independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Something rotten in the state of Denmark

It's now over 20 years since I was in Causeway Comprehensive School studying Hamlet for the Leaving Cert. I remember having mixed feeling about the play. It was interesting enough I suppose, but there seemed an awful lot of elements to it, that'd have to be remembered for the exam.

I've no idea what came up on the day, but I've been fortunate enough since then to have developed a real affection for Shakespeare. I've even had the pleasure of seeing 'The Merchant of Venice' performed in The Globe Theatre in London. And pinned to the wall in my kitchen, are tickets for King Lear, which is in The Abbey Theatre this month.

My only regret is that I cannot quote Shakespeare from memory. I don't think there's any scenario, where a quote from Shakespeare wouldn't describe and explain the situation better than anything a mere mortal could mumble.

So it was back to Hamlet I went when I read the Government had invited an organisation called BeLonG To, to run a campaign to highlight, and hopefully tackle, homophobic bullying in our schools. Studies have shown that our schools our failing to adequately protect gay teenagers so this intervention is more than necessary.

Yet the quote I think most appropriate for this situation is, "Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind." This is Ophelia returning gifts to Hamlet, as his behaviour towards her since he'd given them, had been so terrible.

The State is making an attempt to address the very real dangers, physical and emotional, that gay children are facing in our schools. That's a gift, well a duty, but let's not quibble. The problem is the State is also standing over a law which permits the sacking of gay teachers. Section 37.1 of the Employment Equality Act 1998, allows schools that are run by religious organisations to refuse to employ or even fire teachers, who they decide are not adhering to the religious ethos of that school.

As the vast majority of our schools are run by the Roman Catholic Church, gay teachers are forced to either hide or deny who they truly are, when in or out of work. That is not to say the Roman Catholic Church is openly homophobic. The church strongly denies being a homophobic organisation, but it does condemn homosexual acts as immoral and it is entitled to do so.

No adult is forced to be a Catholic, but few children get to choose a school with an ethos that'll accept them for who they are. A gay teenager who survives our unsympathetic education for long enough to study Hamlet, will see what Shakespeare has to say about tragedy, irony, hypocrisy, treachery and crushing isolation

We can hope that teenager will go to college and have a great time being themselves. After that, perhaps they will go on to teach Hamlet. He or she can take their turn pretending to be something they are not and they can watch their teenage students struggle with isolation just a they once struggled. And be powerless to intervene.

There are so many famous lines from Hamlet. So many ideals expressed that we often don't realise we are quoting from the play. We try to teach our children to; "This above all: to thine own self be true" as it is how we all wish to live our lives.

How unfortunate then, that our schools are best described as; "But break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue." I doubt even Shakespeare could describe such hypocrisy without being reduced to a "wtf?" and a "seriously?"

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