Young and Brave and Naive and Amazingly Stupid… but Successful

A long time ago, when I was young and brave,* I herded about forty ninth-grade students onto a school bus and took them to San Antonio, thirty miles away, to a matinée performance of Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet. 

The day before the event, I learned that two girls planned to skip the trip. They were going to attend school but to sit in the library while the rest of the English class sat in a theater.

I consulted the principal. He consulted the girls. The girls decided they would go to see Romeo and Juliet with the rest of us.

English: Woodcut "Verona" from "...
English: Woodcut “Verona” from “Romeo and Juliet” from the 1847 edition of The Illustrated Shakespeare (Photo credit: Wikipedia). See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I hadn’t seen the movie and was surprised to learn that at least one major event–the sword fight between Romeo and Paris outside the Capulet tomb–had been omitted. Shakespeare’s plays are long, movies move more slowly than dramas at the Globe did, so something had to go.

Still, of all the deaths in the play–Mercutio’s, Tybalt’s, Paris’, Romeo’s, Juliet’s–Paris’ seems to me the saddest. Paris is the one innocent character: neither Montague nor Capulet, he has no enemies, seeks no revenge, but simply loves Juliet, and dies trying to prevent Romeo from (as he thinks) desecrating her tomb. Friar Laurence describes what he found in the churchyard when he came to wake Juliet:

But when I came, some minute ere the time
Of her awaking, here untimely lay
The noble Paris and true Romeo dead.
She wakes; and I entreated her come forth,
And bear this work of heaven with patience:
But then a noise did scare me from the tomb;
And she, too desperate, would not go with me,
But, as it seems, did violence on herself.

Three deaths in the last minutes of the play. Omitting one lessens the impact of the other two. But only for viewers already familiar with the play, I suppose. If you don’t know that much about Paris, you probably don’t miss him.

Something else surprised me, too: the unobstructed view of Romeo’s bare backside we got when he heard the lark and hopped out of bed. But in a theater packed with fourteen-year-olds, I heard not one giggle. That is my definition of success.**

And the day got even better. On our return to school, the principal came out to meet the bus. He and I were standing together, making sure students headed toward the building and not away from it, when the girls who’d threatened to boycott the play walked by.

“Well,” he said, “what did you think of it?”

One of them tossed her head and said over her shoulder, in the tone of bored superiority only a fourteen-year-old can produce, “They didn’t even show the scene where Paris died.”

That, dear reader, is my other definition of success.

Why do I write about R&J tonight? Because the Zeffirelli version is on the late movie, and I’m watching as I remember.

But now I’m going to turn off the television and make my way to bed.

Because I’ve already seen my favorite part, Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech:

MERCUTIO
then, I see Queen Mab hath been with you.
She is the fairies’ midwife, and she comes
In shape no bigger than an agate-stone
On the fore-finger of an alderman,
Drawn with a team of little atomies
Athwart men’s noses as they lie asleep;
Her wagon-spokes made of long spinners’ legs,
The cover of the wings of grasshoppers,
The traces of the smallest spider’s web,
The collars of the moonshine’s watery beams,
Her whip of cricket’s bone, the lash of film,
Her wagoner a small grey-coated gnat,
Not so big as a round little worm
Prick’d from the lazy finger of a maid;
Her chariot is an empty hazel-nut
Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub,
Time out o’ mind the fairies’ coachmakers.
And in this state she gallops night by night
Through lovers’ brains, and then they dream of love;
O’er courtiers’ knees, that dream on court’sies straight,
O’er lawyers’ fingers, who straight dream on fees,
O’er ladies o’ lips, who straight on kisses dream,
Which oft the angry Mab with blisters plagues,
Because their breaths with sweetmeats tainted are:
Sometime she gallops o’er a courtier’s nose,
And then dreams he of smelling out a suit;
And sometime comes she with a tithe-pig’s tail
Tickling a parson’s nose as a’ lies asleep,
Then dreams, he of another benefice:
Sometime she driveth o’er a soldier’s neck,
And then dreams he of cutting foreign throats,
Of breaches, ambuscadoes, Spanish blades,
Of healths five-fathom deep; and then anon
Drums in his ear, at which he starts and wakes,
And being thus frighted swears a prayer or two
And sleeps again. This is that very Mab
That plats the manes of horses in the night,
And bakes the elflocks in foul sluttish hairs,
Which once untangled, much misfortune bodes:
This is the hag, when maids lie on their backs,
That presses them and learns them first to bear,
Making them women of good carriage:
This is she—

ROMEO
Peace, peace, Mercutio, peace!
Thou talk’st of nothing.

MERCUTIO
True, I talk of dreams…

And I already know what happens later. They don’t even show the scene where Paris died.

*****

*  … and naive and amazingly stupid.

** On network TV, Romeo’s bare backside is blurry. That is my definition of turning tragedy into comedy.

The Tale of Kerwin, Part II: Ostracism

In yesterday’s post, I introduced my first best teaching story, that of Kerwin. Tonight brings that story’s stirring conclusion.

If you have not read Part I, please do so now. Part II will pack a much harder punch if you know what came before.

Since publishing Part I, I’ve realized I failed to name the librarian who serves as our main character. For convenience, I shall call her Mary.

And before beginning, I once again emphasize that although I know every detail of this story, and that Mary’s every thought and emotion resonates with me as if it were mine alone–even so, the story is not mine. The fact that Mary is my name as well as hers is mere coincidence.

Now to resume.

You recall that Mary has been stressed almost to the point of saying a word she has never said. And that it is the Class from Hail that she fears she will say it to.

I will not identify the C from H except to say that its students were old enough to know better. Period.

Mary and the C from H had maintained a peaceful coexistence for several months without incident. Mary had simply begun carrying a strong antacid in her purse on their class day.

On the day we meet them, Mary has prepared a lesson on reference books. She has made a set of transparencies. She plans to lecture. She plans to assign class work. She has great expectations. In the next forty-five minutes, she will turn the C from H into crack encyclopedia users.

Things did not go as Mary planned. Students came barreling across campus from the gymnasium. They were jiggly. They were wild. They did not care to sit and listen. Every time Mary opened her mouth, one of the C from H opened his or her mouth and spoke a gross irrelevancy. Mary thought about the antacid in her purse.

When, after eight or ten interruptions, Mary thought she had things under control, she began her lecture–again–but here came Kerwin. Late. Loud. Fully aware of the production he was making of himself.

Mary stopped, got Kerwin settled in his chair, got him settled again, got everybody settled again. Then she began–how many times now?–her talk.

For some reason, Kerwin decided he needed to move his chair. Halfway across the room. He stood, reached between his legs, took the seat of the chair in hand, and scooted it backwards across the carpet.

Now for another digression. I have described Mary as soft-spoken, polite, well-mannered. She was. But when pushed too far, Mary sometimes snapped. She increased in height. She became majestic. She spoke–not loudly–but even more softly, but in majestic, measured tones. She became Maya Angelou, Dame Edith Evans, John Gielgud, and the Incredible Hulk, all rolled into one. She was a most impressive sight.

And when Kerwin and his chair went scooting across the room, Mary snapped.

She strode over to Kerwin and took him oh-so-gently by the nape of the neck.

“Come with me,” she said. She turned and marched Kerwin to the door to the front room.

She had no idea where she was going or what she was going to do when she got there.

Once in the front room, she saw a chair by the front door. She marched Kerwin over to it.

“Sit there and don’t move,” she said.

She waved to the computer teacher to let her know Kerwin was there. Then she walked–majestically–back to the C from H.

When she walked in, the C from H were sitting at their tables. They were hushed. Their eyes were enormous.

Mary walked to the overhead projector, switched it on, pointed to the first transparency, and defined encyclopedia. She talked and talked and talked about the encyclopedia.

The C from H sat and stared with their great big eyes.

Finally, one of the C from H mustered enough courage to speak.

“Where’s Kerwin?” he said.

Mary answered, as if she’d never even heard of an antacid, “Kerwin has been ostracized.”

And in the little silence that followed, she saw one member of the C from H lean toward his neighbor and heard him whisper:

“She castrated him?”

If Mary’s career had a high point, this was it. Because she kept her cool. She got right back to her lecture.

She did not smile. She did not laugh. She did not fall on the floor and have a first-class case of hysterics.

She maintained her dignity.

When the time came, she escorted her class to the back door and shooed them out. Then she packed up her transparencies, shelved some books, did whatever had to be done before leaving campus.

Twenty minutes later, when she walked into the front room to return a reference book, she found Kerwin, still sitting in the chair by the door.

She’d forgotten to dismiss him.

He hadn’t moved a muscle.