I hate Shakespeare.

I’m thinking of forming a support group of disgruntled students who can’t stand the Bard. We’d meet late at night in Angell Hall, call ourselves Shakespeare Sucks Anonymous and have some kind of secret handshake.

“Hello, I’m an English major, and I hate Shakespeare,” we’d say at the beginning of each meeting.

I’ll tell you what my problem is with the author many consider to be the greatest in English literature: America doesn’t know how to write, and it’s partly his fault.

As an editor at the Daily, I’ve read enough first drafts to know that if you’re like the average college student, you probably can’t reliably string together a coherent sentence. It’s not just our generation, either, as many are wont to believe. I’ve met a lot of adults who speak articulately, have raised three children successfully and run their own businesses but who couldn’t consistently manage to put a comma in the correct place if it would win them the Pulitzer.

We have to blame something. If you’re over 30, you probably blame instant messenger, MTV and video games. Those, however, don’t explain the older set’s impotence when it comes to putting pen to paper.

I blame the whole mess on Shakespeare.

Listen, he was great. “Hamlet” is a breathtaking play. “King Lear” was tragic. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is funny to those in tweed. We get it. That doesn’t mean we should base an entire English curriculum around an author whose prose bears no resemblance to the writing students will be expected to do once they graduate.

The priority of English education should be teaching students how to write. That way, when they get to the real world, they can put a subject in front of a verb and go home to their families.

Reading Shakespeare and the other classics – Joyce, Melville, Chaucer – isn’t going to teach them that. There are so many contemporary authors who could be a better example of how to write simply and directly.

How about more John Updike, Zadie Smith, Margaret Atwood, John Irving, Toni Morrison, Jonathan Franzen, Richard Ford, John Cheever – even Stephen King and Michael Crichton? At their best, they write clearly and have serious literary ambitions. Their stories are stuffed with the symbolism and rhetorical technique that give English professors a reason to exist. Most of all, they would give students a chance to enjoy reading. Maybe students would start to associate the act more with the pleasure of reading Franzen’s powerful prose and less with the indecipherable plot of “Moby Dick,” which has nothing to do with their lives

Right now, dearest reader, you’re probably balking at the idea of replacing “The Canterbury Tales” with “Jurassic Park” and “The Scarlet Letter” with “The Shining.”

I’ll make one concession. Go ahead, teach “Macbeth” if you really feel it’s necessary. Teach “The Great Gatsby” for its clean sentences and teach “Catcher in the Rye” for its awe-inspiring use of the first person.

But let’s stop before we’re forcing high school students to read “Henry VII” when they could be reading John Irving’s “A Prayer For Owen Meaney.”

Irving is perhaps the best example of why this would work. He’s the Charles Dickens of our era. Dickens – whose serialized works were so popular that readers waited for the next installment in Harry Potter-esque fashion – was heavy on plot and readability. Perhaps English teachers haven’t noticed, because his books are considered classics.

Irving also avoids being boring while still managing to be literary. So does Tim O’Brien, whose “Things They Carried” is at once engrossing and enlightening.

Read “The World According to Garp” or almost anything O’Brien has written. You’ll see that serious novels don’t have to be difficult to understand. While those books show up on the occasional 10th-grade rubric, they aren’t yet considered classics by everyone. Let’s anoint them as such and save English literacy.

With writers like O’Brien, Irving and King, everyone gets what they want. Teachers get to spend 50 minutes detailing the feminist symbolism of Carrie’s destruction of her high school.

And students get to enjoy the part where she kills her mom.

– Karl Stampfl is an RC junior and the editor in chief of The Michigan Daily.

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