For the Love of Language

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Literary scene: Portia’s “quality of mercy” speech to Shylock, The Merchant of Venice.

Actual scene: A DavidsonLearns classroom in Temple Kol Tikvah on South Street in Davidson. Though not officially affiliated with the college, DavidsonLearns teaching ranks are oft peopled by Davidson professors, as well as other top-notch instructors teaching a wide range of subjects to lifelong learners of all ages.

Enter Professor of English Randy Ingram.

For five winter Wednesday evenings, Ingram offered “Shakespeare Scene and Heard,” a selection of pivotal scenes read aloud in class as well as viewed in film clips of Olivier, Branagh and others.

Students included an alumna and an alumnus, a professor emerita, a recent transplant from Brooklyn, a former Town of Davidson commissioner and a Davidson Learns board member, among others.

Discussion was, in a word, lively. Only once did it descend—necessarily, in context, really—into a vituperative condemnation of the “most unkindest cut[s]of all,” 2016 presidential politics.

Well, maybe ye had to be there.

Anyway, Ingram deftly brought his pupils’ attention back round to the Bard. And dessert. Someone always brought dessert, a custom in happy complement with another popular hallmark of Davidson Learns: no tests!

Sample topics prompted by discussion of Shylock, Henry, Caliban, Richard, Hamlet, Macbeth, et al included: the difference between an Honor Code and a culture of honor; “prostalgia,” a future-oriented concept of nostalgia invented some years back by one of Ingram’s own Davidson students; Falstaff’s iconoclasm as a “chaser” to hypocritically moralistic bombast; and, of course, “Willy” jokes. So: Q: Why should kids these days study Shakespeare? A: Because these days, everyone is a published writer on what a tangled World Wide Web we weave.

“There’s before Shakespeare and there’s after Shakespeare,” said Ingram, “and anyone who loves language needs to return to it.” Applause.

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About Author

Senior Writer John Syme graduated from Davidson with a French degree in 1985. After gigs in newspaper, advertising, translation in France and cross-country travel writing in the United States, he returned to alma mater in 2001. He has no immediate plans to graduate again.

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