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The Journal Gazette

June 07, 2016 1:00 AM

The bard of Coliseum Boulevard?

Shakespeare on death of liberal arts at IPFW

Joe Reese

Joe Reese of Fort Wayne is a lecturer in the Department of English and Linguistics at IPFW.

The Royal Shakespeare Company recently marked the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death by mounting a gala. Luminaries from around the world were asked to do scenes. A film was made of this event, and my wife and I got to see it here in Fort Wayne.

I should mention that I teach English as a limited-term lecturer at IPFW. I’ve only been here three years, but I’ve taught at more than 20 colleges/universities, high schools and vocational schools around the country. Forty-six years. The time, the time…

While watching the film I cried softly, as I always do (though not always softly) while watching Desdemona plead for her life with the enraged and murderous Othello; Macbeth stare horror-struck at his forearms, covered as they are with the blood of Duncan; Cleopatra press the poisonous asp against her breast; and Hamlet ask himself “What dreams may come?” in that dreamless sleep of death.

And I thought further about IPFW and what is going on here. Restructuring. The possible downsizing of liberal arts programs in favor of more technically focused, career-centered course offerings. Of course, such restructuring is not unique to IPFW or to Fort Wayne. A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, talking about the plight of regional universities, asks:

“What is their role? What should it be? Are they meant to bring a broad, liberal-arts education to the masses, close to home? Or should they hone a utilitarian focus, offering majors designed to funnel graduates straight to ready-made careers in the regional job market?”

And as I sit here now in my office, watching through the window as students cross the campus, I am forced to admit: the answer is the latter.

Prepare those kids for jobs!

Send them into aerospace technology. Or software programming. Or vacuum cleaner repair, for that matter, anything that will get them out there earning a decent wage.

Don’t burden their little minds (as magnificent professors burdened mine years ago at Indiana University) with the image of Othello staring at the flickering candle, then at his sleeping wife, and growling: “Put out the light, and then put out the light.”

Don’t make them think about Macbeth, overwhelmed with the monstrous guilt that will keep him awake forever, and whispering: “Macbeth has murdered sleep, sweet sleep, that knits up the raveled sleeve of care.”

And, especially, so near to Memorial Day, don’t let them bring to mind the valiant Prince Hal at Agincourt, pleading, exhorting his outnumbered army, shouting: “Once more unto the breach dear friends, once more. Or fill the wall up with our English dead!”

No, these images are useless to the people of Fort Wayne, and, for that matter, to the job-starved citizens of northeast Indiana.

So banish us – liberal arts teachers and Shakespearean characters.

We are of no more use to a practical, results-oriented society than that tub of guts Jack Falstaff, who pleads to Prince Hal – soon to be King Henry V: “No, my good lord, (when thou art king) banish Pistol, banish Bardolph, banish Nym, but ... sweet Jack Falstaff ... valiant Jack Falstaff, and therefore more valiant being, as he is, old Jack Falstaff. Banish not him thy Harry’s company. ... Banish plump Jack, and banish all the world.”

But, of course, the liberal arts are not all the world.

They are simply a major reason for living in that world.

And they are dissolving.

I look again through the window at what had been a liberal arts college, at the ghosts of Socrates and Aristotle and Goethe and Shakespeare, dissolving in the harsh light of budget battle, and I wonder whether it had ever been here at all. I hear Puck saying: “Think you have but slumbered here, while these visions did appear.”

No, we’re going to be restructured.

I can feel the process beginning, and as it does so I realize what is true about all of my colleagues and visions that have filled our minds, or souls:

“We are such stuff as dreams are made of. And our little lives are rounded with a sleep.”