I recently read a couple of articles relating to the “Woke” culture and it’s influence in modern classrooms.
Several younger teachers, identifying as “Woke,” have decided that the writings of William Shakespeare should be removed from the curriculum. Their logic suggests that over 300 years ago, Shakespeare, using characters from before and during his own historical time, packed as much racism, sexism, colonialism, and whatever other “isms” into his poetry and plays, as he could muster, apparently just to vex a future “perfect” generation such as the woke ones, consider themselves to be.
It’s quite an ambitious project for these youngsters to take upon themselves the responsibility of canceling the study of the greatest playwright and poet in English literature.
In rebuttal to these anxious literary surgeons, I will quote just two other witnesses on the subject of “woke” and Shakespeare. One, former president, Barack Obama; two, a man many consider the greatest American poet of all time, Walt Whitman.
Former President, Barack Obama’s statement on the “Woke” culture at his Foundation summit, left no doubt that he was not over impressed by the movement. Obama stated: “The idea of purity and you’re never compromised and you’re always “politically woke” and all that stuff, you should get over that quickly.” He went on, “The World is messy, there are ambiguities. People who do really good things, have flaws. People who you are fighting, love their kids and share certain things with you.” Obama had noted the trend of all this on college campuses and called it a “danger” which is “accelerated by social media.” He noted that, “some young people think that the way to bring about change is “to be as judgmental as possible about other people, and that’s enough.” “Criticising people on social media for doing something wrong gives those critics a sense of self-satisfaction,” he said. “Then I can sit and feel pretty good about myself because, man, you see how woke I was. If all you’re doing is casting stones, you’re probably not going to get that far. That’s easy to do.”
In approaching the attitude of Walt Whitman toward Shakespeare I invoke the adage “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” Those woke people who are working to expunge the writings of the man loosely considered the greatest playwright and poet in the English Language should perhaps consider his effect on earlier students of his work. My example, Walt Whitman.
Whitman, early on, carried a dog-eared copy of Shakespeare’s sonnets in his pocket so that he could read it “when the mood demanded.” He eventually memorized long passages from the plays, especially Richard II. He ‘spouted’ them on the Broadway stage coaches and in the din of the city streets. As his own poetry and persona as the poet of Democracy developed he feared what he called the ‘feudal’ quality of Shakespeare’s work and knew that would not be filtered into his vision but retained his lifelong love of Shakespeare’s use of words, action , mysticism, and history. His final word on the subject, “If I had not stood before those poems, with uncovered head, fully aware of their colossal grandeur and beauty of form and spirit, I could not have written ‘Leaves of Grass’.