The Shakespeare Requirement

41JZtiym7LL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_   If you’ve never been a part of an English Department, you might think Julie Schumacher’s The Shakespeare Requirement is overly exaggerated, but from personal experience, let me tell you, it’s uncomfortably close to reality.  Although Schumacher had me laughing out loud at some of the shenanigans, it’s funnier when reading about it, when not inside the academic ninth circle of Dante’s hell. Schumacher gives treachery a new twist with a PhD.

Jay Fitger, first introduced in Schumacher’s Dear Committee Members, is back as the reluctant new Chair of the English Department at Payne University.  He has been missing most communications because he refuses to connect to the campus-wide computer calendar system which schedules meetings, posts notices, and generally communicates anything important.  He cannot understand why people can’t just write notes and make phone calls.  Relegated to the dilapidated basement of Willard Hall with no heat in winter and wasps in summer, Fitger must convince his colleagues to approve the department’s vision statement before he will be given a budget.

The Shakespeare requirement for all English majors is doomed to be one of the many cuts from the curriculum, to make way for more user friendly fare (“The American Soap and the Telenova”);  however, the senior tenured professor of forty years and the department’s Shakespearean scholar, Dennis Cassovan, has taken a stand.  Since the vote for the vision statement must be unanimous, and never has the English Department ever agreed on anything (“Unanimity in English – it was akin to a rainbow over a field of unicorns),” the vision statement is stalled. Meanwhile, the chair of Economics, Roland Gladwell, a business type who curries corporate donors, and is not concerned whether students can read or write, is conspiring to reduce the English department to shreds.

Roland makes deals with rich benefactors, luring them with their names on buildings and tries to further dissect the English department faculty vote with bribes.  As he continues his behind the scenes treachery, his success seems insured.  If only someone could stop him.  Sadly, noble Jay Fitger is too busy being a good guy – advising a bright pregnant freshman, nursing an English faculty member who has noone to help after his surgery, trying to appease his colleagues as he continually rewrites the department vision statement.  If this were not a novel, poor Jay would be out of his job while Roland would be basking in a new office with a promotion.

But this is fiction, and the good guys can win.   With a twist of fate and a garble of names, self-serving Roland finally makes a mistake, publicly and irrevocably.   You may see it coming – at least I was hoping for it – but Schumacher deftly creates a funny scenario not only satisfying but laughable, producing one of the funniest lines in the novel.

The Shakespeare Requirement is not for everyone, but if you have ever wondered what really goes on in the halls of academia, or if you have ever been there yourself, you should read this satire.  It’s bright, funny, intelligent, righteous, and it can be cathartic.

Related Review:  Dear Committee Members

Dear Committee Members

9780385538138_p0_v1_s260x420English professors write the best letters of recommendation, but beware. They can kill you with articulate faint praise (and sometimes vitriol) – and you won’t even know. In her epistolary, Dear Committee Members, Julie Schumacher chronicles the life of an English Professor – from the idiotic to the sublime – through his letters.  As the letters progress through the academic year, Jay Fitger reveals his relationships with colleagues, students, former wives, current lovers, literary agents, and Payne University where he is a long-time tenured professor of English and Creative Writing.  Without tenure, he could not have survived, and with true academic justice, he eventually becomes one of the administrators he consistently criticizes.

Not everyone will appreciate the humor – maybe you’d have to have been there – but I laughed out loud. And I wondered if Schumacher had somehow gotten into my files of LOR (letters of recommendation) when one letter about a student’s research skills notes:

He cited his dentist and his roommate as primary sources…

Jay Fitger never refuses a request for a letter, and he always tells the truth.  You won’t have to read too carefully through the abstruse wording to get the witty references.

Sadly, computerized forms and electronic messaging are replacing letter writing. Stamps are becoming extinct and writing paper may soon be hard to find. Ironically, I read the book on my iPad. But, within the context of letters, Schumacher humorously demonstrates how language can be its own reward, and tells a good story with it.