To be, or not to be? The Shakespearean Question

In Douglas Murray’s book, “The War on the West,” he covers the attack on Shakespeare. Creative NZ’s refusal to fund the Sheilah Winn Festival on Shakespeare is nothing new and is part of the Critical Race Theory (CRT). Creative NZ has gone even further than this, as outlined below.

In 2021, the University of Leicester’s English department decided to provide a “decolonized” curriculum and to be dedicated to “diversity”, whilst the Shakespearean Globe Theatre announced it was seeking to become “anti-racist”. Murray explains that experts claim Shakespeare’s plays are “problematic”, and that words like ‘dove’, have latent racist connotations.  “Dr Vanessa Corredera from Andrew University in Michigan claimed that all of Shakespeare’s plays are ‘race plays’ and contain ‘racialized dynamics’”. A teacher at a Michigan high school said teachers must “challenge the whiteness” in Shakespeare’s plays (Douglas Murray, pages 221-223).

Creative NZ’s decision was no more than an extension of what has been seen overseas in recent years, if not worse. Their decision is nothing more than a virtual signal to the notion of CRT and how they want to remove parts of our arts and history.

Thankfully, artists have come out in disgust at this decision. “Malcolm called the agency “complete knobs”, Sam Neill says it made New Zealand “look bloody stupid” and Hurst said it was “beyond short-sighted, reactionary and just plain dumb”. Fortunately, these artists stood up and openly criticised the decision. Sam Neil was even more critical; “With respect, if you decide to cancel the greatest writer in English, or any language come to that, you sound like a f***ing idiot. And you make NZ-Aotearoa look bloody stupid,” actor Sam Neill said” (Lincoln Tan).

The language used by Creative NZ to support their decision was even more disturbing. They stated Shakespeare as “being cancelled because his works are apparently ‘located within a canon of Imperialism’ and the beauty of his art runs counter to ‘decolonising Aotearoa’” (Martyn Bradbury). This right out of the CRT playbook, if not worse. These statements are wrong in context and history. Firstly, imperialism did not exist in Shakespeare’s time. England was basically broke when he wrote his plays. Imperialism was far from England’s mind. Secondly, studying Shakespeare has nothing to do with the mystical decolonizing of this country. Rather, Shakespeare adds to the richness of our collective heritage, history and uniqueness. Even Māori can use Romeo and Juliet for example, in a modern context, of saying one iwi battling another iwi.

In Chris Trotter’s article, he clearly outlines the gravity of this decision. It is a blatant attempt to delete any connection to our wider historical past. “Given that all state institutions are now required to ensure that their decisions reflect the central cultural and political importance of te Tiriti o Waitangi, as well as their obligation to give practical expression to the Crown’s “partnership” with tangata whenua, the advisory panel’s meaning is ominously clear. At this time, and in this place, the policy landscape has no place for artistic endeavours that draw attention to the powerful and enduring cultural attachments between New Zealand and the British Isles.

“Expressed more bluntly, Creative New Zealand is serving notice on applicants for state funding that, unless their projects both acknowledge and enhance the tino rangatiratanga of Māori they will be deemed to have insufficient relevance to the “contemporary art context” to warrant public financial support.

“This is even worse than it sounds. Not only does it structurally disadvantage the 60% to 70% of New Zealanders who trace their ancestry to and derive the greater part of their cultural identity from, the British Isles. It also means that unless the applicants are able to demonstrate a genuine familiarity with Māori language and culture, they are practically certain to lose out to applicants who can. In other words: “in this time and place and landscape” and absent the most powerful institutional and/or commercial patrons, Pakeha applicants should expect to be refused Creative New Zealand funding.

“Is this drawing too long a bow? Not when the Council’s own assessment document seeks to know “whether a singular focus on an Elizabethan playwright is most relevant for a decolonising Aotearoa in the 2020s and beyond”.

“A “decolonising Aotearoa.” Here exposed is the unabashed ideological bias of the Arts Council and its assessors. There is a considerable head-of-steam building among some Māori (and their Pakeha supporters in the public service, academia, and the mainstream news media) for a wholesale stripping-out of the political, legal and cultural institutions of the “colonial state”, and for their replacement by the customs and the practices of te ao Māori. At present, this is the agenda of the “progressive” elites only. Certainly, no such proposition has been placed before, or ratified by, the New Zealand electorate.”

In essence, Trotter is rightly alluding to an attempt by the wider “progressive” elites to undertake a political and cultural change in New Zealand. Creative NZ’s decision is merely a part of that process. Terry Sheat (Newsroom – 17/10/22), put this another way. “It amounts to a systemic bias because there are duties under the empowering legislation which CNZ must take into account. Duties that are independent of, and not intended to be interpreted through, CNZ’s focus on a “New Zealand identity” in the arts. Duties such as promoting freedom in the practice of the arts, supporting activities of artistic and cultural significance that develop the creative potential of artists and art forms, and supporting projects of merit to communities or sections of the population that would otherwise not have access to them.

“On those considerations alone, it’s hard to see how CNZ can justify the termination of funding to either Shakespeare Globe Centre NZ or Arts on Tour. Both have been around for over 20 years so it would be possible to argue that they are part of a New Zealand identity in the arts (just not the definition CNZ has chosen). Both also have strong credentials in inclusion and diversity. It would seem as though these organisations may have been excluded before any proper consideration of those duties or that promoting a “New Zealand identity” in the arts has been given improper weight and therefore used improperly to exclude them.”

Finally, Martyn Bradbury bluntly states, “They very proudly announced their cancellation of Shakespeare because of his crimes against woke dogma… this isn’t an academic argument; this is a gleeful woke cultural book burning!

“This is what ISIS does, destroy the art of other cultures so theirs is paramount!”