Shakespeare in Community (Act 2): Romeo and Juliet and Shakespeare’s Poetry

Shakespeare in Community (Act 2): Romeo and Juliet and Shakespeare’s Poetry

>>[Background Music] All right. I would go line by line and I
think one of my favorite ones which is everyone
knows this line. Oh Romeo, Romeo where
for art thou Romeo? Oh, Romeo, Romeo, ¿Por
qué debés ser Romeo? Deny thy father and
refuse thy name, Olvidate de tu padre
y negá tu nombre, Or, if thou wilt not… O si no lo hacés … Be but sworn my love. Prometé que me amas. And I’ll no longer be a Capulet. Y ya no soy una Capuleta. Very simple. O Romeo, Romeo wherefore
art thou Romeo? Deny thy father and refuse thy
name; Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, And
I’ll no longer be a Capulet. [ Music ]>>The play is already
done before you even begin. With the opening speech,
the narration tells you and that this is the story
of two young people who are from different families
who fall in love. These families have been
feuding they fall in love, they die; that’s the play. Now we’re going to
begin the play.>>I don’t read this play as
being about fate that Romeo and Juliet necessarily are
going to die, because my Romeo and Juliet do have free will, they choose to disobey
they choose to marry. But a lot of people like to
read the play as about fate that these two, Romeo and
Juliet, have no chance.>>So the course starts
with “Romeo and Juliet,” and one of the reasons I love
starting a Shakespeare class with “Romeo and Juliet” is because most people
have read it before. Most people if they haven’t
read it they’ve encountered it somehow, and for me,
starting with “Romeo and Juliet” is a chance for us to say there’s another
Shakespeare. There’s the Shakespeare that
we were taught in high school. There’s the Shakespeare that
we saw in you know a film at the multiplex, and
starting again with “Romeo and Juliet” lets people realize that they can have
a Shakespeare. That they can have a
“Romeo and Juliet,” and that their interpretation
of “Romeo and Juliet” can matter and can count in a way that might not have their first
time experiencing that play.>>My first encounter with Shakespeare was
actually “Romeo and Juliet.” I was– I think it was
sixth grade or something; you have to read it for English
class, sixth or seventh grade. I don’t remember, but we
read it for English class. I didn’t understand
a word of it, but our teacher I remember
had us perform scenes from it. Me and a buddy– two
buddies, it was three of us, decided to do the scene where
Mercutio, Romeo, and Tybalt get in a fight, and we thought it
would be cool to videotape it, and rather than perform it, we would video tape it
and then discuss it. We thought that would be fun,
and we all dressed up like “Star Wars” characters, so
Romeo was Luke Skywalker, and Mercutio was Han Solo, of
course, Tybalt, I think we kind of made up a “Star Wars”
character for Tybalt. We didn’t really want to
turn him into Darth Vader that would have been
really weird. But so we recorded us
fighting and what was– now that I’m thinking about it like what was actually quite
interesting about it is that we were much closer to
the age of the characters than I am right now
playing Romeo. And so thinking about that
it’s like what that story means when there actually is a
14-year-old boy swinging a sword around at another person,
and imagine him having a gun and trying– and shooting
someone and killing someone.>>So I love teaching
“Romeo and Juliet” partly because it’s a tale about street
violence and what it might mean to live in a violent
world and to be young. And I love that it’s told
from the point of view of a 13-year-old
protagonist, a young girl. And so that, you
know I teach it. These students come in
knowing it from high school. They’re young they live
in a violent world, and they have sort of a
sense of what it means, and I think being able to
connect that to the sense that Shakespeare is de-centering
who the protagonist is of that tail and allowing
her voice to drive the play, God that’s fun to teach.>>To me “Romeo and Juliet” is
Juliet’s play; it’s not Romeo’s. Romeo may think it’s
Romeo’s play, but it’s really Juliet’s play.>>She’s not just some
child, she’s a real person, and if you’re a good learner. If you’re interested in
understanding the world; if you’ll listen to her, and
maybe you’ll come to the point of view that this is how
the world should be seen.>>Every time you meet them at
any point in your life you– the world will break open
for you in a different way. I mean you will not meet Juliet
at 16 the way you’ll meet Juliet as a mom, never, and the
way you’ll meet Juliet when you are old.>>There never was such a tale
of woo as Juliet and her Romeo, and that possessive her
Romeo really gets us to sort of the question; it’s
you know it’s a tragedy, but it’s a tragedy about Juliet. It’s a tragedy of
a 13-year old girl; it’s not classical tragedy
it’s something very different and I think we see the
playwright struggling to get at– you know
if I was going to wear my historicist hat I
would say we see the playwright trying to get out
what the experience of early modern London was, a city that was growing
exponentially, but we can also– I think why we’re invested in
it is that it’s telling a tale about urban violence,
and difference, and what it might
mean to be young and think you can overcome
that, and then also the sorrow when you learn you can’t.>>You have no way
of controlling now. They are adults in
their children body and they don’t know. They don’t know what
they don’t know, but they know what they know,
and that Juliet is going to get herself into a bucket
of trouble and there’s nothing that her mom can do to stop her. You just hope she survives it, and that’s what every
teenage mother of any teenager absolutely
believes. At some point you want them
to know what they want, and that you’ve got to have
the– you’ve got to let it go. You’ve got to let them go,
and sometimes they get hurt, and sometimes they die.>>I didn’t understand “Romeo
and Juliet” until I fell in love for the first time, and
I mean fell in love. And I wasn’t 14 or 15 I was a
lot older I had been married once before. Still when I fell in
love and I got to say– I got to read the words,
‘My bounty is as boundless as the sea, My love is deep;
the more I give to thy thee, The more I have, for both
our infinite,’ it’s just ah.>>We’re in the balcony
scene, and I look up at Juliet and she goes, ‘All right,
swear to me that you love me, and Romeo goes, ‘Lady, by
younder blessed moon I swear that tips with silver all these
fruit-tree tops,’ and she goes, ‘no, no, no don’t swear by the
moon that doesn’t make it– no, no, no it’s in constant;
you don’t want to swear by that. And right then at the end
of that line a bird chirped and I look up at the bird and
say, ‘Okay, what do I swear by?’ and I point at the bird and
the whole audience got what we were doing. What shall I swear by this bird?>>When I think about no,
no it’s the nightingale; it’s not the lark, I could cry. I mean that sounds so
silly, but that they can’t– that they’re willing to
just extend their disbelief for each others. No, no, no you don’t have to go you can stay you
can be with me forever. We can just keep pretending that the bird we’re
hearing– can’t you hear it? I can hear it. That they create that reality
for each other in that moment and they use that simple
poetry, that simple– it’s so sensual and it’s
so kind; it’s so kind.>>I love teaching the
sonnet in “Romeo and Juliet,” and I love teaching it
because it’s unexpected. A lot of people who
read it don’t realize that the first words that
Romeo and Juliet speak to each other are in
the form of a sonnet. And I also think
it’s lovely the way that they exchange
lines in the sonnet. Romeo speaks the first
quatrain of the sonnet, Juliet speaks the second
quatrain of the sonnet, and then they share
the third quatrain, and then the final couplet each
says one line of the couplet. and then they actually begin
another sonnet immediately after, and they have their kiss
just in between the two sonnets. And there’s something
really lovely about the fact that they end– essentially that
the sonnet ends with a kiss; most Shakespearian sonnets
have a turn at the end, and this one has a quite
literal physical visceral turn. And I love that they immediately
start a second sonnet. They’ve got one kiss; they’re
going to go for another. And so there’s this bodiness, and if you read the
language it’s quite sexual, so we’re not just
talking about a meet cute where you know it’s these
two cute young people who see each other, but
there’s actually a kind of raw abandoned sort of
passion that is in the lines.>>I think listening to Shakespeare can be a big
challenge if you’re trying to catch every single
word and try to understand every
single thing. I think if you get
a group of people who understand what
plays are about and understand what the play is that you could have
no experience; you could never see a
play before in your life. You could hate theater. You could think Shakespeare
is terrifying and awful. You could never have heard
it in your entire life, but if you have a
group of people that know what they’re doing
then you’ll find something. And if you’re not
stressed about trying to understand every single word
you will be able to relate to and connect to something. You– and you’ll be surprised
at what you’re able to grab from these shows and
from this language. There’s a way of this
rhythm in Shakespeare, and there’s something that’s
just incredibly relatable, and it’s this heartbeat. And you could not understand
a word that’s being said, but you will understand the
emotion that’s behind it.>>The words are like
somewhat archaic. Once you get the– really,
really understand what they are and really get them
in your mouth is one of the key things I think for
me, because it can be very– compare to like– it
would be like rocks in your mouth at first. But it’s just like
a familiarity; it’s not lack of ability. It’s just that you
haven’t done this a lot.>>But you aren’t going
to get there here. You aren’t going to
get there here or here. You can get there here, and
here, and here, and here. All of that will be necessary
to get anywhere with it.>>Even just the texture
of the word in your mouth if you say it; I think that this
is part of why it’s so important to speak Shakespeare aloud is
because he actually understood that words, and you know
many authors understand this. That words actually have
texture as we say them; they actually move our
mouths in certain ways.>>The words are meant
to be spoken out loud, and reading them silently to one’s self you don’t get
the sense of the language in your mouth and understanding
the root of the language, and then not being afraid
to be curious to go back in to figure out– well, you know in the annotations
what does it mean? What does that phrase
really mean?>>If you approach it first
as a story and take it on its own terms I think you’ll
be able to parse out things within that story that
you may not have been able to have reached had you just
thought well the language is difficult; this is Shakespeare. I have to say something
profound about Shakespeare.>>And so you know I
sat with my dictionary with the annotated version
and with an alternate version that I had run to one of
the book stores and bought, and just sort of compared it, and every night it
was an exercise that really completely
changed my relationship with the English language. It completely unlocked
for me this– what I had always as a bilingual
speaker; it unlocked something for me with the English
language.>>When I first started
reading Shakespeare, I would translate
each line into Spanish to see just what the different
feel would be, especially a word like if you have the word fire. I say fire in English and I
say okay I understand what fire means, but when I say fuego, oh, when I say fuego I
understand what fire means.>>You know I just
finished directing a play in Louisville called, “The African Company Presents
Richard III,” and it was about the– the play
is around the facts of the first black theater
company in the United States in 1821 and how the white
theater, the dominant theater at that time, the Park
Theater shut them down. So here this company of black
actors performed in Richard III, and then of course the Park
Theater had a production of Richard III going on and how
the audience was being weaned away from the part to
the African Company, and how they were using
the dominant language or this language of Shakespeare,
which is this cultural product of you know sort of refinement
and all this other stuff, and how they were
making it their own. How they were making
it their own. And I think that’s what it is of
being able to own the language and make it your own and
not make it be some kind of an abstract idea
about something.>>Not only what you say, but
how you say it can mean so much. It could have so
much power behind it; it can literally break
lives or make lives. You know it can make
things better or worse like words are the
beginning to me.>>You can go back to the books
and say what does that word mean to me in my culture, in
my language, and my body, and my being, because
nobody can tell you that. You know that’s yours,
and that’s the great joy of Shakespeare that you can
make each and every word yours.>>It’s most powerful when you
can tap into the different ways to experience Shakespeare. Then it becomes again even
more elastic, and can resonate in throughout different
registers of your life too.>>I think there’s
something in poetry that just can really tie
a community together. It can let us care more, and
that sounds super cheesy I know, but I mean I think if
we all just cared more about each other,
which is what a lot of what Shakespeare’s
plays are about is just– I mean, “Romeo and Juliet”
that whole play is about unite; it’s not just about these two
lovers it’s about two families who hate each other
unite and stop fighting. [ Music ]

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About the Author: Oren Garnes


  1. 3 thoughts
    – had been taught the importance of speaking of the words before, but this really drove it home
    – had been taught Juliet was the "More adult" of the two, but never thought of it as Juliet's play– have to chew on that more
    – thanks for pointing out that R & J talk in sonnet — never heard that before

  2. Play, from a word that means to have fun, to experiment…. using words, and plays on words. Good video — words having texture in the mouth that you can feel. I personally loved the Leo DiCaprio / Baz Luhrmann film version when it came out, it moved fast — so do Romeo and Juliet. We watched the Zeffirelli 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet on iTunes the other night. I remembered seeing it when it came out in 1968 and being a little put off by it. Now, 45 years later, it was a lot better, the teenage actors who played Romeo and Juliet were wonderful, and it was a breakthrough for the time — using actors close to their actual ages. I'm starting to have fun with this MOOC, and it's starting to feel more like play (I get enough work at work).

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