Shakespeare’s advice regarding teenagers

by Mr. Sheehy

Teaching is no easy task, and when you’re working with teenagers, you need to consider the sage advice the world has to offer. I am a big fan of blogging and the “wisdom” of the crowd, as well as psychological and sociological insight into human nature, but some of the best places to look for tips are the great sources, like William Shakespeare’s plays. I recently read Julius Caesar and Romeo and Juliet with my students, and ol’ Willy had a lot to say about these crazy teens I try to reach every day. Here’s my list of Shakespeare’s tips for teachers.

Pay attention to the girls
Brutus and Caesar gave little credit to their wives, and look where it got them.

The folks with big egos will destroy themselves
While Brutus may have been right that Julius Caesar was a future tyrant, he might have figured that a guy who speaks of himself in third-person and declares that “danger knows Caesar is more dangerous than he” is destined to botch things somewhere. But then, listening to the conspirators instead of his wife may have been that moment.

Realize loneliness is real and frightening
Emotional changes can make a person feel lonely and isolated, and when do people go through more changes and terrible catastrophes than high school?

Reading Romeo and Juliet this year, Juliet’s isolation struck me – how, on Tuesday morning, she was completely distanced from the three people who had been closest to her just that Sunday morning, and that leaves her on Tuesday night alone, with her fear of taking the potion (and need of taking it), and her fear of potentially waking, alone, in the tomb: “My dismal scene I must acts alone.” Can one not have compassion for a person who feels this way?

Listen to the goof-balls
Mercutio is of course one of the great jokers of literature, but he has a keen insight into the truth of things – he knew Tybalt’s skill and nature, reacted to the Nurse in a bawdy manner fitting her values, and glimpsed the complexity of life through his insight into dreams and Queen Mab. He joked around and said many things he didn’t mean, but he knew fully what he was saying and and though slightly confusing, continues to be the most popular character with my students when we read the play.

Sometimes kids are right to complain about their parents
Kids often complain about their parents being unfair or mean, and while that usually doesn’t mean that their parents hate them, what if their fathers had just called them a mistress minioned, greensickness carrioned, tallow-faced, disobedient wretch? We might have more compassion towards their situation if we knew.

The one who talks a lot is not always the brightest
If this were the case, the Nurse might be the smartest character in Romeo and Juliet. Hmm . . . that’s not the case: “Blistered be thy tongue . . .”

Don’t get involved with teenagers’ social lives – you can’t help
The poor Friar didn’t understand this, and even with his wisdom and sage advice, he not only didn’t save Romeo and Juliet, he unwittingly helped them to their untimely deaths. Oops.


Original Image: ‘Irritation‘ by: Beatrice
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Image: Droeshout Engraving, from The Holloway Pages