Shakespeare: a patriarchal, heteronormative, white supremacist?

Cancelled?(Photo: John Taylor, National Portrait Gallery)

In recent news the School of Drama, Literature and Creative Writing at East Anglia University has decided to 'decolonise' its courses. Some will perhaps think that the academic governing body behind this sudden and unexpected change of policy must be very clever, because, to the majority of Joe Public, one suspects that the announcement will be totally incomprehensible.

But it seems that the powers that be have bowed to pressure from students – who complained that the teaching they were receiving was not diverse enough. The English language is a colonialist tool, they reportedly frothed, used to consolidate the white supremacist stranglehold on subjugated dependencies. It accused the department of being 'complicit in upholding exclusionary, erasive, patriarchal, heteronormative and white supremacist standards'. From which it followed that writers such as William Shakespeare - cisgendered, white and male – are for the future well and truly 'out'.

East Anglia is not alone. On 24th June 2020, the School of English at Nottingham University stated a similar determination to 'decolonise the curriculum'.

"We know that some of our students feel disconnected from what we do in the School, and there's a perception that we only value white voices and ideas," they wrote, "... decolonising the curriculum is one approach we can all take, in combination with other measures being implemented."

This is cultural vandalism in the name of ideology, and is not just shocking, but is an overt and focused attack on our society and the nation's heritage. There is a reason Shakespeare has been and is so widely acclaimed, and it has nothing to do with either his colour or heteronormativity. It is simply that he is good. His works speak to the human condition and tell us things about both ourselves and humanity that we wouldn't perhaps otherwise readily know. And are certainly not always comfortable. This indeed is the mark of all good writers, and is what distinguishes art from the potboiler.

Only now, apparently, this counts for nothing, because all that really matters is whether or not the writer is sufficiently diverse and inclusive, embracing sexual multiplicity and gender choice, while condemning Britain's post-colonial and, by definition, wicked empire. So, in one fell swoop the faith, values and moral aspiration of our forebears are dismissed. Worse, they are condemned, as if the self-righteous mewlings of those committed to the overthrow of our society and culture, that up to now have been the envy of the world, are somehow morally superior.

There is no merit or virtue in collapsing before such attack, openly designed to destroy what proponents dismiss as white patriarchy. Let us be clear, this is not about LGBT or racial equality. Rather it is a battle for takeover – for supremacy – and at stake are the moral foundations of our society and our heritage. It is an ideological battle for control.

For over a thousand years Britain has lived by Christian principles. Significantly, Magna Carta opened with a declaration of allegiance to God, followed by proclamation of the freedom of the Church and its protection against state interference. The Charter established the principle that everyone, including the king, was subject to the rule of law, which principles subsequently became the foundations for Western democracy, echoed in the United States Bill of Rights (1791), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), and the European Convention on Human Rights (1950).

Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that our constitution has for centuries been the envy of the world, a byword for justice and probity, its values expressly rooted in the Christian faith.

Does that mean our nation was perfect and never made mistakes? Of course not. But it does mean our peoples were committed to seek that which was good and the pursuit of truth, and where mistakes or deliberate fault were revealed, then efforts were made to right the wrong.

Britain has traditionally been a welcoming and tolerant society, allowing freedom for people to express their honestly held beliefs, provided only such beliefs didn't endanger the wellbeing and safety of others. And it is this spirit of freedom and respect for others – along with our generous social security – that has surely attracted those who have come to our shores over the last century, seeking a new life, and perhaps fleeing persecution in their country of origin.

Yet now that system is under attack for our allegedly wicked and exploitative colonialism, entirely dismissive of its positive achievements. From which it follows that history has to be rewritten, and our artistic heritage erased, because of its 'white male, cisgendered, supremacist domination'.

This is at base an attack on our Christian heritage and who we are, and is the naked attempt by an opposing ideology to assert dominance. It has nothing to do with fairness or equality and must be resisted. Historically, the British are a people of peace and generosity of spirit, and we must not be duped, by exploitation of what up to now have been our strengths, into misplaced, self-flagellating guilt.

True equality and integration are based on respect and care for all, and we must cherish and honour our past, while working together for the future. And we must defend the inheritance of our great art and writers.

Rev Lynda Rose is founder of Voice for Justice UK, a group which works to uphold the moral values of the Bible in society.