Somebody has done a job on William Shakespeare: Out, damned phrases! Out, they say!
Members of the Virginia State Board of Education have discovered that hundreds of lines from the English bard's plays have been stricken from textbooks they approved for use in the state's high schools.
The reason: a major textbook publisher apparently fears that some of Shakespeare's verse -- including some of Juliet's best-known lines -- are too provocative for young minds.
"I was shocked, just shocked to learn this," said Margaret S. Marston of Arlington, a member of the state Board of Education, who disclosed the altered works after a Fairfax County school activist complained to her.
"I find it appalling, . . . like cutting part of a score of Mozart or Beethoven because you find it trivial," said the activist, Marlene Blum, a member of a textbook advisory committee in the county.
Blum said she became aware of the problem when her son, who attends Madison High School in Fairfax, was told to analyze Mercutio's speech about Queen Mab in "Romeo and Juliet."
She said her son, who had seen the play, told her that some lines had been cut.
"It's a beautiful speech," Blum said. "They mostly cut the last few lines. I guess they thought it was bawdy or ribald."
She said that other lines appear to have been deleted for space and "some are cut simply because the publishers think they are trivial."
Officials of Scott, Foresman & Co., which publishes the textbooks, could not be reached for comment today.
But when a similar controversy erupted in Minnesota, representatives of the company said there that the changes were made to make the textbooks palatable to communities throughout the country.
They said that some might be offended by Shakespeare's words.
Marston said she had assumed that to be the company's reason for the changes. "But not to alert the student or teacher that this has taken place simply destroys the classics," she said today.
The Virginia education board members expressed surprise at Marston's revelation last week and asked staff members to study the matter. The board is scheduled to consider the controversy at its January meeting.
Marston is not the first educator to protest the editing. After the Minneapolis protests last summer, Scott, Foresman agreed to restore some passages.
For instance, in the company's 1979 edition Romeo did not want to "lie" with Juliet, but "to be with thee tonight." The original language recently was restored.
Fairfax's Blum said members of county textbook review committee were troubled by the revelation.
The committee, composed of teachers, parents and school administrators, began reviewing other textbooks in the hopes of switching publishers.
Local governments can add or delete from the state board's list.
Blum said the publishers of all the textbooks that had been examined by the committee had in some way edited Shakespeare, so in frustration she went to Marston, hoping the state would intervene.
"When all publishers do it, you have no option," Blum said. "And that's what's so infuriating. It's as if they the publishers have become the arbiter of what children are to read and not read."
"You're talking about the quality of education. It should be the teacher's decision to cut certain areas, not the publishers'," Blum said.