was he writing for page vs stage) for the next several centuries.


Few English Majors Have to Take Shakespeare

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.222  Wednesday, 13 May 2015


From:        Hannibal Hamlin <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         May 13, 2015 at 9:58:36 AM EDT

Subject:    Re: English Majors


The story on undergraduate English majors being required (or not) to take Shakespeare seems to me to be trying to create a scandal where none really exists. At Ohio State, English majors are not required to take Shakespeare. But they do, regularly, in large numbers. We usually offer at least 5 or 6 senior Shakespeare classes each year, with most of them filling up (our cap has varied somewhat, but the enrollment has been 30-40). We also offer a couple of general education Intro to Shakespeare courses, and those are well enrolled too. Interest in Shakespeare, obviously, is alive and well. My sense is that many undergraduates feel they simply ought to take a Shakespeare course at university, especially if they are English majors. Moreover, Education majors, at least those headed for careers teaching high school English, are in fact required to take Shakespeare. There is no national decline in interest in Shakespeare. I suspect the real issue buried in the SF Chronicle story is that other authors/topics may well be in decline. Reducing the number of strict requirements for English majors has no impact on Shakespeare's fortunes, but Spenser? Renaissance poetry generally?




Book Announcement: Shakespeare's Authentic Performance Texts

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.221  Wednesday, 13 May 2015


From:        Graham Watts <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         May 12, 2015 at 5:19:23 PM EDT

Subject:    Book Announcement: Shakespeare's Authentic Performance Texts


My book Shakespeare’s Authentic Performance Texts: The Case for Staging from the First Folio was recently published by McFarland and, it is available direct from the publisher and pretty much anywhere, including Amazon.


I draw on the excellent work of Dan Weingust and others who have been inspirational to me as a professional Director but rather than repeat the arguments of Dan and others I set them in the context of a practical engagement when directing 28 Shakespeare productions in the USA and UK over a 30 year period. I analyze the language and characters from a director’s point of view in an in-depth study of the text. I’m NOT saying I’m right and everyone else is wrong but rather “Let your own Discretion be your Tutor” - my original title and the concluding line in my book.


I was interested to read The New York Times’s excellent review of Tina Packer’s show / book because it clearly identifies the difference between academic study and performance. Tina will use her imagination to create outstanding characters regardless of historical truth. It’s being truthful to the audience on the night that concerns her not what the third Quarto etc. says. I hope my book is a bridge between the two different worlds of Academia and Theatre which, incidentally, I do not think necessarily ought to stand in opposition. Judge for yourself. 


Best Wishes,




SHAKSPER Membership Update

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.220  Wednesday, 13 May 2015


From:        Hardy M. Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         May 13, 2015 at 9:39:52 AM EDT

Subject:    SHAKSPER Membership Update


Dear Subscribers,


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I thought I might be informative to announce some figures about the membership.


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