Sunday 23 August 2015

I spend quite a lot of time advising teachers about their students' suggestions for Extended Essays. I came across the following proposal the other day : How would Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet be different if it was written in 2015? Well, I replied, not much good as an EE Research Question. To start with, it's more likely to result in a piece of speculative creative writing than a proper academic essay. In addition, it's very open and vague - surely it could be 'different' in a multitude of ways? The general topic could only fit with the expectations of the IB Extended Essay procedure if it was focused down to, say, two or three ways in which the play reflects specific social rules which would seem strange to us in 2015 ... but even that would be risky. So, as an Extended Essay, definitely a no-no, but...

... it's actually rather a provocative idea! And the answer is that quite probably the play couldn't be written at all because it simply wouldn't work.

To start with, Juliet wouldn't be mooning around locked up in her bedroom - she'd be out there partying with Romeo from the start. Good friends had their somewhat precocious 14 year old grandaughter (plus friend) to stay here in Sitges. Now, Sitges is well known for its nightlife and so our friends were not surprised to see the two girls carefully polishing themselves into shape to go out on Saturday night. Not surprised, but a little bit concerned, Lynn put herself into liberal-but-firm grandmother mode, and said "Well, darling, have a really good time, but make absolutely sure that you're back here by 11.00." Grandaughter heaved a weary sigh, and said, "But Gran, nowadays we don't even go out until 11.00!"

And what is Romeo going to do the minute he gets within range of Juliet after struggling up the ivy to her balcony? He's going to whip out his smartphone and do a selfie, isn't he? And once he's got it, it's going to be batting around the circuit of WhatsApp, going viral - and it's surely going to be prominently posted on his Facebook page the next day. Which all means that the Montagues and the Capulets are going to come crashing down on our young lovers before they've had a chance to tell the audience how they feel about each other. The play will crunch to a halt before the end of Act 2.

And even if R & J have an unprecedented attack of common sense, and manage to avoid the Selfie Temptation, the climax of the plot is doomed too. You’ll recall that Romeo has to escape to Mantua after killing Tybalt, and so, being 20 miles away by slow horse post, is completely out of the loop as concerns Friar Lawrence’s cunning plan to put Juliet into a death-like coma. The good friar tries to send a message but it doesn’t reach Romeo in time. In 2015, the distance between Verona and Mantua would be utterly irrelevant – Romeo & Juliet would be texting each other every five minutes, and Friar Lawrence would email him exact instructions of what to do and when and how. To say nothing of complete video coverage of Juliet’s funeral ...

So what could Bill Shakespeare do in 2015, in order to rescue the tragic finale? My wife has the genius solution – when Romeo scrambles out of Verona, he forgets the charger for his phone...


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