'Romeo drowned in Titanic': Teenage views of the Bard

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The Independent Online

Romeo, according to one 14-year-old sitting his Shakespeare test, drowned on the Titanic. Another teenager, asked to explain how Shakespeare handled the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet, said: "They jump in the swimming pool."

These are just some of the howlers made by secondary school pupils answering questions about Shakespeare in national curriculum tests for 14-year-olds.

The first respondent had obviously confused Leonardo DiCaprio's starring roles in Romeo + Juliet and Titanic. The second pupil had taken the director Baz Luhrmann's modern film version - in which the balcony scene is set in a Los Angeles apartment block, complete with swimming - as gospel. And, according to his teacher, probably never bothered read the original text by the Bard. The teacher said: "Watching films of the plays doesn't always pay off."

It is not just the mistakes that have been singled out by teachers on an online chatroom for the profession. They have also made efforts to use teenspeak in explaining the great man's works, and even added a sprinkling of drugs and sex into some of hismost famous plays.

For instance, Macbeth, on hearing of his wife's death, according to one pupil,"goes into full-on soliloquy mode". Another says that the Scottish noble gets his revenge because "as my mum always sez 'wot goes around comes around'".

A third pupil adds that Lady Macbeth - after the murder of Duncan - "ses to Macbeth 'sort your head out'". Two youngsters, according to their teacher, appeared to have been watching too many adult films.

One pupil spoke of Lady Macbeth having "a desire to have Macbeth on the throne", and the other said that she asked him "to show her his manhood".

In one essay - written as part of a classroom exercise before the test - a pupil dealt with Macbeth's three witches and the appearance of the dagger used to kill Duncan by saying: "Macbeth had been smoking up and imaged them all."

The answers are on a website for teachers which was set up by the Times Educational Supplement.

They are not all bad, though. One pupil wrote: "Macbeth is like a snail shell without a snail when Lady Macbeth dies." At least, though, the howlers can be considered on a par with some of those made by students in earlier years.

Past GCSE answers include one student who believed Miguel Cervantes, a contemporary of Shakespeare's, wrote the book "Donkey Hote". And went on to write: "The next great author was John Milton. Milton wrote Paradise Lost. Then his wife died and he wrote Paradise Regained." Back to Romeo and Juliet, and one earlier student wrote of their love affair: "They lived in Italy. Romeo's last wish was to be laid by Juliet."

Another howler from an earlier GCSE exam said: "The greatest writer of the Renaissance was Shakespeare. He was born in 1564, supposedly on his birthday. He never made much money and is famous only because of his plays.

"He wrote tragedies, comedies and hysterectomies - all in Islamic pentameter." Then again, for a question on Julius Caesar, a pupil wrote that he had "extinguished himself on the battlefields of Gaul". A second wrote that Caesar had been murdered by the Ides of March and that his dying words were "same to you, Brutus".