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Shakespeare Would Roll Over in His Grave

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Homeschool Mom: Do you know what your middle schoolers are viewing?

I went to the matinee showing of a local college's production of "Romeo and Juliet" with my middle schooler. "Romeo and Juliet" is part of the state curriculum and the college advertised their production as a tool for middle schoolers to better understand the great tragedy. It even came with an educational brochure to help teach. It was a sold-out performance filled with students from the surrounding areas.

What I was forced to endure was a dismal bastardization of the beloved tragedy that has survived because of its beautiful message of how hatred and strongholds and prejudice cause such suffering. The play was placed in Afghanistan and pitted an American diplomat and his family, American soldiers generally, and the Secret Service, against an Afghani family. It was a ridiculous premise for the play -- seeing as Shakespeare originally wrote about two families of equal standing with a longstanding rivalry and feud. Tribes would have been the more obvious and natural choice.
Which brings me to my point: the director was clearly making the Americans the "bad guys." They were the Montagues ... they smoked pot, drank, were rude. Even the Friar, a chaplain in the play, was first introduced shooting up heroin with a syringe and tourniquet. All the Western figures were portrayed as cold or obnoxious, thrill-seekers looking for trouble while the Afghanis were family people having parties and planning weddings.

The point of the play had had been hijacked for the sake of the director's own political views. Not only was there obvious drug use that had the students hollering in the audience, characters were flipping the middle finger -- and there were generally things that I do not think were appropriate for eighth grade or for an educational experience.

I'm sure when the students went home, their parents asked, "How was Romeo and Juliet?" Their children probably said their perfunctory three words on the subject, "It was fine."

 But is it?

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6 comments so far | Post a comment now
Anonymous October 18, 2008, 12:49 PM

Just because you disagree with the political slant of the play, doesn’t mean it was bad. The whole point of going to school is so children are exposed to different points of view. How does shielding them protect them? Your kids may end up like Sarah Palin and not “believe” in the SCIENCE of evolution.

Shasplim October 18, 2008, 2:24 PM

I’ve seen many Shakespearean productions that attempt to make the plays more culturally relevant or immediate. Sometimes they work (Henry V at the dawn of the Iraq war); mostly they don’t.

Political bias doesn’t require a warning (or a justification), but controversial onstage content should. Did the posters contain any warnings about the drug use or profane content?

birdsfly October 18, 2008, 10:15 PM

There is exposing people to a different point of view, then there’s just butchering a classic. I think this one falls into the latter. If they wanted to make a political commentary that’s fine but it should not have been marketed as making this classic relevant to a new generation when in reality it skewed the message of the original work. I’m sure there are already plenty of works out there covering views of the war that the director could have made use of to get his point across.

ashley October 19, 2008, 9:33 AM

I would be so pissed if I took my kid to see a play with all of those things in it. Why in the hell would they target middle schoolers and then have all the profanity and drug use???? They should have put in their ads that is was R rated. Now the modern day twist in the movie with Leo DiCaprio and Claire Danes I loved.

AK Mom October 20, 2008, 3:36 PM

There should have been a warning. If it were me I would write a letter to the local paper complaining about the lack of disclosure regarding this play. It sounds like if this play were a movie it would be rater “R”. That means that it should not have been marketed to middle school age kids.
I’m all for discussing drug use & consequences with my kids, I even use movies & tv shows to open up discussion on tough topics, but, to me, it sounds like you were completely blindsided by this.

Woodrow Villega March 16, 2011, 12:29 PM

jumbo account you’ve sit on

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