Some of the responses to the last post got me thinking about how different departments organize curriculum, and how differently we Shakespeare folks teach in response. And that got me thinking about Shakespeare in the curriculum.
When I was interviewing for this job, one of the interviewers asked me if I thought that Shakespeare should be a required course for English lit majors. Now there was a time when the vast majority of English phuds would probably have answered with a certain and sure "yes, of course!" But that time is not now, and that time was not even then. At least not for me.
I answered that I didn't think it should be a requirement because there were lots of good literatures and texts, and that what we should focus on was helping students learn to really read and analyze texts, and understand them, and that students could learn those skills well with Shakespeare, certainly, but also through lots of other texts and literatures. I still feel that very strongly.
I can't speak to the situation at very elite schools, but for our situation, we really aren't preparing our majors to be graduate students in English literature. And we shouldn't be. What we're preparing them for is a lifetime of being able to read critically, to analyze, to solve problems, and so forth, and hopefully, also, yes, to find joy and pleasure in literature. Our majors graduate relatively poorly prepared to take on graduate work in earlier British lit. We just don't have many opportunities for them to take earlier British lit courses; a lit major might, with real care and luck, be able to fit three earlier British lit courses in a curriculum here, but it wouldn't be easy.
Partly, this is a matter of curricular design. We don't require many specific courses, and those we do are skills and theory focused rather than focused on geography, chronology, or specific authors.
When I got here, I learned that the department had made two hires in Shakespeare/early modern, to replace two retiring faculty members. Those to faculty members had pretty much divided up Shakespeare (which was required of all lit majors) into two courses based solely on which plays each person like to teach most. (Evidently they'd gone through the canon together and chosen their "teams" and that was that.)
Among the first votes taken when we got here was a curricular question about whether we should require Shakespeare, and that requirement went away with overwhelming support. (I sometimes felt, when I'd see one of the retired folks, that they were both very disappointed that we new Shakespeare faculty hadn't fought tooth and nail to keep the requirement.)
We two set about revising the Shakespeare courses, and made one a sophomore level surveyish course, where we agreed to teach across genres, 8 or so texts, and another junior level topics course, where we would teach some topic in Shakespeare. That was almost 15 years ago now, and I've taught the topics course I think twice, once Roman Shakespeare and once Shakespeare's and history. (I thought I'd get to teach it more, but things haven't shaken out that way; my colleague has taught it maybe one or two more times, but certainly neither of us teaches it very often.)
At about the same time, the department as a whole worked through a massive curricular change.
And now we're thinking about some new changes.
And as a Shakespeare person, I'm thinking about how Shakespeare and earlier British lit might fit into those new changes. So I'd love to hear from others about how Shakespeare fits in their curriculum. Is it required? Do most students take it if not required? Is it mostly thought of as a general education course or a strictly majors course?
And broadly speaking, how do you think of a literature major? What's the point of a lit major? And how does Shakespeare fit that point?