Romantic Love is a Myth; Or, How to Unpack a Genre
(Warning: This is not a resource on how to teach Shakespeare. Except it kind of is.)
I had already been through one year of teaching “The Taming of the Shrew” to a high school audience. It had been reasonably successful; students enjoyed reading the play aloud, and were amused by the trickery and brashness of the main characters. The most interesting and fiery conversations, however, revolved around what Shakespeare’s intended message of the play was: was he giving us a realistic portrayal of love and courtship in his time, or not? Was the play going for straight-up gags, or deeper satire? And how did we interpret the text today?
At the end of the unit, several students petitioned me to show the movie “10 Things I Hate About You.” It would have been easy to screen the film, do a quick compare/contrast on an “updated” Shakespearean text, and call it a day — but the conversations we had were begging for something more thorough.
I began to examine how we dealt with the topics of love and romance at school. Discussion of these topics was usually relegated to hallway gossip, personal confessions, or, at best, a unit in health class. In an English class, romantic plot threads are seen as a great way to drum up student interest, but often given light treatment compared to topics like loss of innocence, family, or war. This disparity seemed non-sensical at best and inequitable at worst — especially at a school that openly claimed some feminist roots.
So why not apply the same tools of analysis that we usually reserved for more “serious” topics? This project would be a chance to take a closer look at our cultural traditions of love and romance, and the countless texts that influence those traditions — with “Shrew” as an important milestone in that history. As for tracking the tradition into the present day, media portrayals of love and romance abound! After considering the possibilities available (matchmaking reality shows, online dating sites, Harlequin novels…) and I settled on sticking to romantic comedy films. I knew that students thought of these movies as superficial entertainment, nothing more. What was slipping by into their psyches while they were looking for a laugh or a cry? It was an opportunity for some basic media literacy, but also engage in a deeper exploration of the dynamic between a text and the society that consumes it.
So we would read the play. Students would have their choice of RomComs to watch, and learn how to read them critically. And we would try to figure out what the relationship was between love and romance in “the real world” and what we read, on the page and on the screen.
At this point, I had no idea what an awesome mind-bender this project would be.