Folios and Feminism

It was a glittering, thousand-dollar-a-seat Washington dinner. The occasion? -- the seventieth anniversary of the Folger Shakespeare Library. But amid the rare, fifteenth-century folios was an all-too-modern approach to the Bard -- a postmodern approach, in fact. Between the champagne and the chocolates, the library welcomed its new director, Shakespearean scholar and George Washington University English professor, Gail Kern Pastor. Pastor says she wants to make the literary past "vivid and alive." How? -- by deconstructing Shakespeare's plays for their treatment of sex and gender. Pastor told The Washington Post, "For academic women who teach Shakespeare, feminism is an organizing principle for how we look at the plays." Now that's classic postmodernism. Postmodernism says there is no real self -- that individuals are merely constructs of social forces, like culture, race, gender, and ethnicity. The important thing is not self-identity but social identity. This explains why the classics are being scrutinized for sensitivity to blacks, women, homosexuals, and every other conceivable group. Instead of asking what Shakespeare intended to say, deconstructionism says we ought to filter the text through our own ideological grid. That means tearing texts apart to examine underlying ideological constructions. For example, to a postmodern scholar, Othello is not really about jealousy; it's about a black man struggling in a white society. Traditional scholarship teaches that Macbeth is about the corruption that comes with a desire for power. But a postmodern scholar might say the real message is about keeping women from becoming too influential and that the message of Hamlet is about the power of unleashed female sexuality. This approach to the classics has become deeply ingrained in our intellectual culture -- which is why Gail Kern Pastor could calmly say, "Feminism is an organizing principle for how we look at the plays." This view has become so accepted it's almost impossible to get a degree in English -- graduate or undergraduate -- without embracing it. As Christians, we are called to stand against the spirit of the age. But first we need to identify that spirit, as it changes from generation to generation. Today's spirit is a worship of race, gender, and culture. This approach to literature not only deprives us of a rich and accurate understanding of the classics; it also directs readers away from Christ. Louise Cowan, former chairman of the English department at the University of Dallas, put it this way: "My serious encounter with Shakespeare and then with all the riches of the classics enabled me to see the splendor of Him who is at the center of the gospels." This is why we need to expose our kids to good literary guides to great western literature. One guide I recommend is Invitation to the Classics, edited by Louise Cowan and Os Guinness. Try reading Shakespeare aloud with your kids and their friends, and then use this guide to help them understand the plays' moral lessons. The guide will help you understand that the flap over folios and feminism is really a warning of something much deeper and much more troubling -- a dangerous idolatry. For further reading: Louise Cowan and Os Guinness, eds., Invitation to the Classics (Baker Book House, 1998). The complete works of William Shakespeare can be found here. Daniel J. Adams, "Toward a Theological Understanding of Postmodernism," Metanoia, spring-summer 1997. Roxanne Roberts, "Much Ado About Something," The Washington Post, 13 April 2002, C1. See BreakPoint's New Worldview Resource List for links to sources to help you develop a stronger Christian worldview understanding .


Chuck Colson


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