All Posts Tagged With: "hamlet"
If professors don’t produce research, who will?
University research is under attack these days. This editorial in the Globe and Mail is just the latest call for “reform” of a system where university professors are, they say, too devoted to research, contemptuous of teaching, and wasting the public’s money. If professors spent more time teaching and less time researching, taxpayers and students would get more bang for their buck, they argue. As a student and a young scholar, I always took the value of university research for granted.
Apparently I can’t any longer.
One reason such editorializing is wrong-headed is that the anti-teaching prof is a myth. While those outside the academy like to represent today’s professor as a hyper-nerd who can churn out papers but not explain anything, the stereotype simply doesn’t hold up. In nine years as a student and eleven as a professor, I have met only a few professors who hated teaching, and not a single one who didn’t work hard at it.
Chances to really think about things are rare. Don’t waste those chances while you are in university.
It’s advice time again, and though I have doled out advice before, there is one big suggestion that will be helpful if taken to heart by everyone who goes to university, and has not, to my knowledge, been offered elsewhere. Here it is:
You are not in prison.
This might seem unhelpful since university, of course, is not prison, but my point is that a great many students treat it like it is. Put another way, many students treat their university years as thirty-six to forty-eight months that must be endured to get a degree. Do your time, keep your head down, stay out of trouble, and eventually they will let you out with a piece of paper saying that you deserve your freedom.
One problem with this approach is that it often fails. Students find that many courses actually require substantial effort and, sadly, some profs don’t give time off for good behaviour. After a year or two of this, they drop out or are kicked out, none the wiser and much poorer.
But the bigger problem with this approach is that even if it works, it represents a staggering missed opportunity. University is a time when you not only have the chance to learn about, read about, think about the most interesting questions in the world, you will actually be rewarded for it. If a professor asks you what you’re working on and you reply that you’ve been thinking a lot about St Augustine’s notions of evil as represented in Hamlet, your prof will think you’re a genius. Say the same thing to your sales manager in a few years and he will think you’re a nutcase. You may think that having to sit and read a book is about the worst thing you can be made to do, but believe me, there will come a day when you will be ecstatic if the most pressing thing you have to do in a day is sit and read.
You can approach university passively. You can get by with as little trouble as possible. You can just muddle through to get a credential.
But you will have missed the biggest opportunity of your life.
We Shakespeare profs have to have patience with pop-culture references to the Bard.
As a Shakespeare scholar, I am familiar with the casual, even cynical uses of your work in popular culture, so the trailer for the new film Letters to Juliet did not take me by surprise. I haven’t seen the film — and I’m not criticizing it; I’m sure it’s delightful — but I gather that the practice of writing letters to Juliet (she of Romeo and Juliet) is the starting point. I think I even read somewhere that people actually do this in Verona.
Fair enough. As I often say, you’re in no danger from popular culture. You practically invented popular culture. Besides, you borrowed liberally from everyone else, why not borrow liberally from you?
But I do find it strange that Juliet (and I guess Romeo, too) has become a symbol for magical, fulfilling romance. Has anyone even read the play? As you well know, Will, Juliet has exactly one love affair: it lasts about three days and she is dead by the end of it. All before her fourteenth birthday. Why would she be someone to dish out advice like a sixteenth-century Dear Abby?
Lovelorn on the Lido: I think my husband might be cheating on me — I read some very sexy texts on his phone.
Juliet: Great question. First, what’s a text? Also, what’s a phone?
Confused in Canterbury: I think this boy likes me, but I’m not sure. What should I do?
Juliet: It’s always best to send a message through your wet nurse. Oh, and marry him right away. No time like the present!
Aching in Athens: I’m in love with one man, but my parents want me to marry someone else. What should I do?
Juliet: Do you know your local priest? Have him mix up a potion… no, wait…
Will, I certainly hope this practice of writing to your characters doesn’t catch on. What’s next? Letters to Hamlet for those trying to make tough decisions? Letters to Iago about how to win friends? Letters to Shylock with questions on sound financial planning?
Letters to you about how your plays are man-handled these days? Now, that really would be going too far.
Two UChicago students are going to rewrite 75 classic novels and plays as “Twitterature”
Over the summer, I was able to spend some time with three great books: On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan, Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie and, most recently, Herzog by Saul Bellow. All three, coming highly recommended by friends whose judgment have my utmost respect, shone for me. And this is not to say [...]
Over the summer, I was able to spend some time with three great books: On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan, Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie and, most recently, Herzog by Saul Bellow. All three, coming highly recommended by friends whose judgment have my utmost respect, shone for me. And this is not to say that I’ve actually finished all (or any) of them. Anyone familiar with my restless reading habits knows that only rarely do I ever finish a book – and never in a timely fashion.
It’s mostly due to my short attention span and as-yet-undiagnosed ADD, but a small part has something to do with an obsession with style. Not simply the style of writing — whether it be ornate prose or Hemingwayesque simplicity — but the style with which a story is told. My favourite sentences contain entire worlds within each clause and sub-clause. Ones that can make you stop, reflect, and reread them several times before moving on (Rushdie and Vlad Nabokov are, in my mind, the most successful at containing such multitudes). Clearly, this doesn’t help my reading process.
I was often embarrassed by this inability to keep up with the assigned pages in high school English classes. Had I read all of MacBeth’s Act V last night? How about the first hundred pages of A Separate Peace over the weekend? Not a chance. Though, as someone who loved the class, I could never admit it. I would lie when called on and then, egged on by my embarrassment, make up some cliche answer about character development or white/black imagery or foreshadowing.
Now, as I page through the beginning of Herzog, or any good book for that matter, I am wishing I’d never had to invent such pretense. Our schools must teach us to grasp the immeasurable joys that arise from great literature, not to give stock answers to stock questions.
Perhaps it’s because most courses present the same staid approaches to the same staid texts. I’m not saying Shakespeare isn’t great: I just feel we’ve taught him to death and the sight of his slow execution is a mindnumbingly dreadful experience. Elizabethan language is hard enough to grasp. What’s truly exciting about MacBeth or Hamlet or King Lear are the stories, the wild, unnatural, off-the-wall stories. This is what needs to be appreciated in these works: the playfulness, the excitement and the irreverence. It exists in all literature, in all books.
Maybe a new approach to reading needs to be introduced early. So that kids can appreciate things the way I rarely could. Make them enjoy the experience of reading, not feel they have to prepare a useless paper on the use of food metaphors in Shakespeare or the supurfluous man theory in Turgenev.
Let them discover the stories — shall we? — while we rediscover our own.