T Is for Time: #atozchallenge

One play. Twenty years. 

***

When you reread a classic you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in you than was there before.  ~ Clifton Fadiman

 

The first few years I studied Romeo and Juliet with my high school freshmen, when I was in my early twenties, I followed the Star-Cross’d Lovers school of thought: Romeo and Juliet, two innocents, their eyes meet across a crowded room, she teaches the torches to burn bright, he’s the god of her idolatry, he wants to be a glove upon her hand, she wants to cut him out in little stars–but the cruel world conspires to bring them down.

The way Juliet’s father tells her to thank him no thankings nor proud him no prouds but get to that church on Thursday and marry Paris or he’ll drag her thither on a hurdle–what kind of father says that to a thirteen-year-old girl? Parents don’t listen.

The kids might be a little quick to act, and goodness knows Romeo should have waited to talk to Friar Laurence before buying that poison. But who can expect patience of such romantic souls? A sad story indeed.

When I hit thirty, and had several years of teaching under my belt, I shifted to the What Can You Expect When Teenagers Behave Like Brats? philosophy: Romeo and Juliet, a couple of kids in a hurry. He doesn’t even bother to drop in on his family, just runs off to crash Capulet’s party, proposes to a girl before the first date, insists on a jumped-up wedding, then gets himself kicked out of the city, and he still hasn’t been home for dinner.

She mouths off to her father, tells him what she will and will not do, and right after he’s told her what a nice husband he’s picked out for her. I mean, if you were a parent and your daughter spoke to you in that tone of voice, would you pat her hand and ask what’s wrong, or would you remind her who’s boss here? If Romeo had just gone home in the first place, like any decent boy would, instead of running off with his friends, this mess wouldn’t have occurred.

In fact, since Old Montague and Old Capulet had that very afternoon been sworn to keep the peace, they might have arranged a marriage between Romeo and Juliet–formed an alliance that way–and the whole of Verona would have lived happily ever after, and Montague would have been spared the expense of a gold Juliet statue. Paris might have been a little put out at being jilted, but he’d have gotten over it. Kids! They don’t think.

When I hit forty, however, I developed the dogma of the Meddlesome Priest. Friar Laurence has no business performing a secret marriage between two minors without parental consent. He says he wants to promote peace, but he isn’t a diplomat. His field is pharmacology.

Furthermore, when Juliet informs him she’s about to acquire an extra husband, why doesn’t he go right then to her father and tell the man she’s married? Capulet wouldn’t have been pleased, but he’d have gotten over it.

Instead, the Friar gives Juliet a sedative and stuffs her into a tomb with a passel of relatives in varying stages of disrepair. The man appears to mean well, but it’s also possible he intends to take credit for being the brains behind the peace accords.

Bunglesome or corrupt–the end is the same. With role models like this, are we surprised that children run amok?

Soon after the last epiphany, I ended my stint as a classroom teacher. I’ve wondered what would have happened if I’d continued studying Romeo and Juliet with them year after year. Would I have had new insights? Developed new interpretations? Uncovered new layers of meaning?

How much more would I have shared with my students?

Would I have continued to teach them respect and reverence? Would I have led them down the primrose path of dalliance and left them mired in levity?

How much more would I have seen in my students?

How much more would I have seen in myself?

J Is for Juliet & Ophelia & Paying for Groceries: #atozchallenge

When students asked, “Why do we have to read all this literature?” I told them it would help them to play Jeopardy. You never know when Alex Trebek will ask you a question. Since leaving the classroom, I’ve come up with other reasons. Here’s one I wrote about back in 2012.

*

At HEB this afternoon, having verified that I had, indeed, spent my last sou on a cup of coffee at Waterloo Writers, I ran my credit card through the scanner. The resulting screen read, Select Tender Type.

Tender.

Such a formal, old-fashioned word for this new-fangled device.

It reminded me of the scene in which Polonius asks Ophelia about the status of her relationship with Hamlet:

Polonius: What is between you? give me up the truth.

Ophelia: He hath, my lord, of late made many tenders
Of his affection to me.

Polonius: Affection! pooh! you speak like a green girl,
Unsifted in such perilous circumstance.
Do you believe his tenders, as you call them?

Ophelia: I do not know, my lord, what I should think.

Polonius: Marry, I’ll teach you: think yourself a baby;
That you have ta’en these tenders for true pay,
Which are not sterling. Tender yourself more dearly;
Or–not to crack the wind of the poor phrase,
Running it thus–you’ll tender me a fool.

Poor Ophelia. She was a sweet thing, and young, and the men in her life treated her so shabbily.

But even though Polonius belittles his daughter to her face, the way Shakespeare moves tender through the passage, varying its meaning from one line to the next, renders the speech remarkable. As Hamlet later implies, Polonius is a rat—and he pays for his treachery a couple of acts down the road—but the old man has a way with words.

Thinking of Polonius and Ophelia reminded me of Lord Capulet‘s rage when Juliet tells him she will not marry Paris. He explodes, and Juliet adds fuel to the fire.

Capulet: How! will she none? doth she not give us thanks?
Is she not proud? doth she not count her blest,
Unworthy as she is, that we have wrought
So worthy a gentleman to be her bridegroom?

Juliet: Not proud, you have; but thankful, that you have:
Proud can I never be of what I hate;
But thankful even for hate, that is meant love.

Capulet: How now, how now, chop-logic! What is this?
‘Proud,’ and ‘I thank you,’ and ‘I thank you not;’
And yet ‘not proud,’ mistress minion, you,
Thank me no thankings, nor, proud me no prouds,
But fettle your fine joints ‘gainst Thursday next,
To go with Paris to Saint Peter’s Church,
Or I will drag thee on a hurdle thither.
Out, you green-sickness carrion! out, you baggage!
You tallow-face!


“Thank me no thankings, nor, proud me no prouds, / But fettle your fine joints ‘gainst Thursday next,…” Beautiful. Those are the words of an angry man. Just seeing them on the page gives me the shivers.

To some, Capulet sounds like a terrible father, but, as I pointed out to my freshmen, year after year, Juliet started it. She was rude and disrespectful. Her father didn’t know she was already married to Romeo; he thought she would be thrilled to marry the wealthy and handsome Paris. But she behaved like a brat. It’s no wonder Capulet threatened to drag her on a hurdle thither.

These two female characters present an interesting contrast: Ophelia refuses to speak for herself; Juliet shouts. But neither one lasts to the end of Act V.

A scholarly paper might lurk in there somewhere: “Shakespeare’s Women: A Study of the Consequences of Self-Actualization Within the Context of the Father-Daughter Relationship Complicated by Nascent Heterosexual Bonding, with a Focus on Hamlet’s Ophelia and Romeo and Juliet’s Juliet.”

Or maybe not.

By the time I finished with the Capulets, the cashier had almost finished with the scanning. While she bagged the items, I pondered the relationship between the name of Jason FForde’s protagonist, Thursday Next, and the once-projected date for Juliet’s wedding.

Then I remembered that Tennyson’s The Idylls of the King contains a line echoing Thank me no thankings, nor, proud me no prouds. I don’t remember which character says it, and I’ve not been able to locate it online; I guess if I’ll have to re-read the entire Idylls just to ease my mind.

But I recognized other lines that drifted across the screen: Guinevere, jealous of Elaine, takes up Lancelot’s gift of diamonds

 

And thro’ the casement standing wide for heat
Flung them and down they flash’d, and smote the stream.
Then from the smitten surface flash’d, as it were
Diamonds to meet them, and they past away.

 

That image—diamonds falling into the sunlit stream, and water splashing up, like diamonds to meet them—has been with me for thirty-five years and will remain when the rest of the book has passed from memory.

Well. By the end of my reverie, the cashier and I had completed our transaction. I wheeled the groceries to the car. End of shopping.

End of post.

Except to observe that I stood for ten minutes in one of the most boring places imaginable and forgot to be bored.

I was busy elsewhere.

***

Here are some A to Z Challenge blogs–and some not A to Z Challenge blogs–you might like to visit.

Sparkonit Science Simplified

Charles Heath — Author

iScriblr

A Pondering Mind

Anne’s Family History

FranceSays

Ailish Sinclair: Stories and Photos from Scotland

Zombie Flamingos

Beth Lapin’s A to Z Blog

Abbie’s Corner of the World

***

Images from Wikipedia:

“Ophelia” by John William Waterhouse

“Juliet” by John William Waterhouse

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.

Bani-shed!

Romeo Juliet
Romeo Juliet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tybalt is gone, and Romeo banished;
Romeo that kill’d him, he is banished. ~
Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, III.ii

They are free men, but I am banished.
And say’st thou yet that exile is not death?
Hadst thou no poison mix’d, no sharp-ground knife,
No sudden mean of death, though ne’er so mean,
But “banished” to kill me? “Banished”? ~ Romeo and Juliet, III.iii

Lake Superior State University has published its 2013 List of Banished Words, and, judging from what I found on Google, so has everyone else.

I intended to write about the LSSU list, which introduced me to the word YOLO. (That shows how far behind I am with regard to popular culture.) But while researching, I came across LSSU’s archive of banished words and decided to share them–as many as I can before I have to post this–starting at the beginning.

(Since 9:00 a.m., I’ve changed topics about fifteen times.)

1976 At this point in time – A holdover from the Watergate hearings

1977 To Share – Do we still do this?

1978 Nuk-U-Lar – Still here, but not widely used since President Obama took office

1979 Energy Crisis – Still here, and for good reason

1980 Interface – From a full professor in a faculty meeting I attended, regarding an outside candidate for a tenured position: “I’m not voting for anyone who says he wants to interface with students.”

1981 De-plane – Gone. No one de-planes any more. Airlines make travelers stay on planes for hours before taking off and after landing.

1982 Sit on It – To discourage graffiti in the boys’ restroom, one of my principals hung a small chalkboard and some chalk there. During a subsequent potty patrol, he discovered the message, “Sit on it.”

TBC

Select Tender Type or, Another Reason Literature Is Important

Ophelia by Alexandre Cabanel
Ophelia by Alexandre Cabanel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At HEB this afternoon, having verified that I had, indeed, spent my last sou on a cup of coffee at Waterloo Writers, I ran my credit card through the scanner. The resulting screen read, Select Tender Type.

Tender.

Such a formal, old-fashioned word for this new-fangled device.

It reminded me of the scene in which Polonius asks Ophelia about the status of her relationship with Hamlet:

 

Ophelia, oil on canvas, size: 49 x 29 in
Ophelia, oil on canvas, size: 49 x 29 in (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Polonius: What is between you? give me up the truth.

Ophelia: He hath, my lord, of late made many tenders
Of his affection to me.

Polonius: Affection! pooh! you speak like a green girl,
Unsifted in such perilous circumstance.
Do you believe his tenders, as you call them?

Ophelia: I do not know, my lord, what I should think.

Polonius: Marry, I’ll teach you: think yourself a baby;
That you have ta’en these tenders for true pay,
Which are not sterling. Tender yourself more dearly;
Or–not to crack the wind of the poor phrase,
Running it thus–you’ll tender me a fool.

 

Poor Ophelia. She was a sweet thing, and young, and the men in her life treated her so shabbily.

But even though Polonius belittles his daughter to her face, the way Shakespeare moves tender through the passage, varying its meaning from one line to the next, renders the speech remarkable. As Hamlet later implies, Polonius is a rat—and he pays for his treachery a couple of acts down the road—but he has a way with words.

Thinking of Polonius and Ophelia reminded me of Lord Capulet‘s rage when Juliet tells him she will not marry Paris. He explodes, and Juliet adds fuel to the fire.

Capulet: How! will she none? doth she not give us thanks?
Is she not proud? doth she not count her blest,
Unworthy as she is, that we have wrought
So worthy a gentleman to be her bridegroom?

Juliet or The Blue Necklace (1898) by John Wil...
Juliet or The Blue Necklace (1898) by John William Waterhouse (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Juliet: Not proud, you have; but thankful, that you have:
Proud can I never be of what I hate;
But thankful even for hate, that is meant love.

Capulet: How now, how now, chop-logic! What is this?
‘Proud,’ and ‘I thank you,’ and ‘I thank you not;’
And yet ‘not proud,’ mistress minion, you,
Thank me no thankings, nor, proud me no prouds,
But fettle your fine joints ‘gainst Thursday next,
To go with Paris to Saint Peter’s Church,
Or I will drag thee on a hurdle thither.
Out, you green-sickness carrion! out, you baggage!
You tallow-face!


“Thank me no thankings, nor, proud me no prouds, / But fettle your fine joints ‘gainst Thursday next,…” Beautiful. Just seeing it on the page gives me the shivers.

To some, Capulet sounds like a terrible father, but, as I pointed out to my freshmen, year after year, Juliet started it. She was rude and disrespectful. Her father didn’t know she was already married; he thought she would be thrilled to marry Paris. But she behaved like a brat. It’s no wonder Capulet threatened to drag her on a hurdle thither.

The two female characters present an interesting contrast: Ophelia refuses to speak for herself; Juliet shouts. But neither one lasts to the end of Act V.

A scholarly paper might lurk in there somewhere: “Shakespeare’s Women: A Study of the Consequences of Self-Actualization Within the Context of the Father-Daughter Relationship Complicated by Nascent Heterosexual Bonding, with a Focus on Hamlet’s Ophelia and Romeo and Juliet’s Juliet.”

Or perhaps not.

By the time I finished with the Capulets, the cashier had almost finished with the scanning. While she bagged the items, I had time to wonder whether the name of Jason FForde’s protagonist, Thursday Next, was inspired by the once-projected date for Juliet’s wedding.

I also remembered that The Idylls of the King contains a line echoing Thank me no thankings, nor, proud me no prouds; I believe it’s spoken by Guinevere–maybe–but I’ve not been able to locate it, and it looks as if I’ll have to re-read the entire Idylls to ease my mind.

But I did find the next lines that drifted by: Guinevere, jealous of Elaine, takes up Lancelot’s gift of diamonds

 

Queen Guinevere's maying, by John Collier, 1900
Queen Guinevere’s maying, by John Collier, 1900 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And thro’ the casement standing wide for heat
Flung them and down they flash’d, and smote the stream.
Then from the smitten surface flash’d, as it were
Diamonds to meet them, and they past away.

 

That image—diamonds falling into the sunlit stream, and water splashing up, like diamonds to meet them—remains with me when the rest of the book has passed from memory.

Well. By this time, the cashier and I had completed our transaction. I wheeled the groceries to the car. End of shopping.

End of post.

Except to point out that I stood for ten minutes in one of the most boring places imaginable and forgot to be bored.

I was busy elsewhere.