Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Shakespeare is wasted on the young

I’ve always struggled reading Shakespeare. The last time I really made an attempt was back in college. The words on the page were just difficult and heavy in many ways. I realize now that the problem was that I was too young to appreciate it.

We were invited this weekend to see Romeo and Juliet at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. I saw it through older eyes, with the experience lacking in my college years. It was an entirely new work for me. For this production, the set was more West Side Story than old-world Shakespeare. The costumes were simple and unobtrusive. The simplicity of the set and costumes allowed us to focus on the story. The actors’ body language and voice inflections gave life to the words we’ve all seen and heard so much. Yet, the words were entirely different for me now.

When Romeo and Juliet ran away and got married, I wanted to say, “Wait. You’ll find another love shortly.” Juliet was 14 when she married Romeo. Weren’t we all sure we were going to marry our high school boyfriends at 14? When the young men were getting ready to defend their family honor in a street fight, I wanted to say, “It’s not worth it. Don’t waste your time.”

These are the things that adults say to young people. I’m sure my parents and teachers tried to keep me from making youthful mistakes, but who listens at that age? You don’t realize until you add some life experience that they were right. You’re sure the high school boyfriend is the one. You’re sure the wrong done to you is the most terrible thing ever.

For someone who wrote hundreds of years ago, Shakespeare still resonates with common-day themes. When the young Capulet and Montague men battle, it’s for the same reasons as today’s misguided youth. “You disrespected me, so I’m gong to get revenge.” When did revenge ever solve a problem? It’s sad that we haven’t learned anything since Shakespeare’s time. The reality is that the older I get, the more likely I am to think that all revenge is a waste of time.

Well, maybe except for the idea that living well is the best revenge. Unfortunately, a long and happy life for Romeo and Juliet wouldn’t make for a good play. Shakespeare wrote a beautiful play in Romeo and Juliet. I’m glad we took the time to see it through experienced eyes. I appreciated it in ways I couldn’t in college. It’s one of the great benefits of growing into a well-rounded adulthood. I can go back and finally understand why my high school teachers and college professors thought a particular work was worth enjoying.

This is an original post of the Chicago Moms Blog. I did receive free tickets for the performance from the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

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