Like acne or an attitude or algebra, Romeo and Juliet is just something that happens to you in high school. Thanks to a long-running cultural positive feedback loop, the concepts “high school play” and “Romeo and Juliet” have become so star-crossed in our collective consciousness that, even if you never had to don a color-coded Capulet or Montague costume in tenth grade, you probably feel like you did.
For teenagers, Romeo and Juliet is supposed to be Shakespeare’s most “relatable” play. Its protagonists are adolescents who rebel against the social order by acting on their overwhelming feelings for one another. Many educators are savvy to the play’s inherent sexiness and use this hook to get students invested in Shakespeare, who is usually considered a tough sell to teens. While lots of students will find themselves fretting and gossiping about who will have to (or get to) kiss whom in the production, the teacher still entertains hopes that they’ll also pick up some iambic pentameter and do a little thinking about systemic violence.
Christian schools and homeschool collectives do Romeo and Juliet too, but tell the story with a different moral. A standard public school production of R & J levels its critique at the “two houses” and shows how tribal pride and prejudice work together to destroy innocent lives. Many a Christian school, on the other hand, will teach Romeo and Juliet as if it were a cautionary tale against young love itself: don’t follow your deceitful, wicked heart, or the consequences could be dire.
But no matter what warning label educators might affix to it, Romeo and Juliet is compelling to teens—and yes, ...1