A few weeks ago, I began teaching Romeo and Juliet to my Yr10s. One of my girls, L, revealed a total passion for the play, not that she really knew it, she just knew approximately what it was about. She also said how much she hated Baz Luhrman's film version with Leonardo Di Caprio, claiming it was a travesty...
Anyway, we got into the play and when we got to the bit when Romeo dumps Rosaline for Juliet, she was disgusted and expressed her dismay at her idol's feet of clay in no uncertain terms. I suggested that perhaps he was just being a 'bloke' (which needless to say deeply offended the boys in the class -but that's half the fun!) to which L said, "He's actually being a complete dick, Miss."
I suggested that her choice of language might be a bit unfortunate and that she probably shouldn't describe Romeo using quite that word...but I agreed that perhaps she had a point...
We got to half term, so for homework I asked the class to finish reading the play (they're a fast paced group so this wasn't as onerous as it might seem). Today, the first day back, L greeted me with, "What on earth was Shakespeare thinking about when he wrote that ending?"
"What?" I asked, "the way everyone dies you mean?"
"No, not that," she said, "the bit that happens afterwards, all those people standing about talking! Talk about an anti-climax! Even Baz Luhrman didn't do that!"
I had to smile. I intend to explain the ending soon (the Greek tragedy format etc) but I was delighted that she had formulated an opinion based on actually reading the play. She was actually thinking. But the thing that made me really smile was her final comment as the class filed out to their next lesson.
I asked her as she packed her stuff, "So, what do you think of Romeo now? Still a plonker?"
There was a thoughtful silence then she said, "No. Not a plonker. He's just a boy isn't he? A kid. Look at the way he behaved when he was with Friar Lawrence. Throws himself on the floor and has a hissy fit. That's the behaviour of a boy, not a man. Shakespeare's writing about children...not adults. That's why they behave the way they do. It's not a play about grown ups. It's a play about teenagers...and we all know how they behave!"
And tossing her 15year old head, she smiled at me and walked out. Leaving me grinning like a Cheshire cat.
It was a wonderful feeling, seeing these students beginning to think for themselves and I hope that my lessons encourage freedom of thought. I might not agree with everything my students say, but that's not the point. They're supposed to argue with me: it shows they're not afraid to go their own way. And that's just what they should be doing.