Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “ROMEO AND JULIET”

Bard Bits: May


I managed to go to school without any experience with Shakespeare (yeah, how did that happen?) I can easily relate to my student’s bewilderment when we begin our drama unit. Freshmen study Romeo and Juliet, sophomores experience Julius Caesar, juniors skip Shakespeare to study American Literature (The Crucible), and depending on the teacher, students have a range of selection from an overview of the comedies to a dive into tragedy with Merchant of Venice, Hamlet, or Macbeth.

I am usually prepared for groans from my sophomores when I announce we are studying Shakespeare. “Not again!” “We did him last year.” “Shakespeare is so boring.” Instead of coming up with excuses and defending our Wily Bard of Stratford, I agree with them. This gets me some interesting looks–most def.

I do agree with my students. Shakespeare can be boring, or at least his plays were until I got the hang of them. Watching, let alone reading the plays, was painful to endure, and I felt I could never get anywhere, no matter how hard I tried. Then again, learning how to ski was painful, and I wondered if I would ever get down the mountain without a initiating a yard sale. Hmm, I should use this analogy with my students since they have grown up with a mountain in their backyard.

Here are two thoughts on Shakespeare:

“I am more easily bored with Shakespeare, and have suffered more ghastly evenings with him, than with any dramatist I know.” Peter Brook, English theatre director

“We find Shakespeare boring because we’re lazy. We’re not willing to get through the language. That’s the only barrier. If a play is performed right by those who are properly trained, after about twenty minutes you won’t be aware of the language because the human story is so strong.” –David Suchet, actor

What are your experiences with Shakespeare? Bored, frustrated, from having to endure year after year of his plays in school? Perhaps initially bored, but then the story unfolds and the words are no longer a barrier and serve as a contribution to the experience? Or maybe you grew to appreciate him with time and experience?

One of my standout memories of teaching my favorite play, Hamlet–sorry, I do mention that often, don’t I?–is after we wrapped up the unit, one student, from my regular, not AP class, stayed behind. “You know I’m going to miss discussing Hamlet, I really got to like this play.” He grew thoughtful. “I can’t discuss Shakespeare with my father.”

I never discussed Shakespeare with my father either. But I sure discuss him with my own children when I get the chance. Shakespeare boring? Not for long. Hang in there, dig in your poles, don’t cross your ski tips, and you will enjoy the thrill of going from snowplow to slalom. That applies to skiing as well.

Romeo, Romeo. Wherefore art my balcony?


As a professed Bardinator, I must admit my dismay upon learning some shocking information concerning Shakespeare’s most famous scene from Romeo and Juliet–perchance there was no actual balcony in the balcony scene. I will give you a moment to recover. Basically, this:

Balcony_Scene

image: education portal presents the traditional view

 

is what we have grown accustomed to over our years of study and admiration of this endearing romantic tale of woe, that of Juliet and her Romeo. However, according to The Atlantic, this is more in align to actuality:

image: rapgenius.com presents as Shakespeare liked it

that Juliet, like most Italian girls of her time period, lived protected behind the walls of her father’s villa. Traipsing about on balconies wouldn’t have happened. For one thing, Shakespeare didn’t know what a balcony happened to be, because no balconies existed in England when he wrote R&J.  From the article:

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the earliest known use in English of the word “balcone” (as it was then spelled) didn’t occur until 1618, two years after Shakespeare died. Even the concept of a balcony was (literally) foreign to Shakespeare’s British contemporaries.

Why then, do we associate a balcony with our two tragic lovers? Blame it on Thomas Otway, who heavily borrowed  from Shakespeare’s play for his own 1679 play, The History and Fall of Caius Marius. Otway places his lovers on a balcony, a known bit or architecture adornment by then, and somehow over the years when Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet returned to public favor–yes *gasp* it wasn’t always popular, the audience simply filled in the gap and placed Juliet on her own balcony.

You don’t believe me? Here, check out why Sparknotes did with the scene. They have  perpetuated the mistaken notation of balcony traipsing versus window leaning. As for me, I go with the balcony. Window leaning just doesn’t cut it for romance. What do you think?

 

Romeo and Juliet Stories


Mass-produced colour photolithography on paper...

Mass-produced colour photolithography on paper for Toy Theatre; Romeo and Juliet (background and surroundings removed) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Soon I will be introducing my students to Shakespeare through Romeo and Juliet.  It’s a timeless story repeated throughout literature and film.  Two lovers not meant to be together yet drawn to love one another regardless of their circumstances.  I didn’t realize how strong that story line ran until I watched Lorna Doone the other night.  And there it was right before me–John Ridd and his pure love for Lorna Doone.  Such a gorgeous love story.  I then began to think about all about the other Romeo and Juliet stories I’ve come across without realizing it.  Some end happily and others do not.  It’s the telling of the two hearts intertwined that makes the story so memorable. I do believe the world has been made a bit lovelier for the joy that comes from the sorrow that happens when two hearts are kept apart because it is so wonderful when those hearts do find their way to be together after all.

A handful of Romeo and Juliet themes:

Lorna Doone

 

The Summer of My German Soldier

 

Tristan and Isolde

 

Pyramus and Thisbe

 

West Side Story

I am looking forward to the upcoming release of Romeo and Juliet starring the lovely Hailee Steinfeld, nominated for her role in True Grit. There are many  Romeo and Juliet versions, yet I am hopeful this new version will be a standout. The depth Ms. Steinfeld brought to the role as Mattie Ross, she will, I hope, bring as Juliet, for a Romeo does need his inspiration.

Romeo, Oh Romeo…


Today will the last day of the Romeo and Juliet unit for my freshmen.  We will end it appropriately with an Insult-o-Rama, which is basically a member from each designated family, Montague vs Capulet, stepping up to the line in our market square and squaring off with insults ala Bard.  You know the ones:

“Thou art an apish, lily-livered bed presser.” If that one doesn’t sting enough:

“Thou be an insolent foot-licking parasite.”  These go beyond thumb-biting, and it is all in good fun.  I keep my door shut just in case, as it does get a bit loud.

My focus when studying Romeo and Juliet is not so much as an introduction and exploration of Shakespeare’s famous play, it is more of an exploration and introduction to Shakespeare himself.  Surprisingly, my freshmen come to class with about a teaspoonful of knowledge about him.  Then again, I didn’t have any exposure to Shakespeare until I began teaching him.  I had heard of him, of course, but I didn’t really believe he had much physical substance.  I placed him a little bit above the Loch Ness monster in that there might be evidence of his existence, but not totally proven. After about ten years into teaching Shakespeare I believe a bit more and in fact have become a proponent of making sure my students appreciate his genius.  Please, no theories on Bacon and company and “Will the real Will please stand up, please” comments.  I think his plays, sonnets, and poems rock.

And so our curriculum starts with Romeo and his Juliet.  I guess two teenagers who are heck-bent on breaking rules by disobeying parents, state law and such still resonates with the teens today.  It makes sense, since if we started off with Macbeth they might go into spasms of cerebral overload.  We start them off gently.  Good call, curriculum powers that be.

Overall, we read a little, act it out a little, and watch different versions.  By the end of the unit most of them can understand Shakespearean language without consulting their No Fear Shakespeare interpretations.  Some students go into unattractive fits of eye-rolling and twitching at the  thought that they will study Shakespeare in their sophomore and senior year.  I don’t know why we skip him their junior year. American Lit studies have no room for him I guess.

There are many faces of Romeo, and both the girls and guys relate to his brash impetuosity.  Who wouldn’t want to be that in love?  Oh, Romeo, thou art timeless.

I leave off with some of the many faces of Romeo with his Juliet:

image: wikepedia.org

image: wikipedia

image: wikipedia.org

Romeo Juliet

Romeo Juliet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Still of Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer in West Side Story

image: imdb.org

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