RICHARD LITTLEJOHN: This woke madness goes from Bard to worse 


War Horse author Sir Michael Morpurgo is refusing to include The Merchant Of Venice in a new book adapting Shakespeare’s plays for children under 16.

He has decided the anti-Semitic portrayal of Jewish money lender Shylock is too ‘raw’ for young minds.

Without doubt, the play may be considered offensive by modern standards. But that doesn’t mean it should be expunged from the canon of the greatest playwright in the English language.

It’s one thing social media sewer rats stirring up hatred against everything from Dad’s Army to J.K. Rowling. It’s quite another when one of our most distinguished writers aligns himself with intolerant statue-topplers and book-burners.

I studied The Merchant Of Venice at school and it didn’t turn me into a raging anti-Semite. Quite the opposite, as it happens. Yes, the portrayal of Shylock is unpleasant, but the play is also a powerful plea for racial and religious tolerance.

(‘If you prick us, do we not bleed?’)

Should we now ban Morpurgo’s War Horse because it’s hideously white?

Of course not, but in the current febrile mania for erasing the past and rewriting history, don’t be surprised when it happens.

Richard Littlejohn ponders which – if any – of Shakespeare’s plays could be put on without causing offence

Most of our civic institutions have embarked on a deranged orgy of self-flagellation in the wake of the Black Lives Matter madness.

How long before the Royal Shakespeare Company capitulates, too? Soon every single one of the Bard’s plays will have to be scrutinised line by line by the censors for anything which might possibly cause offence to anyone.

War Horse author Michael Morpurgo has chosen to remove The Merchant of Venice from his book of Shakespeare for kids

War Horse author Michael Morpurgo has chosen to remove The Merchant of Venice from his book of Shakespeare for kids

You can just imagine the RSC committee meeting at Stratford . . .

Good morning, colleagues. I’ve called you all together to discuss our proposed summer season, that’s if we ever come out of lockdown. 

As you are aware, in the current climate certain productions may be considered problematic. So we must tread carefully in selecting our programme. Let’s start with Romeo And Juliet. Any thoughts?

Celebrates paedophilia. Juliet is only 13. We’ll have the Jimmy Savile squad kicking the door in before the interval.

OK, how about Richard III?

He was a hunchback. The disability lobby aren’t going to like that.

Technically he wasn’t a hunchback. He had adolescent scoliosis. We could always claim to be raising awareness and get Cumberbatch to make a speech at the end asking for donations to The Scoliosis Society.

Not a bad idea. Put it down as a maybe.

Hamlet?

Wasn’t he bipolar? Mental health issues are always a bit of a minefield. And that’s not counting Ophelia’s suicide.

Morpurgo decided to ditch The Merchant of Venice because he felt the anti-Semitic portrayal of the Jewish money lender Shylock would be too much for young readers. Pictured: An illustration of a scene from the Merchant of Venice featuring Shylock (fourth from the left, clutching head)

Morpurgo decided to ditch The Merchant of Venice because he felt the anti-Semitic portrayal of the Jewish money lender Shylock would be too much for young readers. Pictured: An illustration of a scene from the Merchant of Venice featuring Shylock (fourth from the left, clutching head)

As You Like It?

That’s the one where Rosalind dresses up as a Greek shepherd boy and tries to seduce Orlando before revealing she’s actually a girl. How do you think that will go down with the trans brigade?

Probably best to give it a miss. We’re going to have the same trouble with Twelfth Night.

Eh?

If you remember, Viola disguises herself as a young man. But in Shakespeare’s day, female parts were always played by men. So Viola would have been played by a male actor, dressing as a woman dressing as a man.

We could always cast Eddie Izzard as Viola.

It’s a thought. How about Taming Of The Shrew?

Glorifies misogyny. The feminists will throw a right wobbly.

The actor Robert Harris in costume for his role as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice in 1961

The actor Robert Harris in costume for his role as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice in 1961

Measure For Measure?

Rapey.

All’s Well That Ends Well?

Grooming. Count Bertram spends half the play trying to seduce a young virgin.

Hmmm. Comedy Of Errors?

Slavery.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream?

Homophobia.

Homophobia?

Featuring a comedy character called Bottom, nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more. We’ll have Stonewall all over us.

Titus Andronicus?

Where do you want to start? With the rape and murder of the daughter or the two brothers Titus kills and bakes in a pie he serves to their mother before killing her, too?

Fair point. What does that leave us with? Richard II?

Too Brexity. This sceptered isle, this blessed plot and so on.

Henry V?

Anti-EU. Borderline racist. All that ‘God for Harry, England and St George’ stuff . . .

Perhaps casting Eddie Izzard as Viola in The Tempest could ward off complaints about the play's cross-dressing characters? Pictured: Izzard on television in 2020

Perhaps casting Eddie Izzard as Viola in The Tempest could ward off complaints about the play’s cross-dressing characters? Pictured: Izzard on television in 2020

Othello?

You must be joking. Not unless you want Black Lives Matter running riot. It was bad enough when Extinction Rebellion glued themselves to the stage blaming The Tempest on climate change.

That’s about it, then. The Merchant Of Venice is a definite non-starter. Why don’t we just forget about Shakespeare and put on something less controversial?

Such as?

War Horse?

The RSPCA might have something to say about that . . .

My peerage must have got lost in the post again this year. But recognition has come from an unexpected quarter.

For years I lived in the London Borough of Haringey, in the shadow of North London’s Alexandra Palace. Most days I’d walk our lab Ossie in the surrounding parkland.

We moved out of Haringey in the mid-Nineties and I suppose it was too much to expect that the Labour-run council would put up a blue plaque at the house we left behind.

So I was delighted to discover that they have recently erected this magnificent sign on the road which runs through Ally Pally — obviously in honour of all the support and praise I lavished upon the council and the local Old Bill during my time there.

Mind how you go.

Japanese scientists are planning to launch a satellite made entirely of wood within two years.

If successful, bio-degradable wooden satellites would replace metal space junk. And where satellites lead, receivers must surely follow. Sky TV has strived to move upmarket ever since its launch in 1989.

Self-styled sophisticates would turn up their noses at those first ugly metal dishes. I remember writing at the time in London’s Evening Standard that if only Sky could come up with a way of making dishes out of stripped pine, there wouldn’t be a house in Hampstead without one.

It was supposed to be a joke. Thirty-odd years later it’s about to become a reality.

You couldn’t make it up!

A file concealed in a cake is one thing. But West Midlands Police custody officers were surprised to discover a prisoner with a samosa hidden between his buttocks. 

He claimed he smuggled it into a cell block in Birmingham because he wasn’t happy with the standard of food on offer.

What other delicacies from the Indian subcontinent might prisoners be trying to sneak into their cells? 

Is that a seekh kebab in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?

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