Because I’m spending my summer in a city in which I know absolutely no one (long story) I decided that I should be productive somehow, and that productive streak ended me up in an internship at a rather important place for Shakespearean studies (cue jealousy).
Since I’ve now been there a grand total of 4 days, I naturally feel myself an expert in all things Shakespeare, and so I’ve decided now is the perfect time to display my brilliance with a balanced, well-constructed argument about the teaching of Shakespeare in high schools.
WHY DO ALL HIGH SCHOOLS INSIST ON ALWAYS TEACHING ROMEO AND JULIET???
Don’t get me wrong--I can see the beauty in the lines, in the play of the light/dark imagery, and in the utterly romantic way in which everyone of note dies a horribly painful death. I get it. However, almost all of Shakespeare's plays have: d) all of the above. So why R&J specifically?
Ask this question to most, and the response you'll get is that it's a story about teenage love, so teenagers will connect with the characters. Ahem. I don't know about you, but while I do know an awful lot of teens in love, I don't know anyone who's killed themselves, or anyone else for that matter, over that love. In fact, I don't even know any teens who got married after only knowing their "love" for a total of 2 days.
If you want to teach a great Shakespeare play that you think teens will connect with, here's an idea: give MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING a whirl.
Let's see: we have a couple that's deeply in love, but then one suspects the other of cheating and things go sour, until the situation is clarified by a third party (who's probably drunk). We have another couple who fights madly, until their friends decide to set them up, when they realize they've actually been flirting the whole time--how convenient! We have brothers who can't get along, a huge party in the middle, and it all comes with jealousy, pain, reconciliation, and above all friendship. Oh, and a fake funeral. I don't know about you, but that sounds a hell of a lot like high school to me.
And to top it all off: it's freaking hilarious! Unlike Romeo and Juliet, who just keep moaning and groaning (because they're stuck in a tragedy), Much Ado is one of the best Shakespearean comedies.
Most high schools end up teaching Hamlet to their seniors--at least it's a theme I've detected. I certainly have no problems with Hamlet, but my fear with this trend is that the majority of students will graduate high school with their basic knowledge of Shakespeare focusing solely on the tragedies--maybe, if they branch out a bit, they'll do a history. That's it. I love the tragedies, but let's at least give the comedies and romances a chance! We don't want hundreds of people thinking all that ever happens in Shakespeare is a bunch of people get stabbed/poisoned/both, do we?
Sigh. Perhaps change will come slowly. Until then, I'll keep watching out for those teens who identify with homicidal/suicidal lovers. Because they scare me.
(Exits, pursued by a Bear.)