I remember it as though it was yesterday, Ms. Blucher's seventh grade English class. We were reading Romeo and Juliet before going to see a live production. The Uniroyal Traveling Shakespeare Company was giving a matinee Saturday afternoon, right before their sold-out performance of Gilligan's Island: The Musical that evening. Ms. Blucher was determined we were going to properly appreciate Shakespeare before we went to the performance, even if along with appreciation the class as a whole came to hate all things literary.
Somehow, this woman, who could gloat over every misspelled word in every paper I ever wrote in her class became teary-eyed when she talked about the death scene. "Can you not (Ms. Blucher never used contractions, so no "can't" or even worse "ain't" in her class) feel the angst (something most of us was sure was a flywheel on a Volkswagen Beetle) as Juliet stood over Romeo's body, then after she dies, Romeo wakes and stands over Juliet's body?"
"Mr. Noe?" she asked as I made the biggest mistake of my young life, raising my hand. "You have a comment?" Actually, all I really wanted to do was go to the restroom. But I could tell that the middle of the death scene just wasn't the place to ask for a number two. So, instead, I tried, a really tried, to ask a serious question.
"I'm a little confused. Did they actually commit suicide, or were they just being stupid?"
Even the people on CSI might have difficult time straightening that one out, but I could imagine Grissom et al carefully checking Romeo and Juliet's prone bodies with those purple lights while the audience waited patiently for the final scene. Ms. Blucher, saw my question as an opportunity to help me develop proper appreciation.
"You can not identify with Mr. Montague and Miss. Capulet?" I wasn't entirely sure who these two were. I shook my head, my whole aching wistfully of the gleaming urinals in the boy's restroom.
"Perhaps you'd like to tell the class who in the play you identify with?"
"Paris," I said meekly.
"Paris." I sort of felt sorry for the guy. If you don't remember your minor characters from Shakespeare, Paris was the guy Juliet was supposed to marry. He wanders around the play, pretty much confused by everything Juliet does, until he is bumped off by Romeo fore being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In the production we saw the following day, Paris was dressed all in black and twirled a waxed mustache at each of his lines. To this day I believe it wasn't his fault he had a sissy name that he would one day share with a hotel heiress who would do nothing to raise it out of the low position he'd found it.
My answer wasn't sufficient for Ms. Blucher, who sat behind me during the performance to make sure I fully properly appreciated the pathos of the death scene. She poked me in the ribs every time someone was knocked off. I guess I should just count my blessing that it wasn't a performance of Hamlet. My only means of revenge was to yell "Frau Blucher" at every horse I have come across since that night.
Since then, I have come to identify with the underdog. Even though my Sunday School teacher wanted me to be like Jesus, I always felt like I had more in common with Peter. If you don't know your Bible any better than your Shakespeare, Peter was the apostle who kept trying to do the right thing, and always seemed to mess it up. He walked on water only to almost drown, was told by Jesus, "Get the behind me Satan," and ended up denying Jesus three times before the cock crows. Definitely an over-achiever in the screw-up department; I don't even get up before the cock crows.
Dan Brown, if you remember your trashy paperback novels, insisted that the apostles rewrote the gospels to build themselves up at the expense of Mary Magdalene. If that's the case, they also decided to prank Peter. Perhaps they got together and said, "Okay, no one tell Peter. Rock of the church? Who does that guy think he is? When we're through he'll look like a total goofball." In other words, ole Peter was sort of the Larry the Cable Guy of the New Testament: a howl on stage, but you wouldn't want him as your college roommate.
So, no admiring Mr. Perfect Romeo for me. Let's face it, Romeo is Bard Pitt in tights; perfection times two. No way to identify with the guy. I keep trying to see Angelina Jollie as Juliet. Doesn't work. Lara Croft killing herself over some guy? I don't think so. I could see her as Mary Magdalene, at least in Dan Brown's version. In Brown's version, the Gospels are actually a weird version of Dinner for Schmucks, which means Peter would be played by Steve Carell. And, now that I think about it, I could see Carell as Paris; always getting in his own way despite his best intentions.
Romeo and Juliet? I still can't muster much sympathy for those two. They were about as stupid as any two people could be; and their only excuse was that they were teenagers.