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Class, Critics, and Shakespeare: Bottom Lines on the Culture Wars

Class, Critics, and Shakespeare: Bottom Lines on the Culture Wars
Your Price: $24.95 CDN
Author: Sharon O'Dair
Publisher: University of Michigan Press
Format: Softcover
# of Pages: 166
Pub. Date: 2000
ISBN-10: 0472067540
ISBN-13: 9780472067541

About the Book:

A challenging critique of academic culture and its blindspots. Class, Critics, and Shakespeare is a provocative contribution to "the culture wars." It engages with an ongoing debate about literary canons, the democratization of literary study, and of higher education in general. 

For a generation at least, academic readings of literary works, including those of Shakespeare, have often challenged privilege based on race, gender, and sexuality. Sharon O'Dair observes that in these same readings, class privilege has remained effectively unchallenged, despite repeated invocations of it within multiculturalism. She identifies what she sees as a structurally necessary class bias in academic literary and cultural criticism, specifically in the contemporary reception of William Shakespeare's plays.

The author builds her argument by offering readings of Shakespeare that put class at the center of the analysis — not just in Shakespeare's plays or in early modern England, but in the academy and in American society today. Individual chapters focus on The Tempest and education, Timon of Athens and capitalism, Coriolanus and political representation. Other chapters treat the politics of cultural tourism and land-use in the Pacific northwest, and analyze the politics of the academic left in the U.S. today, focusing on the debate between what has been called a "social" left and a "cultural" left.

The author's quest is to understand why an intellectual culture that values diversity and pluralism can so easily disdain and ignore the working-class people she grew up with. Her provocative and heartfelt critique of academic culture will challenge and enlighten a broad range of audiences, including those in cultural studies, American studies, literary criticism, and early modern literature.

What people say:

"Race, class, and gender,' we say, but serious thinking about class has lagged well behind work on race and gender, in literary studies. Sharon O'Dair helps make up the deficit, in a skilled and subtle inquiry that ranges from Shakespeare and his reception to the modern U.S. university and the persistent contradictions it poses for those who would like education to be more democratic." — Richard Ohmann, Wesleyan University

"A feisty polemic against what O'Dair sees as the academy's deleterious effects on the working class. Iconoclastic and smart, O'Dair is a provocative voice in current debates about the social function of higher education and the role of class in American society." — Jean Howard, Columbia University

"... O'Dair holds the mirror up to the academy, revealing its role in maintaining class privilege in our society. She contends that educational institutions perpetuate elite 'bias against the working class and the poor' because such bias is 'structurally useful and even necessary in the academy.' ... O'Dair shows how liberal goals such as expanding educational opportunity and inclusiveness, limiting the ill effects of capitalism, encouraging political participation, and championing environmental causes contribute to 'the reproduction of inequality' in contemporary American society." — Cheryl A. Shell, Washington State University

"... highly recommended. I hope it is the first of many on what education in a democracy should mean and what use is made of cultural icons like Shakespeare, politically incorrect though he may be." — Bibliotheque d'humanisme et Renaissance

About the Author:

Sharon O'Dair is Hudson Strode Professor of English and the Director of the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies, University of Alabama. She grew up in southern California in a city adjacent to Disneyland and completed her graduate work at the University of California, Berkeley.