aberwyn: (justice)
    One of the panels I participated in at Westercon was "Shakespeare in SF". You can doubtless guess that I was on it because I edited WEIRD TALES FROM SHAKESPEARE some years ago.  At any rate, the discussion drifted hither and yon, as panels will, and ended up talking about the move to excise Shakespeare’s plays from high school curricula because they "aren't relevant to today's teen." The panel's attitude can be summed up as "tough, keep them! They’re there to learn new things, not be reinforced in what they already know.” And just how is “Romeo and Juliet” not of interest to teenagers?
   To the argument, “the plays  are too hard for the poor kiddies to read,” we answered, “If kids are only fed pablum, they’ll never learn to digest meat.”
  However, a teacher in the Los Angeles area pointed out that many students come from non-Western cultures, and that these cultures are generally left out of the curricula. She made a valid point that schools should include the great works of these cultures, too, in literature courses. I completely agree – but why take Shakespeare out? Cut back, maybe, on the number of plays because of time concerns, but everyone being educated in a Western culture school needs to know the man existed, and why he’s ranked so highly. The students also need to know about the great theatrical traditions of other cultures, Japan and its Kabuki, for just one example.
Besides, Shakespeare and the other Dead White Males of the Western canon are relevant to everyone on the planet who has ever come up smack against Western colonialism and White racism. Does the phrase, “know thine enemy” mean nothing any more? Knowing your enemy is the best way to protect yourself against him, her, or it. I am quite serious. Do you wonder how the British could have arrogantly set out to rule the world? Read John of Gaunt’s speech, and you will see the heart of British Exceptionialism.
  Consider how Othello is treated. Racism has deep roots. The plays display casual anti-semitism – Shylock was considered a comic character, remember, by Shakespeare. The brutishness of Caliban and his witch mother show the Elizabethan attitude toward the native peoples of their conquests better than any later mumbling about the white man’s burden.
  Relevance so often depends on where you look. Teachers who guide their non-Western students through the Western canon will find plenty of material that will speak to their students. Their Western-culture students just might find their eyes opened a little farther, too.


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Katharine B Kerr

April 2017

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