Paula Marantz Cohen, Professor at Drexel University, has written (WSJ, 4/18) one of the best defenses of teaching Shakespeare -- mere Shakespeare, I should say -- I've read in recent memory. Her opening paragraphs:
Of all the courses I have taught over my 30 years as an English professor, the one that I enjoy teaching most and that students seem to enjoy taking most is “Shakespeare.”Advertisement
That’s the title. Not “Shakespeare and the Elizabethan World” or “Shakespeare and Stagecraft”; not “Shakespeare and Imperialism,” “Shakespeare and Gender,” or “Shakespeare and Postmodern Theory.”
I don’t even title the course, as I once did, “Introduction to Shakespeare,” though it is open to all students and has no prerequisites. Appending “introduction to” would admittedly emphasize the fact that Shakespeare is a vast and deep terrain, but it would also suggest that the course leads to “Advanced Shakespeare.”
This is not the case. The Shakespeare course is not the first step in a graded ascent but an immersion in a world. I want it to be Shakespeare without addendum or dilution. My belief is that anyone at any level can derive benefit from this course, not because I teach it so well but because reading a certain number of Shakespeare’s plays with close attention is an end as well as a beginning. It can yield rudimentary insights but it can also yield highly advanced and sophisticated ones.
What are some of those insights? See her essay for more.