Photo: Marco Villar, Flickr Creative CommonsI've been teaching Romeo and Juliet in one of my literature classes and I'm going to be honest with you. This is (hopefully) the worst thing Shakespeare ever wrote, at least of what still remains. There are elements of the play that aren't so bad. Mercutio is a great character. He even seems to be mocking the melodramatic seriousness that makes the rest of the play so unbearable. Unfortunately, dude is killed off way too early in the play to save it. It's also a private entertainment of mine to watch my students read all of Shakespeare's sex jokes in this play without a single student seeming to get them.
The problem with the play is everything else. Let's start with the fact that this isn't a love story. I don't think Shakespeare ever intended it as such. This isn't about true love (I'll follow up on that later), this is about blinding hate. That in itself isn't a problem. There are plenty of great stories out there about hate. This just isn't one of them. It annoys me that so many people seem to think of this as a great love story. Let's just break down why it's not:
- Romeo starts the play moping about Rosaline not loving him back. He's been locking himself away in darkened rooms, not sleeping, keeping to himself. He doesn't want to talk to family or friends. Keep in mind that his conversation with his cousin Benvolio about how horrible it is that Rosaline doesn't love him was the morning of the same day he proposed marriage to Juliet. He seems pretty fickle.
- Also, it doesn't seem that Romeo is really so upset about Rosaline not loving him as it is that he's upset about her not putting out. "And, in strong proof of chastity well armed From love’s weak childish bow, she lives uncharmed. She will not stay the siege of loving terms, Nor bide th' encounter of assailing eyes, Nor ope her lap to saint-seducing gold." Dude's a douchebag. Sure, maybe this scene is supposed to contrast with his feelings for Juliet later in the story but he falls in love with Juliet only hours later. That's a load of crap.
- The agree to marriage the same night they meet. Sure, courtship was a short thing back then when it was even involved, but there's no way that's true love. That's getting excited about your first boyfriend.
- Juliet is thirteen. Romeo is about 15. Don't give me any crap about people growing up faster and being more mature back then. Go read any of the lists online about complaints about teenagers written in Shakespeare's day. Teenagers were exactly the same then as now. They just got married younger. They weren't in true love any more than any other 8th and 10th graders are now.
Finally, Romeo and Juliet are both excessively impetuous, overly emotional and irrational. Sure, that's actually a fairly accurate depiction of teenagers, but it doesn't make for characters that are easy to sympathize with. You want an example of what I mean? Romeo gets banished the afternoon after his wedding. Juliet's first response is to slit her wrists. (Technically, I think she wants to plunge the knife into her chest, but same diff.) Friar Lawrence has to talk her down when she pulls her dagger. Romeo's no better. Just look at his moping to start the play and his own quick leap to suicide at the end.
That being said, I see a little of myself in this annoying couple. I hurt my knee this week. I ran my last 20-miler of my marathon training on Sunday. It was a great run that left me expecting to actually meet my goal for this year's race. After the expected soreness disappeared Monday, I noticed my right knee felt a little stiff. The stiffness was actually worse on Tuesday and by the time I got home from work Tuesday afternoon, it was visibly swollen. I think the normal reaction to this would be to be mildly frustrated and start working on getting it better. My first reaction was "Screw it. I quit." Not "Screw it. I'm not going to run this one marathon," or "Screw it. I quit running," but "Screw it. I quit life."
I'm not saying I was suicidal here. I'm just saying I was planning on stopping caring about my health and I was just going to sit on the couch and get fat again. The difference between me and Juliet is that I didn't need some adult to talk me off the ledge here. After a few minutes of moping, I researched the symptoms (still don't know what the problem is, but at least I found out how to treat my symptoms and got to work on that). I bought a knee brace that offers compression, which is supposed to help the swelling. I took Advil for a couple of days. I tried to keep the leg elevated and iced when possible, although that's nearly impossible with my job. It's even much improved. The swelling was mostly gone by the end of Wednesday. The knee was a lot better Thursday, and today I'm seeing how it handles not wearing the brace at all. It still has a tendency to pop when I straighten my leg after sitting, but my knees always have a tendency to pop. This is just worse than normal. I may even test my knee out with a run on Sunday. Sure, it won't be the 12 miles I'm supposed to do, but it's positive thinking, reasonably based on the evidence at hand. Romeo couldn't have managed that sort of thinking.
Okay, I'll admit that I may have eaten more junk food this week than normal trying to drown my sorrows in sugar and cholesterol. There were candy bars, and chips, and a bacon cheeseburger with a side of nachos for supper one night. (Last night.) I may have spent more time worrying about my stupid knee than I have all other thoughts combined over the last four days. I would probably be insufferable if I were a protagonist in a Shakespeare play about mediocre amateur distance runners, but that's the thing. My life isn't supposed to be great literature. It's okay if I'm annoying. Shakespeare should have known better.
I just got an e-mail confirming my entry to the marathon in a couple of weeks. I need some Frito pie.