It’s the season of the year when young lovers stroll along moonlit paths and watch the northern lights dancing among the stars. When the lines of great poets are softly quoted, and the words of the not-so-great are whispered to each other as though they were immortal.
It is the season when otherwise tongue-tied young men break forth in spoken harmonies that can fill a maiden’s heart to overflowing and completely overwhelm her defences.
What am I going on with now? I’d like to take another look at those great lines and words spoken by the Romantics. When students get utterly turned off Shakespeare and the great poets, I think we should let those lines lead us in a totally different direction, one that today’s young person can appreciate.
I’ll give a different follow-up to those lines and words, something that’s more practical and makes more sense. Let’s take a well-known line from Romeo and Juliet as an example of what can be done.
J: Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?
R: I art Romeo because that is what I was christened.
J: I don’t mean that, you silly goose. I didn’t say “Whyfore art thou,” I said, “Wherefore art thou.” What I want to know is where you are. Don’t you understand Shakespeare?
R: Oh, I see. Well, if you would look down toward the ground from your window you would see that I’m halfway up the castle wall. My immediate problem is that I can’t get up any further and I’m afraid to start back down. Would you please let down your hair so that I can climb up to you?
J: You are a nut case. You’re in the wrong story, my son. This isn’t Rapunzel who let down her hair so that her lover could climb up to her. We are not lovers. We never will be. At the end of this play we kill ourselves.
R: Good Lord! I am in the wrong place. So what am I to do? Is there any way I can transfer to the Rapunzel thing?
J: I would suggest you simply let go and hope you land in another play. Oh my gosh, he did it. There he goes (prolonged fading screen). Oops, I think he landed on his head, poor fellow. I told Daddy he should have filled the moat with water instead of rocks. Ugh, that’s messy.
You see, that would introduce the student to a Shakespearean play without getting too deeply into the guts of the thing. And at the same time, satisfy the normal teenager’s thirst for blood and gore.
Let’s try another famous line from Macbeth. Macbeth has stabbed the son of Duncan who cries out to his mother.
Son: He has killed me, Mother!
Mother: Go away, you silly little twit. If he had killed you, you would be dead and if you were dead you would not be talking.
Son: But that’s what it says here, Mother, plain and simple. “He has killed me, mother!” Who am I supposed to believe — you or the fellow who wrote this? He knows if I’m dead or not because he was there.
Mother: You mean Shakespeare? No one knows what he meant when he wrote anything. He probably didn’t even know you were stabbed. No one knows who really wrote this stuff, anyway. So don’t go around snivelling that you’re killed. One of those days you could be really dead and then no one will believe you.
Son: (sullenly) Shakespeare would believe me.
Here, again, we have a good example of how departing from the normal study of a well-known line, we can help the student to a better understanding of the intricacies of language and the challenges thereof.
To what extent can we reasonably take Shakespeare literally? And isn’t that a similar issue to taking the Bible literally, especially since they both talk the same language?
Sure, the easiest path is to take both at face value, but where does that leave us? The mother in this case study is having none of it. She tries to point out to her son that just because Shakespeare says he’s dead, is no reason to act accordingly.
Let’s depart the writings of the Immortal Bard, whomever he was, and look at someone else taking off in flights of incredible fancy.
Come live with me and be my love, and we will all the pleasures prove.
If anyone were to discover this sort of invitation on Facebook today, we would immediately be off on a manhunt for the pervert who was sending out lewd invitations designed to lure unsuspecting and younger females into pornographic activity.
All the pleasures prove? Is the idea here to dig out your dog-eared copy of the “Kama Sutra” and set about attempting to prove if the “suggestions” contained therein for a wide variety of sexual experiences are as rewarding as the good book says? (No, man, not that Good Book, the other, although that other Good Book isn’t short on sexual ideas, all of which are said to be sinful — and it doesn’t have the illustrations; for these you have to keep turning from one book to the other.)
But does the author of the line above even hint that this might be accomplished under the sanctity of marriage?
No, in addition to an invitation to practise perversions under the guise of innocent experimentation, there is no suggestion at all that the poet is ready to make a commitment.
Once more departing from the usual strategy of literary critique, we see more deeply into the evil soul of this person.
I think I have shown that the normal methods of critiquing great literature will sometimes fall short of exploring all the possibilities contained in the work.
Besides, I know from experience that kids like my methods a lot better.
Ed Smith is an author who lives in Springdale. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.