In Competition No. 3191 you were invited to submit a Shakespearean soliloquy reflecting on the news that the Bard has been cancelled by some US academics.
Teachers in the States have called into question the centrality of Shakespeare in the English curriculum given that his works are, according to Amanda MacGregor, writing in the School Library Journal, ‘full of problematic, outdated ideas, with plenty of misogyny, racism, homophobia, classism, anti-Semitism, and misogynoir’. Some have seen this as yet another example of the tyranny of wokeness; others as a perfectly reasonable attempt to re-evaluate the role the Bard’s works should play in a 21st-century classroom.
But what would the man himself have made of it all? Over to the excellent winners below, who take £25 each. Commendations go to Iain Morley, Philip Roe and Basil Ransome-Davies.
Rumours reach me from the Americas
Of clerks who scan my plays to seek offence.
’tis claimed I calumny the innocent,
And should no more be read. But whom have I
Yet failed to vilify? Scotch kings, and aye
Their wicked queens, and kings of England too,
Greek heroes, sprites, all human life is mine
And all can be offended or offend.
I judge all men alike, all women too —
A jealous general, who is a Moor,
A moneylending Jew, whose daughter should
Most roundly be condemned, worse than my Shrew!
No matter! Those same clerks have ever read
Into my plays things that I never said,
So let them bear me ill-will if they will!
When they are gone, I, Will, shall be here still.
Oh what an unwoke, peasant knave am I —
But am I silent or am silencèd?
For Bard in name but barred indeed am I,
My books, as drown’d, interrèd with my bones —
And all for nought! For words that cause offence?
But soft! I say — Who gave a voice to Sprites,
Empowered Cobweb, Mustardseed and Puck,
Titania, Oberon and Ariel —
All underrepresented and ignored?
Who wrote against neraidaphobic tropes,
’Gainst those, sans teeth, who take their pillowed pay
Then live their lives in airy disbelief?
When Fairies fade, who takes the knee for them?
Think not those woke that but seem to be so!
For never was a story of more woke
Than Oberon’s forgotten Fairy Folk.
Now do four centuries of discontent
Rise up against the words and attitudes
With which one artist shap’d his comedies,
Romances, histories and tragedies.
The African, the woman and the Jew
His pen hath wrong’d, his vision hath mispris’d,
Charge factions of the professoriate
Who shun him for the outlooks retrograde
They fain would purge from their world and their hearts.
His characters have liv’d so long because
The flaws he gave them give them human truth,
But their creator’s own flaws are too much
For righteous academe to tolerate,
An attitude as foul as it is fair.
All times are out of joint. The chance is slight
That any of us always knows what’s right.
Fie on’t! Old Will cast out, annihilated?
’Tis said his works offend, yet hear awhile:
Iago’s condemnation of the Moor,
The cruel subjugation of Kat’rina,
The tale that’s told of Shylock’s harsh revenge
Are substance of the Bard’s inspired creation,
The pure invention of the poet’s art.
Woulds’t he that holds the bible to his heart
And readeth of the evil that men do,
Condemn the hand of God that speaks therein,
Or judge the words of the evangelists?
What man uproots a beauteous flower that doth
In innocence give off an odious smell?
Nay, punish not the writer for his skill,
Great art can lead each man to rise above
All petty feuds and cultural divides.
Cancelled or uncancelled is the question:
but since it’s effortless to shuffle off
the pouts and pile-ons of millennial outrage,
let’s swiftly put my plays on woke-ish lines
and give these Minnesotan libraries
unproblematic pap. I’ll interchange
Macbeth and Shylock, since a skinflint Scot
is no offence; cast Nordic Fortinbras
as Desdemona’s lover; float the Moor
in Cleopatra’s barge and give the Queen
Lear’s kingdom and outstanding mental health,
though bougie Gloucester’s eyes — vile jelly! — white
and unrelatable, will still be plucked
by men who dress as women dressed as men
and catfish cis as trans in scenes on fleek,
so As You Like It barely needs a tweak.
Why here’s no fault, that I be grey betimes,
Or lag where brighter buskins hunt the stag:
’Tis but the honour of all gilded gnats
That some be in, be out. All fools subscribe
Who, measuring this world, think fortune’s cap
Ne’er blows off in the rancorous young breeze
Blown from your brawlsome stream. A finger’s snap
Quenches the brightest candle: but a puff,
And, flame, dispatch. What though the darkling air
Swallow my words, or hide my rivelled fingers?
The shipman rigs his sail for greasy seas,
His canvas hardly rare, but tempest-yare —
Although yon fell storm bruit about his ears,
Yet may its bellows burst. Upon the brine,
Your mariner trusts to this — the wildest waves
May buffet the boat, but ho! another coast.
No. 3194: Tutti frutti
Tony Harrison wrote a poem entitled ‘A Kumquat for John Keats’. You are invited to substitute your own choice of poet and fruit and submit a poem of that title. Please email entries of up to 16 lines to email@example.com by midday on 7 April.
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