Is Romeo and Juliet Relevant?
I'm not going to lie, I have issues with Romeo and Juliet.
In our ninth grade Composition through Literature class, we've spent the last few weeks wading into Shakespeare's language. We've split our classroom into families with a taped line dividing our room in to the Montague and Capulet sides. We've performed original skits utilizing Shakespearean language, and we share daily Shakespearean greetings.
But now that we have finished reading the first Act and are nearly complete with the second Act, we're beginning to question why are we reading this play. Yes, Shakespeare's language and syntax can be challenging for students, but that's not what has us perplexed. So far we've seen Romeo cry over not being able to be with the beautiful Rosaline and move on to the beautiful Juliet, watched Juliet's kinsmen threaten assault on the Montague women, learned that Juliet's mom is about 25 and wants to marry off 13-year-old Juliet to an older man, gasped as Juliet repeatedly kisses a stranger and then pledges to marry him within a couple of hours - well, we are scandalized! Then today, as we were writing letters to Juliet, (yes, you can write a letter for advice to the Secretaries of Juliet in Verona, Italy), we learned that it is considered good luck to rub the chest of Juliet's bronze statue that stands outside her home in Verona. This is too much! Why are we still reading this play?!
And actually, we'll be getting to this very question in our study of the play in our coming class periods. Many students come to class thinking that Romeo and Juliet is a story of romance and triumph. There is this mythology surrounding the story of Romeo and Juliet. Taylor Swift has a few songs about it. But it is certainly not an instruction manual for love. It is time to disrupt Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet! It is tale filled with abuse of power, negligence, violence, toxic masculinity, and misogyny. What do we do with that?
In our class, we'll be talking about these issues. How does the violence that begins with the parents in this tale impact the children? Romeo and Juliet are children, only 16 and 13, are they able to make informed, mature decisions? What do the adults in their lives do to support or undermine their growth? In what ways do the male characters objectify female characters in the play? What impact does this have on who has power and who does not? Whose story is centered in the actions of this play? Whose voices are pushed to the margins? Why?
Reread those questions. Perhaps this is what makes Romeo and Juliet relevant today. We are still grappling with many of this issues in our world today. So rather than focus on the romance between these star-crossed lovers, let's discuss how the issues presented in the play are still important to be discussing and connecting to our world today.
In the coming weeks, we'll be sharing some of our thinking and discussion using digital tools. We would love for you to join us virtually as we discuss some of the major issues presented in the play. Watch this space for more information!
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Ms. Jen Ward
An interest in helping young people discover and define their writing voice and reading interests drives Ms. Jennifer Ward to cultivate a student-centered learning environment, one that supports individual learning goals and incorporates purposeful use of technology. In March 2017, Ms. Ward was named teacher of the month by Michigan's 86th district state representative, Thomas Albert. In March 2016, she was named a TED-Ed Innovative Educator and is also a Google Certified Innovator, National Writing Project Consultant, and a 2014 PASCD Emerging Leader. Ms. Ward taught for 13 years in a Philadelphia suburban district and returned to her home state in 2015. In 2017, she joined the Grandville High School bulldogs!