Book Review: Modern Critical Interpretations on The Taming of the Shrew

Harold Bloom’s Modern Critical Interpretations series is a godsend for anyone interested in the latest and greatest criticism on classic literature. Each volume of this series centers on a particular work and features several samples of the very best academic writing about it. In each, Bloom does an excellent job of choosing pieces that represent the most compelling statements and interesting aspects of a variety of possible viewpoints on a given work. The literary criticism contained in this particular volume, on Shakespeare’s play The Taming of the Shrew, is no exception to that rule.

After a brief introduction by Bloom himself, we are treated to a fascinating exposition of the use of the idea of dreaming in the play, through which treatment Marjorie Garber links the under-appreciated induction to the play proper (or play-within-a-play) which is the story of the Shrew. Marianne L. Novy then explores the relationship between the patriarchal social norms of the society in which the play is set and the playfulness of Petruchio and, eventually, Kate. Novy believes that it is this playfulness in defiance of convention that enables the final denouement, the reconciliation of Petruchio and Kate and the beginning of a very happy marriage. Ruth Nevo continues this discussion in her piece “Kate of Kate Hall,” in which she explains “the metamorphosis of folly into wisdom” which is at the heart of all of the plots and sub-plots of the play.

Coppelia Khan, however, takes a slightly different turn and opts rather to defend the position that Petruchio is indeed attempting to establish his dominance over Kate, but that because it is through this establishment of dominance that Petruchio derives his masculine identity, this is in itself a sort of admission of the power of women, a type of submission of men to women. This meditation upon the derivation of identity through the other is one of the very best essays in this volume.

In “Metamorphoses,” Jeanne Addison Roberts explores the Ovidian connection of the play and its various transformations of one thing into another. Carol F. Hefferman provides us with a look at issues of class and status in the play in her “The Bourgeoisie in Love.” In his piece, Robert A. Burt argues that this play and other “problem plays” of Shakespeare are not really problems at all, but, rather, that resolution by force is a standard factor Shakespearean comedies, Shrew providing but one interesting example.

The final and, I believe, least helpful essay of the book is Joel Fineman’s “The Turn of the Shrew.” While Fineman provides some interesting insight and context, I was mostly disappointed with his contribution, laden with deconstructionist jargon and ultimately unhelpful for developing an understanding and appreciation of the play itself.

For those who love great literature, whether involved in academic literary criticism or, more sensibly, pure fans of the art, I recommend this and all of the other volumes in this series. You will not be disappointed.

Book Review: Three Thousand Years of Educational Wisdom by Robert Ulich

The history of thought on education, the means by which the youth of a given people are absorbed into society through imbibing the collective wisdom of their people, is also the history of thought on human nature. Any society educates its youth according to its ideal of humanity. A society which values a man of faith, for example, will provide an education that is oriented toward the development of faith, toward knowledge of theology, and perhaps toward a clerical vocation. A society that values the industrious and technical will naturally educate its young to acquire these habits and values.

What Robert Ulich has done here is assembled a collection of documents from many diverse times and places which exhibit the ideal of man in those times and places and the means by which each of the societies involved hoped to cultivate their ideal. In compiling these into a single volume and paring them down to manageable selections that highlight the essential features of each system, Ulich has given the reader the ability to see each system side by side and so compare them and contrast them, deriving what is best from each and cutting away what is superfluous or erroneous.

A volume like this one, then, is worth a great deal more than the tautologies, platitudes, and jargon-laden gimmicks that fill teaching manuals and most other recent books on education. This is not a book for those who think that education, the process of becoming a full human being, is nothing more than preparation for “college and career.” This is a book for those who believe that the best education springs from the best anthropology.

Plutarch’s lessons in leadership

I have to begin this post by apologizing to all who follow my blog for not blogging regularly over the last few months. This is especially true of neglecting the timetable I set for my reading and blogging about the 10-year reading plan for the Great Books of the Western World. I do, however, have a good excuse! The vast majority of my time this summer went to writing and revising (and revising [and revising (and etc.)]) my MA thesis on W. E. B. Du Bois’s ideas about education and the application that might be made of them to educating disadvantaged youth in the 21st century. I have (finally) finished the writing and revision process (for the most part) and will be defending my thesis on the evening of August 6, which I am very excited about.

As a result of the strenuous efforts of thesis writing and revision, I have been unable to keep up with the schedule I set for following the 10-year reading plan and blogging about it. According to my estimate, I am about 4 months behind on reading and about 5 months behind on blogging. With that said, one of my goals is to catch up by the end of 2015, and this post is a good place to start.┬áBecause my reading of Plutarch’s lives of Lycurgus, Numa, Alexander, and Caesar was stretched over such a long period and because I am so far behind, I will not get especially deep into analysis and criticism. Instead, I want to offer just a few thoughts.

First, the theme I am just now beginning to pick up on for this year is one of leadership. “What does the ideal leader look like?,” seems to be one of the primary questions that is being asked. Of course, as a leader is first and foremost a role model, there is also the theme of “what does the ideal person look like?” Each of the four great men whose biographies we read in “March” were men who were simultaneously great and flawed. Caesar’s ambition is perhaps the most famous and obvious of the flaws of these four leaders, but one might also point to Alexander’s vainglory, Numa’s shortsightedness, and Lycurgus’s harshness, for example, as the flaws which eventually led to the dissolution of their respective peoples’ independence.

As a teacher, these are lessons I take to heart. For 190 days out of the year I have to stand in front of almost 100 students and throughout the school days am seen by hundreds more. Even “off-duty,” so to speak, and even with the size of Savannah, I frequently run into my students while out and about. Every mistake I make is, in a sense, an action that will become acceptable in their eyes. Every flaw I have has the potential to replicate itself through their respect for me and their following of the example that I role model. I’m no Alexander or Caesar, obviously, but I am a leader whose decisions have serious ramifications for the lives of those whom I teach, not to mention my own three young children.

As a husband and a father, I also see a great deal to learn from this month’s readings. As the head of my household and the leader of my family, the example that I set, the rules I enforce and the reasons why and how I enforce them, the care that I show, will all determine the course that my family will take. Arrogance, pride, shortsightedness, cruelty, impatience, and so on will each bring about their fruits within only a generation, as well each of their virtuous opposites.

It will be interesting to see whether and how this theme continues to be discussed and played out as we continue the readings this year. There are some very interesting examples of leaders, both magnificently great and tragically flawed, which we will see in this year’s coming readings. We move next to the Gospel of Matthew and the Acts of the Apostles, two biblical texts which trace the great leaders of the Christian tradition, beginning with the Lord Himself and moving to the Apostles, including especially Peter and Paul. I hope to finish this reading and have my blog post about these up by mid-August so that we can then move on to arguably the greatest medieval figure of the Christian tradition, St. Augustine.

If you have been keeping up with the readings or have read these biographies of Plutarch in the past, please leave a comment and let me know what you think! Do you see the same theme in this year’s readings? What lessons on leadership do you see in Plutarch and the other readings we’ve covered so far?