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Suggestions for Shakespeare Lovers

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Where are we to find wisdom in a world that is obsessed with technology? I do not believe that we will find it in electronic gadgets, which for all of their cachet and hipness have done little more than improve convenience for us. Yes, it is true that Twitter and Facebook helped dissident groups in autocratic countries, as we saw in the Arab Spring. But Twitter, Facebook, texting and all of the other apps are saturating us with too much stimuli.

While it is helpful for all of us to be connected to the Internet, we should not be tethered to our electronic devices all day long, when we could be reading, spending time in nature, having a good meal and engaging in conversation with loved ones. These activities should not be subjected to frequent interruption by electronics.

The overloading of stimuli may very well be ruining our powers of concentration, contributing to various health disorders, and perhaps deadening our minds.

Harold Bloom, the greatest literary critic of our time and my former professor, has accrued so much wisdom because he is our foremost reader with a deep, deep love for poetry. Sadly, many of the comments on my last piece, in which I critiqued David Brooks' superficial reading of Shakespeare, showed me that a number of people lack the wisdom of Bloom.

As I pointed out in a reply to one particularly obtuse comment, I am not alone in thinking that Hamlet and Falstaff are sublime. Bloom, a Bardolator of the highest order, reveres Falstaff and recognizes the genius of Hamlet.

It baffles me when commenters essentially say, "How can you like Hamlet and Falstaff, Robert. Hamlet causes his girlfriend's suicide, and Falstaff is a criminal."

Obviously, I am not condoning Falstaff's larceny or Hamlet's cruelty to Ophelia. But what I and others such as Professor Bloom love about Falstaff and Hamlet is their zest for life, their vitality, their love for play.

That is what makes Hamlet and Falstaff so special, such a blessing to all of us. The same can be said of Rosalind and Cleopatra. They love to play.

Conversely, Prince Hal, as I argued in my previous piece, is a calculating pol with no loyalty to his boon companion and mentor, Falstaff. That is not to say that I don't relish the moment when Hal engages Falstaff by saying, "Do thou stand for my father!"

Falstaff is absolutely delighted and replies, "Shall I? Content."

Yet, even in that instant, in his bid for play, Hal is probably still calculating because he, like Mitt Romney for instance, is trying to size up his competition in a debate. Of course, like so many recent pols, that competition involves not Hotspur, a contemporary, so much as Hal's daddy. (George W. Bush and Andrew Cuomo famously come to mind as other politicians with daddy complexes.)

David Brooks is right that one cannot turn a young Prince Hal into Hamlet by giving him meds. But the truth is that Hal can never be Hamlet. Hal is and always will be a politician, ruthlessly ambitious and lacking the depth of the Prince of Denmark.

One might ask why some of us revere Hamlet so much. Part of it is because he does not seek the crown. He is completely apolitical, so that even though his father has been murdered, he does not attempt to take the crown for himself.

Hamlet, in that respect, is not unlike other truly sublime figures like Albert Einstein, who was offered the presidency of Israel but declined. Why? Because the greatest impact that an eminent artist or scientist can have is in creating new art and new ways of looking at the world.

As for specific suggestions on education, I would recommend that some of the commenters read Professor Bloom's books. They might start with Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human.

And we might all advocate in favor of a more qualitative approach to education. One cannot quantify genius, just as one cannot quantify a human being, creativity or imagination.

It strikes me that both political parties have been relying too much on test scores. When I was in public, elementary school, we had an open classroom with no grades. Instead, we got comments.

If I were running the public schools, I would favor that approach, a Bank Street School, child-centered approach. Yes, we can introduce kids to the military, as Brooks has said, though I don't think school should be run like a boot camp. We want to pique the curiosity of kids so that they can become independent thinkers. Boot camps are not like that. Boot camps tend to break people down so that they lose their uniqueness.

And an over-reliance on testing and quantification of kids will do nothing other than traumatize them.

When I was in junior high and high school, our English teachers for the most part had a policy of not putting grades on our papers. That remains a good idea.

I recognize that we need some kind of grading and standardized testing for high school kids in order for colleges to have a seemingly objective means of assessing applicants. But we should not rely on those statistics to the detriment of comments from teachers, recommendations, interviews and other non-measurable but more salient attributes such as character, imagination, wit and honesty.

I might have gotten a little heated in my last post, but that is very Hotspurian. It might not surprise anyone that I played Hotspur in a class on the bildungsroman when I was a senior in high school. And it might not surprise anyone that I wrote my senior thesis in college for Harold Bloom on Rosalind and Hamlet, both of whom love to play.