Friday, January 18, 2013

I Do Not Think it Means What You Think it Means...

To start off, and to prove I'm not crazy (or at least not alone in my particular brand of crazy) my roommate found this fantastic new bag for me on

So clearly Shakespearian Cliffs Notes cause other lit nerds to break out in rage-fueled creativity. (In case you need a refresher, here's my take.)

While any form of Shakespeare Made Stupid does fill me with white-hot rage, they haven't managed to unseat my #1 Bard-Rage slot. This honor is given to the mistake that has caused me to lecture random strangers (and a few co-workers), forcibly throw books across a bookstore, and once almost led to me walking out of a college class. So, without further ado-

BookWench's #1 Shakespearian Pet Peeve
Wherefore art thou Romeo?” does not mean “Where are you, Romeo?”

Yes – this is one of the most pedantic, nit-picky things I can get rage-y about, but just because the vast majority of people misuse this line does not mean I have to accept it. Honestly- if you're attempting to impress me with your intelligence by misusing a line from my favorite writer, I am not going to be impressed, nor am I going to let you continue butchering the Bard. I am also not going to believe that you've read the play, or have any real idea of what happened in it.

If you have read the play, or even just the famous balcony scene in question, then context clues should lead you to the proper conclusion: “Wherefore art thou Romeo?” means “WHY are you Romeo?” Juliet clearly does not know Romeo is there, nor does she expect him to be. Any intelligent Montague would have gone home, quickly, after his identity was revealed to his mortal enemies, whose party he just crashed (luckily teenage hormones trump logic most of the time, or this would be a much shorter play.) Therefore- she's clearly not talking to him or looking for him, she's talking to the imaginary listener of all soliloquies. This line might as well have started “Dear Diary.” All the lines in the rest of this speech are Juliet asking the universe why the boy she met has to be Romeo Montague, son of her sworn enemy, and not John Smyth – random handsome stranger she could totally fall in love with without everyone dying at the end. (Oops...spoilers. It's a Shakespearian tragedy, everyone dies.) In fact it takes another twenty-six lines before Juliet figures out Romeo has been listening. So why would she be asking where he is? She clearly thinks he's gone, not stalking her balcony hoping Tybalt doesn't find him. It's all right there in the text!

I'm seriously getting angry just typing this. Time for a vodka break.

Before everyone starts yelling about how snobby and mean I am, believe me, I am aware that this is weird. At this point, though, it's such an ingrained annoyance I physically react when I hear or see this mistake being made, to the point where you can actually see my shoulders and back tense. I think I would need intense physical therapy to get rid of it at this point.
Once, while working at Borders, I was forced to display a book put out by one of the hundreds of chick lit publishers that cropped up after Bridget Jones became a household name. It was one of the myriad modernizations of Romeo and Juliet, where everyone is ten years older and no one dies (I have yet to see one of these that didn't make me sad for the state of modern publishing.) What made this one stand out was the fact that between the front cover log-line and the back cover blurb they managed to not only mis-use “Wherefore art thou?” but also missed the real meaning of “star-crossed lovers.”* I was so angry that someone high up enough in the editorial department let this get past them I actually composed an angry letter pointing out their extreme stupidity. I didn't send it because I didn't want to lose my job, but I did forcibly throw the book across our warehouse and refuse to put it on a major display. I couldn't find a link to this literary atrocity because most of those publishers went out of business ten years ago, and hopefully the book is now rotting at the bottom of a remainder bin in a Crown Books. Also, I have apparently consumed enough booze to forget the actual title, but it's bad enough that I know it existed and that someone made money for it.
The other major rage incident occurred in college during a mandatory freshman writing class. It was one of the few classes in college where I was the only theatre major in a group of mostly business majors, and there was a built-in animosity between us, because that's how Violets* roll. During a group presentation modernizing classic stories, a fellow student playing Juliet looked at her watch while delivering the “Wherefore” line. I came so close to gathering my things and walking out to ask for a transfer to a different class, one with more lit and drama nerds. I chose to stay because these were poor Stern students who didn't know from Shakespeare,* and at some point I would need them to do my taxes or manage my 401k, or do other math-related things. (That last sentence is hilarious if you're a Tischie.) I silently seethed until the professor opened the floor up for comments, and I was able to vocalize my disappoinment. None of the other students would speak to me for the rest of the semester, but the Bardian Rage Demon that lives in my soul was totally satisfied.

So that wraps up my Shakespearian Pet Peeves. I'm sure most of you are now questioning why you read this blog, or why you're even friends with me, or how you can go about disowning me, but I feel much better having shared my neurosis with others.

*Star-crossed means fated to fail. So if the main character in this chick lit atrocity is wishing for her star-crossed lover, she's basically wishing to fall in love with someone terminally ill.
*Yes, my University's mascot is a violet. As in the flower. We're really hardcore.
* Sorry, apparently I turned into someone's old Jewish grandmother for a moment.

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