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Instead of Censoring Shakespeare, the GOP Should Learn From Him

The Shenandoah Valley is blessed to be home to The American Shakespeare Center (ASC) in Staunton. As a retired English teacher, I delight in having access to Shakespeare’s plays produced by consummate professionals.

The ASC players can be hilarious, profound, and wise, and their performances are a conduit for some of the most beautiful language ever spoken. Or written.

But make no mistake, there is raunchiness in the plays, and man, when the ASC encounters it, they milk it for all it’s worth. Because it’s FUNNY. Bad puns, physical comedy, slapstick, and double entendre are funny.

It’s partly why the plays have been popular for centuries. Enlightened people recognize the mirror they hold up to life’s bawdiness, beauty, miracles, and foolishness.

However, through the centuries, Shakespeare’s plays have been banned, outlawed, and censored by people who fear them.

Just this month, Republican-led Hillsborough County in Florida has decreed that the plays, particularly Romeo and Juliet, must only be taught in excerpts; English teachers may not discuss or show anything related to sexuality.

I’ve taught Romeo and Juliet to ninth graders more times than I can count. I’m 100 percent sure no child was ever damaged by seeing an ancient text hold up a mirror to their own lives.

Get rid of anything to do with sexual attraction in Romeo and Juliet? The entire play is based on their immediate physical attraction to one another. What does that leave? What excerpts can be taught to educate kids?

This latest stunt shows just how obsessed Republicans are with human sexuality.

Republicans have launched a full-blown attack on people who may differ from the “norm” (whatever they decree that to be). They are determined to rid the US of people who want to or have already changed genders.

They are horrified at same-sex marriage. And they may well succeed in banning it. They want to control women’s wombs and be the third person in the OB-GYN office, making all medical decisions and punishing anyone who goes against their edicts that no woman may abort a pregnancy for any reason.

Many state governors, including our Gov. Glenn Youngkin, want access to the menstrual data from girls and women of childbearing age. So much for the party of small government.

This week, in Ottawa County, Michigan, the sex educator was ousted by the Republican County Commissioners. They cited the sexualization of children as their reason.

In her 21 years at the health department, the county’s teen pregnancy rate had decreased by 76 percent and is the fourth lowest among Michigan’s 83 counties. The abortion rate for Ottawa County during the same period fell by 18 percent, according to state data.

You’d think sensible Republicans would welcome results like this. Reducing pregnancies, reducing abortion rates, but no. The way they see it, only conservative Republicans can oversee people’s bodily autonomy.

So, when you understand that, you can see why they want to block teens from reading about sex and desire.

But what’s left anyway once you remove that from Romeo and Juliet?

Violence and murder.

Ah, now it makes sense. Sex bad, violence good — that should be the Republican motto.

Their terror of sex is equal to their love of violence. Let’s take a look.

Gun violence is now the leading cause of death among children. Yet Republicans claim only they are the party that protects children. However, they will do nothing to take weapons of war off the streets of America.

Indeed, they celebrate gun violence. Remember the party they threw for Kyle Rittenhouse, the teen who shot and killed two protesters in Wisconsin? They admire him.

Remember Jan. 6? When thousands of supporters of the former president led a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol?

Five people died shortly before, during, or following the event: one was shot by Capitol Police, another died of a drug overdose, and three died of natural causes. Many people were injured, including 138 police officers. Four officers who responded to the attack died by suicide within seven months.

Republican politicians call that a regular tourist visit. How many tourist visits feature well-made gallows and the cries to hang a vice president?

Their current favorite presidential candidate spent 2016 -2020 inciting violence, calling for his supporters to beat up protesters and the military to kill demonstrators, and calling himself their “retribution.”

After Heather Heyer was killed by a white supremacist in Charlottesville in 2017, this same candidate called her killer a part of some “very fine people.”

And there is incident after incident where individual Republicans have gone after their opponents with violence – the attack on Representative Nancy Pelosi’s husband, for example.

Or just this week, a woman in California was killed for hanging a pride flag in her store.

You will not find liberals, Progressives, or Democrats killing anyone for their sexuality or beliefs. It doesn’t happen.

Nor will you ever find Republicans condemning the violence of their followers.

But condemn Shakespeare’s fictional characters? Well, they’re all fired up about that.

Republicans will continue to lose elections, as in 2018, 2020, and 2022, as long as we remain vigilant against their policies.

Shakespeare will endure. Romeo and Juliet will continue for many more centuries, falling in love at first sight, and teens will continue to recognize themselves in them.

Perhaps Republicans will learn, as Romeo and Juliet’s families tragically did, that violence, feuding, and murder carry only pain. And love, even teenage love, and physical attraction should be celebrated and embraced.

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