Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Truth and Nature of Love?

Eyes, look your last!
Arms, take your last embrace! and, lips, O you
The doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss
A dateless bargain to engrossing death!

We read these lines today in class. They're my favorite lines from the entire play. Listening to them got me thinking about romance and the very truth and nature of love.

Have you seen Shakespeare in Love? Will makes a bet with Lord Wessex that he can show the very truth and nature of love in a play. When Queen Elizabeth sees Romeo and Juliet performed, she declares Will the winner of the bet. I have a lifelong love-hate relationship with this play, and as I reach the end of it with another group of students, I have to disagree with Liz.

When I first read the play in high school, I hated it. I mean HATED it. In spite of the language which I've always thought was cool, the ending just ruined the whole thing for me. I've always been a happy ending kind of gal. In college, I read the play again. HATED IT...maybe more than I did in high school. By college, I'd experienced some of my own real life heartache, and I craved happy endings in my fiction even more.

Then I became a teacher of high school freshmen. Suddenly, it was my responsibility to introduce this play to students. I couldn't very well dive into their first meeting with Shakespeare by saying I hated the play. And honestly, as I immersed myself in the language, I realized I didn't hate the play. Okay, Romeo and Juliet were still totally whiny, overwrought, and self-absorbed, but the story arc was perfect. The pacing spot-on. The plot twists engaging.

And the words, oh the words. I read them five times every year, and I love them more every time.

The more acquainted I became with your average 14/15 year old (Juliet is not quite 14), the more I stood in awe of Shakespeare. Shakespeare's true genius is his understanding of the human condition. Real teenagers are totally whiny, overwrought, and self-absorbed. Lord, God Almighty, you should read the angsty love poetry I'm subjected to on a regular basis. Young adult literature's bread and butter is the emotional messiness of adolescence.

It's taken my whole life, but I love Romeo and Juliet. Really. I LOVE it, but I don't think Shakespeare captured the very truth and nature of love in this play. I think he captured the truth and nature of adolescence. Throw heartbreak into the middle of those hormonal, irrational, impetuous years and tragedy is a real possibility.

As adults, we poo poo young love. We poo poo it because it is so impulsive and overwrought. "It's high school. It's puppy love. Get over it." Most of us did. Although, I bet if I took a poll and got honest answers, a lot you reading this would admit to scars from a teenage heartbreak. Sometimes those scars haunt our adult relationships.

I've seen teenagers self-destruct over a high school relationship.

Romeo and Juliet isn't romance. It's rebellion and defiance. It's dangerous secrets. It's testosterone. It's the epitome of impulsiveness. Romeo and Juliet is youth in all its dangerous glory.

What Juliet really needed was a sassy gay friend.

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