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Examination in English 2.


To the Editors of the CRIMSON:

In the University Catalogue is advertised a course, Six Plays of Shakspere, for undergraduates and graduates, by one of Harvard's distinguished scholars. The course has an enrollment of over a hundred men attracted by the study of the great poet, and the name of the lecturer. Unlike most of our large courses, English 2 has no section meetings, reports, or theses. The marks are therefore deduced entirely from examinations. Without stopping to criticize this scheme, a relic of an obsolete system of undergraduate instruction, the writer would call attention to the character of the mid-year examination recently given by the professor in charge.

At the top of the examination paper stands the following note: "Interpret, discuss, supply information as the case may require. Answers should be full and precise. Vague paraphrases are not acceptable. It is well to quote parallel passages."

The paper is divided into nine questions, of which the first five contain fifty sub-divisions,--quotations at random from three plays. These fifty quotations are to be "placed," interpreted, discussed, information supplied as the case may require (vague paraphrases not acceptable), and parallel passages quoted. Among the sub-divisions appear the following: "A man forbid." "The valued file." "Cabin'd cribb'd, confined." "Indent with fears." "Did oppress our rest."

Now, I admit that the normal human being with the normal human memory might be able to locate these and other microscopic and insignificant phrases, but I also maintain that an abnormal rapidity of penmanship would be required to complete this part of the paper alone in less than three full hours.

There are four additional questions. The first is three times divided, and calls for three short essays; the second, three more; the third, two; and the fourth demands three memory passages.

Altogether the student who wishes to read Shakespeare must, in three hours, write fifty paragraphs (not paraphrases), and quote parallel passages, plus eight additional essays of two or more pages each, not to mention divers memory passages.

I ask the question frankly: is this poetry? Is it art? Is it culture? Is it Shakspere?

Nobody would, deny the right of a professor to conduct a course after his own method, but should not the undergraduate be informed beforehand concerning the nature of his courses? Most of us did not come to Harvard for the single purpose of training our memories, however valuable such incidental training may be. There is another department in the University devoted to the psychology of this subject. Moreover, authorities differ as to the effect upon the memory of loading and unloading the mind under forced draught.

I suggest that hereafter courses conducted primarily for the development of mental gymnastics or other non academic purposes be so marked in the Catalogue. A. SENIOR.

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