Shakespeare not required reading for most literature grads in US
By Philip Sherwell
He is widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language, a poet and playwright whose works still shape minds and lives more than four centuries later.
But when it comes to the question of to study or not to study the canon of William Shakespeare, only a small fraction of English literature students in America’s top colleges are required to specialise in the words of the bard.
Just four of the country’s 52 highest-ranked academic institutions require students of English literature to take a compulsory Shakespeare course, according to a new report.
The study, “The Unkindest Cut: Shakespeare in Exile 2015”, was published by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a Washington group that lobbies for traditional academic standards in universities.
The council noted that Shakespeare’s demise as a subject of specialist study mirrored an increase in courses with emphasis on race, class, gender, and sexuality such as “Literature, Food, and the American Racial Diet” at Princeton University.
In a literary lament, the report’s authors noted: “The Bard, who is the birthright of the English speaking world, has no seat of honour. A degree in English without serious study of Shakespeare is like a major in Greek literature without the serious study of Homer.”
Michael Poliakoff, the council’s Vice-President, concluded: “It’s astounding that literature majors – including future English teachers – are not required to take even a single semester-long college course on the subject.
“Many of these institutions brand themselves as places that provide a true liberal arts education, but this study shows that is too often a claim full of sound and fury and signifying nothing.
“Rather than studying major literary works in depth, students are taught the rationale for and applications of critical approaches that are heavily influenced by theories of race, class, gender, and sexuality.”
The report was released this week to coincide with what is believed to be the 451st anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564.