Shakespeare class back for another round
Published: Monday, August 27, 2012
Updated: Monday, August 27, 2012 16:08
JustArts emailed with Prof. William Flesch (ENG) who teaches one of the most popular classes among humanities students at Brandeis, “ENG 33a: Shakespeare:” Flesch earned his B.A. from Yale University and his Master’s and Ph.D. from Cornell University. He has been awarded several prizes, including the Lerman-Neubauer for Excellence in Teaching and Mentoring.
JustArts: How long have you been a professor at Brandeis?
William Flesch: Since, I am amazed to say, 1985. But don’t tell anyone: they might think I was older [than] I really am.
JA: What is your favorite class to teach?
WF: “English 11a: [Close Reading: Theory and Practice],” which is a course on close reading: it’s not how much you read but how deeply. We’ll sometimes spend a month on a single poem. And that will feel rushed.
JA: Why do you think it is important to study literature, for example Shakespeare?
WF: Life is hard and gets harder. One of the things that make it worth living is thinking. Thinking can be about any number of things: poetic meter, math, philosophy, jazz, love, time, God, loss, art, Nash equilibria, political history, the physiology of vision, for example. Learning how to think about them deeply, to love thinking about them, is what education is about. If you do learn to love thinking about them, you’ll get through many dark nights of the soul, and will have much to offer those you love as well. And, I firmly believe, you’ll value more what should be valued in the world, and will tend more to do justice and love mercy (to quote the prophet Micah).
JA: What makes your Shakespeare class so popular to Brandeis students?
JA: What is your favorite work of Shakespeare’s?
WF: I go back and forth between King Lear and Antony and Cleopatra.
JA: What are the highlights of your Shakespeare class this semester?
WF: King Lear and The Winter’s Tale.
JA: Have you read any interesting books over the summer?
WF: I am finally reading, and loving, Antony Powell’s twelve-volume cycle [A] Dance to the Music of Time. And I thought Suzanne Collins’ [The] Hunger Games trilogy, especially the first novel, was, though badly written, brilliantly plotted and worth, well, thinking about (talk about Nash Equilibria!). I liked Steve Erickson’s These Dreams of You, about the arc of history from [Robert F. Kennedy] through [Barack Hussein Obama] via David Bowie and Addis Ababa with a little time travel thrown in. I read some Naguib Mahfouz and a really good story by Jeanette Winterson, “The Green Man.” The always amazing Alice Munro had two stories in the New Yorker. So did F. Scott Fitzgerald, seventy-six years after he submitted it. And an unknown story by Sylvia Townsend Warner, author of the wonderful Kingdoms of Elfin, was recently found and published. Richard Moran’s philosophical treatment of first-person experience, Authority and Estrangement, is pretty astonishingly good.
JA: If you could be any literary character from any novel, who would it be?
WF: Psmith, from P.G. Wodehouse’s Psmith books, especially Leave it to Psmith. Psmith is better even than Jeeves, and Wodehouse (the inventor of both) is one of the great geniuses of twentieth century literature.
JA: Why do you think Shakespeare’s work has had such a lasting impact on world culture and literature?
WF: Because it’s the best thing ever. Because Shakespeare thought more deeply than anyone about the intersection of art and craft, depth and sheer skill, that’s the center and origin of all our experiences as humans in a human world.
JA: What do you think of modern remakes of classic Shakespeare plays, like West Side Story, Shakespeare in Love, Romeo & Juliet and other modern movies influenced by his plays?
WF: I am all for them. I have to say I think Kurosawa is the best. And Kiss Me, Kate. I do like Susan Cooper’s [Young Adult] novel King of Shadows.
JA: What is your opinion on the conspiracy theories that Shakespeare was not who he claimed to be or was not the real author of the plays?
WF: I heard he was born in Kenya.