Speaking from experience, I can honestly say there is no job, area of study, or political camp more bloody than an English department. If you want to instigate war and ensure a battle to the death Roman Gladiator-style, simply state loud enough for four or five people to hear, “There’s no point in teaching Shakespeare anymore.” Then sit back with your popcorn and your body armor, and let the games begin.
As a scholar and PhD candidate, I’ve seen my share of in-house feuds among professors and within areas of study. You have the Renaissance and Victorians on one side of the divide and the Post-Modernists and Literary Theorists on the other. Somewhere in there, the Folklorists and Rhetoric guys are wandering the desert like the Israelites, trying to find the Promised Land. The vitriol within a university English department is quite unlike anything you’ve ever seen, and the battle for research money is indeed a nasty one. Thus, it’s no wonder there are so many turf wars; but the major battle is in deciding (or rather lobbying for) which works should be included in the Canon, and thus, which works should always be taught. Dante? Chaucer? Shakespeare? Milton? Of course. Pope? Swift? Jonson? Johnson? Yeah, okay. Barrett-Browning? Austen? the Brontes? Eh, they’re women, but I guess they can join. Woolf? Auden? Plath? Wait a minute. Let’s fight about this. Continue reading “Shakespeare: To Teach or Not to Teach, That is the Question”