The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.06626  Tuesday, 13 April 1999.

From:           Karen Peterson-Kranz <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Tuesday, 13 Apr 1999 09:43:28 +1000
Subject: 10.0653 Current Views on Why Shakespeare Matters
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0653 Current Views on Why Shakespeare Matters

Thanks to Daniel Traister for the NEH commentary.  To my mind, his
"minnow-like carps" were to the point and highly relevant.  Beyond that,
I wonder if anyone else on the list found the following troublesome:

>Shakespeare is for everyone, but he is only one example of the
>humanities in action. The humanities are the subject areas of history,
>literature and languages, which taken together offer the best insights
>we have into our values, traditions and ideals. Focusing on these ideas,
>discussing them, drawing strength from them and becoming more human
>because of them is the humanities in action. The humanities bind us
>together as a nation and help us live more meaningful lives.

It may be because I live and teach outside the North America/UK/Western
Europe cultural axis, but I was curious about that line about how "the
humanities bind us together as a nation."  First, what nation might that
be?  The US, I take it, but if "Shakespeare is for everyone," how about
those of us not of the US persuasion?  "Drawing strength" was
interesting, too.  Taken together with the "binding together" imagery, I
found this an oddly (dare I say it?) fascistic way of representing why
Shakespeare, and the humanities, matter.

In my own teaching and research, I have found that Shakespeare (and many
of the other canonical texts/authors) tend to work like light-refracting
crystals.  An audience member or reader applies her own subjectivity,
"values, traditions and ideals" to the text.  The text helps the subject
(audience member/reader) see those ideals in refraction, whether or not
they are the same "ideals" that the NEH apparently intends or expects
one to see.  Through this process, there is greater appreciation for the
endless variety and particularity of those refracted responses.  If
anything, Shakespeare's (and here I am using "Shakespeare" as a metanym
for the Western humanistic canon) functional role might be in
highlighting difference, rather than reiterating some essential,
"traditional" sense of (American/W.European) "humanity."

Any thoughts?

Karen Peterson-Kranz
University of Guam (a proud colony of the USA!)

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