Yesterday, my daughter pulled a dog-eared copy of Romeo and Juliet from her backpack and sighed, “I have to know what Act One Scene One means by Monday.” She rolled her eyes without rolling them, her disapproval a textured thing.
Finally. The moment I’ve been waiting for. That ninth grade rite of passage, the reading of Romeo and Juliet. Finally I will make her see the literary light.
It won’t be my first attempt. Sometime around her ninth birthday I bought her the Shakespeare for Kids abridged version of Hamlet and Macbeth. I played her scenes from my favorite adaptations. (My son proved harder to corral, but I did my best with him too). I suggested excursions into the city to catch off-Broadway productions (I was shot down).
I fell in love with Shakespeare early and hard. Oh, I did the obligatory eye-rolling too, at first. I asked my teachers why he couldn’t just say what he meant. I groaned along with my classmates. But then one day I read and really got a phrase from Romeo and Juliet – I can’t remember which one – and my heart was set afire with the feeling of being both understood profoundly by a man who’d lived hundreds of years before me and pulled up a little higher to heaven.
It was sublime. I’ve loved Shakespeare ever since.
I basically had to sit on my kid while I read Scene One with its swagger and suggestive language. She requested bribes a couple of times to continue listening to me (I declined). I did not convert her. Not this time. But I have not stopped trying, not by a long shot:
While language exists like this, I will always love the written word. And I will always try to spread that love:
Love is a smoke raised with the fume of sighs;
Being purged, a fire sparkling in lovers’ eyes;
Being vex’d a sea nourish’d with lovers’ tears:
What is it else? a madness most discreet,
A choking gall and a preserving sweet.”
Romeo and Juliet, Act One, Scene One
I mean… love, people. Anyone who knows those things about love and drops them nonchalantly into the first scene of a play, like, “Oh, what? This old phrase?” is my kind of guy.
I will win her over yet.