While the House managers were quoting Shakespeare in their case against President Donald Trump last week, it appears that the Bard may soon be less known than “Poor Yorick” who we once knew so well. There is a growing campaign by teachers to drop Shakespeare and other Western literature from classes. One group, #DisruptTexts, insists “This is about White supremacy and colonization.” Lorena German, National Council of Teachers of English Anti-Racism Committee chair and a co-founder of the Disrupt Texts forum, insisted “everything about the fact that he was a man of his time is problematic about his plays. We cannot teach Shakespeare responsibly and not disrupt the ways people are characterized and developed.”
We previously discussed how the portrait of William Shakespeare was removed at the University of Pennsylvania’s English Department as a statement for greater racial sensitivity and diversity. Students are increasingly being deprived of such foundational classics as “Romeo and Juliet,” “Macbeth,” “King Lear” or Richard III. These are works that are not only masterpieces but shaped generations of later works and continue to be referenced in modern writing. Yet, this is a movement that has been building since 1987 when Jesse Jackson led Stanford undergraduates chanting, “Hey, ho, Western Civ has got to go!”
Amanda McGregor, a Minnesota-based librarian wrote in the January issue of School library journal that “Shakespeare’s work is full of problematic and outdated ideas, lots of misogyny, racism, homophobia, class discrimination, anti-Semitism, misogyny”
German insisted that Shakespeare “is not ‘universal’ in a way that other authors are not. He is not more ‘timeless’ than anyone else.” Some teachers advocating replacing Shakespeare with such works as “Hunger Games.”
Shakespeare could have seen his coming when he wrote in As You Like It that “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.” However, the exiting of Shakespeare will come at a terrible cost for our students. While Shakespeare appears the new rallying cry for woke teachers, he is “a man more sinned against than sinning.” If he is stripped away from our reading lists, our students will be the poorer for it.