Features

Abroad Profile: Education at Oxford

Jordan Javelet

Contributing Editor

In the next three days, I need to produce at least 2,000 words of writing—and not just any sort of writing that you might put in a reading response or a journal. No, the writing I must produce is nine parts critical analysis and one part scholarly research to support my point and to prove that I’ve done my research and I know what I’m talking about. The 2,000 words will be based on approximately 400 pages of reading I’ve done over the past week; most of it primary sources like Shakespeare’s “Venus and Adonis” and “The Rape of Lucrece” and some from the various scholars who spend their lives studying and writing about literature (and who also spend a great deal of time passive-aggressively arguing with each other and criticizing each other in their articles). Writing Oxford tutorial essays is a bit like stepping into Wonderland—there’s Stephen Greenblatt, the Mad Hatter of the Shakespeare “lit-crit” world; over in another part of the world is Stanley Wells, the White Rabbit who is constantly lurking about and pulling observant pupils into the crazy world of Shakespearian studies. Simon Palfrey is certainly the Cheshire Cat, playing with every aspect of Shakespeare’s plays and turning the world upside-down. Every essay that I write is a step further into this world, and I feel it changing me just as Wonderland changes Alice. Comparing my scholarly work to Wonderland might seem ridiculous, but the education I am receiving here is truly like entering a different world. The depth of knowledge that is expected from and imparted upon me is quite different from the liberal arts emphasis on breadth of knowledge and interdisciplinary study, and I feel a connection to the world of English literature as a much stronger force here than I ever have in America. I have come to see myself as something of a “method scholar”—like the method actor, the method scholar must actually take in every aspect of the work that he or she is studying. “Hamlet” is written into my skin; “King Lear” has become my skeleton. “Coriolanus” runs red in my blood, and “Titus Andronicus” is a shock across my every nerve. I feel as though I have dissolved into my copy of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s “Complete Works of William Shakespeare,” and it is an experience that I must transcribe into a 2,000 word essay every week. It is painful work, but I am somehow enthralled by the masochism of it. I knew upon my arrival at Oxford that the work here would be difficult, but I did not understand the exact form that this difficulty would take. I expected pages-long reading lists (which I receive every week) and exorbitant amounts of writing (which I produce every week), but I did not expect the transcendent intellectual experience in which I have found myself immersed. Although it is a challenging mental state to occupy, though, I am forging ahead into new territory, pushing the limits of my intellectual power and enjoying the rush that comes with every new connection that I make, every idea that reshapes my vision of the world, every paradox that forges new ideals. In the next three days, I need to produce 2,000 words of writing, and I look forward to writing every single one.

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