Get Thee from the Nunnery

Shakespeare’s Argument Against Celibacy--and for Life

When I came into my “Introduction to Shakespeare” classroom on Good Friday, students all over the room were animatedly talking. “Did you see the demonstration in front of Planned Parenthood?” one asked me, as others chimed in about police cars and crowds. I hadn’t been thinking of it, but I did know that a group of Catholics were praying the Stations of the Cross in front of the local Planned Parenthood that morning, as they do every Good Friday. I was surprised, though, that my students would know about it, much less be excited about it.

My surprise was short-lived. “Some people were demonstrating against abortion,” a student filled me in, “and we were there to support Planned Parenthood.” “I think they were having a Mass,” another added. “We stopped shouting, you know, not to be rude, but they kept praying anyway so we shouted some more.” “One priest fainted!” yet another added. She was neither scorning nor sympathizing, merely adding an illustrative detail. The news disconcerted me, as I knew some of the priests who were planning to be there. But I didn’t pursue it. We had Shakespeare and his two great themes to talk about: comedy and tragedy, the affirmation of life and the denial of life.

It took a minute or two to get the class settled down. Though we were scheduled to begin Macbeth, a play featuring a mother who would pluck the sucking baby from her breast and...

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About the Author

Paul K. Johnston teaches American literature at SUNY Plattsburgh.