For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo.
So ends a play that is often referred to as one of the most tragic love stories ever written. At the moment, in English 9, my freshmen are a bit over halfway through Romeo and Juliet, and we’ll be making our way through the last two acts of the play after Thanksgiving break.
Romeo and Juliet is often a tough play to sell to ninth graders because, for many students, it is the first play they will read that features the dreaded old words such as “thou,” “thy,” and “thee” to name a few. Additionally, not all students are fans of the romance genre which is often the first thing that comes to the minds of those who are only somewhat familiar with Romeo and Juliet.
However, as my students have come to discover, calling this play a romance may not be the best label. On the contrary, they’ve found much humor in this misconception.
A question many students have continued to ask is, “How much time has passed since these two met again?”
When I remind them that Romeo and Juliet are married within 24 hours of meeting each other, responses have included the following:
They got married the day after meeting each other?!
How can they be in love?
How can they even truly know who the other person is?
Wasn’t Romeo just crying about that Rosaline girl not returning his feelings?
Discussions on the theme of love vs. infatuation (a big theme in this play) have produced much laughter as we are left in disbelief at both how quickly Romeo and Juliet “fall in love” and how over dramatic they are when it comes time for them to be separated.
Suddenly, a story that at first seemed to be a boring romance becomes a comical experience that students have found themselves enjoying much to the surprise of some who groaned in dread when I first announced that we’d be starting Romeo and Juliet. (Though, there are still some groans coming from those that struggle to accept the length of the play and the fact that we still have two more acts to go.)
If there’s one idea that students might take away from this unit, perhaps it will be that one should never judge a book by its cover, and one should always give something new and unfamiliar a chance before deciding it’s not for them. This is a lesson I love to see students learn in English.
One of the main reasons I went into teaching this subject was because I wanted to share my passion of reading and literature with my students. Though English may not be the favorite subject of every student, it is my hope that there will be at least one book during the year that surprises each one, revealing the joy that books can bring if a person gives them a fair chance.