IJMC = Much Ado About [CENSORED]

Welcome to the wonderful world of 1st Amendment litigation. Granted, I'm 
now thinking about pulling out my "Complete Works of William Shakespeare."
If he's generated this much commentary, mebbe he's actually interesting!

              "I did it, Becky," Portia shouted at me from the forty-
yard line. "I talked her into it!"
              Bobby Nonecke was pounding my head into the ground so I
couldn't hear who she'd talked into what. Portia can talk just about
anybody into anything. I mean, last year she'd talked the cafeteria
cooks into actually serving edible food for a couple of weeks. I
wondered if I could get her to talk Bobby Nonecke into not beating me
to a pulp every day during scrimmage. I doubted it.
              "Let me up, you big baboon," I said to Bobby. "I've got
to talk to Portia."
              He bounced my head off the grass a couple more times and
let me up, then ambled off to find some other victim.
              Portia ran onto the field. "I talked Harrows into it,
Becky," she said.
              "Into what?" I said, spitting onto my hand to see if any
teeth came out. 
              "Into teaching The Merchant of Venice," She said.
              Bobby must have knocked part of my brains loose. Harrows
is our English lit teacher, and nobody's ever talked her into anything,
certainly not teaching Shakespeare. I took off my helmet and examined
it for gray matter.
              "I told her she had to teach it," Portia said, "because I
was named after the main character, and I'd never even read it."
              "And that convinced her?" I said.
              "Yes," she said, looking as guilty as Portia ever does,
which isn't very. One of the reasons Portia is so successful at talking
people into things is that she isn't above using blackmail. That time
in the cafeteria she found out what they put in the pizza bytes and
threatened to show the recipe on the video announcements if the cooks
didn't stop serving things that tasted like toxic waste.
               "What did you threaten her with?" I said.
               "Nothing! I told her the National Task Force on the Use
of Classics in the Public Schools recommended teaching Shakespeare, and
she said okay." 
                "Just like that?"
                "No, of course not 'just like that'. She says we have
to help her get it ready."
                "I can't," I said. "I've got football practice till
six." I put my helmet back on.
                "I told her that, and she said we could come in
tomorrow morning before class."
                "How did I get roped into this?" I said. "I'm not named
after a character in The Merchant of Venice."
                "But you're my best friend and you want an A in English
lit and this is your chance to read Shakespeare!"
                "I told you she was good at talking people into things.
"What time tomorrow morning?" I said, velcroing my helmet back into
                "Seven!" she said. "Hi, Bobby. See you around tomorrow
morning, Becky." She waved good-bye and ran off the field.
                I turned around. Bobby was standing there. 
"Coach says she wants us to practice tackles," he said, and dived for
my knees. "What'd Portia want?" he asked as my face hit the ground.
"Did she talk the principal into calling a snow day again?"
                "Oof," I said, "No. We're studying Shakespeare in
English lit."   
                He let go of my knees and stood up. "Don't kid around,"
he said. "What'd she really want?"
      I hobbled into Harrow's room at seven the next morning. Nobody
was there. I sat down in one of the desks, trying not to let any of my
bruises, scrapes, or wounds touch anything. Bobby Nonecke had
practicing tackling me about two thousand times before Coach blew her
whistle. I'd hardly been able to crawl out of bed.
      After a few minutes Portia came in, carrying a stack of green and
lavender printouts almost as tall as she was.
           "Where's Harrows?" I asked.
           "Down in the library. She's getting the Collected Works of
Shakespeare out of the vault." She staggered over to Harrows's desk and
dumped them on top of it.
            "What's that?" I said. "The Collected Works of Everybody
            "No," she said. "These are the protests."
            Harrows came in carrying a pink and blue stack almost as
big as the first one.
            "No" she said, setting them down carefully on Portia's
stack. "They're the rest of the protests." She pulled a minidisk out of
her pocket. "Here's The Collected Works." She fed it into her desk and
pushed the stack of printouts over so she could see the monitor. "The
protests are usually on disk too, but the football team is using the
rest of the computers." The stack of printouts started to topple, and
she made a grab for it. "Look, this is going to be a lot of work. Are
you sure you want to do it?"
              She was looking at me now, not Portia, but Portia
immediately said, "Of course we want to do it, don't we, Becky? Just
think, The Merchant of Venice!"
               "Now, I never promised you The Merchant of Venice. In
fact," Harrows said, unfolding lavender printouts like a giant
accordion, "I'm almost sure there's an injunction against it."
                "Well, I don't care," Portia said. "I still want to do
Shakespeare. What do we do?"
                "First, we go through the lawsuits and court orders,"
she said, handing Portia the green printouts and motioning me to sit
down at her desk. "Then, if there are any plays left, we do the line-by-
lines. Becky, call up the catalog."
                I typed in DIRECTORY on the old-fashioned keyboard. I
didn't like the sound of that "if there are any plays left." We'd
probably do all this work and then still not get to do Shakespeare, but
I felt better when the catalog came up. Shakespeare had written a lot
of plays. There couldn't be injunctions against all of them.
                "There are witchcraft lawsuits pending against Macbeth,
A Midsummer Night's Dream, The WInter's Tale, and Richard III," Portia
said, unfolding green sheets one after the other.
                "Richard III?" Harrows said. "There isn't any
witchcraft in Richard III."
                "OOps, sorry," Portia said. "That one's a slander suit.
It was filed by Richard III's great-great-great.." she stopped and
counted-"fourteen greats great-grandson. He says there's no proof his
great-great-whatever killed the little princes on the tower. Did he?"
                 "Of course he killed them," Harrows said, starting on
the lavender stack. "Richard III is on this list too. The Royal Society
for Restoration of Divine Right of Kings has an injunction against all
the history plays."
                  She read them out, unfolding sheets as she went, and
I deleted Henry IV, Parts I and II, all the Richards, and the rest of
the list. It only left about half the plays. "What about Othello?" I
                 "Panpobble," I thought Harrows said.
                 "What?"  I said.
                 "PANPOBIL. People Against Negative Portrayal of Blacks
in Literature."
                 "Oh," I said. The next one on the list was The
Merchant of Venice.
                 "I was sure there was an injunction against it,"
Harrows said, digging around in the heap of printouts.
                 "There is," Portia said. She was staring at a green
                 "Who filed it?" I asked, feeling sorry for her.
                 "No," she said, sounding disgusted. "THe American Bar
Association. And Morticians International. They object to the use of
the word casket in Act III."
                  The bell for first period rang before we finished the
plays. We stuck the pink and blue protests in Harrows's desk drawers
and wadded up the rest of them and stuck them in the recycler. Harrows
took the Shakespeare disk back down to the vault while the rest of the
class wandered in. The minute she got back, Bobby Nonecke raised his
hand and said, "Is it true you're going to teach Shakespeare?"
                   "Yes," Harrows said.
                   Delilah Barbour immediately stood up, grabbed her
books, and flounced out.
                   "I'm going to lecture on Shakespeare's life tomorrow
, and the day after we'll begin reading him," Harrows said. She started
passing out release/refusal slips. "You need to bring these back by
tomorrow. Protests may be filed through the principal's office."
                   "Are we going to read all his plays?" Wendy asked. I
don't know where Wendy's been all her life. Definitely not in this
school, possibly not in this universe.
                   "We'll see," harrows said.
                   Bobby raised his hand again. "Are you going to equal
time to the theory that Shakespeare was really Francis Bacon?" he
                    The news about us doing Shakespeare was all over
the school by lunchtime. "I wish we could do Shakespeare in American
lit," one of the seniors said. "All we get to read is Little Women."
                    "Shakespeare's English," I said.
                    "Well, Dickens then, or one of the other American
                    We went outside to eat on the steps. "I still don't
see how you talked Harrows into this," I said, sticking a straw in my
box of Coke. "You didn't blackmail her or anything, did you?"
                    "Of course not," Portia said. She unrolled one of
her meat peels , laid a cheezo skin on it, and rolled them together. "I
just appealed to her love of Shakespeare."
                    Delilah  flounced up the steps wearing a red
"Juniors Against Devil Worship in the Schools" V-Shirt and short
shorts. She was carrying a sign that read "Shakespare is Satin's
Spokesman." Shakespeare and Satan were both misspelled.
                    "'Ye have sinned a great sin,'" Delilah quoted,
pointing at us with her sign. "'Blot me, I pray thee, out of they book,
which thou has written.' Exodus chapter thirty two, verse thirty."
                     "Oh, go away," Portia said. "You know you're just
doing this so you can ditch class and get a tan."
                     "Psalms sixty-nine: twenty-eight," Delilah said,
waggling the sign in Portia's face. "'Let them be blotted from the
                       Harrows gave us passes to get out of our
afternoon classes and got somebody to take hers so we could finish up
the lawsuits. 
                       The Angry Women's Alliance had filed sexism
suits against Taming of the Shrew, and Much Ado about Nothing. Romeo
and Juliet had five different injunctions against it. They claimed it
promoted suicide, drug abuse, teen marriages, duels, and lying to your
                       There were a bunch of plagiarism suits, claiming
Shakespeare had stolen the ideas for Troilus and Cresida from Chaucer,
The Comedy of Errors from some Greek guy, and almost everything else
from Holinshed's Chronicles. By the time I'd deleted all of those, the
only two plays left were As You Like It and Hamlet.
      "Good Heavens," Harrows said. "How did they miss Hamlet?"
      "Are you sure about As You Like It?" Portia asked, wading through
heaps of lavender printout. "I thought somebody'd filed a restraining
order against it."
       "Probably Mothers Against Transvestites," Harrows said.
"Rosalind dresses up like a man in Act II."
                      Portia disappeared in the printouts. "No, here it
is." She came up holding several meters of green printout. "The
WIldlife Club." She looked up. "'Destructive attitudes toward the
environment.' What destructive attitudes? I thought As You Like It was
set in a forest."
          "It is," Harrows said. "Orlando carves Rosalind's name on a
                       I'd hoped Harrows would give me a pass to get
out of football practice so we could work on line-by-lines, but she
said she needed to run to the drugstore for some aspirin peels.
            "I know your mother's chairperson of the President's Task
Force on Classics, Becky," she said, holding her head, "but I do wish
you hadn't picked Shakespeare. He always gives me a headache."
           "Since when is my mother chairperson of the President's Task
Force on Classics in the Schools?" I demanded as soon as soon as we got
outside. "What if she checks and finds out it isn't true?"
            "She won't," Portia said. "She's too busy doing protests.
Come on, I'll walk you out to the football field." She pushed open the
front door. 
                         Delilah poked her sign at us. She'd changed
out of her V-Shirt and into a skimp top with "Shakespeare Was the
Antichrist" embroidered on it. "'Many of them brought their books
together and burned them,'" she quoted. "Acts nineteen: nineteen."
          "'Look not upon me because I am black, because the sun hath
looked upon me,'" Portia said, and went on down the steps. 
          "Where did you get that?" I whispered as soon as we were out
of Delilah's hearing.
           "The Bible," she said. "I borrowed it from her sister,
                           Bobby Nonecke was waiting for us on the
sidelines. "Coach says we're suppose to learn some new defense moves."
                            That was the best news I'd had in a long
time. All we had to do was run simulations on a computer. After doing
the protests it would be a breeze.
                            I waved good-bye to Portia and started for
the locker room.
            "Which of Bacon's plays is Harrows doing?" Bobby said. 
            "Hamlet," I said, and my chin hit the ground. The rest of
me hit even harder. "What the heck was that?" I asked, trying to get
            "A new defense," he said, and showed it to me again.
                        It took a real effort to drag my bruised and
battered body into school the next morning. Portia was already there.
            "Are you going to start Shakespeare today?" She asked
            "If everybody remembers to bring in their release/refusal
slips and if there aren't any more of these." She handed Portia a
yellow printout.
            "What is it?" I asked.
            "Delilah," Portia said. She read out loud from the paper.
"'Ms. Harrows is preaching promiscuity, birth control, and abortion by
saying Shakespeare got Anne Hathaway pregnant before they got
            "You will notice that promiscuity, abortion, pregnant, and
before are all misspelled." Harrows said. "Actually, there are fewer
misspellings than in the one her sister Jezebel filed last year.
Jezebel accused me of preaching burglary, lawbreaking, and gun control
by saying that Shakespeare was arrested for poaching a deer."
            "And she misspelled poaching?" Portia asked.
            "She misspelled deer." Harrows stuck a straw in a box of
Alka-Seltzer. "I suppose we'd better get started."
            "I get to run the excise-and-reformat program," Portia said,
plunking herself down at the computer and handing me a stack of pink
            "How do you want to do this?" Harrows asked. "By group or
by line?"
            "By line," Portia said. She punched in the first scene.
"Act One, Scene One, Bernardo: Who's there?"
            "It's protested." I said.
            "What could anybody possibly protest about 'Who's
            "The National Coalition Against Contractions protested it,"
I said. "'The use of contractions is directly responsible for the
increase in crime rates. There were fewer cases of murder, armed
robbery, and assault in the Middle Ages, when contractions hadn't been
             "I think we'd better do it by group," Harrows said. "The
Commission on Poison Prevention feels the 'graphic depiction of
poisoning of hamlet's father may lead to copycat crimes.' They cite a
case in New Jersey where a sixteen-year-old poured Drano in his
father's ear after reading the play." She unscrolled some more pink
printout. "The Copenhagen Chamber of Commerce objects to the line
'Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.' Students Against Suicide,
the International Federation of Florists, and the Red Cross all object
to Ophelia's drowning." 
              "The International Federation of Florists?" I said.
              "She fell in picking flowers," Harrows said, slurping on
her straw. It sounded like the box was almost empty. "I think I'll run
down to the drugstore before school starts and get some more Alka-
Seltzer. Can you two do all right without me?"
               "Sure," Portia said. "Becky, read me the next one."
               Harrows went out, still slurping on her Alka-Seltzer.
               "The National Cutlery Council objects to the depiction
of swords as deadly weapons," I said. "'Swords don't kill people,
people kill people.' The Ladies' Liberation Front objects to-"
               "Don't go so fast," Portia said, squinting at the
screen. Every few seconds she tapped a key and kept squinting.
               "You're reading the play, aren't you?" I said.
               "Of course," she said, not even bothering to look
               "You're not supposed to read the parts people object to,
" I said. "That's what the excise-and-reform programs are for."
               "I have to read the play to find out what I'm excising,"
she said, still squinting at the screen. "You know, I'll bet this is
even better than The Merchant of Venice. See, this guy Hamlet's come
home from college because his dad died, and everybody says it was a
natural death, but this ghost tells him he was murdered-"
                "Ghost?" I said. "I'll bet Delilah gets that taken
                "Of course she will. Which is why I've got to read it
now. Okay, give me the next protest."
                "The Ladies' Liberation Front objects to the phrases
'Frailty, thy name is woman' and 'Oh, most pernicious woman,' the 'What
a piece of work is man' speech, and the queen."
                "The whole queen?"
                "I scrolled through the printout again. "Yes, all lines,
references, and allusions."
                Harrows came back in carrying a big plastic sack.
"How's it going?" She asked.
                "We lost the queen," Portia said. "What's the next one,
                "I nearly tripped over Delilah on the front steps,"
Harrows said, setting out boxes of antacid and pain reliever peels.
"She's using an aluminum sun reflector."
                "Ass," I said.
                "What?" Harrows said.
                "Ass," I said. " A.S.S. The Association of Summer
Sunbathers. They  object to the line 'I am too much in the sun.'"      
                          We were only half finished when the bell
rang. The Nun's Network objected to the line "Get thee to a nunnery,"
Fat and Proud of It wanted the passage beginning "Oh, that this too,
too solid flesh should melt" removed, and we didn't even get to
Delilah's list, which was eight pages long.
                          Harrows had me take the Shakespeare disk back
to the library while she and Portia cleaned up. On the way I ran into
Wendy. "What play are we going to do?" She asked me.
             "Hamlet," I said.
             "Hamlet?" she said. "Is that the one about the guy whose
uncle murders the king and the queen marries the uncle?"
             "Not anymore," I said.
                           Harrows had the release/refusal slips all
collected and the refusals sent to the library by the time I got back.
             "William Shakespeare was born," she said as I slipped into
my seat," on April 23, 1564, in Stratford-on-Avon."
             "If he WAS Shakespeare," Bobby said. "Bacon was born on
Janurary 22, 1561."
                            Harrows told us to come in to her room at
lunch, but when we got there she said she needed to lie down for a
while so we went outside. 
                            Delilah was lounging on the top step,
reeking of suntan oil and wearing a string suit. There wasn't enough
room on the top half for anything to be printed, but across her rear
end it sad "Hamlet is Indecent"
                 "'Though I give my body to be burned and have not
charity, it proftieth me nothing,'" Portia said. "First Corinthians
                 Delilah sat up and took her sunglasses off. "What
about the thing you said yesterday, about the sun turning people black?
What was that from?"
                 "The Bible," Portia said. "Song of Solomon, Chapter
one, verse six."
                  "Oh," Delilah said, relieved. "That's not in the
Bible anymore. We threw that out."
                   Harrows was still lying down when we came in from
lunch. She wrote us a note so we could get the Shakespeare disk out of
the vault, and we started on Delilah's list.
                   She objected to forty-three references to spirits,
ghosts, and related matters, twenty-one pornographic words 
(pornographic was misspelled.), and seventy-eight others that she
thought might be, such as pajock and cockles.
                   The Society for the Advancement of Philosophy didn't
like the line "There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than
are dreamt of in your philosophy," and the Actor's Guild didn't like
Hamlet's hiring nonunion employees.
                    We were knee-deep in printouts by the time Harrows
got up. "We're doing great," I said. "There's just one more protest.
It's from the Drapery Defense League. They object to Polonius being
stabbed while he's hiding behind a curtain. They say,'This scene
implies that the curtain is dangerous. Draperies don't kill people.
People kill People.'"
                    Harrows punched a hole in a box of antacid with her
thumb and drank it without a straw.
                    Portia and I ran the excise-and-reformat program
and then I went to football practice.
               "We're supposed to practice takedowns," Bobby said.
                    Takedowns. My favorite thing next to being blown up
by a micronuke. "Great," I said, and put my helmet on, watching bobby
the whole time since he usually butts his head into my stomach before I
ever get the chin strap fastened.
               "There's absolute proof Bacon wrote Hamlet," he said.
"It's right there in the play."
               "It is?" I said, waiting for him to dive suddenly at me.
               "Right there in the first scene. There's a ghost, right?
That means the play was ghostwritten. Ghost writer, get it?"
                      Well, he was just standing there, like Polonius
behind the curtain. It was too good a chance to pass up. "I got it," I
said, and rammed my head into his solar plexus.
                       Portia and I went in early to help Ms Harrows
print out thirty copies of Hamlet and then passed them out in class for
her. She assigned Wendy and Bobby to read the parts of Hamlet and
             "'The air bites shrewdly' it is very cold,'" Wendy said.
             "Where are we?" Bobby said. I pointed out the place to
him. "Thanks," he said, being careful to keep away from me. "'It is a
nipping and an eager air.'"
             "'What hour now?'" Wendy read.
             "'I think it lacks of twelve.'"
             Wendy turned her paper over and over and looked at the
bak. "That's it?" she said. "That's all there is to Hamlet? I thought
his uncle killed his father and he said 'To be or not to be' and
Ophelia killed herself and stuff." She turned the paper over. "This
can't be the whole play. 
             "It better not be the whole play,"Delilah said. She came
in carrying her picket sign. She was wearing a shirt over her string
suit, but the parts of her I could see looked pretty sunburned. "There
better not be any pajocks in it. or cockles."
             "Did you need some Solarcaine, Delilah?" Harrows asked
             "I need a magic Marker," she said, and flounced out, sort
of. It looked like it hurt to flounce.
             "You can't just take parts of the play out because
somebody doesn't like them," Wendy said. "If you do, the play doesn't
make any sense. I bet if Shakespeare was here, he wouldn't let you just
take things out-"
             "Assuming Shakespeare wrote it." Bobby said. "If you take
every other letter in line two except the first three and the last six,
they spell 'pig', which is obviously a code word for Bacon."
               Harrows let class out early. "Four lines," I told Portia
at our locker. "All that work for four lousy lines, and I didn't even
get to read the play."
               "Oh, yeah, I forgot about that," she said, fishing
around in her locker. She handed me a piece of paper about the size of
a cheezo skin.
                "What's this?" I said. "King Lear?"
                "It's the note Harrows gave ot us to get the
Shakespeare disk out of the vault."
                "Don't you need it," I said, "so you can read The
Merchant of Venice?"
                "I already did," She said.
                "We should give this to Wendy."
                "You don't have to," she said, and actually looked
                "What did you do, copy the note?"
                "Of course not," she said. "I copied The Complete
Works. Well, you and Bobby were busy practicing defense moves, and
nobody was using your computer."
                 Bobby Nonecke came over to our locker. "Coach said to
tell you no practice tonight on account of she's got to get ready to
teach evolution."
                 "Thanks," I said.
                 "Anytime," he said, holding his stomach. 
                 "I suppose you''re the one behind that too?" I said,
once he was out of earshot.
                 "Me?" She asked innocently. "Why would I do that? I'm
not named after anybody in evolution." She shut her locker. "You know
who you're named after? Becky Thatcher in Huckleberry Finn."
                 "Becky Thatcher is in Tom Sawyer," I said.
                 "So I was thinking that next year we could get Madden
to teach Mark Twain. It would be better than Little Women."
                 She had a point. We went outside. Delilah was on the
top step, on her knees next to her picket sign, corssing out the word
man in "Spokesman."
                 "The Feminists for a Fair Language are here," she said
disgustedly. "They've got a court order." She wrote persin above the
crossed-out man. "A court order! Can you believe that? I mean, what's
happening to our right to freedom of speech?"
                   "You misspelled 'person.'" I said.

IJMC August 1995 Archives