30 Day Book Challenge: Day Twenty-five

Favorite book you read in school – Romeo and Juliet: William Shakespeare

While it isn’t my favorite Shakespeare play by a mile, Romeo and Juliet was the first thing I read by the Bard, and is obviously his most widely read. It’s probably one of the most widely read pieces of literature of all time; up there with the Bible and Homer. And that’s the reason why I picked it.

Everyone and their cousin knows who Shakespeare is, and everyone knows you got to read him once you’re in High School. I’m pretty sure I read this as a freshman, and I remember not especially looking forward to it. I was always a reader, and actually enjoyed most of what was assigned in school, but at facevalue everything Shakespeare wrote was a word-puzzle. While that’s not actually far from the truth, I simply didn’t know how to approach it.

The first thing that struck me about Romeo and Juliet was that it’s actually pretty funny. The first scene with the fight between the Montagues and Capulets is hilarious. For the rest of the year, me and my friends would go around joking, “Do you bite your thumb at me, sir?” Also, the editions assigned to us had a lot of annotations explaining the vernacular and various allusions Shakespeare made, so it wasn’t too hard to decipher those word-puzzles.

Of course, Shakespeare’s genius lies within those word-puzzles. The vast majority (if not all) of his plays are pretty much derivative plotlines, as was the tradition of his era. Shakespeare managed to make a name for himself with his poetic prowess. (As much as I love the movie Shakespeare In Love, I always took exception with the fact that the Bard seems more preoccupied with the storyline than the prose; but I suppose it’s for the dramatic effect.) The plot itself is pretty ridiculous: two teenagers fall in love with each other, and, their hormones and inexperience getting the better of them, they end up killing themselves in a tragic misunderstanding that could’ve all been avoided if they stopped and considered their situation for five fucking minutes. Nevertheless, Shakespeare convinces his audience of their burning, love-at-first-sight romance by virtue of his poetic genius.

Moreover, there are different levels of enjoying Rome and Juliette. On a first reading, or as a younger reader, you really get absorbed by the romance and their tragic death. At the time I was reading it, I was in my first relationship, and was really feeling it. Repeated readings, or a mature audience, reveal a distance between the titular characters and the audience. The audience is more aware of their youthful folly, but still sympathize nonetheless because while their love is childish, it is real all the same. They are victims not so much of their circumstances or families, but of their youthfulness, which is precisely what fuels their romance.

Here’s Sassy Gay Friend’s take on it:




~ by braddunne on September 7, 2011.

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