Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Shakespearean teaches/learns a lesson about R&J in Palestine

A fantastic column by Tom Sperlinger at Mondoweiss (many thanks to Refaat Alareer for sending it along!) explores a course module Sperlinger taught on Romeo and Juliet at Al-Quds University in Abu Dis, in the occupied West Bank.  At the end, after discussing the play for weeks, he asked students to think about adapting it to the Palestinian context.  Here's a photo of their whiteboard:

He gives excerpts from several students' adaptations, too.  The most interesting do NOT have Romeo as an Israeli Jew and Juliet as a Muslim Palestinian (or v-v), but rather make Romeo and Juliet into Palestinians from opposite sides of the Green Line.  For instance, TS writes:
In a rewrite by a boy called Qais, Romeo was Rami, a resident of Ramallah, and Juliet was Juweida, from Barta’a, a Palestinian village in Israel. Qais set the play towards the end of the second intifada (2000-2005), when it was nearly impossible for young men like Rami to go into Israel. Rami and Juweida can only meet on the internet, and ‘as if the existing political issues aren’t enough, their main problem is surprisingly family tradition’. Both families are Arab and both feel ‘bitterness’ about their country’s plight. But Juweida’s family are Israeli citizens and think ‘they are privileged and live within a modern, stable “country” and view Rami as a broke loser.’
And so on.  Apparently students at Abu Dis have all kinds of different ID cards and find themselves in such situations relatively frequently.  That institutional frame is more interesting to them than the simple Qays&Layla forbidden love aspect of it. 

Sperlinger concludes: "I no longer think that Romeo and Juliet is a love story."  In part this is because he has always thought of Rom and Juli as "teenagers" -- but living in Palestine has shifted his perception of what a teenager can be, do, understand, suffer.  Kind of a classic expat essay, but moving nonetheless.

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