Friday, June 11, 2010

Romeo and Juliet

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" But soft, what light from yonder window breaks?

It be Juliet, and she chippin.

All teachers approach required curricula with their own philosophies. I am charged with teaching my freshmen "Romeo and Juliet," and I have a philosophy about it.

I studied the works of William Shakespeare for two semesters at the Johns Hopkins University, during which we read almost every play except "A Midsummer Night's Dream." We dissected the noble bard's great soliloquies and sonnets, his masterful plays on words and his lunatic characters. I recall that the professor told us he couldn't bear to lecture about the scene in which King Lear plucks out his eyes, so we skipped that scene. Onward and onward we went through an impressive body of work.

When I looked at the recommended notes for teaching "Romeo and Juliet" provided by my school district, I found a document more than 100 pages in length. There were enough lessons there to stretch  the play through an entire marking period.

I don't operate like that.

Most of my students won't ever see or read a Shakespeare play when they leave high school. Hey, most of us don't! So why not present Shakespeare as entertainment? That's what he was intending when he wrote the doggone plays, wasn't it?

Make a barnyard noise if you think William Shakespeare sat at his desk and wrote plays, all the while thinking to himself, "I bet some intellectual college scholar will give 40 lectures on this stuff 400 years from now!"

My students are zipping through a simplified version of "Romeo" and watching the 1973 movie stocked to the plimsol line with gorgeous teenage actors and actresses. And after watching a sword fight, the students are peppered with such thought-provoking questions as, "Why are they wearing tights?" and "Raise your hand if you think parents should arrange your marriage."

But you know what? When I roll the play, and I look out at a classroom full of freshmen from Camden, New Jersey who are actually caught up in it, even if they don't get every double entendre (or know what one is), I feel like I'm doing Bard William a good turn. It's what he would have wanted. Not the stuffy lectures. Just the teenagers, watching and connecting ... and asking for clarity when they don't understand.

You can teach Shakespeare if you want. I'd rather make it a play.


Lori F - MN said...

Shakespeare should be a PLAY. But it is much more enjoyable when you understand the jokes and bawdy bard. Teach them to love the bard. I know You can do it!

Hecate said...

Lots of teenage marriages today

I admit to still, all these years later, being swept away by "Oh, pray not to the Moon, the inconsistent Moon, that changes monthly in its orb"

I doubt that Mrs. Kaplan knew that she was teaching me religion, but she was.

Maebius said...

I still remember learning this play, and how our teacher skipped through bits of hte movie because it was *gasp* "Raunchy and had boobs in one scene". Of course, this put a run on the movie at the local Video-rental place, so we could all see this taboo bit of risque film, in the name of "Education", and yet I still didn't grok the story much at all.

The very following year, our teacher asked who thought The Bard was boring, and then had the class put on the play by standing up in class, a-la the scene in "Dead Poets Society" regarding the Barbaric Yalp. He even had us try to re-write certain really esoteric-language scenes in modern:

"Yo, moody chick, get over here and kiss me", etc. We all laughed hysterically, and I appreciated from then on, that the works were meant to be Entertainment, not Study. Made a huge world of difference, that second year.

THE Michael said...

I love chatting as though I was dear William. Thou hast grasped far more in your silken grip, mine dearest Lady, than did any learned academic, in all their pretentions, and thou shalt be remember in fond reflection by those who were painted gaily with the Bard, and not bombarded with bombastic bombozzlements, such that a lowly and unlearned young man and maiden might endure in these glory years.......

Lavanah said...

The play this year at our local high school was "A Midsummer Night's Dream," done punk/goth style. It may have been the most popular non-musical the school has ever done.

Thalia Took said...

We followed Romeo and Juliet in my high school class with Ethan Frome. Just in case any of the teens got ideas about suicide being romantic.

I think, anyway. At any rate that was certainly the effect.

Pom said...

Mini Me was the only one in her class to giggle at the appropriate parts of the movie when they watched it this year. I assume that means that I've given her a far more cultured *snark* upbringing than the rest of her classmates have had.

In my day we were required to have a permission slip signed to watch Romeo and Juliet. I refused because I was 17 and could watch an R rated movie in the theater legally if I wanted to so I'd be damned if I was going to have a permission slip signed to see a bit o' tush in a movie just because it was being shown in school. When we finally came to the tush part of the movie the teacher actually paused the VCR and kicked me out of the room! Oh I do love to stand on my mighty principles no matter how stupid they may be.

(wv: hemate)

Emily said...

I really like the Leonardo DiCaprio version--the language is the original, but the actions (and the scenery) depict what was actually meant .

Shakespeare _should_ be fun--kudos to you for pulling it off!

It's good to recall that even in the stuffiest of his plays, there was always something at least every 15 minutes for the "peanut gallery"--the illiterate peasants standing in the cheap "seats" who liked slapstick and physical humor. The subtle jokes about the rich folks, the outrageous physical comedy in the less stuffy plays--it's good stuff, and well worth pointing out as it goes by.

PaigeKate said...

I loved when my freshman year English teacher showed our class both versions of the Romeo and Juliet movies, the one from the sixties and then the one with Leo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. The newer one made the play make a lot more sense in my opinion. Getting kids interested in Shakespeare is tough since the language is so different from how we speak.

Yvonne Rathbone said...

Baz Lurhman (Moulin Rouge) directed the newer version. I absolutely love that movie. One of the best Mercutio's ever and I love the use of "When Doves Cry" in the soundtrack.