The Reality of Shakespeare

When my high school freshman English class started reading Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, I did not care for it.  In fact, I was so bored by it that I didn’t really read the thing.  What little I understood I got from the class discussions.  In my mind, it was beyond dumb.  What thirteen year old girl even knows what love is?  In this day and age, a eighteen year old Romeo would be arrested for marrying a thirteen year old.  I know all the old arguments.  “Children were raised to be more mature back then.”  “Girls were often child brides back then.”  “In Shakespeare’s day, it was how it was done.”

But in the autumn of 1996, I was 15.  The play didn’t wash with me at all.  I could not sympathize with any of the characters, especially when I did not understand (quite literally) a single word they said.  Romeo was stupid in my book.  Juliet even more so, mainly because she was a girl, and I expected better from the female characters in the stuff I read.  I expected growth.  I expected her to learn something.  But no.  She had to go and ask for a sleeping potion, and when she woke up and found Romeo dead by her side, she stabbed herself.  I was like, what kind of story is this?  Okay, a tragedy, but seriously.  It wasn’t a tragedy in my book.  None of the events happened by chance.  It was stupidity.  Plain and simple.

That said, I loved the movie remake with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, mainly because I loved those actors.  But… still stupid, that Romeo and Juliet.  In my senior year of college, I took a Shakespeare class and ended up writing my research paper on Romeo and Juliet, because at the very least, I wanted to understand.   I discovered that the Romeo and Juliet play did not originate with William Shakespeare but a guy named Arthur Brooke.  I compared and contrasted the two plays, and the paper ended up in my senior portfolio.

The validness of Shakespeare’s work has been repeatedly called into question over the years.  I can understand that – he borrowed heavily from other works that were not his own.  But still Shakespeare made it work.  He added characters here and there to flesh out the stories.  He made them his own.  Now then, there’s this new film called Anonymous .  It poses the questions:  Who really wrote Shakespeare?  Did Shakespeare even exist?  Well, of course he existed.  That’s like questioning the existence of George Washington or Isaac Newton or Benjamin Franklin or even Jesus Christ.  We can’t rewrite history no matter how much we try.  We only end up confusing ourselves and others.  History is the only thing set in stone.  True, it will always be questioned and should always be questioned.  But the facts don’t change.  It is what makes them facts.  But the fact that history is continuously being called into question isn’t exactly bad – it’s quite good because it makes us think.

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