I have always loved the play Twelfth Night, especially since one of my favorite movies was based off of it: She’s The Man. Last year I took a course on Shakespearean comedies and loved the play, although it did register slightly below Much Ado About Nothing. When I found out I had to read for this course I was really excited, but slightly confused. Unlike The Miller’s Tale there is no burning of bottoms and unlike The Adventure’s of Huckleberry Finn, there is no constant use of offensive words. Why could Twelfth Night possibly be banned? After looking it up, I found that it was banned in 1996:
School authorities in Merrimack, N.H. found nothing amusing about Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, in which a girl washes ashore after a shipwreck, disguises herself as a page, and falls in love with her male master. That jolly cross-dressing and fake-same-sex romance was deemed in violation of the district's ‘prohibition of alternative lifestyle instruction,’ and copies of the play were pulled from schools.1
I found this slightly ridiculous for many reasons. First, all the crushes are just a misunderstanding. The Duke never feels anything for Cesario/Viola but a brotherly/masculine love that is acceptable at the time. Olivia, while she does have a crush on someone who is actually a woman, is unaware of it and truly believes she is in love with a man. I personally do not believe that same-sex love is an issue, but I understand that there are different opinions on the matter. Yet, this said, there is never any same-sex anything, just misunderstandings. Second, the cross-dressing part is ignorant. In Shakespeare’s time, many young men would have to cross-dress to play the female parts. Viola is not exerting herself as a sexual man, but instead a eunuch.
I found this ban slightly disturbing for other reasons as well. I felt that it was missing the point of the play entirely to pick on issues, such as gay marriage, that are prevalent today but not as much so when the play was written. Banning this book is taking away not only the enjoyment of a great work, but also the history and context of the story. Even if it does bring up present day issues, to ban a book from school does not allow for healthy conversation.
At my experience at Tunbridge School last Thursday, I arrived at my classroom a few minutes early and found the teacher and students engrossed in group reading. Mr. Gottlieb asked me to sit and join them, which I gladly did. I had no idea what the book was, but I was fascinated by the students. They kept asking question after question. It was amazing to see their willingness to learn. One girl even asked why a certain flower died, to which the teacher explained about the geography of the setting. Although these fifth graders may be too young to tackle Twelfth Night, it is student like them that make me believe banning it is the wrong decision. They truly want to learn about every little detail of the story, and seemed to get enjoyment out of even the little details. Not allowing their intellectual abilities to grow to their natural capacity would be a crime. When these kids are able to finally get to the reading level of Shakespeare, not only will they learn, but they will enjoy the experience.
After the group reading was over, the teacher needed me to organize some of his binders for him. While he felt bad about giving me a tedious task, I was glad for three reasons. One, I actually enjoy organizing, it is a stress-reliever for me. Second, I know the feeling I get when everything is organized and know how important that can be for a classroom. Lastly, I was nervous (although definitely excited) to work with the kids directly. While I hole-punched and alphabetized, I listened to Mr. Gottlieb teach. The students had moved on to individual reading while some would individually meet with the teacher to discuss their book. One book was about Hitler. Once again the student was full with many questions about what happened. Obviously the nature of the subject is a tragic one, but not teaching the information would be a disservice. Only through knowledge and experience can a person truly understand and grow from something. This kid learned not only the history but empathy for not only the Jews, but the Nazis that were forced to work as well. I remember the student asking why some of the Nazis did such horrible things, and the teacher explaining about how some of them had families to worry about. Without healthy discussion how will a person ever truly grow in understanding? The same with the alternative life-style and cross-dressing issue of Twelfth Night. Not only is it an issue that can often require empathy, but it is a part of the history and present of mankind.