Teachers in a Florida county are preparing to use only excerpts of works by William Shakespeare, rather than whole plays, as part of an attempt to conform to hardline rightwing legislation on teaching about sex .

“There’s some raunchiness in Shakespeare,” Joseph Cool, a reading teacher at Gaither high school in Hillsborough county, told the Tampa Bay Times. “Because that’s what sold tickets during his time.”

But, the newspaper said: “In staying with excerpts, the schools can teach about Shakespeare while avoiding anything racy or sexual.”

The legislation at issue is the Parental Rights in Education Act, commonly known as the “don’t say gay” law for its clampdown on teaching about LGBTQ+ and gender issues.

The act was signed in March 2022 by Ron DeSantis, the hard-right Republican governor who is now running for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, and expanded in April this year.

The law has fueled widely reported culture-war clashes, including parental pushes for book bans in public school libraries and a legal battle between DeSantis and Disney, a major state employer which opposes the law.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, the Hillsborough county school district has also switched to using excerpts as a way to help students meet state Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking, teachers aiming to give pupils a broad range of knowledge based on one whole novel and excerpts from five to seven novels or plays.

But the Parental Rights in Education Act also says material that is sexual in nature should not be used in classes not concerning sexual health or reproduction.

Prudishness towards Shakespeare’s discussion of sex or use of sexual slang is not new. As the Royal Shakespeare Company notes, “Early editions of Shakespeare’s plays sometimes ignored or censored slang and sexual language.

“But the First Folio [published in 1623] reveals a text full of innuendo and rudeness.”

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Suggesting that some sexual references may yet creep unwittingly into Florida classrooms, the RSC gives extensive examples of “slang or sexual language which were clearly understood by Shakespeare’s original audiences but may be less obvious to audiences today”.

In Florida, rightwing groups such as Moms For Liberty also offer reading lists, selections more likely to include fellow travelers of the far-right John Birch Society than the works of Shakespeare.

Cool, the Hillsborough county high-school reading teacher, told the Tampa Bay Times: “I think the rest of the nation – no, the world, is laughing us. Taking Shakespeare in its entirety out because the relationship between Romeo and Juliet is somehow exploiting minors is just absurd.”

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