Gloria Castrillon on Teaching “Romeo and Juliet”
I had enjoyed Shakespeare at school, but no more nor less than, for example, The Great Gatsby. I had enjoyed some Shakespeare at university (notably Macbeth taught by Professor Martin Orkin), and had not enjoyed others (King Lear, taught tragically boringly by another professor who shall remain nameless). I only enjoyed Lear after I saw the movie Ran and re-read Lear alone. By 1989, I had decided to abandon the English Literature department (into which I had been accepted for Honours) and move to the African Literature department – a move I was never to regret. I completed my Honours and Masters in African Literature, and there developed a love for Shakespeare that was fed, ironically, by the greats of African literature, whose works spoke back to the English literature they had studied, and forward to the authors they in turn would inspire.
Then, in 1990 and 1991, I was a full-time teacher at a school in the Johannesburg CBD. I was tasked with teaching Wuthering Heights and Romeo and Juliet to matriculants from townships all over the greater Johannesburg area. I was a little mollified by the fact that Romeo and Juliet is as simple a Shakespearean text as Wuthering Heights is a difficult Gothic text. I was determined to make Shakespeare not scary for the students (they told me they were terrified). I was determined they would enjoy it. What I did not expect was how much I would enjoy teaching it to them. The innuendos, the ribaldry, the puns were perfect for a teenage audience. The love story was ideal. The fact that there was a Romeo in Grade 11 and a Juliet in Grade 12 (although they did not love one another) was a synchronicity I could not have asked for.