The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Saturday, April 23, 2016


Out damned spot, out I say!  Thou art not PC    

He was not of an age but for all time!
We should be thankful that the greatest master of the English language, who died aged 52 four centuries ago this week - probably on the 23rd though that’s in dispute - was not writing in the Age of Revisionism ruled by  hyper-sensitive trolls.
Many of William Shakespeare’s plays and characters would have been labelled politically incorrect and banned, pages ripped from school texts and statues of the Bard jackhammered. Fatwas would have been pronounced.
The idle iconoclasts who trawl Internet websites seeking flaws and faults would have done their best to tumble the Stratford scribbler down to their level.
Errors abound. For example, The Merchant of Venice is decidedly anti-Semitic. Shylock is the archetypal Jew burdened by all the hateful prejudices that have so harmed his race.  The character needs to be re-written as a brain surgeon, nuclear physicist or musical maestro, not a money-grubbing usurer.
 Juliet is no feminist.  Why didn’t she knee Romeo in the groin when he started soliloquising with his soggy sentimentalism? Instead of swanning around in the House of Capulet like a precocious teen in wispy wear, she should have been clad in dungarees, sweating over a hot anvil and beating swords from ploughshares.
The Moor in Othello proves the author had racism in his blood, calling the man a barbarian just because he came from Barbary  It wasn’t till 1883 that the role was taken in London by an actor who didn‘t have to use make-up to change his skin color.
Creation of the deformed Caliban in The Tempest is a vicious slur on the differently abled and should be erased from the plot, or at least given a few lines to show he’d overcome his handicaps.
Never suggest Shakespeare was an environmentalist – he had Macduff’s soldiers destroy a complete forest.  This was just so Great Birnam Wood could go to Dunsinane and fulfil a prophecy of the ‘secret, black and midnight hags’ – sorry, senior citizen ladies.
Instead of denuding the landscape, sustainable resources should have been used to disguise the army, like recyclable fibre bags. But on the upside the tactic did help defeat Macbeth whose villainy included the murder of decent Duncan, a man of high principles.
And the insults!  To be told by Prince Henry ‘peace, ye fat guts’ must have hurt the weight-challenged Falstaff.  And who’d dare now call his servant a ‘cream-faced loon’ with a ‘goose look’? An Employment Court bullying charge would most certainly follow.
Ageism?  You can’t read King Lear without noting the Stratford prodigy had it in for the oldies. Dementia is not funny.  Had the pitiful monarch retained all his marbles he’d have worked out that any daughter with a name like Goneri was not to be trusted.
The story is hardly original: Scholars have identified at least ten earlier works by others proving that Shakespeare was a plagiarist, the worst of all possible crimes for a writer. 
If he’d been given an honorary doctorate by some obscure university trying to ingratiate itself with the literary set, then meritless academics from rival campuses would now be signing on-line petitions to have the title rescinded.
Shakespeare’s output [at least 37 plays and 150 sonnets] would have had him condemned for hogging the quill.  How could any aspiring young dramatist get a leg into the business when one old hack was dominating The Globe’s playlist?
Take a close look at the texts – they’re so full of clichés any decent editor would demand rewrites or bin the copy.  Here are a few examples – ‘good as gold’, ‘brave new world’, ‘be-all and the end-all’, ‘come what may’ and ‘fancy free’. 
OK, so he coined them first but that’s cold comfort to the modern reader – something WS didn’t consider when he set out to be a wordsmith.  He should have looked into the seeds of time and known which phrase would last and which would not.
However all’s well that ends well. There’s one redeeming feature which might have earned him modern approval particularly in the theater where he also worked as an actor and director.  Although married to the older Anne Hathaway and father of three, he harbored secret love not for a lady but a lad.
‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’ is for a ‘fair youth’ as are other secret sonnets published only after the poet’s death.  The LGBT community can celebrate and religious colleges delete Shakespeare from their reading lists lest students switch their sexual preferences.
This op-ed started with a quote from fellow playwright Ben Jonson so it’s apt that we end with another celebrating a genius who unveiled the Age of Enlightenment and got in first before the World Wide Web reduced us to witless consumers of the trite:
 Thou art a Moniment, without a tombe,
And art alive still, while thy Booke doth live,
And we have wits to read, and praise to give.

(First published in The Jakarta Post 23 April 2016)

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