For the past six weeks, I have been delving into the story of the world's favorite star crossed lovers. I've mentioned before that this posed a huge challenge for me as a teacher because it took my until graduate school to really really love Shakespeare and understand his depth, brilliance and relevance. Much to my surprise, my students were ready for William and have gobbled up the play and our discussions. We are nearing the end and had a debate today about whether Juliet was courageous/bold/romantic or rash and stupid. Things got a little heated, and as I was listening, the conversation became very interesting. They didn't realize it, but they were analyzing what it is like to be a teenager and to be pressed with choices that may affect the rest of their lives. I thought I would share some of their insight and questions. After hearing what they had to say, I had no choice but to think about their points. Hopefully I can prove just how briliant 8th graders (yes, 8th graders are) and show you how valuable it is to listen to what they have to say.
Juliet is open minded toward her parents' ideas in the beginning of the play, but this changes as she becomes engrossed with her relationship and secret marriage to Romeo. Then we see a Juliet who is very courageous standing up to her parents. The unfortunate part is that though she refuses to marry Paris, she isn't open with them about her love for Romeo. Enter complexity. How open should children be? What role do children/teenagers have in making decisions about their futures? How does culture play into this?
Juilet's father wants Paris to "woo" his daughter and win her heart in the beginning of the play, rather than marry her right away. He seems to understand his daughter. Then he appears to be a completely different person as he rages against her in her refusal to marry Paris after Tybalt's death. What are his true feelings toward his daughter? Was is right for him to demand this marriage of her since he thought it in her best interest? Could he have presented his request in a different manner? Would it have changed the outcome of events? How sensitive do parents and adults have to be when dealing with teenagers who are in between childhood and adulthood?
There are quite a few adults who give both Romeo and Juliet advice. Students noticed that Juliet seemed to only listen to what she wanted to hear...and both threatened suicide when they weren't hearing the answers they wanted. How do adults talk and reason with teenagers who may be blinded by passion? Even if the adults can see that the passion is because of youth, how can they be convinced that the feelings are very, very real?
Is is possible to love someone when only knowing them for a few days? Is love at first sight real? Can you trust the emotions that exist at the beginning of a relationship? What is love? Do Romeo and Juliet know what it is or means?
How can she believe what Romeo has to say and the promises that he is making? Isn't there a chance that he has ulterior motives?
Students argued that Juliet was being rash because she had no life experience to judge her decisions by. They debated whether she could trust herself to know what she was doing. Some students thought that she was being young and stupid (followed by, and I quote: "We're young. We're stupid.)
Students raised the question of suicide again in relation to this passion...is this violent passion understandable or just merely dangerous? Would it change if they were adults?
Is living in the moment brave or completely ridiculous?
Of course, as literature often goes, there is not an "answer" to any of these questions. We left it as food for thought...to critically examine these complex relationships and events...to dig into these fictional moments and pull from them what we are able. Such is the reading life.