In journalistic terms, the hot summer months are sometimes referred to as “the silly season”. This is because in a typical year there is a dearth of news and journos find themselves having to conjure up a story from nowhere.
Even by those standards, a controversy emanating from Shakespeare’s Globe will seem to many like little more than a light shower in a teacup.
Some self-important know-alls have launched an attack on a new play I, Joan by talented actor and playwright Charlie Josephine.
In a frenzied culture war of the kind that Liz Truss is attempting to use as a means of propelling herself into 10 Downing Street, the 21st century incarnation of “disgusted of Tunbridge Wells” has taken deep offence to the pronouns “they / them” used by Joan of Arc to describe themself.
Before even getting into the controversy, it is worth pointing out that the play has not even opened.
As with so many of these battles, this means that those who make the greatest fuss and demand retribution have and will probably not even bother to test out the artistic merits of this new “queer” vision of a plucky heroine from times past.
Instead, they will rely on hearsay, rather like the attempted assassin of Salman Rushdie, who admitted that he has not read The Satanic Verses but was still quite happy to kill its author based on his understanding of its contents, which was almost certainly gleaned from others who have never read the book.
One of the more ridiculous aspects of this non-story, which will both hurt sensibilities as well as quite possibly damaging careers and therefore is of deep significance, lies in the semantics.
The holier than thou brigade are presumably demanding that every time Joan of Arc refers to herself, she must do so using terms such as “I” and “me”.
I don’t how to break it to them but Joan would have spoken in archaic, mediaeval French and therefore will never have come across either of those terms or, for that matter, “they / them”.
This seems a considerably better defence of the playwright than even some offered by her mentor and Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe, Michelle Terry.
Amongst other arguments, she points out that “they / them” has apparently been used on occasion to refer to a single individual from close to a millennium ago. That sounds a little specious but the director’s strong rebuttals of the unwarranted attacks on her writer and, by extension, the non-binary community are highly commendable.
To put the story into perspective, as far as this critic is aware, there is no provision in UK law making attendance at Shakespeare’s Globe to watch I, Joan compulsory. Nor is there any penalty for those who choose not to see the play.
As so often, the real irony is that by raising the profile of the work, the busybody troublemakers will almost certainly guarantee that it sells out.
Perhaps the most worrying aspect is where the story might go next. If we were in the United States, one can imagine the fundamentalist evangelical gunslingers waging war on any play that contains material of which they disapprove.
This would mean no references on stage to abortions, same-sex relationships, gun control or any derogatory comments about the former president with the dead rat on his head and a penchant for involvement in legal cases.