More from Prof. Paul Hamilton's comments on the point of _reading_ Shakespeare in an un-modernized form:

"Dr. Paul Hamilton, a Shakespeare scholar, offers a brilliant and concise statement which cuts through much of the current confusion concerning the value of reading Shakespeare and why, by the way, the recent temptation to modernize its language misses the point of bothering to read the works in the first place.

He writes (in the second of the two following comments) a clarifying reply to my own response to his comment (1) here :

"To savage the plays is not to root out bardolatry. It is to avoid the problem all together - which is that the issue is power. To read any complex work of art as a bland and unified expression of any "ism" is idiotic. That is a problem of appropriation. It is not an aesthetic problem.

To turn "bardolatry" into a denunciation of a particular Renaissance aesthetic is not going to affect those in power. They couldn't care less whether it is Shakespeare or Milton or Wordsworth who symbolizes the superiority of one class over another. The artists anyway are almost always on the side of the disenfranchised. What you need to do is isolate the fraud of the approbation (appropriation (?)) of works of art for purposes utterly opposed to the artwork itself."

this (2) follow-up:


"My point is that the real problem is that Shakespeare is appropriated for various ends - whether that is status, nationalism, etc. The cringe-worthy speeches and ceremonies on Shakespeare's birthday; the false notion that Shakespeare's views were identical with the interests of the state; the mobilization of Shakespeare as an implicit defense of the class structure, when, in reality, he continually undermines class assumptions, etc. All of that is execrable and demands a * cultural * critique.

THIS----> *** "The problem, though, is * not * the Renaissance aesthetic of the plays. The entire point of appreciating a work of art from a different historical period is that you will be estranged from your own assumptions - and have to encounter a view of language and life that is different. The demand that every work of art be easy to understand - as another poster observed - is simply an infantile wish to have one's own worldview always confirmed. <----- THIS ***

"As others have also pointed out, the author is clearly projecting his own tendency to use meaningless words to gain social status onto those who enjoy Shakespeare. I don't think I have, in recent years, * ever * seen such a binge on pseudo-hip argot "necro-obsequious evangelical proselytism"!

"Admittedly, the author proves his thesis - that he is incapable of understanding Shakespeare . . . because - as others have observed - he is totally unaware that his * one quote * from Shakespeare (from Richard II) is not meant to be taken at face value. The quote is profoundly ironic. He could have at least read the plot summary in Spark Notes™ to figure that one out . . . And, it also speaks to the mendacity of shomeone who savages the reputation of a writer without bothering to try to understand his work.

"And, as the * late * citation from the Shakespeare critic, Erin Sullivan, makes clear (did he really think this wouldn't be spotted?), he plagiarized a scholarly article about "bardolatry" without understanding a word of what was being said. Just look at the article and find the quotes he lifted from it . . . He has clearly never read Tolstoy on Shakespeare or Voltaire. He just blankly copied quotes from that essay, which he found online.

"All in all, this is a dreadful piece. And we could all have been spared the crude mixture of ignorance, nastiness, plagiarism, and misinformation if an editor from The Guardian - who wasn't sleeping on the job - had bothered to look at it carefully."

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I see this problem differently, as a result of too much focus on practicality and a tendency to believe that education = job training.

Americans have always been practical people. This trait is a strength in many ways: it leads people here to start businesses, invent stuff, and generally get things done. A negative side of it is a tendency to devalue anything that's NOT perceived as practical. This tendency has increased in the last 25 or 30 years or so. Fevered efforts to push kids into STEM majors is an example of that. As is conventional wisdom about humanities degrees leading to jobs in fast food or coffee shops.

I suspect that a lot of people see studying ancient languages as being impractical. Well, beyond middle school worksheets for Greek and Latin root practice.

As for classics at Princeton in particular, if I interpreted the story on their website correctly, enrollment was suffering and they made this decision a while ago. Plus, you had to know some Greek and/or Latin just to enroll in the program. This does seem overly restrictive and counterproductive, given how rarely schools teach these languages these days. But that said, knowing these languages should still be required for a degree calling itself Classics.

I completely agree that lowering standards for a particular group amounts to what GW Bush described as the soft bigotry of low expectations (which these days is cloaked in a mantle of progressive policies and practiced by people who are so blinded by their own emotional ideology, they don't even realize that they're undermining the people they claim to help).


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I read Faust in German freshman year of college (after two years of high school German). It was brutal. Every page was at least half footnotes explaining what he meant, the context of the times, words that not even modern German speakers use, etc.) I probably would have gotten more of the meta themes of Faust if I'd read it in English, but I would have missed the inside jokes, the double entendres, and a peak into the times in which Goethe wrote it. So I can see it both ways. I support getting more people into the classics so they can grapple with the ideas of the Greek and Roman philosophers, playwrights. But it you really want to go deep you'll need to learn the languages.

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I know that's not as big a part of classics since European languages and culture weren't as heavily influenced by Egypt as by Latin and Greek, but Egypt, Rome, and Greece overlapped a lot, to the point where hieroglyphic literature could be considered part of classics. So should Black kids be exempted from learning that, too?

This is berserk. I imagine there are more than a few kids in poor schools who are itching to learn this stuff, and who would love the chance to actually learn this stuff, the serious mind-crunching, challenging stuff. To take that chance away from them is cruel and punishing.

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It seems to me that part of getting a degree form an elite school means that you master things at a level beyond the local community college. Princeton should require the Greek and Latin for a degree but a lower tier school (which met my academic capabilities) should not. Also, I think we should not look at everything through the race prism. I would bet a white child who was born in the hollers of Kentucky would be at a similar disadvantage to a black kids raised in Baltimore.

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2009 Classics major, summa cum laude. If your degree says Classics, it needs to be earned in the heavy lifting and battle scars of studying the Ancient Greek and Latin languages. What would a Classicist from even 50 years ago say to someone who earned a degree that says Classics and then when asked to parse or decline, the graduate doesn't know how?

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Oh, I don't go for putting Shakespeare into contemporary English . . . and I prefer the King James Version to any modern text. In both cases, I'm going for the poetry, not the accuracy. If I want to know exactly what a biblical verse means, I might read a commentary or look at a contemporary translation. I let students know about "No Fear Shakespeare" but I warn them, too. Consider wicked Edmund's speech in King Lear. Contemporary translations only give you the G-rated version. All students must run out and purchase The Arden Edition of Shakespeare right this nanosecond!

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This is a bit tangential but the English National Opera in London performs all operas in English. And you can listen to Wagner's entire Ring Cycle in English, with good performances, in the Ring directed by Reginald Goodall. Quite a few operas now have English recordings now available. Ditto for Bach's St. Matthew Passion.

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Building on the Hurston quote. One might have thought, 50 years ago, that chess is the whitest game there is. And therefore that we'd need to change the rules for black kids to participate fairly. Which of course in chess simply means a handicap, say a knight and a pawn. But today we know that black kids from bad neighborhoods, like poor white rural kids, often do very very well at chess, and this held up as an example of opportunity to shine.

So, I suppose the question is, how did chess stop being white? And why can't apply to everthing else?

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A couple of observations, for what they’re worth.

1. As you suggest in the Atlantic piece, the department could be dropping the requirements simply to get more majors no matter the students’ race or background. It says something that IF this is the case, that one choose as a cover doing everything you can to imply this is about getting more Black students. Modem academics may be more comfortable saying they’re lowering standards for inclusiveness than just that they’re lowering standards to keep a program. It’d be interesting to know what Princeton’s numbers are.

2. I’m an historian of medieval England, post Norman conquest. If an undergraduate wanted to write about England before the Conquest using translated sources, I think that would be permitted at most universities. And it is undergraduates we’re talking about. Now if a graduate student were permitted to work on early England (formerly Anglo-Saxon England) without studying Old English, that would I think generally be held to be a scandal. Same goes for Latin. So your colleague at the Atlantic may be on ok ground. Although cutting against what I said about undergraduates, I myself was expected to have Latin to do an undergraduate senior thesis on the fourteenth century.

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this is all too much like giving a trophy for everyone who participates in the foot race, a participation trophy to make the kids feel good. But what is really true is that it was a foot race to see who was fastest. School is structured as a competition. For me it was a competition with myself, to see how far I could go and how well. I didn't care about the other students. But they sometimes did challenge my limited thinking. Rather than feeling poorly about myself, i followed barbara jordan's method . . . when she lost a (i think) state debate championship, she followed the woman who beat her from event to event and watched her debate and learned from her and then the next year beat her. Her time in congress showed how well she learned from her opponent. ultimately though the competition is always with the self and from reading jordan's autobiography she felt the same way. The question is, what kind of person do i want to be? and what i am willing to do to get there? I would loathe being given an easier time of it for some patronizing reason. I would feel a kind of shame, not confidence, not a feeling of surmounted an obstacle, but as if someone had helped me over the course while others simply went through it on their own.

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I wonder if they changed the requirement because they were having trouble recruiting enough students to run a major, and they chose to mention inclusiveness when explaining it in order to save face.

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I know education is your thing John, and that's ok. As a person that works outside of education, I am more concerned about the effects of this on the workplace.

I am terrified of typing this btw, as if someone will dox me on just the tiny bit of information here and I'll be out of a job and society forever.

My workplace has recently gone through this new version of DEI training and everyone is very into it. In the last month, I've had two colleagues that are POC produce work that was not 100% ready. This is normal, all people do this all the time. Instead of turning around and asking them to do further edits on the work (obvious grammatical errors), or elaborate on sections that were thin or missing, the manager asked me to do them. The manager has expressed to me that we should understand that the work they do is based on their own standards and we should trust those standards and their deep community experience and we should work with what they produce, celebrate what they bring to the table, and not criticize them for what they don't excel at. However, she doesn't state that the work is not ready for public consumption, and doesn't articulate that her solution is simply to have a white person finish the work. Of course this whole conversation is had without mentioning race, but everyone knows what we are talking about. To ask that individuals take responsibility for their own work (to have equality of expectations), although not explicitly stated, feels labeled as "racist." I'm sure my manager is very sincere in her belief that she is doing the right thing. It is probably worth mentioning that both POC here are long-time professionals and one has a PhD; it seems like they should be able to fix obvious errors on their own work after review. The whole situation is so cringe-inducing and Orwellian I can barely stand it.

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I would suggest that courses in the vernacular be offered and could count toward a general Philosophy degree, but that anyone seeking a major or minor in Classics must engage the material in the original Greek or Latin, and only certain (and few) of the vernacular courses count toward a major or minor. This provides teh opportunity for non-specialists to engage with the classics, but acknowledges that true expertise requires the original language.

I think this stands up to the comparison to English--you can read and study The Venerable Bede in the original in order to be an English History major, but you must engage the original for a degree in Medieval English Literature. (English Lit, in general, seems like a grey are and worth discussing.)

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Another analogy: imagine not requiring a serious mastery of calculus or even algebra for a college major in physics. Wouldn’t people laugh at the suggestion?

Classics is the only literary field in the humanities that has not suffered from an invasion of “theory” people and others bored by literature and mostly interested in politics. The reason for this, aside from the seriousness of classicists, is the stiff entry requirement, a knowledge of Greek and Latin.

This said, physics depts often offer a course in classical physics w/o calculus and classics depts courses on Greek and Roman works in translation. That’s quite reasonable.

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This is fun because I agree, disagree, and partially agree with what you are saying. So let's break it down:

1. There is a difference between an average reader and a person who is seeking an academic degree. I have no desire to immerse myself in Russian just to read Dostoevsky. Yes, things are lost in translation, but if you pick a well respected translation you can avoid much of the loss. So I am approaching Russian literature as a person who loves to read. If I was seeking an academic degree in Russian literature then the rules are different. You can not achieve scholarship in a field where you can't even read the primary texts as written.

2. Classics is an elite field for those willing to immerse themselves in ancient languages, culture, and history. If you want to just read The Iliad or the Aeneid then pick up one of the great translations, there are several. If you want to be a scholar in the field then you have to perform due diligence.

3. Translating Opera is unnecessary. Every opera I've ever attended, even at the college production level had a screen with subtitles. I don't want to watch Kurosawa films dubbed and I can read a screen when attending the opera. Besides, rendering Italian into English would play merry hell with the rhythm.

4. My sister has her doctorate in French. Quite honestly if a person isn't willing to speak and read a language then they have no business getting a degree in it.

5. If you want a doctorate in Medieval English history then you will need to show a working knowledge of Latin, Old English, Middle English, and Middle French.

6. Maybe the problem is not the rigor of the programs but the quality of the students. Not everyone belongs in college. I say that as someone who has worked 25 years in various areas of college administration. Instead of lowering the quality of our programs how about we worry more about who we are letting in.

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