At the beginning of the school year I taught my students about motifs – what they are and how to determine them in pieces of literature. They struggled with this, a new concept to them, but gradually they learned more about motifs and recognized how to find and apply them.
At the beginning of the school year, I would tell them what motifs were in pieces of literature and have them relate actions in the texts to the motifs, but now, at the end of the school year, I’m asking them what motifs they find in the literature we read.
We recently had this discussion about Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. My students wonderfully recognized motifs and gave examples of them in the play. It was actually very rewarding to hear them talk about motifs as the experts they now are.
Then all of a sudden, one of my students suggested humor as a motif. “Humor?” I asked. “Tell me more.”
“I don’t know,” he said, “but you sure think it’s funny.”
And he is so right. I do. I do think Romeo and Juliet is hilarious. If it weren’t for the number of characters (and innocent bystanders, I’m sure) who die in the play, I would think it were one of Shakespeare’s comedies, not one of his tragedies.
So many legitimately funny moments occur in the play. People play the dozens and talk about ribald and bawdy topics. The nurse is a riot – a straight up riot. Come on. The thumb-biting scene alone will have anyone chuckle.
But more than these episodes, I find the entire premise of the play laughable. A 13-year-old girl falls so in love that she determines she would rather die than live her life without the boy she met, literally, a few hours ago at a party? Seriously? And Romeo, a boy himself, has so much game that Juliet falls in love with him before he even introduces himself? No one else finds this funny?
I don’t mean to take anything away from the Bard or this, one of his most beloved works. I completely understand why the play is so beloved and why we continue to teach it to students over 400 years after Shakespeare wrote it.
The language is stunningly and breathtakingly and arrestingly beautiful. Shakespeare’s ability to marshal human emotion and distill it so that everyone can be affected by words on a page is extraordinary. Some lines in the play bring me to tears.
I’m glad we still study it, and truth be told, I’m glad to be teaching it. I’m very much enjoying watching my students discover that they can understand and enjoy a piece of literature they had dreaded all year. I delight in watching them realize that they have seen this story over and over and now can compare their modern versions to the original. I love that they jot down some of the lines to try out for use later, in a more romantic situation than afforded in a high school classroom – mayhaps a high school hallway. I’m thrilled when they tell me how much they enjoy reading the play. Teaching Romeo and Juliet perhaps has been the most fun I’ve had all school year, and I’m glad I’ve had the chance to do so.
But I still think it’s funny.