Since we will be reading Romeo and Juliet after spring break, I decided to have my classes watch a movie version before the break. I’m hoping that maybe if they see the movie first it will help them understand the lines better when we read the play. Which brings me to an interesting dilemma that I have had to face: in the movie version of the play that we watch (the Zeffirelli version) there are two murders (there are three in the play), two suicides, and about two seconds of Romeo’s butt and two seconds of Juliet’s breasts.
Why did I cover the barely naked and sincerely lovely bedroom scene but not the two murders and two suicides? And why did the religious boy in one class look down during the bedroom scene (that is supposed to be a balcony scene) for fear that I would slip and reveal a sliver of something but watch throughout the two very, very long sword fights?
Is this a sign of how silly or perverse our society is that it is okay to watch violence but we should not view the beauty of love and the human form? I’m not talking porn here, I’m talking of glimmers of “forbidden parts.” It seems to me that our society needs more adjusting than in the way we spend our money; we need to reconsider what we value—what should be valued. How could I fear getting emails from parents because of a momentary butt (a very lovely one at that, since I showed it last year) and not from three impalements and one dose of poison? Why was the intense intimacy between the newly-married Romeo and Juliet more fraught with possible repercussions for me than seeing Mercutio’s stab wound?
I so wish it weren’t so. I would so much prefer beauty over violence. Wouldn’t that be better for us all? Why protect their innocence from nudity but not from barbarity? Surely in these days when people are talking of domestic violence it would be better for kids to understand the difference between love and violence; moreover, they should be encouraged to groan at the sign of pain and look head-on to the unveiling of love. Maybe this year when we read the play I need to stress how the violence led to the destruction of Romeo and Juliet’s love. This year as we read the play maybe I should get the most aggressive boys to take turns being Romeo and not succumb to their desire to play Tybalt the aggressor.
Yes, this year I will counter the internal movie censor that I was with a different kind of censorship. This year I will try to not have the boys laugh at the effusive pronouncements of love—this year I will try to get them to see into themselves and to admit that to love is far more powerful than to succumb to tawdry threats and aggression. And the girls, they should see that tenderness and love makes one stronger, not weaker.