Psssttt. Here’s a secret. This English teacher hates Romeo and Juliet more than the Montagues and Capulets loathe each other. (I know. Gasp. Shocked emoji face. Call Karen in HR and fire me right now.) And because it’s entrenched in the freshman canon, I will never escape its overtly romantical clutches as long as I am teaching English I.
Why do I hate Romeo and Juliet and teaching it?
- Romeo, a whiny lover boy ruled by his teenage emotions, is my least favorite Shakespeare character. I spend the entire time wanting to smack him and talk some logic into him.
- Benvolio sucks too. Whenever something big happens on stage, Benvolio summarizes the just-happened events for new-to-the-scene characters.
- The way Romeo and Juliet talk to one another makes me gag. Love stories aren’t my Ram Jam.
- The students harp on the fact that Juliet is 13 and never recover from it. They also debate Romeo’s age endlessly (The text never gives it.). They talk about this the ENTIRE time we’re reading.
- It’s full of sexual innuendo, and I teach middle school. Need I say more?
- I’d much rather tackle The Taming of the Shrew, The Tempest, Twelfth Night, Othello, or Macbeth.
And while I do lather on the Romeo and Juliet hate thick, I love teaching it for almost the same reasons I despise teaching it.
- I take my hate and shout it from the desktops from the beginning. It’s simple really. I let the kids know I hate Romeo and Benvolio. I don’t tell the students why. I string them along and build interest to hook them, revealing tidbits here and there why I hate Romeo and Benvolio as the acts unfold. I use my Romeo hate to teach characterization. I use my Benvolio hate to teach summarizing. I make my hate passionate, fun, and refreshing instead of letting it bring my lessons down. Frequently, the kids hate Romeo too, and we bond through our mutual dislike.
- Even though it’s a love story and the ooey-gooey language makes me cringe, I appreciate the poetry. We analyze the heck out of the figurative language and poetic structure of Romeo and Juliet’s dialogue. For example, when Romeo and Juliet meet for the first time, they actually start rhyming together in their religious imagery-filled banter and wind up creating a shared mini sonnet, which is pretty freaking cool from a structural standpoint.
- The kids relate to the teenage emotions running rampant throughout the text even though they pretend that all of the kissing mortifies them. We discuss why it’s important to not be ruled by emotions and how to consider situations logically.
- The kids have zero knowledge of Elizabethan theater and England before they start reading and are fascinated by what they learn. The fact that it was illegal for women to act so men played all the parts blows their minds. They’re horrified and enthralled when they discover women could get married at twelve years old and were sometimes married to much older men. They have no concept that modern medicine did not apply back then, women often died in childbirth, and child death rates were high. They’re floored when they realize Nurse was Juliet’s wet nurse and that the word nurse etymologically stems from a Latin word meaning “to nourish.”
- On the day we start Act I Scene 1, I tell them Shakespeare is a dirty old white guy to prepare them for the puns and hook them into the play. You might find this method a little shocking, but have you read this play? It’s full of inappropriate jokes, and while it might have gone over your head when you were in high school, my kids understand what they’re reading. If I didn’t prepare them for the dirty jokes, my lesson could crash and burn in a million different ways. They appreciate being treated like adults. When I handle it this way, it minimizes the puns, and we’re able to focus on the storyline and the structure.
- Even though Romeo and Juliet isn’t my favorite play, I love Shakespeare and theater. I’m able to channel that love into a play I hate (My only love sprung from my only hate! Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.). I’m in my element when I’ve got the bard and a script in front of me, and the students see the best me when this unit rolls around each year.
What are some texts you hate but you have to teach? I’d love to hear! I’d also love to know why and what you do to combat your hate to make interesting lessons.
(Also, another shocker, I’m not a huge fan of To Kill a Mockingbird—but that’s a whole other blog post.)