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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
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Op-Ed

Shakespeare banned in Florida!

March 10, 2023

The Bard is persona non grata in the Sunshine State. Chaucer, too.

Robert Kahn

By Robert Kahn

Deputy editor emeritus, Courthouse News

At least five Shakespeare plays feature major characters cross-dressing: "The Merchant of Venice," "As You Like It," "Twelfth Night," "The Two Gentlemen of Verona" and "Cymbeline." Exposing students to cross-dressing was outlawed in Florida by the fatuously named “Parental Rights in Education” Bill. At least 10 other Republican-controlled states have passed similar legislation.

Then there’s sex — real sex. Can’t teach "Hamlet," "Macbeth," "Romeo and Juliet," "Othello," "All’s Well That Ends Well," and … oh, hell, might as well come out and say it: Shakespeare has no place in Florida school curriculum. Chaucer, too. The Wife of Bath’s Tale? Are you kidding?

Perhaps the most insane, and cowardly, law Florida has proposed would require anyone who criticizes Gov. Ron DeSantis on the internet to register with the state. This is a Soviet law. Even Newt Gingrich, who is greatly responsible for poisoning U.S. politics, called the proposal “insane.” Not to mention unconstitutional.

New York Times columnist Charles Blow quoted University of Tennessee psychology professor Patrick Grzanka in an excellent column this week: “Forget about accountability. There doesn’t even have to be internal consistency to the legislation so long as it promotes hate.” Grzanka describes the recent slew of neo-fascist Republican proposals as “‘a kind of legislative waterboarding’ by the political right to generate backlash against L.G.B.T.Q. progress that many see as ‘a massive threat to white Christian heterosexual values.’”

Taken one by one, these repressive Republican laws are sickening, though they can, and will, be challenged in court. According to the Human Rights Campaign, 315 anti-LGBTQ laws were proposed by states in 2022, and 29 of them became law. The Human Rights Campaign is tracking 750 new anti-gay laws this year. What is most dangerous for what used to be called civil society is that these laws are explicitly written to make U.S. citizens outcasts, objects of contempt. 

This was epitomized by — guess who? — Donald Trump’s deranged harangue to the Conservative Political Action Committee last week, when he vowed: “For those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution.”

Wronged? Betrayed? What the hell is he talking about? Anything he disagrees with, presumably. What’s clear is that he is promising to use the office of the presidency, if he is returned to it, to hunt down people and institutions he considers his enemies, and punish them.

Pardon me, but that’s not how the United States government, and the governments of the 50 states, are supposed to work.

To get the bitter taste of politics out of our mouths, let’s return to Shakespeare.

The self-help books tell us to seek help when we need it. So, I need help on this problem, which has been troubling me for weeks: Who is the best, and funniest, person in the world to consult about Shakespeare: Eleanor Morton or Philomena Cunk?

I was with the Scotchwoman Eleanor all the way, until I encountered the Englishwoman Philomena Cunk (Diane Morgan). Now I am torn. Not torn like a page from a book — actually, yes, a bit like that. Both of them make a lot more sense about old Shakey than I can make out of U.S. politics.

Watch the clips in the links above. As Faux News says, I report, you decide.

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