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given that his works are, according to Amanda MacGregor, writing in the School Library Journal, ‘full of problematic, outdated ideas, with plenty of misogyny, racism, homophobia, classism, anti-Semitism, and misogynoir’.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 AmericasOf clerks who scan my plays to seek offence.’tis claimed I calumny the innocent,And should no more be read. But whom have IYet failed to vilify? Scotch kings, and ayeTheir wicked queens, and kings of England too,Greek heroes, sprites, all human life is mineAnd 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 shouldMost roundly be condemned, worse than my Shrew!No matter! Those same clerks have ever readInto 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.Brian Murdoch
“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 payThen 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 wokeThan Oberon’s forgotten Fairy Folk.David Silverman
“Now do four centuries of discontentRise up against the words and attitudesWith which one artist shap’d his comedies,Romances, histories and tragedies.The African, the woman and the JewHis pen hath wrong’d, his vision hath mispris’d,Charge factions of the professoriateWho shun him for the outlooks retrogradeThey fain would purge from their world and their hearts.His characters have liv’d so long becauseThe flaws he gave them give them human truth,But their creator’s own flaws are too muchFor righteous academe to tolerate,An attitude as foul as it is fair.All times are out of joint. The chance is slightThat any of us always knows what’s right.Chris O’Carroll
“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 revengeAre substance of the Bard’s inspired creation,The pure invention of the poet’s art.Woulds’t he that holds the bible to his heartAnd 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 dothIn innocence give off an odious smell?Nay, punish not the writer for his skill,Great art can lead each man to rise aboveAll petty feuds and cultural divides.Sylvia Fairley
“Cancelled or uncancelled is the question:but since it’s effortless to shuffle offthe pouts and pile-ons of millennial outrage,let’s swiftly put my plays on woke-ish linesand give these Minnesotan librariesunproblematic pap. I’ll interchangeMacbeth and Shylock, since a skinflint Scotis no offence; cast Nordic Fortinbrasas Desdemona’s lover; float the Moorin Cleopatra’s barge and give the QueenLear’s kingdom and outstanding mental health,though bougie Gloucester’s eyes — vile jelly! — whiteand unrelatable, will still be pluckedby men who dress as women dressed as menand catfish cis as trans in scenes on fleek,so As You Like It barely needs a tweak.Nick MacKinnon
“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 gnatsThat some be in, be out. All fools subscribeWho, measuring this world, think fortune’s capNe’er blows off in the rancorous young breezeBlown from your brawlsome stream. A finger’s snapQuenches the brightest candle: but a puff,And, flame, dispatch. What though the darkling airSwallow 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 wavesMay buffet the boat, but ho! another coast.Bill Greenwell
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 firstname.lastname@example.org by midday on 7 April.