One of the authors essential to classical education is William Shakespeare. He is, in one sense, a bridge from our modern world to the world of the ancients and medievals. To read his plays is to get the sense that he has one foot in the old world and one foot in the new. His themes are never timebound and have spoken to people in every age.
We in the classical education movement are among the few people in our culture today who still talk about a literary canon—a set of works that best represent the human voice and essentially speak to human experience.
Critics of the idea of a canon question it because it presupposes transcendental standards of judgment, and that such standards, they believe are, at best, illusory. But, of course, to those of us who unapologetically believe in such standards and work to familiarize students with them, this is not an impediment, but a recommendation.
Some writers think that Shakespeare is more than just an important element of this canon. Harold Bloom, one of our greatest literary critics, claims that Shakespeare is the Western Canon.
Joseph Pearce, another of our great literary voices, asks whether Shakespeare can save civilization. He doesn’t necessarily think he can save it, and yet he thinks:
Of course, Shakespeare cannot save civilization, at least not on his own. Perhaps we should rephrase things a little, asking a slightly different question: Can Civilization be Saved without Shakespeare? To address this question, we can argue that no restoration or resurrection of civilization will be possible in the absence of Shakespeare’s presence and, indeed, that the absence of his presence would itself be a sign that civilization had collapsed.
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