Shakespeare censored in Florida schools over Don’t Say Gay law

William Shakespeare set against a purple and pink background. The background is supposed to resemble a noticeboard and a green pin at the top suggests the picture is supposed to be stuck to the board.

Teachers in a Florida county are being forced to prepare English lessons with huge cuts to William Shakespeare’s works, as a result of Ron DeSantis’ expanded Don’t Say Gay law.

Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act, better known as the state’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law, was expanded on 31 March, to prohibit instruction on gender and sexuality up until the eighth grade, and on reproductive health until the 12th grade.

The legislation also places limits on material that “contain pornography or obscene depictions of sexual conduct”.

Following the expansion, the Hillsborough County schools district announced it will now only teach excerpts from some of Shakespeare’s most-famous works, such as Macbeth, Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet.

Tanya Arja, a spokeswoman for the school district, told the Tampa Bay Times that the change had been implemented because of new state teaching standards, new state exams and because of governor DeSantis’ expanded law.

Students will be required to read one full work and excerpts from five to seven different plays, sonnets or poetry, a change from the previous requirement to read two complete classics.

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Should students want to read some of the Bard’s works in their entirety, they will have to do so in their own time, and they will remain available at school media centres.

Joseph Cool, a reading teacher at Gaither High School, told the news outlet that “some raunchiness in Shakespeare” was part of what made him popular.

Last year, Cool said, he enjoyed teaching Macbeth to his 10th-grade students. “It gave them a sense of connection between stuff that happened in the past and things that are not necessarily in the past,” he said.

Shakespeare’s works are full of slang and sexual innuendo, including his classic tragedy Romeo & Juliet, according to the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Some historians believe that Shakespeare was queer, and that a number of his most iconic works were influenced by his attraction to men.

The Don’t Say Gay law was signed by DeSantis last year, and originally banned discussion of LGBTQ+ identities from kindergarten through to third grade, before it was expanded.

When DeSantis signed the bill, he claimed anyone opposing it supported “injecting woke gender ideology into second-grade classrooms [and] sexualising students in kindergarten”.

It has affected schools and students across the Sunshine State. On 3 August, it was reported that Florida’s Department of Education had ruled that AP psychology classes were a violation of the law due to LGBTQ+ content.

After educators said the course would need to be axed, education commissioner Manny Diaz Jr said it could to be taught in an “age and developmentally appropriate” manner.