The Shakespeare Requirement: A Novel by Julie Schumacher
Published in August of 2018
"Don’t get married in your twenties; don’t take a job at a university; use the word “underwear” and not “panties”; learn to speak in statements rather than questions; don’t waste your time being impressed by people (usually men) who are already adequately impressed by themselves.” (p. 235) [Advice to an undergraduate, considered but never given, from a Payne University staff member].
Schumacher’s new novel is required reading for anyone who read and loved her 2014 novel Dear Committee Members. In The Shakespeare Requirement, we follow professor Jason Fitger, now chair of the English Department, as he tries to avoid having his department’s offices be colonized by Economics. In order to save English at Payne University, Fitger must get the faculty in his department to unanimously sign-off on a Statement of Vision. This impossible task is made more difficult by the insistence of a senior professor that Shakespeare be included in any departmental vision statement.
I won’t give away more of the plot. Not because I don’t want to spoil the book for you - but because if you work on a college campus you know exactly how things are likely to go.
The Shakespeare Requirement is in the mold of MOO, Straight Man and Wonder Boys. This is the academic satire that I’ve been waiting for. Ever since I read and didn’t like Lucky Jim, I’ve been looking for a higher ed novel of the same caliber as those of Smiley, Russo, and Chabon. Schumacher delivers.
The Shakespeare Requirement gets academic life right as only a clear-eyed participant observer can. Schumacher, a professor in the Creative Writing Program and the Department of English at the University of Minnesota, is an academic insider. She clearly loves academia. Yet, she is under no illusions about the crazy people and dysfunctional economics that characterize modern day higher education. There is more to be learned from The Shakespeare Requirement about how higher education actually works than any agglomeration of nonfiction titles.
For those of us in academia, it is comforting to have the insanity of campus life reflected so generously back in this wise and hilarious novel.
If I were in charge of a graduate program in the humanities, I’d consider including a copy of The Shakespeare Requirement with every letter of acceptance. Anyone considering going to graduate school in one of the disciplines built on words should know what they are getting themselves in to. I highly doubt this will dissuade anyone from choosing to pursue an academic career. Think of reading this novel as a form of informed consent.
Why do we love academia so much that we are willing to make fun of ourselves? I’d say that it is a gift to take our work seriously, but ourselves not so much.
What was the funniest book that you read this year?
What advice would you give an undergraduate?
What are your favorite campus novels and academic satires?
What are you reading?