Forever Stuck on The Eleventh Night

Forever Stuck on The Eleventh Night

As Blink-182 said, “Laws that rule the school and workplace, signs that caution sixteens unsafe.”

Due to the passing of Senate Bill 150 (SB150), students can no longer read Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

Twelfth Night isn’t only banned in Kentucky, it is also banned in states like Florida, Texas and other more Republican states. Even though it has often been considered classic literature, many of Shakespeare’s works are now banned.

The bill states: “Any child, regardless of grade level, enrolled in the district does not receive any instruction or presentation that has a goal or purpose of students studying or exploring gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation.” This clause prohibits studying gender identity, which causes an issue for most literature and affects students learning about what an author goes through in choosing a gender from a character. Teachers used to be able to give students a paragraph with no gender identifiers and ask the students what gender they thought the character was. With SB150, this is now an incredibly slippery slope that deeply impacts student learning.

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Twelfth Night features Viola, a woman who was shipwrecked into Illyria, disguising herself as a male, Cesario, to work for Count Orsino because women were not allowed to be in that position. Although the entire time, through the use of dramatic irony, Viola is female. Therefore, the story doesn’t feature transgender characters, yet still cannot be read by students in schools in Kentucky because the curriculum could include studying Shakespeare’s use of gender. “Twelfth Night is very near and dear to my heart. Taking it away and not letting these current sophomores experience it, it’s terrible. They don’t understand how great it was,” junior Kayla Vormbrock said.

We’ve read it for years, why is it just now? I don’t understand,

— Kayla Vormbrock

“We preach and preach and preach that we should read old literature and be shown how it was back in the day to be educated versus different viewpoints and yet that actually gets taught in schools and they’re like ‘oh no, no, no we can’t have that. Nevermind, let me revoke that and stick to the common heterosexual relationships,’ and to think that they think that that is okay,” junior Allie Fawbush said.

“In Twelfth Night there’s a lot of confusion and miscommunication. There’s also a large amount of failure to express feelings properly, leading to chaos and anger. I feel like in today’s world, those lessons are very important, especially to learn while you’re a teenager,” junior Milana Ilickovic said. Twelfth Night can be a great tool for teenagers to learn how to manage emotions and what they can look like.

“Not to be stereotypical but the jocks in my class, I never thought that they would be open to seeing that kind of thing, but they were really engaged with it. They thought it was really interesting to see and now the sophomores are going to have that viewpoint and their views are going to be so closed off.” said Fawbush

“These lessons are more important now than ever. Teenagers often have a hard time expressing themselves in their feelings, which can lead to conflict. Exactly like it did in Twelfth Night. The absurdity of the plot could really make it easy for high schoolers to understand the consequences of our actions and how they affect others,” Ilickovic said. With mental health services being limited in schools due to this same bill, learning how to manage emotions and what comes from them from literature can be extremely beneficial. Instead, students are now reading Romeo and Juliet are missing out on these lessons and are instead reading a tragic romance novel, featuring suicide. This can be triggering for many students and opens the door for students to accidentally share something that a teacher would be mandated to report.

“Twelfth Night challenged a lot of people’s views, and it made them more open to other points of life, I think that’s why they don’t want us reading it now because they don’t want their opinions changed and I think that’s going to be detrimental to society,” Fawbush said. Everyone has always said that reading can transport you to a different world, but now, students are being limited to what they are reading.

“Reading and watching Twelfth Night really had students talking with each other in other class periods, looking forward to reading it and finding out what would happen next. It felt like a pretty long unit, but every day it was the highlight of my day, hearing what would happen next. We had fun little projects to make with it, along with very independent class discussions that we all benefited from but also enjoyed and had a good time with,” Ilickovic said. Students having fun with the books they are reading can be helpful when teachers are using a book in class.

Teachers showed the movie “She’s the Man” at the end of the unit to show students the movie version of Twelfth Night. Now, students are watching parts of the Romeo and Juliet movies to supplement their reading. This style of learning is also helpful for students, but is incredibly different and takes away from students trying to make sense of the text alone.

“The characters in Twelfth Night were 10 times more interesting, the plot was always moving. Romeo and Juliet, everyone knows that. You know how it ends, you know how it starts. Twelfth Night was an entirely new concept for me,” Vormbrock said. Not only is Twelfth Night showcasing different lessons for students, but it’s something that most of them haven’t read or even heard of before. It adds a new complexity to understanding the text because while reading, you have no idea what is going to happen next.

“They’re just trying to make up stuff at this point, in Shakespeare’s time, children were getting married. I don’t understand how gender isn’t allowed but stuff where the n-word is mentioned is fine,” said Vormbrock. She personally sees an issue with how there is a very blurred line between what is okay and what isn’t, for example, sophomores also read Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” which featured many references to an anti-African American slur.

The ban of Twelfth Night also begs the question of what is and isn’t okay. The classic Disney movie, Mulan, features the main character, Mulan, dressing up as a male to fight in place of her father. With the ban of discussing cross-dressing, it is unclear whether or not elementary teachers will be allowed to show this movie in class as a “Fun Friday” activity. Many people see a bill such as SB150 and the only thing they think it will limit is the access to gender-affirming health care and education on sexual health topics, when in fact, the bill spans so much more than that.

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