Shakespeare is in the news today due to the fight of three male Shakespearean leads for the Best Male Actor prize at the Olivier awards last night. But another bard-based story has caught our eye in the swirl of iambic pentameters and though it's been rumbling along for a week already, it's clear old William still knows how to shake things up...
Nine girls at Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls School in Stamford, north London, refused to answer questions on Shakespeare in their English literature exams in protest against his anti-Semitism. No marks were awarded to the blank answer sheets and the otherwise high-scoring school went down the league tables - from the very top position for progress made by 11 to 14 year olds to 274 in the rank. That's a big drop which would be the end of the world for most head teachers, particularly in this era of league table mania. But the school's principal, Rabbi Abraham Pinter cares more about the girls taking their stand than the rating of the school - and ay, there's the rub.
While there is much to admire in a school principal sticking up for his pupils' beliefs over and above a league table ranking, there is less to admire in what seems to be a fairly knee-jerk reaction to knee-jerk reactions. The protesting girls have to be between 11 and 14 years old: can we really trust that their "conscientious objection" is entirely calm and conscientious? (And not just the recitation of objections by others, ie. parents?) And why not encourage the girls to do more work on Shakespeare instead of abstaining from the standard requirement; it's an ideal opportunity for a faith school to explore through historical, sociological and literary research to ascertain whether or not Shakespeare's representation of Jews is in fact anti-Semitic.
...that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?
Well, Hamlet isn't the best figure to look to in this situation, considering how things turned out for him, but in this case, can nine young girls in north London opposing the ongoing, ages old anti-Semitic reading of Shakespeare finally bring the offences to an end? We suspect this is only the first instalment of a very long epic drama...