The 9th grade literacy class has finished reading the original text of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. At first, the reactions from the students were a little less than enthusiastic.
“My mom says that it is really hard. I don’t think I want to read it…”
“Do we have to read it in the ‘Old English’?”
“Can’t we watch the movie instead?”
Some of the students proposed that we should just purchase the “cheat versions” and read it in place of the old “regular English version”. Their strong reactions gave me a moment of pause, but then I recalled, my own first encounter with Shakespeare felt similar. I assured them that we would go slowly and would stop often for discussion and comprehension. I also assured them that they would become accustomed to the language and rhythm of the iambic pentameter.
They began with doubt, but, within about one week, excitement was building. The students were eager to read aloud more often. Hands were raised eagerly as we cast our scenes for the day. Impromptu costumes were donned. Students came up with exciting solutions to staging. The story began to come alive.
A wonderful moment was early on when we read the description of Romeo after falling in love with the fair Rosalind. He was depressed, stayed in the dark in his room, would not go out with his friends and was generally a brooding young man. Mercutio was very worried about him and tried to get him to go out and socialize at the masque at Capulet’s. One of the students immediately recognized the similarities in how he might behave with a broken heart.
“Wow, he is just like a high school kid,” he announced to the class.
“Yeah, I would totally be like that too,” another added.
“Romeo is kind of a drama queen,” another student added.
“But Juliet is more like a middle school girl.”
“This isn’t so hard to understand now.”