- - Sunday, June 21, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

If there’s one man in the history of words and books and speech who needs no defense against the slings and arrows of the envious, it’s William Shakespeare, the country lad who grew up to make English the most important language in the world, and to spin tales in it that would instruct, entertain and inspire the millions four centuries after his death.

But when someone, even someone in an obscure corner of the universe, rises to ask why Shakespeare should matter in the modern world he can expect the torrents of spring to fall on his head. Or, this time, her head. A teacher at a high school in Sacramento, California, made herself famous, not only in Sacramento, but across the country and the seas for slighting the Bard. Her op-ed in The Washington Post went “viral,” the current cliche for “widely read.”

The English teacher, Dana Dusbiber, says it’s time “to leave Shakespeare out of the English curriculum entirely,” because he’s just an old dead white guy with nothing to say about the life and times of her students. “What I worry about is that as long as we continue to cling to ONE (white) MAN’S view of life as he lived it so long ago, we (perhaps unwittingly) promote the notion that other cultural perspectives are less important.” Miss Dusbiber writes in capital letters and lots of parentheses, but she does not explain clearly why the Bard is irrelevant. She concedes that what he says and how he says it flies two inches above her head. Reading Shakespeare is just too hard.

“I dislike Shakespeare because of my own personal disinterest in reading stories written in an early form of the English language that I cannot always easily navigate.”

This is sad, not only for Miss Dusbiber, but for her students. The language is rich and the story of how Shakespeare put the English language on the way to dominating the world is a story that she could study with her students. They could google it together. In Shakespeare’s time, as told on one website, politicworm.com, English had no more influence on affairs beyond the isles than Basque or Finnish. The educated elites spoke French; their cooks and stable boys spoke the rough dialect called English, known only to a few scholars of languages.

Then “Little England” stirred to life, and three centuries later Britain ruled an empire that bestrode the globe, spreading the language that began as a collection of dialects, street talk and bits and pieces of Latin, Italian, French, classic Greek and perhaps Hebrew, “converging in the mind and pen of a single individual to emerge as a new language,” shorn of the quaint phrasing that so puzzles Miss Dusbiber, “becoming a bigger, better, more powerful, more expressive language.”

It’s a language abundant in words to express many shades of meaning, words to tell many precise expressions of grace and beauty, told to delight the ear and challenge the imagination. The story of Shakespeare and the language he midwifed, a story of genius unbound, told by a teacher as Miss Dusbiber might be if she put her own mind and imagination to it. She would fire the imaginations of her students, who might be astonished to learn that the rappers, ranters and the Kardashians have no corner on fun and pleasure.

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