bardseyeview

A Shakespearean Glance at the People and Issues of the Day.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Love's Labor's Lost and College Admissions

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In Love's Labor's Lost, Ferdinand, the king of Navarre, has invited three of his attending lords to join him in taking an oath:

Fer: "Our court shall be a little academe,
Still and contemplative in living art.
You three, Berowne, Dumaine, and Longaville,
Have sworn for three years' term to live with me
My fellow scholars and to keep those statutes
That are recorded in this schedule here."

The king wants his courtiers to devote themselves for three years to the still and contemplative pursuit of knowledge. And what are the statutes recorded in the schedule? Berowne reveals them as he complains about them:

Ber: "But there are other strict observances,
As, not to see a woman in that term,
Which I hope well is not enrolled there,
And one day in a week to touch no food,
And but one meal on every day besides,
The which I hope is not enrolled there…".

Berowne goes on, but it's the prohibition on seeing women which is the sticking point, on which the entire play will revolve, especially when the charming princess of France and her three attending ladies arrive for a previously arranged diplomatic mission.

Some recent news suggests that more of our own society's younger men may need to make a similar pledge to dedicate themselves to study. Apparently, the tide of women's progress in higher education has obscured a parallel undertow in the educational performance of men. The somewhat arresting result is that today, 57% of American college students are women. That comes to approximately 137 women students for every 100 men.

It is worth meditating on the corollary Shakespeare builds into the Prince's vow - that it be accompanied by the swearing off of women. Coed education may work fine among adult male students who have achieved full emotional maturity, but for the other 99% of men in their late teens and early twenties, it is a guaranteed distraction. Here Berowne enrolls himself into the king's all boys' school (Barbarism means ignorance):

Ber: "My good lord, I have sworn to stay with you,
And though I have for barbarism spoke more
Than for that angel knowledge you can say,
Yet, confident, I'll keep what I have sworn
And bide the penance of each three years' day.
Give me the paper. Let me read the same,
And to the strictest decrees I'll write my name."

An Australian study of 270,000 students has shown that single-sex educated men scored 15 to 22 percentiles higher than their coed peers. Students in the all boy's Belmont Hill school report that, in the absence of women, there is no stigma attached to singing in the glee club or signing up for the school play. "This place encourages risk," says student Dan Neczypor, a comment that reveals how attending school in the presence of women encourages risk-aversion.

King: "You may not come, fair princess, within my gates,
But here without you shall be so received
As you shall deem yourself lodged in my house.
Your own good thoughts excuse me, and farewell,
Tomorrow shall we visit you again."

There is no substitute for the civilizing effect that women have on men, essential to their, our, maturity. Women can cause us to jump through the most unexpected of hoops, as we squeeze our oversized muscular frames into turtleneck sweaters, endure chicksy Lifetime channel movies, refine our fashion sense, watch our mouths and even begin considering the feelings of others. But this same feminine allure will unavoidably draw men away from their books. The reader will note in ascribing an almost Amazonian power over men to women, the writer has insulated himself from any accusation of sexism.

And as useful as it may be to separate men and women in early adulthood, it is to be recalled that the purpose of doing so is only so that, educated, self-restrained and mature, they may be placed back in each other's civilizing company:

Ber: "Never durst poet touch a pen to write
Until his ink were tempered with Love's sighs,
O, then his lines would ravish savage ears
And plant in tyrants mild humility.
From women's eyes this doctrine I derive:
They sparkle still the right Promethean fire;
They are the books, the arts, the academes
That show, contain, and nourish all the world;
Else none at all in aught proves excellent.
Then fools you were these women to foreswear…".


P.S.: Here's a link to the always recommendable Malcontent.
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