The Hard Sail: Shakespeare


I had forgotten to tell the students about an opportunity for community service hours for two days running. Frustrated by my oversight, I wrote a note on the board that read as follows:

Freshmen: Ask me about community service hours.

I walked in the next morning to find a student standing before the board, his arms outstretched beseeching, “Tell me, O Great Whiteboard, of the hours you have to offer me!”  It was the first of many times I laughed that day.

I started Romeo and Juliet with my ninth graders not long ago. The morning after they read the prologue and the first scene of the play, they sat slumped in their desks looking as forlorn as a eunuch trapped in a whorehouse. I could tell from the flat look in their eyes that they had left the realm of literature and now sat contemplating philosophy: what was the meaning of life if it included this dude named Shakespeare for the next four years?  So I stood before them and tried to give them a pep talk. I asked if they had ever been on a boat before and nearly every hand went up. I told them that learning to read Shakespeare was like being on a boat.  Sure, you wobble around at first when you try to walk and often lose your balance, but eventually you find your sea legs and equilibrium is restored. I told them that in a few days, they’d find their Shakespeare legs and life might be worth living again. They were dubious at these words of cheer but desperate enough to pounce on the nugget of hope I was offering them like a pride of lions on an injured gazelle. Thus began our journey through one of the most famous works known to man.

This page has the power to stop the heart of a 14 year old . . . and I don't just mean Juliet.Adventures in Reading Textbook

This page has the power to stop the heart of a 14 year old . . . and I don’t just mean Juliet.
Adventures in Reading Textbook

We didn’t get past page two in the play before the students ended in uproar. Lord Capulet wants to fight Lord Montague and says, “Bring me my long sword, ho!” and my room sank under a wave of giggles. I had to explain that he isn’t insulting his wife when he barks out this order, but it took a while for the snickers to subside.

But this was nothing compared to the window scene in which Romeo proclaims his love. As soon as the first compliment rolled out of that Montague’s mouth, the boys started fidgeting and frowning. The frowns soon deepened to scowls as further proclamations of affection were made, and by the time Romeo swears he would be a pet bird for Juliet to coddle, I had an entire back row of fellows holding their skulls in their hands and rocking their heads side to side at a guy who obviously needed to throw on some shoulder pads and a jock strap and man up. A couple of hits to the torso and one undetected face-mask penalty would fix him right up.

As Romeo slunk out of the orchard a newly engaged man, one of my guys asked, “Ms. Carver?  When’s the killing going to start?”

It was a valid question since I had prepped them for a tragedy and enticed them to keep reading with the promise of upcoming bloodshed. Here they were banking on decapitation by rapier, and instead, they were drowning in sonnets by moonlight. I had guaranteed them violence and a body count, and they were stuck with this love-sick sap who couldn’t meet his untimely end fast enough to shut him up. This was the cruelest form of hoodwinking.  I placated them with visions of Act III in order to keep my passengers on this Shakespeare voyage from becoming men overboard, but they wanted more than just a bit of swordplay at this point.

Let me at him, Ms. Carver!

Let me at him, Ms. Carver!

“But the people?  They’re going to start dying soon, right?”  I nodded vehemently as they packed up their books. “Thank God. This love crap is killing me.”

Which just goes to show that there’s a romantic in all of us … being strangled by a Playstation alter ego.

© 2013 – Traci Carver


18 responses »

  1. Pingback: A Play by any Other Name | Traci Carver

  2. I’d posit no one’s life was ever incomplete because they didn’t read Shakespeare; but while I liked (most) of it that I’ve read, I can certainly identify with your students’s head shaking. Your description of the reactions had me laughing. Thanks.

      • And with good cause: Romeo made a proper spectacle of himself chasing that Capulet skirt.

        Spectacle aside, living life with that sort of passion can only benefit a person.

  3. All I can ever remember about Shakespeare anymore is Tim Hawkin’s rendition…”Romeo, oh, Romeo…where ya’ll at?” In a distinct twang. Cracks me up every time. LOL

  4. Laughed out loud at the interpretation of ‘Bring me my long sword, ho!’. Although perhaps that could have led to a whole new discussion on linguistics…

    • Thanks! Sometimes it takes a bit of age for appreciation to set in. I read Heart of Darkness in high school and didn’t care for it. I went back ten years later to revisit it and loved it. Now I teach it to my seniors . . . and make them suffer. 🙂

  5. What a wonderful post..your students are lucky to have a teacher that feels their pain but guides them through the rough road of understanding the greats, like Shakespeare! I loved this post!

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