Sophie Kerr series continues with writer in residence Dr. Scott Newstok

By Emma Russell

Student Life Editor

On Monday, Oct 19, Dr. Scott Newstok, Rhodes College professor of English and director of the Pearce Shakespeare Endowment, presented his lecture on “How to Think Like Shakespeare” based off of his book of the same title, in the second installment of the Sophie Kerr series.

“In a crowded field of books and op eds about higher education and the end of liberal education as we have known it, Dr. Newstok presents, indeed performs, a compelling and thoughtful and responsible plea that says, ‘not so fast.’ If we think education’s future lies only with innovation that disrupts us from the past, a new that displaces the old, then we don’t know much about education or innovation or the complex sources of our ideas,” Professor of English,Chair of the English Department, Director of Writing, and Director of the Sophie Kerr Endowment Dr. Sean Meehansaid in his introduction. 

Dr. Newstok has published books on early modern English epitaphs, Kenneth Burke’s Shakespeare criticism, a collection of essays about “Macbeth” and most recently the book “How to Think Like Shakespeare: Lessons from a Renaissance Education.”

According to the overview on the Princeton University Press website “How to Think Like Shakespeare: Lessons from a Renaissance Education,” “distills vital habits of mind that can help you think more deeply, write more effectively, and learn more joyfully, in school or beyond.”

“As we learn in the book, new knowledge is never completely original. It draws upon and renews the common stalk of wisdom, new stalk is a one-word thesis for this book…it was written in the stars Scott, the work that you do and the arguments that you make,” Meehan said. 

“In this book I set out to explore the educational assumptions that helped shape Shakespeare, assumptions that are strikingly at odds from our own. Thinkers trained in this unyielding system generated world shifting insights, founding fields of knowledge that we still study,” Newstok said.

Dr. Newstok shared a presentation that sketches a brief outline on how to think like Shakespeare following along with the 14 chapters in his book. 

“Shakespeare earned his place in our pantheon of minds by repeatedly staging thought in action and even coins a new adjective for thinking, ‘forgetive’ which comes from this passage in the second part of ‘Henry IV.’ Now to me it looks like and sounds like, well it looks like it ought to mean something like forgetful…but actually the emphasis is instead on the labor in that root, ‘forge’ to make or to grasp something. So when I’m talking about thinking like Shakespeare, and I’m talking about not what Shakespeare reportedly thought, but how,” Dr. Newstok said.

“So I’m suggesting that if you want to think like Shakespeare you would need to reconsider the kinds of institutional and intellectual habits that helped form his mind including practices as deceptively simple as transcribing quotations in a notebook,” he said. “As we know from many different artists whether that’s Virginia Woolf or Lewis Carol or contemporary writers, this is a very typical habit; to harvest thoughts of others and then eventually transform them into something new in your own work. It’s a longstanding habit and I think it’s something that’s worth sustaining.”

“Education ought to exercise us in the crafts of freedom helping us reach our fullest capacities to make, by emulating aspirational models, stretching our thinking as well as our words. Anything less is a curtailment of our birthright” Dr. Newstok said at the end of his presentation.

After the presentation, Dr. Newstok answered audience questions, emphasizing his prior argument about knowledge not being original. He quoted and pulling information from many other scholars, the same way Shakespeare pulled from different material to write his own plays.

The third installment of the Sophie Kerr series will be aconversation with poets Philip Brady and Tim Seibles, moderated by Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing Dr. Bob Mooney on Tuesday, Nov. 10.

To register for the conversation, visit the Sophie Kerr page on the Washington College website. 

Featured Photo caption: Dr. Scott Newstok answering questions about his Shakespeare lecture. Photo Courtesy of Rebecca Kanaskie.

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