Sometimes creativity walks a line. The space between innovative and new-for-the-sake-of-new (or clever and tasteless) can sometimes be tricky to determine. That was a bit how I felt reading Brett Wright’s YOLO Juliet. YOLO Juliet, published—unsurprisingly–by OMG Shakespeare, recounts the tale of Romeo and Juliet in texts—emoticons and all. It is part of a series of Shakespeare’s works presented in similar format.
I read a good portion of YOLO Juliet standing in the bookstore, so it is a quick read. It is undeniably clever. I chuckled a lot. It also, and this is an important warning, upholds Shakespeare’s original tradition of bawdiness. Behind the cartoon-like cover, there are assorted curse words and lewd humor not school-appropriate for young students. Still, it tells the story in a 21st century form and vernacular familiar to older teens. If Shakespeare were living today, an argument could be made that he might have written in similar forms (in fact, wouldn’t that make a fascinating assignment—would he or wouldn’t he?) And it certainly helps us look at Shakespeare, and his stories, in a whole new way.
YOLO Juliet could hook reluctant readers into Shakespeare’s narrative. It could be the basis of a fine discussion on Shakespeare’s intent, his audience, and the humor of his day. Challenging students to rewrite other fiction in text format—if done well– could provide an innovative exercise in text analysis and flexible thinking.
And yet, there is a piece of me that worries about leaving the language of Shakespeare’s day by the side of the road. My actor/director husband, naturally, is concerned about Shakespeare, not as literature, but as performance. He rails about productions that get so caught up in the language the story is lost and characters become wooden. Yet he doesn’t want to change the language, but to make sure the actors and audience understand it. Can we find the emotional complexities of the original Shakespeare when it is reduced to text format? Not likely. Can we gain insight into Romeo and Juliet as young people in terrible dilemma? Maybe.
So, in the end, I find YOLO Juliet in that in-between space. I both love and am frustrated by it. It is creative, yet perhaps problematic. I don’t know. I think this is a useful resource for anyone teaching Shakespeare to older students, but I find myself ambivalent (or maybe just old). What do you think?
Hi Alane! Shakespeare wrote a play, and plays are meant to be acted and seen, not simply read (which teachers often forget). Actors and audiences should be encouraged to make sense of the motivations and actions of the characters in as many ways as possible. I used to tell my students, “We don’t read Shakespeare to find out what happens. We know–if it’s a tragedy the main characters and many other die and if it’s a comedy, there is one or more actual or implied marriages. We read to find out WHY what happened happened.” It would be fun to have students critique YOLO Juliet and analyze the author’s decisions and translations.
So, I don’t see this as a substitute for the original but as something to have fun with as/after reading the text OR a model of a way for KIDS to transform a text. Could also be a useful hook into the text. My two cents. 🙂
Jessica, I could just hear my husband cheering at your first sentence. One of his favorite things to do is to teach Shakespeare to actors using the early folio’s punctuation and other marks that can be seen as early stage directions. I think you are right that YOLO Juliet can be used well. It would be particularly interesting to have students critique it after they really understand the original. I’d love to hear what happens when someone tries it.