• Kirk Jenkins

Why Read Shakespeare, Louisville 1884 (Part 2 of 3)


From the Louisville Courier-Journal, May 25, 1884


Part 1


“We two will serve them both in aiding her – will clear away the parasitic forms That seem to keep her up but drag her down – Will leave her space to burgeon out of all Within her – let he maker herself her own To give or keep, to live and learn and be All that not harms distinctive womanhood. For woman is not undevelopt man. But diverse: could we make her as the man, Sweet love were slain: his dearest bond is this, Not like to like, but like in difference. Yet in the long years liker must they grow; The man be more of woman, she of man; He gain in sweetness and in moral height. Nor lose the wrestling thews that throw the world; She mental breadth, nor fail in childward care, Nor lose the childlike in the larger mind; Till at the last she set herself to man, Like perfect music unto noble words; And so these twain, upon the skirts of Time. Sit side by side, full summ’d in all their powers.”

In order to secure to woman the value of this experience without the experience itself, Prof. Thomas suggests the study of Shakespeare, not on the stage alone or principally, not merely for the pleasure it gives as poetry or fiction, but in the same way as one follows any other disciplinary studies. He argues his case from two points. Considering it first as mental exercise or drill, he says:


“The explanation of Shakespeare’s construction of sentences and use of word-forms, for instance, is an operation of mind identical with that needed for constructing a passage of Latin or German and parsing its compound parts; and the decision of reading any passage, especially one at all ambiguous, involves precisely the same kind of analysis as that necessary to stating and solving a problem in mathematics, the conditions of the equations in this case being the principles and circumstances of the speaker’s human nature instead of the properties and relations of quantities as in algebra, or of magnitudes as in geometry. This analysis should give as clear a picture of what is said and the manner of saying it, by Horatio, for instance, as of the position of the riders in the problem of the couriers. Hence we should get, and we do get, from this Shakespeare study the same kind of intellectual profit that is obtained from the regular curriculum studies, though perhaps not in the same degree. Further, there is bound up with Shakespeare so much of the history of the English language, so much of the illustration of its syntax, so much explanation of its forms, as to constitute alone a sufficient reward for the time and labor given it in schools.”


But the case does not rest here; it is Shakespeare as the delineator of human nature, Shakespeare as he represents humanity, with whom he would have women come in contact.

“And again there is this crowning excellence in Shakespeare study, that it is essentially a human study – not of things or of quantities, but of humanity, of the heart within us, and is full of the truest wisdom, of that wisdom which lingers even when ‘knowledge comes,’ lingers until ‘full of and experience.’ IF then the extended study of Shakespeare gives such results, and experience has shown that it does, there can be no substantial reason for opposing it. There is no such reason. Imagine intelligent parents opposing the study of Dante in Italy, or of Moliere in France, or of ‘Don Quixote’ in Spain, or of Schiller in Germany. [Check back here on Saturday for the conclusion]


Image courtesy of Pixabay by IgorOvsyannykov (no changes).

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