Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Drama, Romance, Tragedy: an unread response for #moocspeare


I know I definitely won’t be able to participate fully in #moocspeare, that’s the Shakespeare in Community MOOC facilitated by Jesse Stommel and others. But I also know I can’t pass up the opportunity to find out what Jesse can do with a MOOC on Coursera. I expect a tremendous learning experience. Y/day I got the first formal email opening up the MOOC and I forwarded it to my colleagues at work – my boss’s response was (I’m sure she won’t mind my blogging this):

Wow. Shouldn’t this be the way we introduce all courses.
I would LOVE to take this MOOC!
As always, thanks for sharing
My thoughts exactly. I’ve learned enough by just reading that email.
Now I love a lot of things about the MOOC, not least of which is the #moocspeare hashtag which… I actually remember the day someone recommended it on Twitter. I was asking Jesse what the hashtag was and we kept going back and forth, clearly for so long that other people started suggesting things and then someone (someone I don’t know) suggested #moocspeare and we all loved it and apparently that became the hashtag 🙂
OK, so onto the subject of this post. I’m not really sure what kind of activities the MOOC will involve, but this was just a thought that came to me as I hung out last night with Jesse and Sean via Rebecca at #et4online. I said I loved that the MOOC facilitators encouraged people to watch movies (and global versions, not just original) and not necessarily read. But I also said I hated the Romeo and Juliet movie, the one with Leonardo Di Caprio … but to be fair, I think I might hate the actual play/narrative. I am sure when I read the actual prose I will find beauty in it, and I’m a sucker for romance. I just have a few problems with the idea of Romeo & Juliet in the following:
  1. This falling in love at first sight thing – I believe you get attracted to someone at first sight, but I don’t think it’s a good recipe for long-lasting relationships. I’m not denying it’s possible, but I’m not sure why someone would defy their tribe and die for it… eeeks. The problem is that so much other romance follows that kind of recipe, right? Very few romance stories have a gradual buildup. Not as exciting, I guess.
  2. The whole tragic “we can’t be together” thing is such a central point of so much romance (OK, maybe Shakespeare started it, maybe his life was like this, maybe it appeals to a lot of us because we all went through it at some point) – what I hate about it is that it misses out on the real tragedy of romance: the tragedy of being so much in love with someone, then being able to be with that person full-time, and then facing the harsh realities of what it means to be together all the time and the amount of (non-romantic) effort it takes to keep the relationship going and make it successful. The tragedy of relationships that is truly sad, is not the part where people can’t be together, it’s when people who are in love are ABLE to be together, and they can’t keep the relationship beautiful and strong. #BecauseLife? Or something else?
  3. I wonder if people will unpack what it means to value romantic love above family ties and things like that, and what this means beyond the obvious?

I’m gonna stop now because I’m writing this and thinking… I am sure a million people have said this before me. So this is just me recording my thoughts for myself. I might dip into Romeo and Juliet and pick out a few quotes or something 😉 ha, my “token” blogpost for #moocspeare. Also my procrastination from finishing a million other pieces of writing i *should* be doing.

I realized something funny as I wrote this. I think maybe the only Shakespeare play I ever read fully was Othello. And funny enough, we studied it in high school. Then we studied it in college. Yes. I know. Like we Arabs couldn’t possibly relate to any other Shakespeare character because like, they’re just too generically human to be relevant? I love so many other Shakespeare plays, though, like Merchant of Venice (minus the Jewish stereotype even though I grew up on it); Twelfth Night (that’s the same as As You Like It, right?), Much Ado About Nothing… but I’m not a big fan of Midsummer Night’s Dream or The Tempest.


  1. The Romeo and Juliet story, is actually based on an earlier Italian story. The origin of the story are uncertain though it was mashed up a number of times before Shakespeare. Some ascribe it originally to Masuccio Salernitano, who wrote a similar story around 1476. According to Harold Bloom, Shakespeare was not that original of writer and he took his story lines from here and there – today, we call this “plagiarism” – in the past, it was called creativity. Shakespeare’s genius was in his characterizations and in his command of language.

    Love at first sight is part of the Petrarchan paradigm of unrequited, or pure love. The whole “tale of woe” unfolds over three days, from first sight to tragic death, so if the Monague’s and Capulets blinked, they might have missed it.

    The story obviously strikes a familiar chord with a lot of people. My favorite remake is West Side Story.

  2. One of the interesting aspects to me is precisely what annoys you: the notion of true/instant love. Yes, many romance novels ostensibly use that trope, but it’s significantly more complicated and layered in the play (I think). Shakespeare is toying with the idea—common then—of unrequited love, but he is layering on that the notions of social divisions, the play of fate (another thing many more people understood literally then, particularly in the form of astrology)…and I think he’s questioning the very assumptions made by the characters about those things: Romeo and Juliet’s romantic attachment to an ideal that Shakespeare very much questions might be the *real* fate…there’s a lot going on in R&J, something I’m only lately really realizing.

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