I have taught 'Romeo and Juliet' every year for the past five years, and with each re-reading and re-teaching I gain different appreciations of the plI have taught 'Romeo and Juliet' every year for the past five years, and with each re-reading and re-teaching I gain different appreciations of the play, particularly in regards to Mercutio and Juliet.
I admit that my first year teaching the text that I did not understand Mercutio's "Queen Mab" speech, or indeed, Mercutio's role in the play at all -- besides, of course, the purpose he serves in swinging the play from "romantic comedy" to "tragedy" in Act III, Scene i. But as I continued to study his character, I came to understand that the "Queen Mab" speech foreshadows the shift from "silly romance" to "terrifying nightmare," and that Mercutio in general not only functions as the comic relief, but also shows us Shakespeare in the midst of experimenting with sublime characterization: indeed, Mercutio is a much more full and engaging character than his mopey friend, Romeo. In fact, I agree with Harold Bloom's remark that had Shakespeare not killed him in the middle of the play, 'Romeo and Juliet' would have had to have been called 'Mercutio.' In any event, I can personally attest that Mercutio is the most fun character to perform in class -- he gets the most dirty jokes, after all!
Like Mercutio, Juliet's characterization gives us a glimpse into Shakespeare's transition from a good playwright to a masterful one. Her monologues reveal an immense depth of character -- much more immense than most students, teachers, and critics give her credit for. Take, for instance, her "what's in a name?" soliloquy, where she confronts a conflict and thinks it through; I cannot think of anywhere in Shakespeare's writings before this point where a character thinks so clearly or eloquently. If we follow her character thoroughly throughout the play, we see that she kills herself at the end simply because she is literally left with no other choice -- what else could she do? Reveal her fraudulent death to her violently-tempered father? To say that Juliet commits suicide impulsively is to unfairly underestimate the fullness of her character.
The Folger edition of the text is ideal for all classroom studies of the play, for it offers comprehensive explanatory notes on every left-hand page and a full version of the tragedy on every right-hand page. Highly recommended for all students of Shakespeare. ...more
Hamlet is perhaps the most notoriously enigmatic character in all of Western literature: we want to like him, we want him to find peace, and yet thereHamlet is perhaps the most notoriously enigmatic character in all of Western literature: we want to like him, we want him to find peace, and yet there are always the facts that he callously destroys Ophelia without reason -- certainly, antagonizing Polonius's daughter does not fall under the umbrella of his "antic disposition" -- and that he remorselessly murders Polonius, and even later gratuitously orders the deaths of his former school-friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. We therefore cannot connect with him in the same way that we connect with other tragic heroes like Brutus. But along the same lines, Hamlet is certainly no hero-villain: he is no Macbeth, for instance.
So how should we think about Hamlet? Perhaps the best advice is to give up trying to categorize him and instead just listen to him: he thinks so well that our own thinking can only improve from exposure to his. Many people fuss over Hamlet's inaction, his inability to follow through with his vengeance against Claudius, but the more you listen to Hamlet, the more you begin to realize that perhaps fulfilling his dead father's revenge-wish is not what he wants, and THAT is why he does not act. I firmly follow Nietzsche in his observation that Hamlet does not think too much, but rather thinks too well.
Like all of the Folger Library editions of Shakespeare, this text includes useful notes on every left-hand page and a reasonable consolidation of all versions of the play on every right-hand page. Thus, the book is ideal for any classroom- or individual-based study of Shakespeare's most engimatic personage. Highly recommended. ...more