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September 06, 2011

Orson Scott Card has rewritten HAMLET as a dull, homophobic screed

I enjoyed Ender's Game when I was younger and can still appreciate it now, even with the seams showing and the bizarre morality that becomes clear with reflection. But Card's amazing homophobia has forever tarnished his works for me. I simply can't support giving this jerk money. I do believe that you can separate an artist from their art and that the moral failings of an artists do not invalidate their work (I still like Picasso's work, despite him being a monumental asshole) but I also believe that there is only so much time you can spend reading in your life, so why not read something better not written by a hateful ass? And then he decides to rewrite HAMLET of all things. It's only what, one of the best works in all Western literature? I'm sure it needs to be watered down and simplified and for Hamlet to be turned into a cold, devout man without a shred of doubt--because as we all know, that's what Hamlet is about. Certainty. (Yes, that's sarcasm.) And then, because Card really, really hates gay people he goes and turns Hamlet's father into a pedophile and says that pedophilia is how gay people are created. R A I N T A X I o n l i n e Summer 2011
Orson Scott Card has rewritten Hamlet. The back of this slim novella boasts that once we have read this "revelatory version of the Hamlet story, Shakespeare's play will be much more fun to watch—because now you'll know what's really going on." The author has previously updated other Shakespearean plays, rendering them more intelligible to modern audiences while supposedly retaining the “flavor” of the originals. Thomas and Harriet Bowdler did similar editorial work in 1818—mostly by removing any and all references to sex. (They had to avoid Measure for Measure entirely.) From them we get the word bowdlerize: "to remove material that is considered improper or offensive from a text or account, esp. with the result that it becomes weaker or less effective." Card himself makes the comparison in an introduction to his "translation" of The Taming of the Shrew, and answers the implicit accusation that he is producing Diet Shakespeare through prurient censorship: It seems to me that we might rather lose our contempt for Bowdler’s attempt to make Shakespeare watchable to the audience of his time, and realize that the standards of taste and decorum change from age to age, and it is not at all unreasonable to make such temporary changes in the script as will allow a play to continue to find an audience—as long as the original remains available, so it can be restored to public view when tastes change again. See intro here Fair enough. Every new performance of the Bard is also an act of interpretation, sometimes a drastic and transformative one. We still have authoritative versions of the scripts afterwards, to be reedited and reinterpreted. However, Card's essay concludes with the following: The purpose is to present Taming of the Shrew in a way that recovers, not the original text of Shakespeare’s play, but the original experience of it—a fast-moving, instantly comprehensible, pun- and bawdy-filled, ironic, self-parodying comedy with a legitimate moral lesson about the relationship between man and woman in marriage. Note that he considers it a virtue for a text to be "instantly comprehensible," as though it were a very bad thing to confront an audience with something they don't already know, understand, and believe. Also note the troubling idea that The Taming of the Shrew carries a "legitimate moral lesson" about gender roles. Such troubling undercurrents become gale force winds in Hamlet’s Father. . . . The extent of the novella's failure is surprising—and embarrassing, given that Card is a skilled veteran novelist and Subterranean a well-respected press. The most polite thing for us to do would be to walk away and quietly forget the whole painful exercise. But Card does not deserve our polite amnesia. His failures should be known and remembered, because the revelation in his "revelatory new version" turns out to be a nightmare of vitriolic homophobia. Here's the punch line: Old King Hamlet was an inadequate king because he was gay, an evil person because he was gay, and, ultimately, a demonic and ghostly father of lies who convinces young Hamlet to exact imaginary revenge on innocent people. The old king was actually murdered by Horatio, in revenge for molesting him as a young boy—along with Laertes, and Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern, thereby turning all of them gay. We learn that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are now "as fusty and peculiar as an old married couple. I pity the woman who tries to wed her way into that house." . . .