Seriously, Calm Down

A Healthy Dose of #Shakespeare400 Skepticism

Shakespeare is overrated. There, I said it. The year 2016 marks 400 years since the death of a man from Stratford-upon-Avon who wrote, or contributed to, some thirty-seven plays. Some of them are good. Some of them are terrible. Most of them are overrated.

I’m a scholar of Renaissance drama. Reading, seeing, performing, adapting, teaching, and writing about Shakespeare’s plays is a major part of my job. I love my job, but I’m already sick of the #Shakespeare400 celebrations. This particular phenomenon seems to have a kind of mollifying magic that is especially concerning in a year when Hamilton and the presidential election have so successfully reminded us to consider historiography, or how stories get told.

Somehow, it’s become unfashionable to think critically about what Shakespeare has come to mean in the twenty-first century.

This particular story says that Shakespeare is the greatest playwright in the English language, if not ever in the world. If you don’t agree, the story goes, either you’ve never seen him done “right” or there’s something wrong with you. Like most of Donald Trump’s stories, it’s demonstrably false. Nevertheless, the Shakespeare narrative is remarkably persistent in the face of assaults both well-founded (e.g., Andy Kesson’s excellent blog post on Shakespeare-centrism) and not so well-founded (e.g., the authorship “debate”). Somehow, it’s become unfashionable to think critically about what Shakespeare has come to mean in the twenty-first century.

That’s hardly surprising when one of the most prominent supporters of the Shakespeare myth is the former Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe, Dominic Dromgoole. In his farewell to the Globe, published by The Guardian on April 23, Dromgoole spouts his particular brand of Bardolatry: “Many still like to imbibe their culture within carefully protected class enclaves, and the free and easy way in which the Globe explodes that, now as it did 400 years ago, is one of the principal reasons for its galvanising energy.” The supposed openness of Shakespeare’s Globe is something that Dromgoole constantly hammers home, but he forgets that the cost of a ticket to see theatre 400 years ago was out of reach for a huge proportion of London’s population, even at a penny for entry as a “groundling.” It costs five pounds for a standing ticket at the reconstructed Globe today, which is eminently affordable compared to other London theatres but still, inevitably, a financial barrier for some.

Of course, the very assumption that Shakespeare must be accessible to everyone (whereas work by other playwrights need not be) depends upon his status as the greatest playwright who ever lived.

book cover
Hamlet Act 5, Scene 1, by John Austen (detail). Photo courtesy of the
Folger Shakespeare Library.

Recent examples of attempts to critique Shakespeare’s stranglehold on both English literature and the professional theatre have been met with some appallingly inappropriate accusations (especially, I might add, when the dissenter happens to be a woman). Take Dana Dusbiber, who wrote a piece for The Washington Post last year about her struggle with Shakespeare’s prominence in the Common Core curriculum for K-12 students and her desire to teach literature that more accurately reflected her students’ cultural backgrounds. Responses were swift and furious. Comments on the post called her “a dolt and a sloth,” “a buffoon,” “lazy or stupid,” and “out of her mind or evil.” Some called for her to be fired. Others panned the Post for publishing the article in the first place. A shockingly, self-righteous response from another English teacher, Matthew Truesdale, was published by the Post later that same day.

Dusbiber’s experience is hardly extraordinary. Shakespeare has been a tool of imperialism, cultural elitism, and oppression as often as he has been a source of progress, liberation, or comfort—just ask the Nazis or, indeed, the English. He wasn’t a particularly political writer—which is part of what helped him gain popularity in the Restoration period—and you can make his plays say almost anything you want. That’s partly why you won’t be able to find his opinions on the current election, climate change, the European Union, or anything else to do with contemporary politics in those thirty-odd plays. Or, rather, you’ll find whatever opinion you’re looking to support. Confirmation bias is a powerful thing, and the relatively apolitical nature of Shakespeare’s plays makes them particularly susceptible.

Look, Shakespeare was a great playwright. So were many of his contemporaries. So were lots of people born before and since. The point is not that Shakespeare isn’t good, important, or worth thinking about. Instead of blithely jumping on the #Shakespeare400 bandwagon, let’s challenge ourselves to think more critically and more carefully about what it means to continue reifying a dead English dude who wrote some plays 400 years ago at the expense of both his contemporaries and ours.

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"I believe that teaching Shakespeare in high school English classes is why less than 10% of the population goes to the non-profit theatre." -- Mia McCullough

I just read all of the comments, and the one that resonates most with me is Mia's. For I think the reason I was open to Shakespeare by the time I was introduced to it in high school was because I had already, thanks to a couple of amazingly (thinking back on it now) progressive 7th and 8th grade teachers who decided to "put aside the books" for an hour a day for a few weeks in the spring and have us learn and put on a play (basically culminating in one performance in front of the entire junior high school).

The 7th grade one was a silly (but interesting) juvenile play, but the 8th grade one was a solid one-act version of "12 Angry Men"! And I got to play number eight because everyone believed (as the "smart kid") I could remember all the lines (which I did).

By high school I realized my forte was more reading/writing than acting (especially since I still looked like a smart 8th grader due to my diminutive size and coke-bottle glasses!) and thus (alas) didn't try out for the extra-curricular drama group (I think I was terrified of auditioning, which I hadn't had to [formally] due in the junior high plays).

But I can't help wondering if it hadn't been for that junior high school experience I would never have (eventually) gone on to write (so far) a couple dozen short the three full-length plays -- or even if I would have been such a avid theater-goer in Chicago during my twenties and thirties (when I had a good-paying job and no medical problems).

Random thoughts:

I cannot imagine that anybody has said or thought, "I shouldn't celebrate 'Hamilton' because Shakespeare is the only playwright worth talking about".

If you think Shakespeare isn't political, put "King Lear" in the context of Brexit. Put "The Tempest" in the context of colonialism. Put "Julius Caesar" in the context of the current American election. And the list could go on.

You say Shakespeare's greatness is demonstrably false without actually demonstrating it. And to rate playwrights like this (who is "great" or isn't) is like the Oscars: a nice exercise but ultimately meaningless, even in the context of your argument.

Any theatre ticket that costs any money is going to be out of the financial reach of someone somewhere (just ask "Hamilton" fans). But working for free to keep ticket prices down is anathema to theatre professionals who have to eat, pay rent, wear clothes in public, etc.

In what school does Shakespeare have a stranglehold on English literature? Where I teach there isn't even a Shakespeare-CENTRIC course, much less one on him and his works alone. And that's in either the Theatre Department or the English Department.

If Shakespeare is a tool of cultural elitism, etc., then why critique those who want to make him accessible to all? And really, shouldn't we be blaming the users rather than the tool? A hammer is a murder weapon in the wrong hands.

And Shakespeare's works are challenged every day in every rehearsal hall where I have worked over the last 35 years.

Finally, denigrating someone for the circumstances of their birth ("dead English dude who wrote some plays 400+ years ago") just gives permission for bigots to denigrate people of color ("dead Black dude who marched on Selma").

Thanks for writing something that I felt strongly enough about to respond.

I'm so right on board with you and with Dana. I believe that teaching Shakespeare in high school English classes is why less than 10% of the population goes to the non-profit theatre. Here's an excerpt from a speech I'm giving tonight:"People outside the world of theatre don’t realize playwrights exist. The public at large mostly believes that playwrights, like the dodo bird, are long extinct. When you tell a lay person at a cocktail party that you’re a playwright you’re usually met with an odd look, like you’ve told them you’re a blacksmith. It’s an occupation people have heard of, but they weren’t aware that anyone did it anymore.

This phenomenon is somewhat more understandable when you realize that less than 10% of the American population sees plays at non-profit theatres like this one. I believe we can blame the way we teach plays in schools for this problem.

Aside from the occasional August Wilson or Arthur Miller play, most of what’s taught in high school English classes is Shakespeare. Typically plays aren’t part of the language arts curriculum before high school, so when you assign a high schooler a Shakespeare play to read, it’s a bit like asking them to do Calculus when you’ve never taught them algebra. Or even multiplication. There are always going to be a few kids who grasp it, who love it. I was one of those kids, I’m guessing many of you were. But the other 90-plus percent of the population is going to say, “I don’t understand this, it’s too hard, I don’t like theatre.”

And it’s over right there. Those people are probably never going to buy a ticket to a show at a non-profit theatre because they believe that plays are difficult to understand, boring, and will make them feel stupid. And no one wants to buy a ticket to feel stupid. And it’s not like teenagers have easy access to other kinds of plays outside whatever their high school teaches them or produces. You can teach all the classical music you want, and kids are still going to find other kinds of music on the radio. There’s no equivalent to the radio in theatre. I suppose they could find more current plays in the library, but how many kids who are turned off by plays in class are going to do that? I’m guessing none.

Until we start teaching new plays in English classes in high schools, 90% of the population will continue to be ignorant of the modern playwright’s existence, and the number of Americans attending non-profit theatre is never going to rise above 10%.

Also, I'm one of those woman who has been viciously attacked by white dudes for suggesting that maybe Shakespeare is overproduced and shouldn't be taught in schools. I did an interview with the Cylde Fitch Report a couple of years ago, someone posted it on Official Playwrights of Facebook, and the patronizing assholery when off the charts instantly.

Nora, you seem to think Shakespeare is overrated. I suppose this is an understandable perspective considering his preeminence within the artistic canon, but you don't really take the time to convince us that Shakespeare is overrated. You spend a long paragraph describing trollish remarks directed toward a particular critic of Shakespeare. Every article published by The Washington Post has its fair share of trolls; how does pointing this out make your case? You cite the Nazis and English imperialists as groups using Shakespeare to leverage their particular ideologies, yet by your own admission Shakespeare's works are malleable enough that the reader will "find whatever opinion you’re looking to support." Again, how does this make your case? Not hewing closely to a particular political/ideological viewpoint is what makes Shakespeare overrated? I'm left wondering.

Obviously no reading of Shakespeare's canon, no matter how selective, will discern his opinions on the current election, climate change, the European Union, or any other sociopolitical issue plucked from the headlines. Good writing need not be prescient for heaven's sake! What is aesthetically critical-- the essential emotions underlying these contemporary issues such as greed, arrogance, fear of people that are different, rage, despair-- all these and more saturate his work.

You close with a challenge to think more "critically" and "carefully" about "reifying a dead English dude" --as a Renaissance scholar, surely you are aware of the great mass of literary pulp annually published critically assessing the works of Shakespeare from perspectives of Feminism, Gender Theory, post-Colonial Theory, Marxism, or any myriad of viewpoints from across the political spectrum. Are these not adequate for you? Is there some critical point missed by contemporary scholarship that you would care to point out?

Aiming broadside shots at the Bardolaters is all well and good but without any specific or original piece of criticism with which to arm yourself, articles such as this are so much 'sound and fury, signifying nothing'.

"Somehow, it’s become unfashionable to think critically about what Shakespeare has come to mean in the twenty-first century."

--Nonsense, interpreting Shakespeare with fashionable ideologies is all the rage.

So, in this article arguing against Shakespearean idolatry, we are led to compare anyone who disagrees to Donald Trump or a misogynist right off the bat to help shut down differing opinions.

Then we are pointed down a path that proposes Nazis and British imperialists used Shakespeare for their own causes (no argument there - bad eggs will always use famous people or works to their own ends).

We are asked to believe the former AD of the Globe is not a populist because the Globe charges for tickets.

Then we make the leap of thought that because Shakepeare doesn't specifically allude to modern politics or climate change of all things, he is somehow less than universal or transcendent.

Finally he is not worthy of year 400 celebrations because he relied on the age-old technique of borrowing (or yes) stealing from plays his contemporaries (or he himself) had already stolen from antiquity.

I'm also kind of over the "dead English dude" line of debasement. All of us will be a dead something or other one day. Many writers write to achieve a certain level of immortality. Let's not be so quick to throw this one onto the ever growing heap of the bones of writers who came before us.

That said, I wish this PH.D. candidate all the best. If you are writing about Shakespeare, at least you care.

I like Bill. I purposefully call him that to knock him off his pedestal and make him more approachable by my students.

I tell my students Bill was a working stiff, after all he had three households, a wife, and 3 (then sadly just 2) children to support.

So, it was work (writing), work (acting), work (directing) -- all while being a good suckup to the King.

But, hey, he did well enough to retire in a time when that was only for a select few.

Some of his plays are great, easily identified by how often they are produced, resurrected, reinterpreted, etc.: Lear, "The Scottish Play" (leave me alone, I teach theatre!), Julius Caesar, Merchant, Othello, and few of his comedies (Shrew very problematic, Midsummer's hmmmm, All's well sometimes isn't -- so many have feminist issues). Ok, and even "Hamhock" and "The Twits"** as I call them. They will stand the test of time even as the plays of Sophocles, Aeschylus, Euripides, and that bad boy Aristophanes (Lysistrata adapted as a musical Lysistrata Jones!) have.

Most, tho', are "well, he tried...and...uhm...let's just keep going on past that one" to be relegated to the confines of dusty memory.

But then, isn't that true of any artist? A small body of truly excellent, timeless work, surrounded by a lot of "oh, yeah, and that stuff too." (Consider Da Vinci as but one small example)

**weeping, hubba hubba, fight, let me die for you 2x; fight, fight, splat, splat, then end.

Sure. But I think the Beatles hype was completely overblown to the degree that it might give the impression their music was lightyears ahead of anything else happening at the time (within pop and, especially, outside pop). There were so many different cultural and technological factors that allowed the Beatles hype to happen, hardly any of which having to do with some scientific fact of their superiority. Yet, sure, the Beatles were one of the best things happening musically for a huge and diverse group of people at the time. We aren't surprised that other cultures and non-white people fell in love with their music and sang their own versions and couldn't wait to hear more.

It isn't very surprising that even in the wake off all the Beatles Mania, you don't find too many people scratching their heads as to what it was all about. People just keep sharing other music they love. The fact that the Beatles will still be listed as one of the best bands ever hardly matters.

Shakespeare is sort of like that. Just a longer time frame. In 650 years his work will still be known, but it'll be more like the Beatles are now. No big deal. Still talked about as great. But people will be using lots of different texts as the go-to for writing or literature. They already are.

Most people are already kind of calm about this issue. All sides tend to riled up when it gets discussed as if somebody is "wrong" in their experience, on any side.

This article is great. It states that Shakespeare was highly skilled and offered plenty to go bonkers for. It simply also states that there's lots of other stuff to go bonkers for.

I love Shakespeare deep down into my bones, but when I talk to people who just don't care for his plays or poetry, it makes perfect sense. I find it much harder to believe that somebody can't find "Hey Jude" to be an at least moderately catchy tune.

It's not really about those who "doubt" and those who "believe"--read the plays first. There are not that many, frankly. You could read the non-Shakespeare Renaissance drama that's extant in a matter of months if not weeks. Then re-post here. It's like conservative Christians condemning movies without seeing them or people weighing in on the Islam debate without reading the Koran. You can't argue a position without some evidence. So who are the contenders for equal or better dramatic output?

Even the comments show that there will never be agreement; it's like arguments between believers and non, except it's always the believers who jump in feeling the need to convince. Thank you for writing this. Couldn't agree more.

I'm surprised that a Renaissance scholar would hold this position. Especially without pointing out all the wonderful playwrights from the era that might challenge the Bard's overblown reputation and supremacy. There are seriously neglected playwrights like... who? George Chapman? John Marston?Marlowe? I was also sceptical of anyone so universally revered--but then I read his contemporaries. They pale in comparison which is why Ben Jonson, one of the few who wrote anything to rival Shakespeare, started the bandwagon. Please, please--all doubters, read the rest of the era's dramatic canon and you'll surely agree with Ben. As for teaching Shakespeare, I work in a typical NYC public HS and my 9th graders much prefer Romeo & Juliet to modern classics like Raisin in the Sun. Thanks partly to Folgers wonderful curriculum, students are energized by the sheer theatricality and dizzying use of language in service of breath-taking plots. Could go on and on. Sometimes there's genius among us (I believe Dylan's songwriting or Ali's fisticuffs reach similar stature.) We should revel and enjoy "the Greatest" when he or she appears, which is so rarely. I'd especially expect a Renaissance scholar to recognize that fact regarding the Bard.

Hi, thanks for your comment. Actually, I have read and studied the "contemporaries" extensively My PhD was about Thomas Middleton and William Rowley. And I have to disagree with you that they aren't as good as Shakespeare. I think, however, that the dominance of Shakespeare in curricula has programmed us to expect all plays from the Renaissance to look like his, which is as ridiculous as expecting a Tennessee Williams play to look and sound just like Samuel Beckett's. I would argue, too, that my role AS a scholar of Renaissance drama and literature is to be skeptical, to literally "re-search" -- to look again. To question WHY things are the way they are and how they came to be this way. As I say in the article and elsewhere in the comments, my point really is not that Shakespeare isn't important or worth thinking about. But I'd like us to be able to critique his dominance without being accused of being deficient human beings. (To be clear: I realize you didn't call me deficient. I'm saying that that's what I've said in the article)

Nora--thanks for the response. I completely get your point. Growing up through high school and much of my undergrad English studies Shakespeare adulation often eclipsed other worthy drama. I particularly loved discovering Webster in fact. I was astonished to discover women playwrights Aphra Behn and Susanna Centlivre. Surely their reputation suffered from Bardolization. I envy you studying Middleton who wrote a number of plays worthy of admiration--and probably wrote large swathes of several "Shakespeare" works. I put his name in quotes to highlight that many don't believe he was a single person but a front--a beard--for talented scribes. Nevertheless, knowing the dramatic landscape as you so knowledgeably do, can you imagine summer festivals devoted to any of his contemporaries or whole theatres' programming pulled from the work of any of his contemporary playwrights? I think when you look at the stats: new vocabulary and use of rhetorical techniques and then see what he does to enhance and enlarge well-worn plots, people might not care for his work, but it is clearly an achievement no other approaches. Little wonder the Bard is waved like a flag--most nations and cultures create Rushmores of their best artists. I understand Ibsen is such a colossus in Norway. Of course, we're only talking Western canon. Onto Chickamatsu!

LOL!! Your intro paragraph feels like a "coming out" confession. Although I admire a few of Shakespeare's plays, I find the themes and plots in all of Cervantes' work-- some of which Billy lifted outright, superior. Coincidentally we are also celebrating 400 years of Cervantes' death. BTW, recently Anne Tyler confessed to the world that she "loathes Shakespeare" in explaining why she took The Timing of the Shrew and reworked it as Vinegar Girl, her latest novel. I marvel at the fact that we will continue to argue your points for centuries.

Yes! I have wondered whether Cervantes' 400th is as over-the-top as Shakespeare's.

To your last point, I think some of the most creative adaptations we've seen of Shakespeare's works have come from people who are at least skeptical about his works. It gives you a different critical framework and the freedom to really experiment, to my mind. Thanks for commenting.

I think the critical question to ask is why are these plays important or unique. As a graduate of the Shakespeare Institute and artistic director of one of the most experimental Shakespeare companies, the Dark Lady Players, I regard them as important because they were written using continuous multilevel allegory, as Jewish/Marrano parodies of Christian doctrine. My article on Othello on Howlround a couple of years ago is a good starting point.

Nice piece Nora. Thanks for saying this. I recently wrote an opinion piece for an Australian newspaper which was in a similar spirit, though I called for a short moratorium on Shakespeare's work here. http://www.smh.com.au/comme... .Following the article, I got a steady stream of hate mail and death threats. So brace yourself. With all that is going on in the world right now who would think people would get angry about something so reasonable? I hope you get kinder replies because what you say makes complete sense to me.

Thanks for your comment! I'm saddened but not surprised to hear about the hate mail and threats you received -- when I told a friend that I was writing this article, she half-joked that we should place bets on how long it would take for someone to threaten me. Alas, as you say, this is hardly the sort of issue to get violent over! Very much in sympathy with your article, btw (obviously!).

It would help if instead of children being taught that everything Shakespeare wrote rang with deep meaning and sparkled with grand narrative, they were simply allowed to play in his language, delight in the images; instead, they are led to believe that they are stupid if they don't find his stories as captivating as their favorite youtube channels. What a waste. The great thing about Shakespeare's somewhat random status is that, if treated creatively, it does provide a massive playground of rhythmic language and ingenious images. Small bites, rather than unmanageable portions, is where the pleasure lies, methinks.

Much agreed. Having just devoured Lanham's phenomenal STYLE: an Anti-Textbook, we are hyper-sensitive to how deadening most English courses are for our kiddos. Even shifting from Shakespeare to some other, more digestible and diverse (justified for that reason alone!) content does not address the underlying disease if we don't, then, also shift to a training in reading/writing that is both very detailed and monotonous (practicing diverse rhetoric as mechanically as Serena Williams practices all of her tennis strokes) and extremely open-ended (allowing the children to "find" and "develop" their own content and style), we lock their minds up in jail and throw away the key. Well, not really. They (all of us) seem to be, slowly, figuring it out. Thanks for a thoughtful article. It allowed many conversational doors to be opened. We chose this door because, deep down, we just wish that if Shakespeare's going to be so outrageously loved he be loved for actual amazing things he actually did, which, in our opinion, was to write many beautifully rhythmical sentences that expressed complex facets of personality, playfully transformed images in subtle and not-so-subtle ways and presented ambiguous moral situations without tying them up in a simple bow.

You know, people still perform Ancient Greek tragedies too, and many other very old plays are performed internationally on a regular basis. Why is that? Perhaps it is because theater has had an effect shaping our culture, and this is especially true of Shakespeare, who has had an incalculable effect on the shape of American culture, largely because his plays were so very popular. They shaped our use of language. Newspapers quoted Shakespeare, a multitude of other literary works quote him... aside from the Bible, what other literature has had such a far reaching effect on Western culture? None. That is why he is important. And why we continue to study and perform those plays.

I suppose if you were a futurist, you might want to disregard these works due to their age, but otherwise, I see no point to railing against the continued production of these works. The futurist movement (a forerunner of fascism) died years ago but people still perform Shakespeare, proving this line of thinking is more outdated than Shakespeare's plays are.

I actually literally say in the post that I'm not arguing against Shakespeare's importance, but that I'm asking us to be a little more thoughtful in the way we talk about his works and influence. So I'm not really sure what point you're trying to make here. Anyway, thanks for reading.

My point is this: This is the 400th anniversary of his death. Ostensibly, we will not have another celebration of his works that reaches this magnitude til 2064, at the 500th anniversary of his birth. So if this pattern continues, we will celebrate his genius in this way for two years (the centennials of his birth and his death) out of every century. Is that really too much for you? If you are very lucky, you might see two of these things in your lifetime but you make it seem as if that is two too many. It isn't. Not for the single most influential playwright in the history of the Western world. Did you write this entire article simply to say to the world that you are sick of the hype? We hype the Olympics even more and it happens every 4 years. Will you be complaining to Sports Illustrated about that as well?

My point is that the reason he is in the common core is the influence he has had on our culture. On the very shape of Western thought, itself. It's not because he deserves deifying (which is what I think you meant to say instead of 'reifying', which makes little sense). He could not have had such influence if he had not produced works of sublime genius. Perhaps not every play he wrote fits that description, but some do. Oh, it might be harder to see it on the printed page, but on the stage, in the hands of skilled theater artists, it's there. And while I will grant you that a better playwright may possibly have lived at some point since, that playwright still will not have had the profound influence that Shakespeare has had.

I will be in London for the Shakespeare400 celebration. And I am very much looking forward to it. Moreover, I had not been born in time for the celebration of the 400th anniversary of his birth. This is likely to be the only shot I get, and I do not appreciate your attempt to strip this moment in my life of the grandeur it deserves.

I have critiqued and will continue to critique major events such as the Olympics, not because I think they shouldn't happen but because they provide opportunities for reflection that I think are as important as the events themselves. But let's not kid ourselves: Shakespeare hype is a 24/7, 365 deal. It's just intensified in light of the 400th anniversary of his death, and, as such, this is an ideal time to reflect on how and why we got to this point.

"Sublime genius" is a hugely subjective value judgement on dramatic/literary works, so you're absolutely entitled to see that in Shakespeare's plays, and I'm absolutely entitled to disagree with you.

I am not in any way arguing against Shakespeare's cultural influence; that would be absurd. What I am doing is encouraging Shakespeareans of all varieties (myself included) to think about WHY Shakespeare has been so influential. A lot of it actually has to do with the British shoving it down people's throats as part of their imperial agenda. That's worth acknowledging and taking into account.

I hope you enjoy the Shakespeare 400 celebrations in London. But I hope that you also take some time to reflect, and to look again.

The Shakepeare400 celebration is not over. Reflect on it and critique it after it has taken place, when you are able to get the distance you really need to see it in fullness. Same goes for other similar events, like the Olympics. There is no reason to start raining on everyone's parade just because you think you have that right.

I am not really all that familiar with the 24/7 365 hype of Shakespeare you speak of. Seems to me Shakespeare gets precious little attention in the modern age. Perhaps this is simply a matter of environment. I suppose that in an academic environment, where the constant study of old dead white guys is a longstanding tradition, it might get sickening after a while. All those people being studied were fallible human beings, and it does both us and them a disservice to pretend otherwise.

But again, when we take the time to honor someone, we do not spend it talking about everything that is wrong with them. I'd have no objection to discussing Shakespeare's works critically under the harsh light of the modern era once the celebration honoring him has ended. But it's not quite as appropriate to do it when Shakespeare lovers are gathering from all over the world to do honor to his memory, do you see? Hijacking the celebration to fit your contrarian agenda ... It's just rude.

Even in 2016, the "canon" of plays that drama survey courses draw upon largely remains, white, male, and oriented towards Western drama. Even in the study drama of the last 50 years, people of color, indigenous writers, women (who couldn't represent themselves on Shakespeare's stage) and other marginalized groups are routinely excluded.

Shakespeare was a great and important playwright. No one is saying to ignore him completely. As a theatre scholar myself (though with an emphasis on 20th-century Italian theatre), I can confirm that Nora's assertion of the 24/7/365 emphasis on Shakespeare is alive and well in higher education, with no discernible reason other than tradition. As Nora rightly points out, this is a remnant of British imperialism. It's also worth noting that Shakespeare owes much of his notoriety to book and print history, since many of his plays would have been lost forever if it hadn't been for the compositors of the First Folio: http://www.bl.uk/collection...

By positioning Shakespeare as the greatest playwright of all time, full stop, we automatically stack the deck against works that emerge from traditions, practices, and artistic principles that do not relate to Shakespeare or his work in any way. By perpetuating the idea the "Shakespeare Rulez, [insert any and all names] Droolz," his work becomes the standard against which we evaluate all others, even if they share nothing in terms of content, origin, style, purpose, etc.

Plays and playwrights reflect and engage with the times and places from which they originate, but the persistent trend in higher education is that Shakespeare is somehow transcendent and universal. In sustaining this long-held and relatively unquestioned assumption, we automatically mitigate the variety of perspectives we can explore and the kinds of stories we can tell because instead of considering the individual characteristics of a work, the conditions of its creation, and what that work is supposed to accomplish, the conversation quickly turns into a discussion of how it's not Shakespeare, which does nothing to enhance our study and understanding of the work at hand.

So what's really more likely--that Shakespeare was of such genius and individuality that his status and influence are above question into perpetuity...or, that he spoke to and about his world, and his voice, amplified though it is, is one among many that can continue to teach us something about the time and place in which he worked?

And, presuming it is the second, how does that diminish Shakespeare? He is, for many people--students, artists, authors--the point of access not only into English Renaissance theatre, but also to the broader world of the Renaissance, as well as to the significant history of theatre and performance.

That's not nothing. In fact, I would argue that it's a great deal, and we owe it to ourselves, our students, to readers and audience members to think critically about this gatekeeping role we've attached to Shakespeare and the problems and challenges it poses to the study of drama and theatre. Shakespeare's words have power, but not just for their beauty and poetry, but also for their consequences over the study of literature and drama. We must commit ourselves to wielding those words responsibly, and when when we consider the efficacy of the theatre's representations, we must do so with a mind to seeing that as many worlds and experiences possible are able to partake of and be reflected in those representations.

Even if Shakespeare is a starting point for many, it doesn't automatically make him the best playwright to have ever lived. And Shakespeare doesn't have to be the greatest playwright in history in order to ignite passion and curiosity. And if #Shakespeare400--when his legacy is especially magnified and everyone seems to be paying attention--isn't the time to interrogate how and why we teach Shakespeare, the role he occupies in our studies and artistic practices, and what is lost or overlooked because of this traditional emphasis on his work, then when is the right time?

Finally. if a roughly 800 word article can strip this "this moment in [your] life of the grandeur it deserves" (your words, not mine) simply because it has the audacity to express a point of view you don't share, maybe it's not a moment worth the energy you're investing into it.

The truth is that for the most part I share these sentiments. And I agree that at least some of Shakespeare's influence can be ascribed to factors other than his genius. I am not his apologist.

My own study of the craft was certainly not limited to Western theater and I am quite aware of the multiplicity of other perspectives that are often overshadowed by the academic world's strict adherence to an outdated canon.

But that said, attending this celebration is costing more money than I have ever spent on anything at one time, with the exception of my home. London is an immensely expensive place to visit. And I came across this article shortly after irrevocably committing to shouldering that burden of expense. Do you know what people hate? Being told we have just wasted a lot of time, energy, and money on something that is vastly overrated.

It might be that much of the resistance to updating the canon and our academic discussions of the works of old dead white guys also has something to do with that. Tenured professors probably loathe the idea that they may have spent decades studying a far-too-narrow slice of the theatrical world they inhabit. Essentially you are telling them that they were foolish, and that is NOT how they see themselves.

I certainly did not think of my sacrifice as even remotely foolish until I read this article and realized that once it was all over, I was going to have to suffer through years of discussions badmouthing Shakespeare that might make me feel like I just threw away all my non-refundable liquid assets on snake oil. So can you really blame me for mounting a defense? It will be considerably harder to truly enjoy my hard-earned excursion into the world of Elizabethan theater while anticipating an avalanche of criticisms that threaten to downgrade Shakespeare's already limited popularity and commercial appeal among the public at large.