Bard, Beowulf and smart-arses

May 26, 2000

I agree with Jennifer Wallace (Soapbox, THES, May 19). Traditional exams in Shakespeare should be scrapped - and not only at Cambridge.

Shakespeare should be reintegrated into his historical context and put in a more appropriate position within the canon. Universities are places in which ideologies should be overturned and scholarship developed. They should not perpetuate outdated and patriarchal notions of canonicity with the facile glorification of a "dead white male" so that all of his work (and not just the good bits) is studied "in splendid isolation". This privileges just one writer at the expense of countless others and at the expense of further study into the real burning issues in our field, those arising from recent work in literary theory.

As an undergraduate I would have given my eye-teeth to study a course in advanced literary theory or interdisciplinary issues in English studies. Instead, I wasted much time on a writer who did indeed write some of the most powerful and beautiful works in the English language but did not excite me as a critic, and the study of him did not seem as relevant to my plans for an academic career as, for example, further study of literary theory would have been.

For those of us with a real love of our subjects, it was hard enough to cram the entire canon into three years, without that canon being distorted by the archaic, irrelevant and reactionary practice of compulsory Shakespeare study.

Liz Glossop Graduate trainee, policy and planning unit, registrar's department University of Nottingham

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