‘Head bans Romeo and Juliet’ ran the front-page headline in London’s Evening Standard newspaper on 19 January 1994. The prohibition of a Shakespeare play that is one of the cornerstones of the National Curriculum in British schools would, indeed, be a newsworthy event. But, in fact, the story that followed merely reported that Jane Brown, headteacher of a primary school in Hackney (an ethnically and culturally diverse, economically disadvantaged London borough) had turned down a charitable foundation’s offer of cut-price tickets for a performance of the ballet Romeo and Juliet.1 The Evening Standard’s decision to accord such prominence to this minor incident is surprising enough, yet in subsequent weeks the story proliferated across all the London-based national daily and Sunday papers, and even received international attention, in Australia, New Zealand, and the USA. The intemperate rhetoric of prohibition and exclusion used by the Evening Standard was echoed through this coverage, strongly suggesting that the case was symptomatic of something larger than itself, for it hardly seems fair to equate the polite refusal of subsidised tickets for a single ballet performance with an all-out ban on Shakespeare’s play.
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