I am teaching ninth grade this year for the first time. I really enjoy the kid’s willingness to try just about any crazy activity I can come up with, and the fact that most of them don’t have pre-conceived notions about any of the literature, means I have the chance to convince them that it is in fact interesting and applicable to their lives. I like that. It suits me.
I especially like when the ninth graders suddenly realize that Shakespeare is not as wholesome as they once assumed. Among other hilarious commentary that has been blurted out in my classroom:
– Somebody told me that when they were talking about swords they meant something else, is that true?
– Romeo’s talking about doing it!
– Did the Friar just ask Romeo if he hit it? (To which one of my students replied: What does hit it mean?)
– She doesn’t want to die a virgin!
It is amazing to me that every year a few parents complain about the adult material we are reading in class and yet no one ever complains about Romeo and Juliet which is easily the baudiest thing I have ever taught.
I hadn’t read Romeo and Juliet since I was in the ninth grade, and this time around I am struck by the secrecy of the whole story, and how Shakespeare uses that as a vehicle for the drama and urgency. The whole play takes place in four days.
I think secrecy does make everything more dramatic, feel more urgent. When I look back at the terrible decisions I made, the dumbest stuff I did was done, at least initially, in secret. (The reason we didn’t tell anyone about the timeshare we no longer own is because we knew everyone would tell us it was stupid. Because it was stupid.) I am 28 and this is still true: If I can’t tell my mom about it, I shouldn’t be doing it.
But I think the Bible covers that too, that things in the darkness are brought in to the light. I used to think that was a warning to the wicked and I would cling to it and yell it when I was sure there were dirty dealing going on. But lately I have been seeing it as a gentle reminder to me, that it will be better if I am just honest about it. Whatever that it may be.
Secrecy and urgency do often lead to bad outcomes. And those who are the ages of Romeo and Juliet often live in the secret and urgent (not that the rest of us are exempt).
I know, I keep telling my students that Romeo and Juliet is not a love story. It is a story about why 15 year olds should not make major life decisions. Especially permanent ones.