Tuesday, 27 March 2012

All sound and fury, signifying nothing

That's Shakespeare that is. Why am I quoting Shakespeare? Because Roger Gales, a twice-divorced Tory MP is claiming that if homosexuals are allowed to marry, Shakespeare and Milton will have to be changed to expunge all the references to 'husbands' and 'wives'. And then families and civilisation as we know it will fall apart.

“If we are to re-construct official and business documentation and to replace “Husband and Wife” with “spouses” and “partners” where will this stop? Will Shakespeare and Milton and The Holy Bible be re-written also? Will only “correctly” expurgated literature be allowed to be used in the classroom?”

Now as it happens, I'm teaching a course called Shakespeare, Milton and the English Renaissance. This means, I suspect, that most of the students have read more Shakespeare than Mr. Gale ever will. And therefore they all know that if you wanted a literary defence of heterosexual nuclear families, Shakespeare would not be the first port of call.

Problem families in Shakespeare:
1. The MacBeths. Though devoted to each other, Mrs MacBeth displays some mental health issues, while Mr. MacBeth has a worrying tendency to murder his friends and colleagues

2. Othello and Desdemona. Although they stayed together until death did them part, this was rather sooner than expected, the result of Mr Othello's propensity for domestic violence.

3. Katherina and Petruchio (The Taming of the Shrew): sparky intelligent woman submits (or does she) to marriage to boring old Petruchio once she's been 'tamed'.

4. Mr and Mrs Hamlet. Someone killed Hamlet Sr. It was his brother, Claudius. Never mind though - Hamlet's mother Gertrude marries him anyway. The kids are a little bit damaged by all this and both end up dead.

5. Widowed Lear is a bit of a tyrant, though pretty lazy with it. Demanding total obedience from his children, he exiles the nice one and lets the others murder and carouse their way round the country. It ends badly.

On the other hand, it's the cross-dressing, campy, sexually-liquid characters who usually have the most fun and carry the moral weight of lots of the plays. Take Rosalind in As You Like It: a duke's daughter, she disguises herself as Ganymede (a common nickname for a rent-boy) and parades round the forest dispensing sound advice, toying with the affections of men and women alike and generally discovering that there's more to life than obeying the stereotypical demands of fixed heterosexuality.

But Mr. Gale wouldn't know that, because Shakespeare's just a name to him, not a body of complex and challenging work. If he'd ever read any Shakespeare, he'd be leading the book-burning.

Which is why Gale's a twit.

The first half of 'all sound and fury, by the way, is '…a tale told by an idiot'.

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