"There is certain kind of openness when it comes to normative sexuality, because the government is really worried that Singaporean Chinese aren't
reproducing at the same rate as Malays and other groups," said Loos. "So it makes total sense that they're promoting sex--but only if you're married,
straight, and preferably Chinese."
"Even if the government isn't yet open to sexual progress, I think that on a social level most people understand that sexuality can't be forced or
pre-determined. They realize that it's not a threat," she added. "But I think the government still sees non-normative sexualities as a threat."
In Singaporean classrooms, however, Shakespearean sexuality was less of a threat and more of an exciting foray into the literature. We covered the whole
spectrum of sexual expression in Shakespeare's language: humor, allusion, and innuendo that were at times shocking, non-normative, kinky, or even crass.
And the Singaporean teachers, students, and school administrators I worked with wholeheartedly embraced the Bard at his most bawdy.
We talked about how the "barren scepter" in Macbeth might suggest the main character's sterility or impotence, and about how Othello probably gets
so enraged by the drunken brawl in Cyprus because it interrupts him in the middle of consummating his marriage. We talked about how some references suggest
that "wit" was Elizabethan slang for "vagina," and about how that fact transforms some of Shakespeare's best-known passages. (Rosalind in As You Like It, ladies and gentlemen: "Nay, you might keep that check for it, till you met your wife's wit going to your neighbor's bed.")
"There are sexual comments everywhere in Shakespeare, and some of them are really shocking," I said. "If you think Shakespeare is dry and boring, look
again." At that, I started to read aloud from Twelfth Night. There's a scene where Malvolio reads a letter from Olivia, the woman he loves. He
carefully analyzes her handwriting, reading certain letters out loud, and spells out--well, he spells out a bad word. A really bad word.
With an encouraging nod from the teacher, I wrote the letter 'C' on the chalkboard and turned around to scan the crowd. At their desks, several students
picked up pencils to copy what I was writing. Despite the endorsement of the school and teacher, I was nervous. I was about to share a well-recognized and
accepted academic interpretation of a famous passage of Shakespearean literature, but this would push the envelope in any country.
"Go for it," the teacher had said. "We want these kids to love Shakespeare. We want to surprise them."
I continued to read the scene aloud and gingerly added a U next to the C. By the time I wrote the letter N, the students had, for the most part, abandoned
their notebooks and were staring at the board.