Wherefore Did I Fail

I’m a horrible father.

My oldest, as I may have mentioned, is studying Romeo and Juliet in school. Today while driving her to school we were discussing Shakespeare and I’d joked about the possibility of creating a “Name That Shakespeare” game along the lines of “Name That Tune.”  You know, “I can name that Shakespeare play in 3 words!” sort of thing.  (More on that in a future post!)

To which she responds, “That would be impossible.” Thinks about it and adds, “Well, I suppose some would be easy. Where art thou.”

Not taking my eyes off the road I ask, “What’s that one from?”

“Romeo and Juliet,” she replies.

I immediately begin hitting the child.  “That’s not even funny!” I yell in mock horror. Maybe it wasn’t so mock.

Defending herself she retorts, “Why? What’s wrong with that? Is that not the line?”

“It’s wherefore art thou,” I correct.

“Right,” she says, “It means where are you.”

I immediately begin hitting the child again.  “Where did I go wrong? When did I fail you? Of all the things I’ve taught you, how did you miss this?  This is like the line in the sand between people who understand Shakespeare and who don’t.  It’s the go-to inside joke among Shakespeare geeks.  If you google “Shakespeare knock knock jokes“, you get this joke. I literally have a t-shirt with this joke written on it.  Knock knock.”

“Who’s there?”


“Wherefore who?”


“I don’t get it.”

I didn’t actually push her out of the car, or disown her.  I may have thought about one or the other. She goes on to tell me how she honestly thought (up to this point I’d hoped she was kidding) that Juliet was looking for Romeo in the bushes.  *sigh*  I had to explain how, from her point of view, she’s never going to see the guy again, it was just two ships passing in the night. It’s not like they said “Come out on your balcony, I’ll meet you outside.”

I just honestly don’t understand how that went past her.  If you’d asked me I would have thought it was one of my most overdone jokes.  Surely they’d heard it a hundred times.  Shows what I know.  What else do I assume they know that they have no clue about?



For Then We Should Be Cockroaches

Mind blowing moment at breakfast with the geeklets this morning, one of whom decided to treat a plastic kitchen ladle like a doll and name him Sampson, and the other who is reading Romeo and Juliet and says, “Gregory” every time her sister says “Sampson.”

As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.

If you never read it in high school, that is the famous opening line (albeit translated) from Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis”, where the lead character wakes up to discover he has been transformed into a cockroach.

The lead character’s name is Gregor Samsa.

Gregory.  Sampson.

There’s absolutely no connection, of course, but being geeks we research these things.  I consulted the BORED  (that’s Bardfilm’s Oxford Remote English Dictionary), just to rule it out (because how cool would it be!). Bardfilm, of course, can pull out a book called Kafka’s Names at the drop of a hat.  There we learned that Samsa, while no doubt intending to mirror Kafka’s own name, is also likely a reference to the Buddhist samsara, the repeating cycle of reincarnation before achieving Nirvana.  There’s other possibilities, but I like that one. There’s also no reference to any Romeo and Juliet connections, but did you really expect one?

This is how we spent breakfast in my house.


Geeklet’s Golden Ear

Portia, in Merchant of VeniceBeen awhile since I had a good geeklet story to tell.  I come home from work today and my middle daughter says, “Daddy, my math teacher was dropping these Shakespeare quotes all over the place today.”

“Cool.  I like him.”

“I know, but I was, like, the only one that recognized them as Shakespeare.”

“Which quotes?”

“A bunch of stuff from Merchant of Venice, I think.”

“You recognized Merchant of Venice quotes?”

“I dunno, they kind of sounded like they came from Merchant of Venice.”

As far as I know my daughter’s never actually read Merchant of Venice. But now I’m curious if her teacher threw out a “quality of mercy is not strained,” I think that one’s got higher odds than “if you prick us do we not bleed.”

I did not ask, but last week my daughter was on a field trip to the Museum of Fine Arts and told me that one of her teachers drove her crazy all day by doing things like coming up behind her and whispering, “I see dead people!” or waiting until they were in a room with a statue of a naked guy and saying, “The guide book says there’s supposed to be a picture of a full moon in here, can anybody find it?”  I hope it’s the same guy.

What Makes or Breaks a Romeo and Juliet?

I can’t believe it’s taken this long, but this week my oldest is finally seeing an actual live Shakespeare production as part of her studies (i.e. not because I made it happen).  The production in this case is Romeo and Juliet (why is it always Romeo and Juliet?) and I’ve already told her that my assumption is she already knows moRomeo and Julietre about the play going in than anybody else in her class.

Since she’s already seen and read the play on her own, plot and character and all that stuff are out of the way (as has always been the plan).  So what I’d like to do is give her some suggestions to watch out for that will make this particular interpretation different.  In other words, it’s a great opportunity to discuss how everybody gets the same script, but every production is different.

What do you suggest?  For instance, I’m a big fan of watching the minor characters. I think they can really fill out the play when you give them a chance.  How’s Friar Laurence?  Is he just an incompetent adult, or should we see him as more of a villain who brings about all the tragedy because he is overly zealous in his desire to be the one who ends the feud?

Similarly consider Lord Capulet.  Which face is the right one? The one that says Juliet must decide for herself to marry Paris? Or the one that says do what I tell you or get out of my house?  I’ve always thought of him as a bad guy. But I’ve had people defend him, saying he’s merely a man with a temper who doesn’t mean what he says.

Another question I like to ask is how violent is the conflict between the two families in this version?  I don’t like the overly violent interpretation where both sides are always this close to killing each other. I prefer to believe that the grudge is dying out. Both sides now are all talk and bluster but neither is really serious about doing injury to the other. That way, Mercutio’s death is an accident. Even Tybalt is surprised – which makes Romeo’s revenge darker because while Tybalt accidentally killed Mercutio, Romeo deliberately killed Tybalt.

See what I’m talking about? When you see Romeo and Juliet for the umpteenth time, what are you paying close attention to?

Geeklet Studies Romeo and Juliet : Oh, Come On

We’ve all heard the tragedy of my daughter’s class not getting to finish Romeo and Juliet. They’re forever stuck in Act 3, with Juliet just having discovered that Romeo is banished.  Never was a story of more woe, than that of my daughter and her eighth grade English class.

My daughter even read that post and told me over dinner, “It’s going to be ok, Daddy. But at graduation if you see my teacher you are *not* to go near him.”

So yesterday she comes home from school and says, “Well, I’m up to Act 5 Scene 4!”

“How’d that happen? You reading it on your own now?  When did you find time to read that much?”

And then I get the rest of the story.

Seems that the school had a lockdown drill today.  I’m not sure the protocol precisely, but it involves the entire class being huddled into a small space like sardines.  I know this because apparently a handful of girls could not stop giggling over it, and a handful of teenage boys saw it as a golden opportunity to grab some teenage girl bottom.

And their teacher lost his mind.  Unable to express to them the seriousness of the situation, once the drill was over and they were back in their seats, he apparently raged beyond anything that they had seen before (he’s a yeller anyway), throwing out insults and curse words with reckless abandon.  Just like you see in the tv shows, they were assigned a mandatory essay, due Friday, on the history of school shooting – anybody that doesn’t complete it does not get to participate in the end of year class activities, including a harbor cruise.

He then cancelled whatever fun activity they had scheduled for the remainder of the day and told them to sit quietly in their seats and read.  What did they read?  You guessed it – Romeo and Juliet.

I could do little but roll my eyes at that.  So is it a punishment at that point?  Or was taking it away in the first place the punishment?  My daughter was all, “Fine, I wanted to read it anyway!”

In the teacher’s defense, I think he was right to be upset and expect that Romeo and Juliet was merely the closest book and held no special significance.  I talked to my daughter about that this morning.  “Somewhere in your lifetime,” I told her, “His job description went from hey try to keep these kids interested long enough to teach them Romeo and Juliet, to Hey you might be called upon to die today to protect these children, and never make it home to see your own.”  So for those children to not respect the gravity of what is a very real situation, when he himself has to imagine his own potential death, yeah, I can see why he was pissed off. (For the record my daughter claims to be innocent of any wrongdoing, and that a specific handful of girls started it – but unfortunately it only takes one to make enough noise for the gunman to find all of you, my darling.)

I may not be happy with the way the Shakespeare situation turned out, but I’m definitely on his side here.


Geeklet Studies Romeo & Juliet : The Tragic End

In sooth, I know exactly why I am so sad.

On Wednesday, April 6, my daughter told me, “We start Romeo and Juliet next week.”

It’s a moment I’ve been waiting for since she was five years old.

I’ve been keeping you all updated as best I can, from the stories I’ve gotten.  For just about two months I’ve heard about them studying Shakespeare’s life, the sonnets, writing their own sonnets, watching the movies, reading the modern translation, watching the movies, acting it out, watching the movies…

And then yesterday she tells me that the end of the year is upon them and they will not have time to finish the play.

I can’t even really get my head around how that happens.  They are right in the middle – Juliet has just been told that Romeo is banished.  And that is where they will stop.  Just like that, the teacher collected their books and put them back on the shelf. Done.  Interested students don’t even get to keep them for an extra week to read ahead.  He’s moved on to whatever else is left for the rest of the year, which apparently means grading papers.

I was lying awake in bed at 3am last night imagining all the different responses I might have to this.  Is it his fault? Is it just a curriculum thing where the 8th grade in this town says to squeeze in Shakespeare at the end of the year if you have time?    Nope — there are three “teams” of 8th grade students, and the other two finished it.  So, it’s just him.

Oh. Ok, then….ummm….did he just go into such a deep exploration of the text that they fell behind?  So that my kids’ understanding of the first half of the play exceeds the other classes?

Well, no.  I came home one day and my daughter told me they’d watched Gnomeo and Juliet.  You gotta be kidding me.  You couldn’t have squeezed in another act instead of watching that children’s movie that they’d all no doubt seen already since it came out six years ago?

I am very sad about this.  My daughter has been looking forward to it.  She’s at least one student – and probably not the only one – who went to school each morning thinking, “I hope we do Shakespeare today.”  I’m especially sad for any others who did not grow up in a house surrounded by Shakespeare, for whom this was their first experience, who came away thinking, “This is awesome, I want more of this.”  I can’t help those children. That’s his job.  And whether there’s one more of them out there or twenty of them, he’s failed them.

Next week is middle school graduation and there’s at least some possibility that I’ll get to speak with the man. I have no idea what I’ll say.

Alas, Poor Donald (Another Geeklet Story)

“Daddy!” said my middle daughter, “I have a Shakespeare reference! Can I tell you?”

“Silly question!”

“Ok, so, we’re in art class, and we’re making these puppets.  And this other girl is making this one that looks like a skeleton. It’s supposed to be Donald Trump, but whatever. Anyway she holds it up and says, “To be or not to be, what is the question!”

“Is this one of the girls I would know, from when I came into your classes and taught Shakespeare?”

“No, you don’t know her.”

Ok, cool, so a completely random Shakespeare reference.  I like her already.

But … can we get back to the “skeleton that’s supposed to be Donald Trump” thing???

Only My Geeklets Could Spoil A 400 Year Old Play

“Oh my god, I feel so bad!”

My daughters were at the school this fine Saturday morning working on a garden project with other middle schoolers.  I assumed she felt bad that I was picking them up early and leaving their friends to continue the work.  “Why?” I asked.

“I just totally spoiled Romeo and Juliet for my friends,” said my oldest.

“How do you spoil a 400 year old play? How does anybody not know how it ends?”

“They didn’t know that Mercutio and Tybalt both die!”


“Ok, Elizabeth and I were play fighting, so she said, “I’m Mercutio, you be Tybalt!”

Ok, pause…   *beam with pride* … Ok, continue.

So then my oldest continues, “So then I say, Mercutio drew first! Ha! You die!  But then I remembered Tybalt dies too and said Oh wait no so do I.  And my friends who are reading the play in class with me now looked at us like, “WHAT?””

Only my kids!  But you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way 🙂

Geeklet Starts Romeo and Juliet. I Think.

My daughter was told that they’re starting Shakespeare something like three weeks ago. They did a week on Shakespeare’s life, a week on the sonnets, and almost a week on the prologue to Romeo and Juliet.

So at long last my daughter comes home from school today and flies directly at me.  “Daddy!” she yells excitedly, “We finally started Romeo and Juliet!”

“Great!” I say, “How did he end up approaching all that collier/choler/collar stuff?”

“We didn’t get that far.”

“As in, literally the first line. You didn’t get that far.”

“Well, we didn’t really start it.”

Turns out they started watching the movie.  The 1968 Zeffirelli version that everybody watches.

“Oh, so how far did you get in the movie?” I asked.

“The scene where Juliet’s mom is asking whether she wants to get married, and the nurse says a bunch of inappropriate stuff which we mostly didn’t understand.”

“And how did your teacher handle that?”

“He explained one of them, kind of, in a very roundabout way. I don’t even remember which one it is.”

“Here’s the thing about Romeo and Juliet,” I told her (for not the first time).  “If you start out by assuming that everything either Mercutio or the Nurse says is a dirty joke?  You’re probably right.  There’s a really good one in the beginning where, I think the Nurse is actually saying it was her husband that says this to a 13yr old girl, but it’s something about how she’s so klutzy she falls on her face, but when she’s older and knows better she’ll learn how to fall on her back.”

“THAT’S THE ONE!” my daughter said.

I tell you, this teacher and I are on the same wavelength. 🙂

Geeklet’s Sugared Sonnets

My oldest had to write a sonnet for her homework.  The rules set down were, in order, that it should be:

  • 14 lines
  • 10 syllables per line
  • ABAB/CDCD/EFEF/GG scheme
  • iambic pentameter
“Most kids aren’t even going to attempt iambic pentameter,” she told me.
“You will,” I told her.  “Where’s the volta? The turn?”
“He’s never mentioned it.”
“Shame.  It’s not really a Shakespearean sonnet without a good volta.”
She has given me permission, as part of Shakespeare Day, to share her creation.  I told her that sonnets are not generally titled, but she insisted.

Fleeting Fall

The wind carries the scent of changing trees
While sticky sap drips down for tasty treats
And down the apples fall with light fall breeze
Becoming grandmother’s pie for dinner sweets
On busy streets the cider donuts wait
Soon hungry children come to eat their fill
Then racing home, they try not to be late
For pumpkin pie sits cooling on the sill
A lightly drizzling rain comes with the dawn
It washes everything away, anew.
And all too soon the life of fall is gone
When winter blankets everything in view
The fleeting scents of autumn all are flown
But winter brings aromas of its own.