If Shakespeare Were Woke
The noun wokeness now appears in the Cambridge Dictionary, where it is defined as "a state of being aware, especially of social problems such as racism and inequality." Alright, fair enough. An important element of wokeness is being sensitive to people's gender identification. And there are so many more genders now than existed in the Garden of Eden! At last count, there are 81 (more or less, depending on which list you read) including as some of the basics, male, female, transgender, cisgender, gender non-conforming and two-spirit. But as I believe most of us secretly think and sometimes say, the incursion of wokeness into language has gone too far. Leave the blameless pronoun alone! Hands off the biologically verified words man and woman! And stop using vapid social media as the moral arbiter of language use. MacBeth's witches could almost have been chanting about the cauldron of social media:
Round about the couldron go:
In the poisones entrails throw…
Sweated venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first in the charmed pot.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Have you looked at Twitter lately? Talk about your poisonous entrails and your sweated venom.
What if William Shakespeare's writing had been subjected to the bubbling cauldron of woke language? He might have bequeathed us lines like this:
"The birthing person doth protest too much, methinks." – What Queen Gertrude would have said in Hamlet.
"They loved me for the dangers I had passed, And I loved them that they did pity them." - Othello, speaking of Desdemona's love for them. Substitute 'she' and 'her' in the quote and 'him' in the explanation, if you want to untangle this to make old-fashioned, gender-discriminatory sense. To paraphrase Hamlet,
Alas, poor pronouns! I knew them, Horatio: speech parts
of infinite use, of most excellent clarity: they have
borne me on their backs a thousand times; and now, how
abhorred in my imagination they are!
A lesser-known quote must needs be reproduced here in its original before we translate it into woke: "A woman impudent and mannish grown Is not more loath'd than an effeminate man." - Troilus and Cressida. This one is so full of potential. If only Will had known. It could have been, A woman impudent and mannish grown Transition can, into an effeminate man. The play would have been so different.
When Lady MacBeth hears that Duncan of Scotland is on his way to wage war, she asks that her feminine weakness be exchanged for masculine strength. This speech contains a woke gem:
The raven himself is hoarse
That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan
Under my battlements. Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe topful
Of direst cruelty!
The important line is unsex me here – which, had Shakespeare been woke, he could have written a whole play about. This line could even be the title! I will leave the content to your imagination. This new play could replace The Taming of the Shrew, which woke Shakespeare could never have written.
But since, thank goodness, personkind in the 16th century had not awokened - hey, if they can make up words, so can I – then, this is what US Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson could have said during her confirmation hearings when she was unable to answer the question, what is a woman, because "I'm not a biologist."
“A child of our grandmother Eve, a female; or, for thy more sweet understanding, a woman.” – Love's Labors Lost. Nice answer. (Though personally, I think the right answer is always the chromosomal one: XX. End of story. Or you can't swim on the team.)
More and more schools in today's woke world have stopped teaching Shakespeare (who contributed to the English language 38 plays, 154 sonnets and an astonishing 1,700 original words and phrases, as well as remarkable insights into the human condition), because he promotes "misogyny, racism, homophobia, classism, anti-Semitism, and misogynoir, [misogyny directed towards black women where race and gender both play roles in bias];" because he "was a tool used to ‘civilize’ black and brown people in England’s empire;” and because teachers need to stop "centering the narrative of white, cisgender, heterosexual men.” Well, with all due respect for legitimate attention being paid to various forms of discrimination, Shakespeare wasn't woke, and his entire canon will survive far beyond these silly times.
Love's labors could have been lost
And pronouns cruelly tempest toss'd
Had every word that William spoke
Been checked to see if it was woke
Had poisonous entrails won the day
And strangled sonnet, poem and play.
Then Juliet and Juliet's
The play that we would likely get
Two Gentlemen's Verona fling
Would "As You Like It" be the thing.
All ethnic roles so scrutinized
And controversy sanitized
Those plays would not be widely read.
What luck for William that he's dead.
Till next time.