Romeo, oh Romeo

“Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?”

The tale of the famous star-crossed lovers is read around the country in  high school English classes, maybe even yours. At Northwest Guilford High School, Romeo and Juliet is a staple for freshman English classes, but if you mention the pair of star-crossed lovers, people might not react the way that you thought. 

Are the pair of star crossed lovers unrelatable? Should we switch to something more modern? Is Romeo and Juliet even a good read? 

Romeo and Juliet is a good story to read in English class. It continues to be the introductory play by William Shakespeare for the majority of 9th graders. The main characters of the play are of similar age to high school freshman,” English teacher Katherine Trabert said.

Romeo and Juliet has all of the elements we enjoy: conflict, love, suspense, and tragedy,” English teacher Andrea Julian said.

“The benefits are that his stories contain universal ideas, motifs, themes, and conflicts-many of which have been around since time itself. There are of course challenges with reading any text that has a high lexile level. It is because of the challenge that Shakespeare should be taught. I believe people forget that the world for successful people is full of high level challenges and we cannot simply shirk away from these challenges to avoid challenges and “uneasiness,” English teacher Matt Bishop said.

However, like hatred between the Capulets and the Montagues, some teachers feel dissatisfied when it comes to reading Shakespeare in English class. 

“I never need it, and wouldn’t want to teach it. A play about two teenagers making awful decisions? I’ll just watch the halls during class change,” English teacher Kevin Ferris said.

“I feel the themes are relevant for high schoolers, but there are numerous texts that are more modern and diverse that portray the same themes in a  more effective manner,” Teacher Alexie Cline said. 

After a quick survey, I found that 55% of students at Northwest actually enjoyed reading Shakespeare in their English classes. They see the text as “romantic” and say it “has an interesting plot line.”

Most of the “yes” responses were because of the romance aspect. People enjoy a little love in their classic tales. 

On the other hand, 45% of students feel that the text wasn’t enjoyable at all. They refer to Romeo and Juliet as “ hard to understand” and “boring” which is understandable. Romeo and Juliet is known for its complex language. 

But can students really relate to the tale of two lovers? 

Some think that Romeo and Juliet can still relate to the mind of the teenager today. After all, we are at the age that Romeo and Juliet are in the play. 

“Even though the Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is set during the Renaissance, the themes of love and loss still resonate throughout our lives today. Young people can still relate to their parents wishing to form and shape their lives, based on what they think is best. This is a characteristic of human nature that can be difficult to completely overcome, no matter the time period,” Trabert said. 

Romeo and Juliet does not lack a modern element. If students can no longer relate to feelings of envy, betrayal, love, pride, and goodness, then we, as a society, are in trouble for our futures,” Bishop said. 

On the other hand, some feel  that Romeo and Juliet has too many factors that make it unrelatable to the teenage mind. The lack of the modern aspect creates an unobtainable standard that many people don’t understand. 

“I do believe that it lacks a modern aspect. Shakespeare’s work is

and timeless to a degree, but the inaccessibility of the language is a huge barrier for many readers,” Cline said. 

“Although it does lack a modern aspect, I think students can still relate to it!” English Teacher Lora Medley said. 

Students say that they have trouble relating to the love story and that they find it confusing. But what about the benefits of Shakespeare’s works?

On the stage, Romeo and Juliet plays a great part in the drama community. The two star crossed lovers have influenced  many different other films like West Side Story.  Romeo and Juliet has also inspired songs, including “Love Story” by Taylor Swift. 

“It’s the single most iconic production Shakespeare ever wrote because it is misunderstood by such a wide audience,” theater teacher Will Stapleton said.

Shakespeare has been performed since 1595. It holds many benefits for students in theater. 

“Shakespeare is a great tool for drama because Shakespeare is most people’s access point into heightened language in the theater, and what that means is that dialogue that is not written in ways that is natural for people to speak, ” Stapleton said.

Shakespeare’s dialogue and writing are important, but it strays from the way that people were actually talking during that time. 

“People that are not in the theater, and even some people in the theater don’t realize that people did not speak like that in Shakespeare’s time. He was writing in flowery verse that would have been unusual to the English speakers there at the time, but we can still decipher them today. Which is a really interesting connection with, you know, older versions of English,” Stapleton said.

His works create a good dynamic between English classes and theater as a whole. 

“It’s a great launching point from a language arts into theater standpoint, and it’s also great from just a theater history standpoint because it tells you so much about what’s past and what’s yet to come,” Stapleton said. 

 Romeo and Juliet was first performed at the London Theater in 1595, and since then has transformed our culture on a societal whole. 

“Shakespeare reflected the changing English society in his plays,” history teacher Caitlin Jenks said. 

Shakespeare’s plays were at first frowned upon, especially amongst the more traditional English population.  They weren’t  what people were used to. 

“Shakespeare was born in England during a time of great societal change. For example, just before his birth, England had officially become a Protestant country during the Reformation. So English society was already a tumultuous period where people  had a lot to disagree on,” Jenks said.

There wasn’t really much to do for entertainment during the Renaissance. People played games, like checkers and chess and attended masquerade carnivals. Shakespeare’s poems and historical plays originally gained more attention than his dramas and tragedies. 

“Plays allowed people (mid high class) to enjoy a form of entertainment. Even the queen attended some of his plays,” Jenks said. 

 If Romeo and Juliet has entertained people for such a long time, why all of a sudden do we feel the need to switch to something more modern in the classroom? 

“We should continue to read Shakespeare and not shy away from it simply because it challenges us. His tales are timeless and still apply, ” Julian said. 

“I feel excerpts can be beneficial when paired with more modern and diverse texts. Literature should serve as both a window and mirror for students and it’s important for teachers the texts that they should expose students to,” Cline said. 

Romeo and Juliet is a classic, and that it won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. There will always be people who find the classic tale a bit boring, but the benefits of Shakespeare in the classroom far outweigh the struggle that is at hand.  

So for now, we just sit on our balcony and wait for someone to come calling to us, and maybe then we can all have our happily ever after, or in Romeo and Juliet’s case, a tale of two lovers whose story ends in tragedy.