Shakespeare’s timeless classic continues to live on in the classroom

The story of Romeo and Juliet has been taught in schools since the beginning of the 20th century. While most think it is a classic piece of literature, others don’t share the same enthusiasm for the story. 

On one hand of this controversy, there are people who believe there is an importance to understanding and analyzing the Shakespeare classic. The portrayal of a forbidden, tragic love story, along with the enemy factor between the parents, makes this story timeless and reread repeatedly throughout schools. Students spend time reading, analyzing and discussing every line and character to try and build an understanding as to why Shakespeare wrote this piece. 

According to The Folger Shakespeare, the simple story line and clear affirmation of love over hate, “Romeo and Juliet provides both a timeless theme and universal appeal. No wonder it’s often the first Shakespeare play taught in schools- on the grounds of its obvious relevance to the emotional and social concerns of young people.”

On the flip side, there are the negative points people have brought up when the time has come to learn this story in schools. People say this story is inappropriate and shows an unrealistic view of love, but most importantly, promotes teen suicide. 

According to The Washington Post, an upcoming senior at Grand Valley State University Kelsey May has a lot to say about Shakespeare and his writing. “I found Romeo and Juliet boring…I wasn’t interested in having to expound upon two kids whining about not being able to be together…. after knowing each other for mere hours! Why was this book selected to be thrust upon us in our extremely impressionable early teen years?”

May continues on to express that although the themes are relevant like most people claim, she still has issues with the story overall.

“The themes of Romeo and Juliet still hold true in my life today:…But these themes were not presented in a complex way. These characters, following Aristotle’s classical unities, fell out of love and in love, married and murdered, all within the time frame of a single weekend….My peers did not need to be encouraged to commit suicide over a botched relationship” May said.

Although it’s understandable why some concerns have been brought up in regard to Romeo and Juliet, I believe it is still an important piece of literature for students to read and understand. I think that rather than trying to shield young readers from the tragedies that occur in the book, they can be turned into a teaching moment and used as discussions that tie into the real world. 

English teacher Kerry Daley has taught Romeo and Juliet to students for many years. Although she has received some questions as to why, she finds it important to continue teaching.

“I wouldn’t say I’ve received a lot of complaints, but more so questions about why we read something that is so old,”  English teacher Kerry Daley said. “For those reasons, and really with most texts, I try to keep the literature relevant. Shakespeare writes about the human experience. Romeo and Juliet are young and in love. Their families are rivals. Their friends get involved and many people keep secrets. These themes are timeless.”

There will always be differing opinions on any story, no matter how famous or how long it’s been around. I think that although there has been an increase in books being banned, a timeless classic from Shakespeare doesn’t seem to be going anywhere in the education world. Even with the complaints and concerns that have been brought to attention, the lessons that can be learned from a story like Romeo and Juliet are important to be taught.