The Shakespeare Requirement is part sequel, part novel, and part satire of the modern university system as seen from the mostly inside. This is one of those books that’s supposed to be fiction, but a lot of it realistic to the point of being a little scary. If you haven’t read the first novel featuring Jason Fitger (Dear Committee Members), you really should as it’s funny (especially if you have ever been to college or work at one) and it introduces his character. The Shakespeare Requirement is told in a more straightforward narration in that it’s not epistolary like its predecessor, and it follows Fitger who has recently been made chair of the English Department at Payne University (get it?) at a time when the Economics Department led by ambitious nearly evil Roland who gleefully awaits a time when he and his QUAP (basically a quality control/assessment committee) can destroy English and force them out of the building that they currently share. is flourishing with money and starting to try to push English out of its facilities which aren’t great to begin with, and the department must also approve a Statement of Vision to gain access to their budget which will be difficult given the range and strength of the various personalities involved, and he must also manage to along with Fran his department secretary who doesn’t seem to think much of him, and deal with students. This isn’t even counting his personal problems which include his ex-wife Jan who is now dating the dean of his college. Full disclosure: I work in a university English department, and I can really sympathize with Fitger at the same time I’m mentally yelling at him for being stupid or just plain unlikable (moment which he has aplenty).
Fitger is on the one hand relatable, but on the other seriously flawed. He’s a clueless idiot around Jan, and for a long time fails to see that Fran (who is described as a troll at one point) could actually be a strong ally, he refuses to use instructional technology which means that he can’t communicate with students very well, and yet for all that he does really seem to care about his students and his discipline. He also seems to at least make an effort to navigate the bureaucratic nightmare that is the administration at Payne, and also try to solve the problem of a public outcry at the possibility that Shakespeare be made an elective for the English major and not a requirement (mostly thanks to the elderly Shakespeare professor Cassovan and his creepy TA Lincoln).
The threats to modern humanities education and the problems of higher education’s trend towards bureaucracy and data driven assessments of all kinds are on full display, and one the one hand it’s entertaining in a ridiculous way but on the other it’s also scary in how realistic it is