Phi Beta Cons

English Prof to Conservatives: “Bardolatry is Idolatry”

Robert Matz, a George Mason University English professor who focuses on English Renaissance literature, has written an opinion piece for Inside Higher Ed that criticizes the American Council of Trustees and Alumni’s recent report (see “response to”) on the decline of courses dedicated to the works of Shakespeare:

With no Shakespeare requirement in the George Mason University English department, it is true that some of our majors won’t study Shakespeare. However, because our majors must take a course in a pre-1800 literature – nearly all the departments ACTA examined have a similar requirement – that means they’ll study Chaucer, or medieval intellectual history, or Wyatt, Sidney, Donne, Jonson, Milton, etc.

How can writers as great as these be off ACTA’s map? Is it because ACTA doesn’t really value them? Its Bardolatry is idolatry – the worship of the playwright as wooden sign rather than living being, a Shakespeare to scold with, but no devotion to the rich literary and cultural worlds of which Shakespeare was a part….

ACTA also warns that rather than Shakespeare, English departments are “often encouraging instead trendy courses on popular culture.” This warning indicates the narrowness of ACTA’s commitment to literary study. As anyone who’s ever taken a Shakespeare course should know, not only were Shakespeare’s plays popular culture in his own day, but also the very richness of Shakespeare’s literary achievement comes from his own embrace of multiple forms of culture. His sources are not just high-end Latin authors but also translations of pulpy Italian “novels,” English popular writers, folktales, histories and travelogues, among others. The plays remain vibrant today because Shakespeare allows all these sources to live and talk to one another.

Matz urges conservatives to not “mistake a parochial struggle over particular authors and curricula for [a] full-throated defense of the humanities.” Read the full article here

Jesse SaffronJesse Saffron is a writer and editor for the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, a North Carolina-based think tank dedicated to improving higher education in the Tar ...

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