Dost Thou Feel?

Slice of Life 2019: Day 26

“Thou canst not speak of that thou dost not feel” Romeo says in Act III of Romeo and Juliet.

This is an important statement for us writers. To truly do a subject justice, you have to feel it, be it. Just as a pizza delivery man gets his hot pies delivered timely to folks living in his neighborhood, so my best writing is when I’m speaking of stories and experiences close to my heart.

The necklace in the photo above I wear close to my heart and it reminds me of my artistic niece. One summer, she gathered up a collection of stamps from different time periods and countries. She scattered them around a big rectangular table along with some vintage maps and papers.

“Select your favorite stamp and I’ll mount it inside a pewter and glass pendant,” she instructed.

Part good luck and part literary genius, I thought it would be fun to have an image of the Bard to wear on Shakespeare days! I have a little of Ms. Frizzle deep inside. I keep Saturn earrings and some Flannery O’Connor reading glasses around too for short story days. So, after hunting around the pile, I picked out a 5 cent US. stamp bearing the image of William Shakespeare and asked her to work her magic.

A few weeks later, when it was delivered, I opened the package, and said, “I love it!” I’ve been wearing it on special days ever since.

Today, was a special day and I wore my dandy pendant-charm to see Romeo and Juliet at the Shakespeare Tavern with my ninth graders. Oh! That with it feel I get when I think ahead! But, nobody noticed the pendant there under my scarf and thick green sweater: “That in gold clasps locks in the golden story…” says Lady Capulet. In this case, in pewter clasps completely overlooked. But, no bother. Watching the tragedy once again with a goodly handful of 9th graders was its own reward.

I enjoyed watching their faces to see if they understood the puns and plot. Mostly they did. Shakespeare knew his audience and wrote with a passion surpassing time in relevance and influence. These modern teens still feel something when they see the anguish of a young woman being forced to comply with an overbearing parent or the desperation of a young man who has made a fatal mistake. This is the type of storytelling we strive for.

An Introduction to Shakespeare

Slice of Life 2019: Day 13

So, teaching Act I of Romeo and Juliet to a class of mostly ninth grade boys at nine am on a Wednesday the first week of Daylight Saving Time went better than expected. Of course, everyone was half asleep upon entering the room. I saw some nasty looks, like I had ruined their life by assigning such a boring and useless piece of literature. One student’s eyes were half opened while he leaned into his chair and yawned.

“What have you heard about Shakespeare and Romeo and Juliet?” I asked.

My class of fourteen and fifteen-year-olds responded with this list:

I hate Shakespeare

The language is confusing

The language is complex

Shakespeare stole his ideas from somebody else

Shakespeare worked with another person to write his plays

Reading Shakespeare is like reading a foreign language

R & J has too much drama

The lovers are too young

I can’t understand any of this

My mom let me listen to it on Audible

I knew with a list like this, I had my work cut out for me. The first challenge: give a quiz to find out who finished the homework reading of Act I. Just as I suspected, only about two students understood the plot. I took off my jacket and got to work.

Next, on the board, I projected the article, “10 Reasons To Try Reading Shakespeare, If You’ve Somehow Avoided It Until Now” by Charlotte Ahlin over at Bustle.com. This media piece has fun images and basically states what we all know is true: Shakespeare is relevant because you already use his language and watch shows inspired by his plots.

After demystifying Shakespeare’s sentence structure, word choices and poetic language, we talked about the sophisticated nature of his audience. Only men were actors. Plays took place during the day. People got married at 14 and 15 back then because you only lived until 49. A Shakespeare play was their Game of Thrones. Now everyone was awake.

Then, it was time for some reader’s theater. I had more volunteers than I had parts. They read Tybalt and Benvolio’s part with vigor and excitement! The class was roaring with laughter when we got to the bawdy scene in Act I where Gregory says, “Draw they tool! here comes two of the house of the Montagues” (1.1, 31 – 23) and Sampson answers, “My naked weapon is out” (1.1, 33 – 34). They got it and faces were red. I kept my mouth shut, turned the page and smiled.

After wrapping up the oral reading, we watched the 6 minute opening to Franco Zeffirelli’s R & J where the street brawl, complete with swashbuckling sword fight, comes to a head on the streets of Verona. They were hooked.

At the end of the period, I saw bright eyes and smiles along with laughter and few jokes on the way out the door. I think they are now ready for Act 2.

Next week, I’m hoping a good dose of Shakespearean punnery and insults will again rouse the class from its slumber.

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