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Former English professor criticizes Shakespeare drag claim by Harvard library

‘We get the same language every time, the same postulations and bogus thrills,’ Mark Bauerlein told The Fix

Harvard University’s history of drag exhibit, which claims that cross-dressing for performance goes as far back as the plays of Shakespeare, is just the latest iteration of the same old song and dance, according to a former English professor.

“There is no better measure of the bankruptcy of the academic humanities that the strained efforts to find ever more examples of the fringe, the marginal, the excluded and ‘Othered,’ and to surround that tiny phenomenon with a critical edge, a transgressive value,” Professor Mark Bauerlein told The College Fix via email.

The emeritus professor at Emory University now is a senior editor of First Things. He commented on Harvard’s ongoing exhibition at its Houghton Library.

“The exhibit highlights the long history of drag as a part of American culture and points to its roots in Shakespearean England, where male actors frequently cross-dressed in theatrical performances,” The Harvard Crimson reported. It launched this semester and will continue through December.

The exhibit is hosted in the same library that contains 12th century copies of sermons by St. Augustine and others and a 15th century book of Catholic prayers.

“There’s a longer history and a greater range of gender expressions,” Harvard curator Matthew Wittmann told the student newspaper. “Cross-dressing in the theater has existed for forever,” he added.

Bauerlein told The Fix the exhibit presents a tired and worn out theme in academia.

“We are entering our fourth decade of [that] routine, and the proponents still talk as if it is challenging and difficult and edgy. In truth, it’s a bore,” he said. “We get the same language every time, the same postulations and bogus thrills. It is no surprise that Harvard is on the bandwagon.”

Wittmann, who did not return requests for comment by The Fix sent in the past week, said that “scholarly student and faculty interest in gender and performance” was the “driving force” behind the display. Faculty have been showing an interest in drag promotion since the 1900s, according to Bauerlein.

“Profs in the English department were talking about cross-dressing in Shakespeare back in the 20th century. They have to keep it up because they have nowhere else to go,” he said. “They killed the value of tradition and beauty, eloquence and profundity, long ago. They made fun of greatness.”

“That cornered them into the whole avant- garde, anti-bourgeois, speak truth to power, deconstruct the masterpieces shtick, which is so tiresome and commonplace that they have to seek out ever more unusual material to which to apply it,” he told The Fix. “At this point, let’s call it an academic specimen of virtue-signaling. People of discernment and intelligence move on.”

The display also shows artifacts from drag performances, including those from the Prohibition era. A student reporter for The Fix attended the exhibit and took photos of the different displays.

MORE: English departments unleashed wokeness, says emeritus professor

IMAGES: The College Fix

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About the Author
Ryan Lindner -- Texas A&M University