My Favorite Shakespeare Play

The very first play we read in my Shakespeare class was Romeo and Juliet.  I was disgusted to see it listed on the syllabus, and huffed about the assignment with others in the class.

“But we read it in high school!” We exclaimed in mock-polite whispers,  “We discussed every scene at length, we watched the old version of the movie and then the Leo version.  We giggled when our teacher ran up to the monitor to cover up Juliet’s naked chest in the old version (although my high school teacher forgot, and couldn’t fast forward in time.  Poor Mrs. Stark.  She fueled many a cafeteria discussion that day).  We read scenes aloud, and acted them out in groups of three.  What else can we say about it?  It’s terribly romantic, and terribly tragic, but we have absolutely nothing more to say.”

But then I finally settled down on my bed, heavy Riverside Shakespeare in my lap.  And I began to read.

And, as you’ve probably suspected from the beginning of this post, I found a few things I hadn’t noticed as a sixteen-year-old.  I found that Juliet is far more aggressive than Romeo in hashing out the details of their union.  She utterly dominates the balcony scene; she is far from swooning against the rail.

I found that we might think of Verona as a sick city.  It’s not just the quarreling, it’s not just this certain couple and these certain families; the entire city is in a state of ruin.  There is plague, there is lack of faith, there is a gloominess that seeps up from the streets.

I found that I was disgusted by the adults in the play.  These poor kids are all of thirteen and sixteen, wading through strife and first love and big decisions, and they have no one to turn to.  Even Friar Lawrence, who is their supposed ally, cannot do more than give them a secret marriage and drug Juliet into a coma.  Furthermore, when he finally decides to get his act together and venture out of his cell, he is too late.  Romeo has slain himself, and Juliet has just awaken, understandably aghast.  And what does dear Fr. Lawrence do?  He runs!  He hears the guards coming, and he runs, advising Juliet to flee too as an afterthought.  Of course Juliet doesn’t, and therein we find our tragedy.

I found, finally, and perhaps most importantly, how very beautiful of a play it is.  Half of the romantic language we spout on Valentine’s Day is from Romeo and Juliet.  It is the first and last word on the subject of love.  Everyone knows it, and everyone wishes, in some small part of themselves, that their lives could be as struck with passion.

“It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden;/Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be/Ere one can say ‘It lightens.'”

“O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!/It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night/Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear”

“What, drawn, and talk of peace!/I hate the word as I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee”

English majors are fond of asking one another what their favorite Shakespeare plays are.  You get an approving nod if you say Hamlet or Macbeth, a fond grin if you say A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and a round of impressed applause if you say one of the histories.  No one ever dares to say Romeo and Juliet.  For, as I’ve said, that’s a high school play.  I myself have been saying Hamlet for four comfortable years now.  But perhaps, having rediscovered the tragic lovers; having written a long, rambling blog post; having sworn that the world simply cannot do without; I will finally get up my gall and be truthful:

My favorite Shakespeare play is Romeo and Juliet.  And I am not ashamed.

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O, I Am Fortune’s Fool!

I’ve had a line from Shakespeare stuck in my head all week: Romeo has just slain Tybalt.  Ignoring, or perhaps not hearing Benvolio begging him to flee before men arrive, Romeo throws his head back and shouts to the heavens: “O, I am fortune’s fool!”  Tonight, I took action: I watched Shakespeare in Love.  I watched Joseph Fiennes say that line, hand clutching at a plaster pillar.

And then I sat down and wrote a magnificent (if I may say so) introduction to my senior seminar paper.

I’m still at it, and will be as long as inspiration holds.

Goodnight, friends.

Ray

I can only think of a few ways in which we might honor a writer of Ray Bradbury’s caliber:

We might walk miles around the town of Morris, seeking dandelions to make dandelion wine, which of course correlates to his novel of the same name.

Upon reaching the campus greenhouse, we might write “RIP Ray Bradbury” on the grimy windows, using childish finger letters.

The greenhouse door might be left open, and we might enter, look around, and then attempt (and fail) to noodle in the coy pond.

We might find a patch of wild plums, and rescue a few branches from tent worms’ egg-speckled gauze.

Still hunting dandelions, we might stumble upon a small bird, hopping pitifully near the road.  It might be molting, covered with rotted hunks of down and patches of sleek new feathers.  Failing to locate a nest, we might carry the bird far back from the road, name it Ray, and wish it luck.

We might remember, finally, that The Martian Chronicles saw us through high school Modern English, a class populated by easy A seekers, sleepers, and potheads.  “There Will Come Soft Rains” reverberated like a promise on the gummy concrete walls, and we knew, even as the teacher fast-forwarded through the sex scene in the old “Romeo and Juliet,” that things would be better someday.