reminiscing with Romeo and Juliet

reminiscing with Romeo and Juliet

One of my grade 10 students is currently studying what is probably Shakespeare’s most famous theatrical play: Romeo and Juliet. Who’s never heard of the tragedy of the star-crossed lovers who fell in love at first sight only to die several days later? Well, at least they died together… Consequently, all the talk of “O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?” brought me back to my sweet sixteen, high school days.

Shakespeare was absolutely mandatory in the syllabus; it’s pretty much impossible to avoid Shakespeare when you’re a high schooler in the UK. We even studied Twelfth Night, The Tempest and Macbeth (though not as thoroughly as Romeo and Juliet). I promise I’m not complaining because I actually enjoyed studying Shakespeare, but what is it with him and death? Why does the man love it so much? Romeo and Juliet: six deaths, Macbeth: ten deaths, Hamlet… well, we didn’t study that particular play but everyone knows how that one ends (spoiler alert – they all die), which leads to the prevalent conflicting question.

Should Romeo and Juliet be taught in school?
Some say that the overly violent and sexual theme is inappropriate for teenagers and that the old English makes it difficult and confusing for them to analyse and dissect the play further. But despite that, clearly the English literature curriculum has not seen a lot of change in the past ten years (has it really been ten years since I was in school? I feel so old now). My student has even just recently been studying Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, which I distinctively remember was the book my GCSE exam was based on. Of course, that particular book became one of my all-time favourite classic novels; you can probably tell from the quote on my homepage right? But I digress.

So where do I stand with Romeo and Juliet?
Well, I’m a sucker for anything romantic and Romeo and Juliet is, above all, a love story. A tragedy sure, but one concerning love nonetheless. My 16 year-old self loved reading the play, even if the old English made it a little tedious at times. But now that I’m re-reading it and re-analysing it in depth with my student, I’ve come to realise that Romeo and Juliet were both just a couple of crazy kids. I mean, Juliet was barely 14 when she met and married Romeo, not to mention the fact that she married him within 24 hours of meeting him for the first time. That’s insane! Then there’s the whole Romeo died because of a little miscommunication. What was the Friar even doing all that time after he found out his letter never made it to Romeo? Why didn’t he rush straight to Juliet’s tomb and wait there? It’s just a little unbelievable for me, or maybe I’m just ranting because they didn’t get their happily ever after (I’m a sucker for happy endings too).

My final verdict?
By all means, keep Romeo and Juliet in the English literature syllabus; the students love it – well, at least I did. Plus if the teacher lets you watch the 1996 movie adaptation with Leo DiCaprio (like mine did) that’s a whole other bonus. But as a 20-something, I have to say that I don’t really care much for it. Don’t get me wrong, I still think it’s a work of art; Shakespeare is considered England’s greatest and most prolific poets and playwright after all. I just think the story is a little far-fetched.

There’s this Indonesian saying (which, incidentally, my brother lives by) “belum makan, kalo belum makan nasi”, which roughly translated means “a meal is not a meal without rice.” I know, typical Asians right? But I feel like this works well to describe this topic: Eng lit. is not Eng lit. without Shakespeare. So even though I think the tale of Romeo and Juliet is kind of absurd, I still believe that students can benefit from learning it.

I’m going to end the article with a short excerpt from one of Juliet’s soliloquies, which is a popular choice for close reading due to its symbolism of day and night, and the theme of duality in light and dark. After re-examining it however, I’m starting to think that Romeo and Juliet was based more on lust at first sight rather than love at first sight. Good thing my 16 year-old self was far too naïve and innocent to understand this particular part of the act back then ha.. ha..

Come, civil night,
Thou sober-suited matron, all in black,
And learn me how to lose a winning match,
Play’d for a pair of stainless maidenhoods.
Hood my unmann’d blood, bating in my cheeks,
With thy black mantle, till strange love grow bold,
Think true love acted simple modesty.

– Act 3, Scene 2

What are your thoughts on William Shakespeare and the most popular romantic tragedy of all time? Let me know by leaving a comment below!

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reminiscing with Romeo and Juliet

24 thoughts on “reminiscing with Romeo and Juliet

  1. Is there any play in history that has been analysed as much as Romeo and Juliet? Personally prefer Hamlet, because he was Scandinavian, but that’s a matter of taste and, of course, origin.

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  2. What a sad ending though and so unecessary.They were young and extremely naive.

    I have watched the version with Leonardo DiCaprio’s and must say I was not overkeen.

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  3. Mina Joshi says:

    Shakespeare was part of my syllabus too and I left school half a century ago!! Well nearly…And we studies Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet. I really can’t remember how I managed to pass literature as I still find the old English complicated.

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    1. wow, so clearly the eng lit curriculum really has not changed much over the years haha.. yeah I’m not a big fan of the old English either but it sure made it more fun to read out loud in class (and trying to keep a straight face while doing it!)

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  4. I agree that Romeo and Juliet belongs in the curriculum. It is a timeless story. I only recently read a book called The Lovers, which is basically the Romeo and Juliet story set in Afghanistan. And this one is real, not fiction. When I was a schoolboy, we all watched and enjoyed West Side Story, which of course is the Romeo and Juliet story set in the streets of New York.

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    1. yes, I think there have been so many novels, plays, movies, concepts and ideas based on the original story of Romeo and Juliet and I think it will continue to be just as timeless.

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  5. heraldmarty says:

    I think it’s important to expose students to a wide variety of literature, especially the classics. I even think it’s a good thing for them to be exposed to the language of the time. I am a big fan of Project Gutenberg and many of those books are challenging to read because of the period language and slang, but they have so much to offer in terms of understanding history.

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    1. yes, I totally agree. Even though the old English is kinda tedious to read and understand, I think it’s important that students learn that this is important evidence of how a language has evolved over time, and will continue to evolve in the future.

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  6. Rosewarne Gardens, Bedfordshire Garden Designers says:

    I don’t know that one learns Shakespeare, unless perhaps to recite it. At school at least one reads and tries to comprehend! I loved Shakespeare at school (As You Like It, Macbeth, Twelfth Night, Midsummer Nights Dream and some of the sonnets). I loved it even more when I went to the Globe and saw several of the plays in real life, as it was meant to be seen. I understood the author better after living near Stratford-Upon-Avon for a time and visiting the various haunts associated with him. But what I love the most is that I am named for one of his characters!

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    1. I loved reading Shakespeare at school too (although I never would have admitted it back then). I’ve also visited Shakespeare’s birth place once and it was a very humbling experience, I would love to go back and explore more of his dwellings though.

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    1. Yes, especially in schools in the UK. I was quite surprised that it was included in the syllabus here in Indonesia too though. Although admittedly, I think only the international schools have them in the curriculum.

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  7. Hello and thx for this interesting post. I’m not a big fan of Shakespeare or English lit. But I agree with Marquita that it’s good to expose kids to different kinds of writing. So I would include one Shakespeare play in the curriculum and let the students choose which one they want to study and analyze.

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  8. I will admit I am a fan of Shakespeare, but Romeo and Juliet I do not like. My taste in his plays are more Macbeth or Julius Caesar. Teaching Shakespeare plays are important, people do not realize he manipulated words to fit his plays, these words later became standard for us to us. Cold-blooded, amazement, baseless, bloody, lonely, are just a few of the over 1,700 words coined by Shakespeare in his plays.

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  9. I didn’t have to read Shakespeare when I was in high school. But my daughter just read Romeo And Juliet in her first year in high school in the U.S. and she didn’t like it one bit. The fact that it was hard to read, she also felt that Romeo was very dramatic. I think your analysis that the love was more lust is accurate. Though she was fascinated by the fact that Shakespeare plays stood the test of time. Thanks for sharing.

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  10. ramonamckean says:

    Way back when I taught high school English, I used R & J to turn my 15 year old students onto Shakespeare. What a mutually rewarding experience! Initially they were afraid of the language, but I assured them there was nothing to worry about as I’d guide them through. The play pretty much came to life in our classroom, with the students feeling moved by the drama and by the brilliance of Shakespeare’s language. One assignment I gave was to imagine themselves as either Romeo or Juliet and to write a love letter to the other, incorporating the poetic devices I was teaching them (metaphors, similes, hyperbole, etc). I was astounded at the beauty and elegance of many of their letters, especially those of the boys! They’d been given permission to be tender and they delivered. We acted out scenes as well, which was fun and insightful.

    Studying Shakespeare in high school can be enormously beneficial. It is vital, though, for teachers NOT to kill the play. I recall some of my high school teachers having us sit and listen to boring audios of the script. Yuck! Thank goodness I survived that and then had the good fortune of a Lit.12 teacher and a UBC professor who were both tuned in, on a heart level, with Shakespeare’s genius.

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    1. wow, your way of teaching R&J sounds really fun and engaging. I wish I’d been in your English class. I agree that when it comes to Shakespeare, the teacher is the one that makes it or breaks it for the students. thanks for your comment!

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  11. ramonamckean says:

    Thanks, Rosary. The R & J movie I showed them at the end of our study was the 1968 Franco Zefferelli British-Italian version. I did so for the authentic quality–Renaissance Italy–setting, costumes, etc. (Both cinematography and costumes won Academy Awards.) It’s also my favourite version. Here’s the theme song by Nino Rota: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCQMlyXMRJE

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