Home News Opinion | Shakespeare in Full, Including the Bawdy Parts, Except in Florida

Opinion | Shakespeare in Full, Including the Bawdy Parts, Except in Florida

by Staff

To the Editor:

Re “Make Shakespeare Dirty Again,” by Drew Lichtenberg (Opinion guest essay, Aug. 14):

I feel sorry for students in Florida. Shakespeare has been revered across the globe for his wit, his wordsmithy and his deep understanding of human nature.

Thanks to Gov. Ron DeSantis, it seems that the celebration, appreciation and lamentation of the human condition in its entirety, which is what has made Shakespeare last all these centuries, may be removed from what is presented to Florida students. What an intellectual and cultural crime!

The Elizabethans did not live long by our standards, falling prey to disease and poor sanitation, but they enjoyed life as seen in the flourishing of the arts in the English Renaissance, which included the bawdy sexual innuendo and bodily-fluid humor as well as rapturous poetry and mellifluous madrigals. Shakespeare has captured this spirit as no other has so far.

I am an English teacher, and my favorite part of the curriculum I teach is watching my students get the double entendre and puns (with a little guidance) of the spicier wordplay and situations as well as watching them moved by characters’ struggles and victories in the Shakespeare plays that we study in full.

My students are 13 and 14 years old. They are neither shocked nor offended. They encounter much saltier language and images on TikTok.

Jean Gilroy
Pleasantville, N.Y.

To the Editor:

Against the backdrop of Florida’s latest efforts to censor school readings, Drew Lichtenberg brilliantly argues why Shakespeare’s plays must be read in their entirety, not taught only in excerpts as some Florida school districts are now pushing for.

It’s an argument that students, even the most recalcitrant ones, might actually like. Too many students over the years have suffered from dull classroom analysis of Shakespeare’s plays, resorting to CliffsNotes rather than savoring the language and bawdiness that Dr. Lichtenberg so deliciously parses for us and insists is central to understanding the Bard’s genius.

Cathy Bernard
New York
The writer is a retired associate professor of English at the New York Institute of Technology.

To the Editor:

It appears that Gov. Ron DeSantis’s initiative restricting what Florida public school students can read, see or hear in their courses goes one better than that of Thomas Bowdler, an Englishman who published an expurgated edition of Shakespeare’s works called “The Family Shakespeare” in 1807.

Bowdler and his sister Henrietta boasted that they had added “not a single line” to the originals, but “endeavoured to remove anything that could give just offence to the virtuous and religious mind.”

The noun “bowdlerization” is now a pejorative term referring to the act of purging from artistic or written works anything deemed offensive by the censor’s standards.

Readers of “The Family Shakespeare” were left with plays somewhat resembling the originals (“not a single line” added), albeit ones robbed of their vitality.

In contrast, Florida students are being left with only “excerpts” from the plays, so crumbs only. Moreover, Mr. DeSantis’s initiatives are much broader than those involving educational standards. In this context, “DeSanitization” may perhaps become a pejorative term referring to such broad initiatives, autocratic all.

Robert E. Lehrer

To the Editor:

In the mid-1990s I was an actor at American Players Theater in Spring Green, Wis. One of the shows that year was “Romeo and Juliet,” a play that I was not performing in.

I went to opening night, and when the play ended two older women in front of me sighed. One turned to the other and said: “I don’t know why they had to add all that sexual talk. Can’t they just do Shakespeare the way he wrote it?”

You can’t make this stuff up.

Bradford Farwell

To the Editor:

Re “Women Worry as Israel’s Far Right Pushes Sex Segregation” (front page, Aug. 13):

Having spent nearly all of my professional life working for Jewish organizations on behalf of Israel and Soviet Jews, I, like many American Jews, am now disheartened about Israel’s encroachment on women’s rights.

The subjugation of women in Israel is gaining ground — in worship, law, everyday commerce and young people’s education.

Israel is the recipient of not only American government financial aid but also millions of dollars from American Jews who support Israeli schools, hospitals and the Israeli government.

How long, however, will this support continue? Who wants to support a country that subjugates women? Didn’t we already go through this in the United States?

Look around, Israel, and see who won that struggle! We stand tall and proud in support of Israeli women.

Sheila Levin

To the Editor:

I am an 87-year-old man, a Jew and a native of Argentina.

It looks as if before I depart from this world things will be getting worse.

In Israel, the threat to democracy appears imminent and may become inevitable.

In Argentina, the economic and social chaos is well established and appears irreversible.

In Poland, the country of my parents, there is now an autocracy and it appears permanent.

In the United States, my adopted country, it appears that there is a real threat that we may fall into disarray and disorder.

I share my pain with millions of others who have wished for a better world for our children.

David S. Cantor
Los Angeles

To the Editor:

Re “What Trump’s Indictment Reveals,” by Jamelle Bouie (column, Aug. 6), which discusses the flaws of our electoral system:

Mr. Bouie’s analysis is, as usual, insightful and spot on, though his prescription is as fanciful as the underlying problem is deep-rooted: “If we truly hope to avoid another Jan. 6, or something worse, we have to deal with our undemocratic system as much as we do with the perpetrators of that particular incident.”

Yes, but how? Constitutional amendment? Bipartisan legislation? A bewitching nose wiggle? The first two solutions are unrealistic since they would be blocked by those who benefit from (and increasingly depend upon) a less “perfect union.”

Dan Stone
Centerport, N.Y.

To the Editor:

Re “Technology Can Save Children in Hot Cars. It Isn’t Mandated” (front page, Aug. 11):

The second sentence of your headline should read, “It Isn’t Needed.” There is a shockingly low-tech solution that can be implemented immediately.

Simply attach a long strap from the bottom of the infant car seat that snakes under the driver’s seat and attaches to the upper arm of the driver. The strap should be long enough that it doesn’t impede the driver nor pose a choking hazard to the infant (as it attaches to the bottom of the seat).

The driver cannot exit the car without removing the strap and, feeling the restraint, recall, “Ah, yes, baby in the back.” Cost: Maybe $10.

Problem: It requires that the parent show mindfulness both in securing their infant and in exiting their vehicle.

Sharon R. Kahn
New York

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