Sunday, June 9, 2024

Tell me about your worst undergraduate course

It was half a century ago, at Michigan State University, and I had disregarded Jean Nicholas's advice to pick courses by the best professors rather than by subject. It was a Shakespeare course.* 

The professor, whose name mercifully fades from memory, was young. At the last time that nearly all male faculty wore suits and ties, he wore an open-collar shirt to class. 

His pedagogy included acting out scenes from the Bard in class, and you will perhaps not be surprised that when he took the role of Hamlet he chose a young blond woman in the class to be his Ophelia. 

In talking about the play, he said that he didn't mean to suggest that he followed a strict Freud-Jones interpretation of the play, to which a classmate murmured to me, "No, he means to dance around it for fifty minutes." 

I wrote a couple of papers for this class, the revelation of which would brand me with enduring shame, and the grades on which maintained my membership in the Honors College. 

In my defense, when I had to submit my transcript to my advisor for approval for graduation, he ran a practiced eye down the page and said, "You appear to have gotten yourself a liberal education. How did you do that here?"

*To be fair, the other other Shakespeare courses in the English department at that time were taught by the dullest professor in the department and the most notorious antisemite on campus, but I digress.