word craft


Story Behind the Story #19:
Rome and Juliet Together (and Alive!) At Last

Romeo and Juliet Together (and Alive!) At LastWhen my old­er boys were in ele­men­tary school—it was a small school—they both had a fourth grade teacher who was enam­ored of Shake­speare and want­ed to bring the Bard’s bril­liance to her stu­dents. That was why every year her class did one of Shake­speare’s plays. To be sure, these were not full-length pro­duc­tions but culled from any num­ber of abridged ver­sions of which there are many designed for young peo­ple to perform.

Now I can see young­sters per­form­ing an abridged ver­sion of Mid­sum­mer’s Night Dream; Bot­tom with his don­key’s head, and Queen Tita­nia falling in love with him. How­ev­er, a fourth grade ver­sion of Ham­let or Mac­beth is anoth­er matter.

The pro­duc­tions were, frankly, absurd and often, while not meant to be fun­ny, were fun­ny. Very funny.

In the audi­ence, par­ents sup­pressed smiles, while the kids tried to fol­low the plots. To hear a fourth grad­er say, “Life’s but a walk­ing shad­ow, a poor play­er that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, sig­ni­fy­ing noth­ing,” did­n’t exact­ly work. That said, in schools, The Tragedy of Romeo and Juli­et is one of the most often-read of Shake­speare plays.

All this should sug­gest the ori­gin of Romeo and Juli­et Togeth­er (and Alive!) at Last. Also con­sid­er that I had a cast of appeal­ing actors—so to speak—from S.O.R. Losers. It was immense­ly fun to write the gar­bled Shake­speare lines and any­one (most­ly the kids) who has had any con­nec­tion with the pro­duc­tion of school plays will rec­og­nize this slap-stick pro­duc­tion. Some books are enor­mous­ly enter­tain­ing to write. This was one of them.

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