English literature teachers across the nation are allegedly refusing to teach William Shakespeare as a topic because they claim his works promote “misogyny, racism, homophobia, classism, anti-Semitism, and misogynoir.”
A number of these teachers told the School Library Journal that they were in effect ‘canceling’ Shakespeare’s works such as “Romeo and Juliet,” “Macbeth,” and “Hamlet” in their respective classrooms to “make room for modern, diverse, and inclusive voices.”
“Shakespeare was a tool used to ‘civilize’ Black and brown people in England’s empire. As part of the colonizing efforts of the British in imperial India, the first English literature curricula were constructed, and Shakespeare’s plays were central to that new curricula,” stated so-called Shakespeare scholar Ayanna Thompson. She is a professor of English at Arizona State University and is one of many educators critiquing, questioning, and abandoning the works of the famous bard.
Thompson also questions whether or not learning Shakespeare is a disadvantage: “At a disadvantage for what? The premise of this question seems to be framed on an older colonial/imperial model. A true disadvantage is not knowing how to read, understand, analyze, and grapple with the cultural or political contexts of any piece of literature,” she declared.
In reference to Shakespeare’s works being universal, Jeffrey Austin, an ELA department chair at Skyline High School stated: “We need to challenge the whiteness of [that] statement: The idea that the dominant values are or should be ‘universal’ is harmful.”
Cameron Campos, an English teacher at Foothills Composite High School in Alberta, Canada, has moved towards dumping Shakespeare as well. “My grade 11 and 12 courses use texts almost entirely written by Indigenous authors, except for a few Canadian classic short stories and some works by contemporary poets,” Campos reported. “The only author that the curriculum dictates we teach is Shakespeare.” With new guidelines in play, Campos nixed Shakespeare and taught The Thanksgiving Play by Larissa FastHorse instead.
Liz Matthews, a ninth-grade English teacher at Hartford Public High School, also decided to skip Shakespeare. Her school is reportedly 95 percent Black and Latinx.
“I replaced Romeo and Juliet with The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros last year and Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds this year,” she said. “Simply put, the authors and characters of the two new[er] books look and sound like my students, and they can make realistic connections. Representation matters.”
Others such as former Washington state public school teacher Claire Bruncke are cutting Shakespeare out of their teaching curriculums in order to “stray from centering the narrative of white, cisgender, heterosexual men.”
“Eliminating Shakespeare was a step I could easily take to work toward that. And it proved worthwhile for my students,” she emphatically stated.
A number of teachers are putting a more modern twist on Shakespeare’s timeless works. Sarah Mulhern Gross, who is an English teacher at High Technology High School in Lincroft, NJ, proclaimed she was teaching “Romeo and Juliet” “with a side of toxic masculinity analysis.”
Elizabeth Neilson teaches high school English at Twin Cities Academy. She is using Shakespeare’s tragedy Coriolanus to teach Marxist theory. “When they read a text written centuries ago [that] addresses events and people from even longer ago, it is easier for them to divorce their analysis from their biases and inherited beliefs about class in the modern era,” Neilson explained.
These teachers claim that teaching the works of Shakespeare promulgates his problematic world view. So they are tweaking it.
William Shakespeare was a prolific writer who was way ahead of his time. Not only were his writings the work of a genius, he ostensibly introduced thousands of words and phrases into our language changing the English lexicon forever. His writings have been a staple of classical learning but now they are being canceled or reworked to fit a politically correct teaching agenda.
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