Blake Stacey reports on an interesting case of censorship. Most of the details are depressingly familiar: somebody gets a bug up a bum about a poem–in this case, one that “glorifie[s] knife violence”. What is fascinating about this case is the author’s response. She must really believe that bit about the pen being mightier than the sword (Grand Fenwick notwithstanding), and pens a bit about swords:
You must prepare your bosom for his knife,
said Portia to Antonio in which
of Shakespeare’s Comedies? Who killed his wife,
insane with jealousy? And which Scots witch
knew Something wicked this way comes? Who said
Is this a dagger which I see? Which Tragedy?
Whose blade was drawn which led to Tybalt’s death?
To whom did dying Caesar say Et tu? And why?
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark — do you
know what this means? Explain how poetry
pursues the human like the smitten moon
above the weeping, laughing earth; how we
make prayers of it. Nothing will come of nothing:
speak again. Said by which King? You may begin.
Not only does it make the point that “glorifying knife violence” is a charge that could be leveled against Shakespeare (for extra credit, can you answer the questions?), she (if I am right) gave a few clues that her first (banned) poem had a few Shakespearian allusions in it, as well. The speaker in the poem says “I am going to play God“, and begins his/her killing thusly: “I squash a fly against the window with my thumb. We did that at school. Shakespeare. It was in/ another language and now the fly is in another language.” Which Shakespeare is the author speaking about here? I suspect Lear–Gloucester’s speech in Act 4: “As flies to wanton boys are we to th’ gods, They kill us for their sport.”
I had two Shakespeare classes in a row once–last semester of High School, and first semester of College. The HS teacher felt the need to sanitize Romeo and Juliet for our protection, to pour oil over the waters of The Tempest, and to turn the emotion down on King Lear. It was horrible. If it weren’t for the movies, none of us would have had any exposure to what Shakespeare actually wrote. In college, our prof was the president of the American Shakespeare Society. ‘Nuf Sed. Shakespeare without blood and gore, sex and debauchery, bawdiness and foul language, is… is what I had in High School, and it ain’t art.
What if “A dream deferred” were seen as incendiary, and removed from classes? What if “Do not go gentle into that good night” were seen as depressing?
What if poetry–at least some of it–ceased to reflect the real world? Why would anybody read it? Why would students?
The world can be a nasty, brutal place;
Each fly, each fish, each person, all must die.
Though some may wish to paint another face
Upon it, should we choose to tell a lie?
“I squash a fly against the window” reads
The poem, but Shakespeare said it first, in Lear:
“As flies to wanton boys are we”—the seeds
Of Duffy’s poem are clearly there to hear.
When poets cannot pen the world they see,
But bend their will and Bowdlerize their poems
The brutal world can never cease to be—
Not in the books, but still in children’s homes.
So… gut the texts and purge the books of knives
Leave weapons in their place: the students’ lives.
update–13 October– I see a recent upsurge in hits, coming from Google, all from England. Could somebody leave a comment and let me know what’s going on? Are people googling for a class assignment? Was the poem in the news again? Just curious…