New calamity a fresh election distraction

Bill Shorten's now famous election campaign tears (called by some commentators a "crucial" event in the campaign because perhaps the tears have offered proof that he does after all have a personality) may or may not have been sincere.

Bill Shorten tears up while speaking about his late mother. Picture: Dominic Lorrimer

Bill Shorten tears up while speaking about his late mother. Picture: Dominic Lorrimer

But your heart-on-his-sleeve columnist is typing this with true, fair-dinkum tears in his eyes. It is Tuesday morning and today has begun with news (ABC radio has had the good news sense and the due reverence to make it the first item in its bulletins) of the death of Doris Day.

One has done one's best to focus on our nation's election campaign but somehow there have been emotional and intellectual distractions galore. They have included not only the grievous news about Doris (of which more in a moment) but also the Eurovision Song Contest in which Australia has in Kate Miller-Heidke a candidate more accomplished and sparkling than any of the candidates in our parliamentary election.

Then there is the sudden persuasive renewal of speculation that the great works of drama and poetry we attribute to William Shakespeare were written not only by someone else but (gosh!) by a female someone else. More of that, too, in a moment, in what Shakespeare (whoever she was) called in The Merchant of Venice "the twinkling of an eye".

But back briefly to Doris Day and to how even ABC Classic FM (my default listening in my study), seldom finding space for "light" music amid all its heavyweights, has been giving some of her great songs reverent guernseys.

If sunbeams could sing, they would sound like Doris Day at her warm and radiant peak. Picture: Supplied

If sunbeams could sing, they would sound like Doris Day at her warm and radiant peak. Picture: Supplied

"Quality is quality" ABC Classic FM's sensitive presenter mused, giving Doris her turn among all the usual divas and decomposing composers. The station's playing of Doris's My Secret Heart (from the movie-musical Calamity Jane that a smitten pre-pubescent Ian went to see four nights in a row at the local Regal) has been especially Kleenex-requiring. What a touching display the song gives of her unusual voice, so trumpet-like and yet so foggily golden. If sunbeams could sing they would sound like Doris Day at her warm and radiant peak.

And it is a measure of just how much money Clive Palmer is spending in this election on political advertising, how ubiquitous that advertising is, how it stalks us everywhere and appears everywhere, that even when one goes innocently to YouTube looking for Doris Day clips there, first, lurking, is a Clive Palmer/UAP advertisement. To go in YouTube search of one of the most lovable women who ever lived (Doris Day) and while doing it to innocently come across so loathsome a man is a great shock. It is like having one's idyllic afternoon stroll at the botanic gardens spoiled by a nasty flasher who emerges from behind the grevilleas.

But on to the hair-raising possibilities teasingly analysed and discussed at elaborate length in a new essay, Was Shakespeare A Woman? This thought-propagating piece by Elizabeth Winkler has just popped up online in The Atlantic.

To tee the matter up I ask you, thinking readers, what do the England of William Shakespeare's time (he lived from 1564-1616) and the Liberal Party of today's Australia have in common?

Yes, you're right! Shakespeare's England and today's Liberal Party have both been sexistly oppressive times and places in which to be a gifted, creative woman.

The Liberals' "woman problem" is notorious. The parliamentary Liberal Party is so woman-bereft that, wits delight in pointing out, the next federal parliament seems destined to contain more men called Andrew (and perhaps Archie, too) than Liberal women.

One pillar of the idea that Shakespeare's works were in fact written by a woman who had to remain anonymous is the truism that women of those times were not allowed to openly write plays for public performance. Play-writing and play-acting (all of the female roles in the early stagings of Shakespeare's plays were taken by dressed-up, made-up, fake-bosomed males) were thought to be immorally unwomanly. Fans of the inspired BBC TV comedy Upstart Crow (a costume comedy about Will Shakespeare and his times) will know of the plight of the character, Kate.

Twice as educated and gifted as all the men around her (including the undereducated Will) but oppressed by patriarchy, Kate pines for the opportunity to act in Shakespeare's plays. But she has to disguise herself as a bloke even to be given an audition for a female role in a Shakespeare play! How the women of today's Liberal Party must see themselves in Kate, in her oppressed plight.

And, wait! What if some of the ostensibly male Liberal members of the last federal parliament and Liberal candidates in this election are actually Liberal women? What if, despairing of their misogynist party's pre-selection of them if their gender be known, Liberal women have long disguised themselves as men so as to deceive their local branches' pre-selection committees? When one thinks about it there is a certain feminine softness about the faces of leading Liberal men like Tony Abbott and Peter Dutton, a kind of hitherto inexplicable gentle womanliness in their demeanours.

But then some will say that a Liberal candidate deceiving us about his or her true sex is only a minor thing when one puts it among all the other bigger deceptions ("Labor Will Tax You To Death" Liberal billboards are braying in my electorate) scare-mongering Liberals have resorted to in this election.