By Coleman Hurley
Streets of Stratford-upon-Avon, United Kingdom (Photo credits: getyourguide.com)
If you were to ask any student contemplating taking an English degree why they are choosing that subject to study, chances are their response will be because they love to read. Although this is a great reason, shortly that a student will learn that there is more to studying English Literature that merely reading books and analyzing their language and searching for hidden subtext.
To effectively study literature, you must also study history, sociology, biology; almost every other field of study. The more you know about the world in which a work of art was created, the more that a text reveals. For instance, the more you understand about the social ethics concerning orphans in Nineteenth Century England, the better you will be able to study and understand Oliver Twist.
But what does this have to do with travelling abroad? Well, just as studying topics outside literature to better inform your reading and understanding, so too will travelling abroad as part of a university course. As a student who took such a course, I can speak first hand as to the merits of such a course and the enormous impact it had on my understanding of Shakespeare, his life and works.
I had the opportunity to travel to England and while I was there, I was able to visit many places that had an important connection to Shakespeare, such as his place of birth, Stratford-Upon-Avon, walk the streets of London where he did the same, as well as experience his works performed on a near perfect replica of an Elizabethan stage, The Globe in London. All in all, the experience had a profound impact on my understanding of Shakespeare, certainly more than I would have been able to if I simply studied books on the matter.
Also, to immerse yourself in a place that plays an important part in a book and novel endows you with a better appreciation of such place, whether the work in question was written ten, twenty, or four hundred years ago. Walking through the quiet village streets of Stratford-Upon-Avon, creates a more tangible impression that whatever could be induced by a description in a textbook. There is a greater gravitas in seeing Shakespeare’s grave in reality that in a photograph.
Aside from this impression, there is also a deeper connection created between yourself and your subject of study. This may sound trite, but walking the same streets, past the same buildings that Shakespeare may have walked himself made him seem more human and less just a name on a title page. The distance that is always present if you merely study an author’s work or his life from the pages of a book is diminished in a small, yet incredible way.
All in all, by travelling abroad as a student of English, the subject comes alive in more diverse was that have a greater impact on your appreciation of the subject. This may sound strange coming from an English major, but sometimes a book isn’t enough. It’s a great place to begin, but not a great place to end. Literature is, in many ways, a real living, breathing thing that demands to be studies in a real living, breathing world.
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