If you're like me, you read Shakespeare in high school or college, and don't remember much of it. Sure, you can rattle off a few famous lines like Hamlet's "To be, or not to be," or Romeo's "But soft! What light through yonder window breaks," but do you really remember much else about the plays? In fact, would you go so far as to say that you even understood them back then? Or was it just funny-sounding English with a lot of references that your teacher explained to you for you to believe because you didn't know any better? That's how I always felt, but when I saw Shakespeare on Love released from Ignatius Press, I figured I would give it a shot.
True love and tragic love are the recurring themes that youth are taught when reading Romeo and Juliet in high school or college. Joseph Pearce would beg to differ though. In his book Shakespeare on Love, Mr. Pearce looks to debunk these misconceptions on the "love" that teachers and students interpret in Romeo and Juliet by looking at the play from a Catholic perspective. "Why from a Catholic perspective?" you might be asking. According to Mr. Pearce, it is because Shakespeare was Catholic, as he demonstrated in his previous two works The Quest for Shakespeare and Through Shakespeare's Eyes.
The book starts off explaining the three ways one can read Romeo and Juliet. The first way is from a fatalistic perspective, in which fate kills Romeo and Juliet. The second way to read the book is from a romantic perspective, in which it is the feuding families are ultimately responsible for the young lovers' demise. The last way, and the way which Mr. Pearce says you should read it, is from a moral perspective, where the star-crossed lovers' choices lead to their death and the deaths of many others. The book then embarks on a critical examination of Romeo, Juliet, Friar Lawrence, and some of the key scenes in the play, i.e. the balcony scene.
Each chapter was fascinating, and they provided me with key insights I did not receive in high school. At times, I was even asking myself, "Is this the same play I read in high school?" For example, I completely missed that Juliet was ONLY thirteen and Romeo was twentysomething. The most fascinating chapter to me, though, was entitled "Venus and the Virgin." In it, Mr. Pearce says that Romeo is a follower of Venus, and therefore Romeo's love is impure. He is more concerned with erotic love than true love. He therefore quickly recovers from being scorned by chaste Rosaline, and is able to find an easier target in Juliet, whom he corrupts and steals her innocence.
Overall, I found Shakespeare on Love to be a truly fascinating book that is worthy of a 5 star rating. It opened my eyes to sections I never understood, and it made me rethink everything I learned about Romeo and Juliet. If you have a teenager or twentysomething reading this play, I recommend you pick up a copy for them. Not only will they look more intelligent in the classroom setting by presenting the Catholic perspective on this play, they will also not be brainwashed by teachers who gloss over this play and try to boil the whole story down to true but tragic love and one of the greatest love stories ever told. Adult Shakespeare lovers will find this book fascinating as well. In a nutshell, buy this book!