Imprimis: Links and Tidbits, 20 December 2010

You may have noticed that it’s not Friday. The office’s holiday schedule means that I won’t be manning a desk this Friday or the next, so I decided to hold last week’s Tidbits till today, and we’ll get back on our usual Friday rotation after the new year.

This week: A lot on the merit of the humanities and a little bit of pop-Shakespeare.

  • Victor Davis Hanson writes in defense of the liberal arts, suggesting that, of the problems America could have, a population “immersed in and informed by literature, history, art, and music is not one of them.” Cass says: I love pretty much everything in this essay. The humanities don’t teach you what to think; they teach you how — how to think incisively, creatively, deliberately. Hanson also talks about the imperative of linking the modern world to our historical heritage, with the ever-present threat that history may repeat itself, and that it becomes more likely to do so the less we know about it. With the danger of losing our common touchstones, the stories that hold populations together as nations, “No wonder the public is drawn to stories like The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia, in which characters speak beautifully and believe in age-old values.”
  • An essay asks “Amid globalization, what do we read?” and posits that, when constructing curricula, we should not throw out old (European) classics just because we’re now including material from Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Rather, by embracing all possibilities, we might just construct a more well-read society.
  • Another essay: “The STEM of a plant cannot survive alone STEM meaning “Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics,” ie, the disciplines viewed as more profitable and necessary to our economy. As the author points out, the humanities offer problem-solving skills and command of language, and they also ask the difficult questions. “But pleasure isn’t the only benefit of an education filled with humanities, especially because not everyone enjoys taking classes in the humanities. Part of the importance of reading Shakespeare is its difficulty. The guy writes in a code that, in order to understand, you need careful attention and problem-solving skills. It’s like Sudoku, only you’re constantly learning new things along the way. Remembering all of the twists and turns of King Lear’s wandering may not help you ten years down the line, but the skills gained through challenging yourself will.”‘
  • New York theater takes on world history, with productions on topics such as war-torn Afghanistan, renegade American president Andrew Jackson, and race relations in the 1930s. Cass says: I love history plays, of all kinds. I think they illustrate so well why we ought to be interested in history, not just because of what it tells us about ourselves and how our culture developed, but because, plain and simple, most history is about sex and violence and incredible personalities — precisely the stuff of good theatre. As the article points out, “Shakespeare did history plays. But it’s the drama, not his manipulation of history, that lives on.”
  • California Shakespeare Theater’s Box Office Manager Robin Dolan talks about the myth of the off-season. Cass says: We empathize, Cal Shakes! The OCS produces shows 52 weeks a year, and the education department just discussed at our last meeting how our year has evolved so that we hop right from one exciting event or project to the next.
  • Finally, as you may have heard by now, the Weinstein Company and Miramax have signed a deal to produce a sequel to Shakespeare in Love. Cass says: There’s been a lot of Internet muttering about this lately, and I’m not fully certain why. If they get Stoppard back to write the sequel, I think it could be good entertainment. Leave Viola in the New World, though; let Will find someone new to inspire him, some influence that creates his darker, later plays.

Happy holidays, everyone! And in the words of Theseus: “Joy, gentle friends! joy and fresh days of love accompany your hearts!”