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  • Writer's pictureMackenzie Elisa

Florida Schools Censor Shakespeare

It's been a long time since I've posted anything, Grad school is really hard... surprise! It's literally deadline week for my dissertation, but I had to put editing down to get some of my thoughts down concerning some recent legislation regarding the Bard.


If you haven't been keeping up with the news, the Florida education system is currently in shambles. As someone who lived in Florida my whole life, I'm appalled by the recent changes to legislation and the censorship that is occurring in my former schools. I was first introduced to Shakespeare in my seventh grade English class where we read "A Midsummer Night's Dream," and then the next year "Romeo and Juliet."


So what's going on with teaching Shakespeare in Florida? In Hillsborough County, the Parental Rights in Education Act, or, the “don’t say gay” law has now been extended to censoring Shakespeare in the classroom. Basically, the act aims to limit conversations about sexuality in the classroom. This has led to mass book banning in schools, which has now extended to the extent in which Shakespeare can be taught. The first play to hit the chopping block is "Romeo and Juliet" over its portrayal of intimacy between adolescents.


It's no secret that there is plenty of "raunchiness" in Shakespeare, which Gaither High School teacher Joseph Cool points out and explains is "what sold tickets during his time." Now, he's not inherently wrong. Shakespeare's plays are FILLED with sexual innuendos and crude jokes, because they were popular during the early modern period- AND continue to be today- see: Michael Scott's "that's what she said" tagline. He goes on to discuss how the rest of the world is "laughing at us" for this absurd oversimplification and archaic understanding of Shakespeare and early modern society. He claims that "taking Shakespeare in its entirety out because the relationship between Romeo and Juliet is somehow exploiting minors is just absurd."


Let's unpack the gross lack of comprehension of the play which is occurring here. The idea that the play is strictly about the tragic relationship between two teens, is an oversimplification of the play. Romeo and Juliet is about many things, but most strikingly, it is about teens who were raised in a society trapped in a vicious cycle of violence (sound familiar?). The idea that it's merely a love story demonstrates a significant lack of comprehension and a flaw within Shakespeare education practices, which further supports the idea that we cannot afford to further remove Shakespeare from curricula.


Shakespeare is still being taught in schools; however, the legislation has limited the curricula to only teach "excerpts" of plays under the premise that they can teach a broader range of material. However, this change is so clearly linked to problematic censorship agendas. Not to mention that by only teaching excerpts of these plays, students are missing out on so many skills that are learned only by studying plays and other works of literature in full.


There is a long history of censoring Shakespeare's works to better fit into heteronormative ideals, so none of this argument is new for Shakespeare scholars. One of my BRILLIANT professors and leading scholars in Shakespeare Studies, Sonia Massai, when asked about the situation in Florida said:

It is important we are more mindful and approach subjects such as gender, race, and nationality with care as you can say something that is quite damaging but it [cutting back] limits the freedom of teachers to teach the past, and I view the past as a foreign country if we forget it we lose our way.

Click here to read the full article


Shakespeare's plays are filled with raunchy and difficult themes, but that is exactly why they should be studied. They provide insight into a universal and eternal sense of humanity which few others have mastered. Additionally, if sexuality is the biggest problem that legislators can find within Shakespeare's plays (many of which deal with themes of murder and suicide), there may be a bigger underlying problem here. This is such a small issue within the larger problems that are occurring within the Florida education system, but the censoring of Shakespeare (the most prolific playwright of all time) just goes to show how absurd, uneducated, and irresponsible these changes are.





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