William Shakespeare

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Censorship in Schools

(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Meanwhile, the Shakespeare expurgation industry was thriving in America, fostered by the growing demand for school texts. In 1849 the first American expurgation of the plays in dramatic form was published: the Shaksperian Reader, edited by Professor John W. S. Hows. Hows wrote an apologetic preface, confessing his veneration for the “pure unmutilated text,” but explaining that without revision, Shakespeare could not be used as a class book or for family reading. Hows cut mercilessly, removing Falstaff completely from Henry IV, part I, and stopping Othello at the end of the third act. He also added four years to Juliet’s age in Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare makes her not quite fourteen).

Expurgation of school texts continued unabated into the twentieth century. Back in 1750, Garrick cut Juliet’s ardent wish that Romeo would hurry and deprive her of her maidenhead. Bowdler removed the same lines. Nearly two centuries later, a 1985 survey revealed that American school texts, including those of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich; Scott, Foresman; Macmillan; Ginn; McDougal, Littell and Company; and McGraw Hill, had also cut the lines. Scott, Foresman’s Romeo and Juliet cut more than three hundred lines, mostly sexual allusions. For example, Romeo’s line, “Well, Juliet, I will lie with thee tonight” was changed to “ . . . I will be with thee tonight.” In 1985 a ninth-grade student in Vienna, Virginia, protested these cuts. His teacher responded by supplying the class with a full text and discussing the cuts with the students. In the media debate that followed, some school editions were criticized for failing to state that they were abridged. Ginn, for example, omitted four hundred lines from its Romeo and Juliet, yet claimed in its teachers’ edition that the play was “presented here as Shakespeare wrote it.”

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(The entire section is 435 words.)