Here we go again. I swear—I can’t seem to resist a good dare, especially during National Poetry Month and Tweetspeak’s “Year of Shakespeare.” This time, it’s to memorize three sections of Romeo and Juliet. Why these particular three sections? Why not ones I’m already familiar with like these from Act II?
“But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun!”
O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.
“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet . . . “
Those lines are all I remember from this star-crossed lovers’ teenage tragedy. But as usual, Tweetspeak has their reasons—for them to know and me to figure out.
The sections were sent to me in the below order. If I’d actually located them in the play or even noticed the lines before I began, I would have committed the chorus first, because—hello?—Prologue. But I started with Romeo’s words from Act I, Scene V, and I really don’t think that will earn me any dermerits—or debadges. The more times I recited the words, the more sense the whole section made. I think that’s a perk of memorizing poetry.
Guess what? The challenge (ummm…dare) is for all of us. Join me this month and tuck a little Shakespearean love in your heart? I dare you. Grab our fun #CommitRomeo badges to celebrate your progress on Twitter and Instagram.
O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear;
Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear!
So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows,
As yonder lady o’er her fellows shows.
The measure done, I’ll watch her place of stand,
And, touching hers, make blessed my rude hand.
Did my heart love till now? forswear it, sight!
For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.
O serpent heart, hid with a flowering face!
Did ever dragon keep so fair a cave?
Beautiful tyrant! fiend angelical!
Dove-feather’d raven! wolvish-ravening lamb!
Despised substance of divinest show!
Just opposite to what thou justly seem’st,
A damned saint, an honourable villain!
O nature, what hadst thou to do in hell,
When thou didst bower the spirit of a fiend
In moral paradise of such sweet flesh?
Was ever book containing such vile matter
So fairly bound? O that deceit should dwell
In such a gorgeous palace!
Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.
The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love,
And the continuance of their parents’ rage,
Which, but their children’s end, nought could remove,
Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage;
The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.
Callie Feyen’s warm, funny, and deeply felt reflections on teaching Romeo and Juliet to eighth graders took me back to that moment where my own junior high teacher’s line-by-line slog through the play led to my conversion experience to the wonders of great literature. Here is a book that will not only encourage and inspire other teachers but thrill anyone who knows how profoundly literature can awaken and shape the soul.
—Gregory Wolfe, Editor, Image