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Policymakers | General Education

Alas, Shakespeare fades from required courses

THE OKLAHOMAN   |  April 24, 2007 by Susan Simpson

To study Shakespeare or not to study: That is the question for many English majors.

A new study found shrinking numbers of America’s top colleges require English majors to take a course on famed playwright William Shakespeare. Of 70 public and private universities studied, 15 require English majors to take a course on Shakespeare.

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni released the study Monday, since April 23 is generally recognized as the Bard’s birthday.

“A degree in English without Shakespeare is like an M.D. without a course in anatomy,” the report declares. “It is tantamount to fraud.”

No university in Oklahoma was part of the report, but The Oklahoman found state campuses have mixed requirements on Shakespeare.

Kathryn McGill, artistic director of Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park, said she was surprised the works of Shakespeare aren’t mandated for all English students. “He has been more influential to the English language than any other writer,” she said.

University of Central Oklahoma

Requires English majors and minors to take at least one course in Shakespeare.

UCO professor Sandra Mayfield said she can’t imagine not requiring Shakespeare of English majors. She thinks such a class should be a general education requirement of all students. “Shakespeare was the best writer in the English language,” Mayfield said. “So much later literature alludes to characters in Shakespeare’s plays. It really teaches the value of language, thinking in terms of metaphors.”

Oklahoma State University

Mandates Shakespeare courses only for English majors getting a teaching certificate in English.

Carol Moder, head of OSU’s English department, said Shakespeare used to be required of all English majors but the curriculum changed several years ago “to bring the requirements more into line with developments in the field, which allow for more thematically based courses and greater diversity in the authors studied.”

“The reason for allowing other students to choose whether to take Shakespeare is to allow them greater flexibility in developing their course work to meet their career goals,” Moder said.

University of Oklahoma

Does not require Shakespeare courses for undergrads.

Shakespeare is a popular elective at OU, professor Alan Velie said. While he thinks all students ought to study Shakespeare, he thinks the number of required classes should be kept to a minimum. “I think our majors should know the great American authors as well, and the Bible, but we would not require courses on those subjects either,” Velie said.

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