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Falling Head Over Heels in Love in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet

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    Falling head over heels in love in four days is unrealistic. In William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the two main characters, Romeo (age 16) and Juliet (age 13) fall in love, get married, and die within four days of knowing each other. Shakespeare taught in a way that greatly impacted history, but he should be taught through something other than Romeo and Juliet, because of the twisted morals, burdensome language, difficulty on teachers, and issues in how it portrayed the different gender roles, it all together weakens the minds of the youth.

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There is a saying that goes, ‘Garbage in Garbage Out’, and in high schoolers it is partly due to what they see and hear in media and entertainment. By already being exposed to modern day twists of Romeo and Juliet they are influenced by the morals of the twisted versions as is. One of the last things a teenager needs is the ‘bad influence’-if you will- of Romeo and Juliet, between the foul language which is already viewed as normal, to the glorification of sex. One of the many examples of sexual glorification is in act one scene one which reads, “I will push Montague’s men from the wall and thrust his maids to the wall” . A quote that is laced with sex and violence, these types of quotes fill Shakespeare’s well-known play; even the main characters sexual desires are usually a follow up of an act of violence as well, such as when Romeo and Juliet are planning on post marital endeavors, Romeo first kills Juliet’s cousin, Tybalt. Another example later in the play is in act 3 scene 2, “Come, gentle night, come, loving black-browed night, give me my Romeo, and when I shall die, take him and cut him out in little stars”. The sexual hint in this line is “die’ which was an Elizabethan form of slang for orgasm. Juliet is the one reciting these lines as she waits for her wedding day, which is on delay because of Romeo’s banishment due to a violent incident, which further proves that violence and sex just really go hand in hand. With the already violent tendencies of the generation (i.e. school shootings, terrorist attacks, and gang instructed murders) examples are not needed for the young, and under developed eyes and minds of the high school population.

Following the bad things being pushed into kids’ minds comes, of course, another negative, that being suicide. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death overall, and the 5th in teen deaths. Romeo and Juliet made several illusions to death by suicide such as in the Prologue, “From forth the fatal loins of these two foes. A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life”. In that line it states how the kids were pushed to suicide based on their parents’ disagreement, and family debacles. Sadly, it is becoming a fad of sort to commit suicide. With peoples’ brains not being fully developed until the age of at least 24, they often make brash and rushed decisions. When the idea of suicide is something that isn’t unusual to hear about it starts to become an awful solution to problems. Reading Romeo and Juliet shows students that suicide is a solution to not just issues with family, but problems in general. The renowned play makes a lot of points saying that if one is dead the other can’t go on, such is seen in act 3 when Juliet is raving about how she is miserable without her lover Romeo. That quote shows woman to man dependence which young girls need to learn to be independent, and for shadows to the death at the end. The cause of that death is suicide.

Setting aside the negative points for a moment and getting into why The Tempest should be taught instead of Romeo and Juliet; since that is the topic of the whole essay. The Tempest is much more appropriate, short, and easy to jump into. With Shakespearian language being hard to understand at times, especially for younger kids, it is better to start with a less complex play from Shakespeare. The Tempest has more basic language from the time, such as seen in act one, scene one which says, “Good, speak to th’ mariners. Fall to ’t yarely, or we run ourselves aground. Bestir, bestir.”  which translates to our modern English as “My good boy, give the other sailors a pep talk, and do it fast, before we’re shipwrecked. Hurry, hurry!” . The words are easy to make out and interpret into modern English, making it easier and more enjoyable to read and interpret. In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet however, it is difficult to understand the main points of the story quickly, act one scene one “Ay, the heads of the maids, or their maidenheads. Take it in what sense thou wilt” one would think that that means that they were going to be-head the maids, but it means that they are taking the virginities of the young girls. Not only does that line prove that the English is hard to understand, but it also proves that the play is yet again laced with violence and sexual references. The 9th grade English teachers go over a lot of standards, one of those standards is Shakespeare, by reading The Tempest they could take more time on a standard that was a struggle for the students, spend more time to do midterm/final reviews, or choose to do more with the actual play itself. Bottom line is that The Tempest is overall more convenient for teachers, and students.

Over the years it has been difficult for women to receive as many, or close to, the amount of rights men have. In 1701 women appeared on an active jury, 1769 women were legally equal in marriage, 1839 they could own land, 1920 they could vote, and now we are fighting for equal wages. It’s been a long fight for and against certain rights, and now young girls reading great and historically important literature need strong female leads to look up to. The Tempest has their main female lead as Miranda who is gentle and compassionate, but at the same time a fiery and strong heroine, while Romeo and Juliet has Juliet, who is very much a naïve girl who ‘needs’ a man to take care of her. The boys also play a part in this though. In The Tempest the main character is respectful and lets Miranda lead the way, Romeo, from Romeo and Juliet, however thinks of women as an object that can be consumed by sex, and the young boys reading the stories would also be affected by those views on the strength of women. Prospero (Main male character in The Tempest) is very protective –in a positive way- over Miranda as seen in Act 4 scene 1, “If thou dost break her virgin-knot before All sanctimonious ceremonies may With full and holy rite be ministered, No sweet aspersion shall the heavens let fall To make this contract grow, but barren hate, Sour-eyed disdain, and discord shall bestrew The union of your bed with weeds so loathly That you shall hate it both.”  Where as Romeo makes many comments such as seen in act one, scene one “Yes she has, and by keeping celibate, she wastes her beauty. If you starve yourself of sex you can’t ever have children, and so your beauty is lost to future generations. She’s too beautiful and too wise to deserve heaven’s blessing by making me despair. She’s sworn off love, and that promise has left me alive but dead, living only to talk about it now.” Romeo wants women for sex and pleasure, while Prospero wants Miranda to be strong and independent.

Granted one could argue that The Tempest also has examples of bad language such as how it repeats the word ‘bastard’ but coming from the experience of a freshman that hears what high schoolers say, bastard is an out of date cuss word, and no one really uses it to begin with. Someone could also argue that kids relate more to Romeo and Juliet because of the age similarities, yet people don’t realize that Miranda is almost 15, which is closer to most freshmen’s age than 13 is. Lastly people could bring up that there are illusions to sex in The Tempest also, however there are a lot less compared to Romeo and Juliet, and in this case less is more.

In summation, reading The Tempest instead of Romeo and Juliet when learning about Shakespeare is a superior alternative, because of the weakening of the female gender, the twisted morals, and the betterment for teachers. While Romeo and Juliet is a classic and will always be known, The Tempest is equally a great story and better for the under developed minds of the youth. Expanding knowledge to other great examples of historic literature is better for the students, teachers, and futures of the community.  

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