Renowned British actor Ian McKellen drops his pants in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s King Lear in which he plays the title role. Ahead of tomorrow night’s Melbourne premiere of the production, some questions:  

Dear Minister Bishop,

The prospect of a full-frontal by an avowedly gay actor is far from the most disturbing aspect of the King Lear that the Royal Shakespeare Company will present tomorrow evening in Melbourne. At least the ticket price will protect our children from the play’s immorality.

Family values take a battering in Lear. Two of the king’s daughters grasp their share of the estate before turning their father out of doors in an example of elder abuse. The king himself declaims attitudes in defiance of the sanctity of marriage:

Die: die for adultery! No … Let copulation thrive.

And so it does throughout the collected works.

Your concern that schools are setting matriculation exams on reality television instead of Shakespeare must not blind we Big-C Christians to the dangers of exposing children to unexpurgated editions.

The National Curriculum, therefore, should stipulate the versions provided by that Eighteenth-century Divine, the Rev Dr Bowdler, who made the plays suitable “to be read aloud by a gentleman to a company of ladies.” His excising the porter’s scene from Macbeth, for instance, eliminated the teacher’s embarrassment at explaining why drink “provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance.”

Shakespeare embodies the moral relativism of the Post-Modernists. One can never be sure whose side he is on. When Shylock denounces the Christians for their slave trading, he is giving back as good as he got for their abuse of his usury. Despite some leaning towards monarchy, the plays contain more than enough regicide and Bad Kings to satisfy the staunchest Republican.

Finding a work to prescribe for the young will be thus no easy task. Twelfth Night has too much cross-dressing and gender confusion to be redeemed by its commitment to the Three Rs such as when the household steward, Malvolio, provides students with a lesson in spelling by phonics: “These be her very c’s, her u’s and her t’s.” Shakespeare continued in accord with the PM’s preferred pedagogy that repetition is the mother of retention by having another character ask: “Her c’s, her u’s, and her t’s? Why that?”

Indeed, minister, why that?

Sincerely,

Senator Fielding

Peter Fray

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