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Unmasking Shakespeare's Untold Stories

As we explore the hidden layers of Shakespeare's plays, it becomes clear that vital narratives of queerness and sexual assault have been conveniently sidelined. By embracing these truths in education, we empower students to confront societal taboos, foster empathy, and build a more inclusive future.

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Caliban sexually assaulted Miranda and Antonio was queer.

William Shakespeare, our very own Bard, known for his brilliant storytelling and complex characters, has undoubtedly made an indelible mark on literature and theater. Yet, certain aspects of his works have been conveniently obscured or expurgated as time passed. Take, for instance, "The Merchant of Venice." In this play, Antonio, a character who exudes qualities that suggest his queerness, has been subjected to erasure. His profound affection for Bassanio, conveyed through impassioned language and self-sacrifice, hints at a love that transcends the boundaries of conventional friendship. Unfortunately, adaptations and productions have chosen to diminish or even entirely erase this essential aspect of Antonio's character. And in doing so, preferred publications, like MorningStar deny audiences the opportunity to explore and appreciate the diverse forms of love and human connections that exist in our world.

Now, let's turn our attention to "The Tempest." Miranda, daughter of Prospero, finds herself confronted with an incident that can only be described as sexual assault. In Act 1, Scene 2, Caliban, a ‘half-beast, half-man’, attempts to violate Miranda's autonomy by harboring, and trying to execute, his sexual desires towards her. It is disheartening to witness how this pivotal moment is often brushed aside or sidelined, as if it challenges the idyllic notion of the play as a romantic fantasy. By neglecting to address this critical scene, the Verity edition of "The Tempest" conveniently sweep under the rug the reality of sexual assault and its lasting impact.

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But why does the expurgation of queer narratives and the downplaying of sexual assault resonate so deeply with the prevailing issues of sex education in India? The answer lies in the country's deeply ingrained taboos surrounding discussions about sexuality, consent, and queer identities. These topics are treated as if they were locked away in a hidden drawer, left unopened and unexplored. The absence of comprehensive sex education perpetuates a culture of silence and ignorance, where important conversations are hushed, and knowledge remains out of reach.

But let's not forget the glaring truth: there are at least 2.5 million queer people in India, and females aged 16-19 are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape or sexual assault. It is evident that adolescents, perhaps more than anyone, need to be actively educated about these subjects. Why, then, do we hide behind the guise of ‘innocence’ to avoid important conversations?

Image Source : New York Times
Education is meant to empower, not fetter. Students don't need to be kept blissfully ignorant – that is the very antithesis of education. By omitting queer narratives and downplaying instances of sexual assault in literature, we reinforce the notion that these topics are too uncomfortable or inappropriate for public discourse. In doing so, we perpetuate societal stigmatization, reinforce harmful biases, and hinder efforts to create safe spaces where individuals can freely explore their identities and seek support.

We must confront the uncomfortable truth that lies at the heart of this issue. The publishers, in their misguided attempt to shield students from the complexities of the real world, have constructed a narrative that treats them as ‘pure’ and ‘innocent’ beings who need to be protected. However, by denying them access to vital information and disregarding their right to knowledge, we are doing a grave disservice to their growth and development.

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Education should be a gateway to understanding, compassion, and empowerment. It is through knowledge that we break down barriers, challenge stereotypes, and foster a society that embraces diversity in all its forms.

Therefore, it is imperative that we advocate for comprehensive sex education – an education that is age-appropriate, inclusive, and covers a wide range of topics, including consent, sexual orientation, and gender identity. By providing students with the tools they need to navigate the complexities of the world around them, we enable them to make informed choices, understand boundaries, and create an environment that respects and celebrates diversity.

Let us remember that the power of education lies not in concealing the truths that make us uncomfortable, but in embracing them, discussing them openly, and learning from them.

Written by Prishita Dharampal

This article was written as part of a 3-part series in collaboration with Project Educating the Educators. ProjectETE is a community dedicated to ensuring that curriculum textbooks are fair, accurate, and unbiased. They believe that every student deserves access to high-quality, inclusive education that reflects the diversity of their experiences and the world around them.

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