Students & Parents | General Education

Rubbing Salt in English Major’s Wounds

NEW YORK TIMES   |  May 10, 1996 by David Grimes

A recent study shows that the works of Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Milton are gradually being phased out of college English literature curriculums. According to the National Alumni Forum, these authors are being replaced by classes with names like “Hard Boiled Detective Fiction,” “AIDS and Representation” and “Representing Sexualities in Words and Image.”

As an English major and someone who makes his living with words, I find this terribly upsetting. Why, I wondered 20 years ago when I was in college?

We actually had to read these dudes in college, and let me tell you, bubba, it was no picnic. Students would be out on the commons, soaking up rays, tossing Frisbees, torching the administration building or engaging in some other happy college pastime while we English majors were holed up in the corner of some dank dark library developing lifelong respiratory problems while at the same time trying to count how many times the word “swive” appears in “The Summoner’s Tale.”

To this day, I can’t read the words “Parlement of Foules” without breaking out in hives and experience an uncontrollable eye twitch. (Fortunately, I had not encountered those words since leaving college. Until now.)

The way I look at it, if Shakespeare, Milton and Chaucer were so great, they would have their own show on Fox. (Tony Dance could play Milton, Ed O’Neill could play Shakespeare and Sinbad could play Chaucer.)

Shakespeare, Milton and Chaucer have taken a nosedive in the ratings lately and it’s high time American universities acknowledged this fact. Once known as some of the Greatest Authors in History, the trio now belongs to a group known as Dead White European English Bro’s (DWEEBS). The DWEEBS stand for a lot of things that are wrong with American society today, though no one knows exactly what those things are since the DWEEBS aren’t being taught anymore. Perhaps college administrators hope to make the world safe from allegory and iambic pentameter; it’s hard to say.

The DWEEBS are difficult to understand, occasionally even more difficult than an episode of “Full House.” for what you pay for a college education, you don’t need that kind of aggravation.

The DWEEBS also spend an enormous amount of time hashing and rehashing things that happened a long time ago. Much of what Shakespeare wrote about not only occurred before Madonna announced she was pregnant, it occurred before she was recognized as a star.

I didn’t recall “Paradise Lost” saying anything about AIDS, detective fiction or represented sexualities, though it’s possible I missed those parts due to the fact that my college library was often being tear gassed, which made it hard to read.

All I remember about “Paradise Lost” is that it was a very long-winded treatment of sin and death and redemption and a lot of other staff that has absolutely no relevance in the modern world. Robert James Waller could have said the same thing in half the space and though in some represented sexualities to boot.

A half dozen of Shakespeare’s plays are coming out in movie form soon, including film versions of “Hamlet” and “Richard III.”

If the filmmakers have any sense, they will juice up the plots to appeal to modern audiences.

After all, who today would sit still for a movie about murder and revenge and treachery and poisonings unless one of the characters had AIDS or was otherwise a victim of represented sexualities?

No one, that’s who.


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