Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 655.  Thursday, 14 October 1993.
From:           Hardy M. Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, October 14, 1993
Subject:        New on the SHAKSPER FileServer: AGAINST THEGRAIN
As of today, SHAKSPEReans may retrieve Ron Strickland's "Shakespeare Against
the Grain" (AGAINST THEGRAIN) from the SHAKSPER FileServer. This essay was
originally published, in a slightly shorter version, in *Teaching Shakespeare
Today:  Practical Approaches and Productive Strategies*.  James Davis and
Ronald Salomone, editors.  Urbana:  National Council of Teachers of English,
SHAKSPEReans can retrieve AGAINST THEGRAIN by issuing the interactive
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Below is an excerpt from this essay:
               Teaching Shakespeare Against the Grain
        At the present moment, college literary study is caught
between two conflicting, though essentially conservative,
agendas:  the nostalgic demand for the preservation of trad-
itional values, on the one hand, and the insistent urgency of the
quasi-vocational and pre-professional mission of the modern
university on the other hand.  On the face of it, the
Shakespeare course seems well-suited to the former goal, and
ill-suited to the latter.  Traditionalist scholars and
neoconservative politicians have rushed to defend Shakespeare
against a perceived onslaught of "lesser" writers--particularly
women and people of color--who, they argue, would displace
Shakespeare from the canon and the curriculum.  At the same
time, many vocationally-oriented students question the value of
required humanities courses, such as Shakespeare, which seem to
have little relation to their career goals.
        I don't think teachers of Shakespeare should cater to either
of these positions, but, on the other hand, we shouldn't ignore
them.  Instead, we should focus our courses at least partly on
an analysis of the ways "Shakespeare" (as an icon of cultural
literacy) gets defined or represented in relation to different
sets of values.  By identifying the socio-cultural coordinates
from which Shakespeare is variously appropriated or resisted by
groups within the academy and the society at large we can begin
to produce what Jerry Herron has described as a sort of "crit-
ical" literacy:  a contingent set of terms and rhetorical prac-
tices which will enable us to openly and self-consciously engage
in the (often masked or suppressed) ideological conflicts
through which social values are established (117-29).
        As an exploratory effort toward developing a "critical liter-
acy" approach to Shakespeare, I will briefly critique what I see
as the two most pernicious ideological functions of Shakespeare
study in the academy:  the use of Shakespeare as an ideological
underpinning for a quietist, apolitical individualism; and the
production of Shakespeare as a class talisman or commodity fet-
ish of upper middle class taste.  Then I will discuss several
strategies for engaging students in a critical analysis of
"Shakespeare" as a social phenomen.

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