Shakespeare’s Star Dims at North Carolina Colleges

Samuel Johnson called him the “immortal Shakespeare,” but his image is fading at colleges in North Carolina.

Nearly half the four-year colleges in North Carolina no longer require their English majors to take a course in the work of William Shakespeare, reports a new study from the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy. Only eight out of the 15 University of North Carolina campuses with English majors require a course in William Shakespeare. Of 34 private colleges and universities in the state, only 17 require Shakespeare for English majors.

N. C. State does not require a course devoted to Shakespeare; UNC-Chapel Hill does. Some of North Carolina’s best-known private colleges, including Duke, Davidson, and Elon, do not require Shakespeare.

The study, “To Be or Not to Be: Shakespeare in the English Department,” by Amanda Anderson and Jane S. Shaw, also notes that the decline reflects a nationwide trend.

Traditionally, William Shakespeare was viewed as the prime exponent of the English language and its literature. Larry Goldberg, an award-winning Shakespeare teacher at UNC-Chapel Hill, says that Shakespeare “encapsulates the entire Western tradition up to his time (and is in many ways prophetic of what is to come) in the most compact and beautiful fashion.”

The Bard is losing stature in English departments for a variety of reasons, write Anderson and Shaw. N.C. State advising coordinator Sharon Setzer told the authors, “Like many other English departments in the country, ours has moved in the direction of becoming less prescriptive.”

Robert Blake, former English department head at Elon University, who teaches Shakespeare there, says the decline of Shakespeare is part of the “dumbing down” of higher education.

The dominance of “postmodernism theory” at today’s English departments, suggests Nan Miller, retired professor of English at Meredith College, also explains the demotion. Postmodernism emphasizes relativism and the absence of objective standards. Postmodernists consider Shakespeare a representative of the Western tradition, which they devalue.

Finally, Anderson and Shaw point to the desire of many faculty members to teach primarily in their specialized areas. Often these areas are outside the traditional canon of English literature and have a narrow focus.

The Pope Center study was inspired by a study published last April by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA). The organization, which upholds traditional curricula, surveyed leading schools in the country. It found that more than 75 per cent (55 out of 70) of the schools do not require Shakespeare for English majors.

The seven schools within the University of North Carolina system that do not require Shakespeare are:

• University of North Carolina at Asheville
• University of North Carolina at Charlotte
• University of North Carolina at Greensboro
• University of North Carolina at Pembroke
• Western Carolina University
• North Carolina State University
• Appalachian State University

The eight UNC schools that still require Shakespeare are:

• North Carolina Central University
• Elizabeth City State University
• East Carolina University
• Fayetteville State University
• North Carolina A&T State University
• University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
• University of North Carolina at Wilmington
• Winston Salem State University

The following private schools in North Carolina do not require a course in Shakespeare for English majors.

• Brevard College
• Davidson College
• Duke University
• Elon University
• Greensboro College
• Guilford College
• Lenior-Rhyne College
• Livingstone College
• Mars Hill College
• Methodist University
• Mount Olive College
• North Carolina Wesleyan College
• Peace College
• Saint Augustine’s College
• Salem College
• Shaw University
• St. Andrews Presbyterian College

The 17 private schools that require Shakespeare are:

• Barton College
• Belmont Abbey College
• Bennett College
• Campbell University
• Catawba College
• Chowan University
• Gardner Webb University
• High Point University
• Johnson C. Smith
• Lees-McRae College
• Meredith College
• Warren Wilson College
• Montreat College
• Pfeiffer University
• Queens University
• Wake Forest University
• Wingate University

For a PDF of the “To Be or Not To Be: Shakespeare in the English Department, click here.