From Robin Phillips’s interview with Peter Leithart on Shakespeare in Touchstone magazine:
RP: It can sometimes be tempting for Christian educators to look at literary works as little more than fodder for worldview analysis, thus neglecting the dimensions that make those works great in the first place. In the case of Shakespeare, though he has much to teach us about human nature that coheres with the Christian worldview, his works are memorable mainly because he was such a great storyteller. Is this dimension of Shakespeare in danger of being overlooked by a “worldview-ism” approach to literary texts?
PL: Thanks for asking that one: you’ve hit on a pet peeve. I’m ready to delete “worldview” from Christian vocabulary. It’s an especially clunky category for evaluating art. Drama and poetry can’t be reduced to clever ways of communicating ideas, which is what happens in “worldview” analysis.
To get the worldview, you extract ideas about man, society, God, and nature from the plays and organize them into a system; you ignore the poetry and the plot and everything that makes the play a play or the poem a poem. You come to the plays with a preconceived framework that makes it impossible to learn anything from them, much less enjoy them. You produce students who are glib know-it-alls, who don’t need to read the plays carefully because they already know what they think.
C. S. Lewis said that the first moment of any genuine literary criticism is a moment of submission to the work. Worldview analysis never submits; it always tries to dominate the work. As you can see, you’ve struck a nerve. This brings out the curmudgeon in me.
Rather than evaluating Shakespeare (or other poetry, drama, or fiction) with worldview categories, teachers should be teaching students to read. Memorize Lewis’s An Experiment in Criticism before teaching another lit class. In short, Harrumph!
You can read the whole interview here.
HT: Justin Taylor