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The disappearance of William Shakespeare


The disappearance of William Shakespeare

APRIL 22, 2014, 4:36 PM    LAST UPDATED: TUESDAY, APRIL 22, 2014, 4:36 PM

Daniel Burnett is press secretary of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a higher education nonprofit dedicated to academic excellence.

ROMEO, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo? Sorry, Juliet. He’s hard to find on many college campuses.

Today is presumed to be William Shakespeare’s birthday, and on the Bard’s 450th, American higher education gives him about as much love as the Capulets gave the Montagues.

Many top American universities don’t require students to study Shakespeare. Think that’s bad? Many don’t even require a Shakespeare course of their English majors.

Right here in New Jersey, students can graduate from Princeton, Rutgers and Montclair without taking a single course in Shakespeare. It’s not even required of these institutions’ English majors. Nor do Yale, NYU or Penn State have a requirement to take a class in Shakespeare.

That’s right — arguably the greatest figure in English literature, who forever transformed theater, influenced great thinkers and shaped the English language by inventing or popularizing now-common vocabulary, is being forgotten on college campuses. Where would we be without words like swagger? Or eyeball? Or puppy dog? Or kitchen wench!

The reason for this wretched state of affairs is that students are routinely allowed to graduate with huge gaps in their skills and knowledge. According to the “What Will They Learn?” study (, just 38 percent of institutions require even a single college-level course in literature.

And Shakespeare’s not the only one vanishing from the minds of today’s college students. Only 3 percent of institutions require economics and just 18 percent require a basic course in American history or government.

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2 thoughts on “The disappearance of William Shakespeare

  1. well, its not so bad…
    at least the cost of a college education keeps rising 🙂

  2. “Wherefore art thou Romeo?” doesn’t mean “Where are you, Romeo?” (He’s standing right there, actually, but she hasn’t seen him.) Juliet is asking, “Why is your name Romeo (Montagu), meaning that we can’t be together? Why can’t your name be Jones?”

    O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?
    Deny thy father and refuse thy name.
    Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
    And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.

    “Daniel Burnett is press secretary of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a higher education nonprofit dedicated to academic excellence.” A tradition of excellence, by any chance?

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