To be or not to be in the classroom

by Kellie Ferguson, Contributor

09_22_14_FEATURES_shakespeare_thinkstockStudying the works of William Shakespeare has long been deemed of great importance to gaining a better understanding of literature, theater and history. Here at San Diego State, a multitude of classes study the works of Shakespeare. English 563, 541A and 563 use the works of Shakespeare and various other authors to develop a students understanding of literature. However, English 533, which focuses solely on the life and plays of William Shakespeare, is a class that is losing its position of importance in the English department at SDSU.

The question of whether Shakespeare is important enough to put so much emphasis on this one particular writer is a hot topic for scholars in the literary field. Debates about the authenticity of authorship by Shakespeare have been among one of the issues in literary study. Anti-stratfordians are scholars who believe William Shakespeare was a front that the true author or authors of these plays hid behind. The controversy surrounding the validity of Shakespeare as an author, along with questions of the importance of placing so much focus on one particular author in literary study creates a rift in literary scholars around the world. Here at SDSU, the debate over the importance of studying Shakespeare can be seen in a change of requirements for English majors. English 533 has been an upper division requirement for those who wish to graduate with a degree in English. However, this class will no longer be required for English majors. Rather, the requirement English 533 fulfilled will include a wider selection of courses to satisfy this requirement. Not all of these courses focus on Shakespeare in the depth that English 533 does. English 533 will still be offered to students, but will not be necessary for graduation.

Professor Edith Frampton currently teaches English 533. In her class, she focuses on the history of Shakespeare as well as the performance aspect of his plays.

“I have found that studying and performing Shakespeare has been a transformative experience for many students at SDSU,” Frampton said. “Shakespeare allows students to develop skill in creative thinking and sophisticated analysis, and foster a group work ethic.”

Regardless of your stance on Shakespeare’s literary importance, one thing everyone can agree on is that William Shakespeare is an author that can be difficult to understand. Shakespeare writes in a style of English long outdated, often making the plays seem as if they were written in another language entirely. Much of the plays are written in verse, and contain allusions no longer understood by the majority of modern society. Courses that focus on Shakespeare can help students better understand this antiquated form of English, along with the references and allusions that may be overlooked today due to a lack of understanding.

Isabella Dumon is an English senior who took English 533 in the fall of 2013. For her, learning more about Shakespeare has helped develop her understanding of literature in general.

“Learning about Shakespeare’s work has given me a broader understanding of literature because it helps with language comprehension and the themes are universal,” Dumon said. “Also, his work is often referenced in other literary works.”

Understanding Shakespeare is not a skill solely reserved for those who love literature or theater. Shakespearean works are constantly being referenced, rewritten, and used as a basis for other works. Movies like “She’s The Man” and “10 Things I Hate About You” are some modern day examples of rewritten Shakespearean works (the former being based on “Twelfth Night,” and the latter “The Taming of the Shrew.”)

Classes studying Shakespeare are still available for students who wish to gain a better understanding of his works. However, they are not a requirement. Other courses can be chosen to fulfill the necessary requirements. Shakespeare’s works surround modern literature and culture, but the focus on him is a direction SDSU students can decide for themselves.