Writing

A Book That You Can Quote/Recite: Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is over four hundred years old and we are still captivated by its story of “star-cross’d” love. The passion, the fury, the frenzied swordfighting, the rivalries and the play’s ultimate tragedy have been examined worldwide by scholars of literature for many centuries, but the tale of the two young lovers will never grow old.

Despite being one of Shakespeare’s earliest tragic works, Romeo and Juliet is packed with humour, dramatic tension and iconic characters. It is truly a universal play, defying all barriers and boundaries, and appealing to audiences of all ages. At fifteen – about to start my third year of second level education and my first state examinations – I had very little experience of plays, and was not looking forward to diving headfirst into the scrutinisation of the renowned Bard and his writing…

…but something changed.

The naive Romeo and the young Juliet exploded off the pages, overcoming the hatred and bitterness between their Montague and Capulet families with their sincere and genuine adoration for each other. Shakespeare showcased the ultimate power of love in this tragedy. The sacrifices and challenges that the protagonists suffered for their betrothed made their devotion to each other all the stronger.

“These violent delights have violent ends,

And in their triumph die, like fire and powder,

Which, as they kiss, consume.”

Leonardo Di Caprio and Claire Danes as the iconic couple

Their names have become synonymous with love. Thousands visit Juliet’s balcony in Verona, Italy, with their own hopes, dreams and desires. Opera, dance, musical, stage and movie adaptations (particularly Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film, starring Leonardo di Caprio and Claire Danes) have modernised the story and helped a whole new generation to become enamoured with the tale. The opening of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London, in 1997, only served to highlight the playwright’s achievements.

“Give me my Romeo; and, when he shall die,

Take him and cut him out in little stars,

And he will make the face of heaven so fine

That all the world will be in love with night,

And pay no worship to the garish sun.”

“Wherefore art thou, Romeo?”

Not only can I recite it because of constant revision and study sessions, but the magnificent beauty of the language and the wonderful, engaging story make this play a true classic.

“Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day

Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain-tops.”

Writing

‘Writing is the part of you that others don’t really see’.

During a wonderful night out with my best friend of nine years, she came out with quite an unusual statement. Now, while our conversations are generally pretty mad anyway (spluttering with inside jokes, laughter and random digressions), this one contained a remarkably deep insight.

“When I read your writing, it sounds like it’s coming from a part of you that I don’t often see,” she said.

This is coming from someone who has grown up with me for almost a decade: from eleven-year-old kids in Irish College, to (cough, cough) agonising over our secondary school exams, to being vehicle-owning college students halfway through our undergraduate degrees. We have giggled together, we have supported each other, and, most of all, we have seen each other through the dark times, when it seemed like the world had stopped turning. She knows me better than almost anyone.

She’s well used to my book obsession, journalistic ambitions, and fondness for correct spelling and grammar, but for her to say that she doesn’t often hear my writing voice, I found a bit surprising.

Writing has always been my passion, and it was many years before I met Elaine. I can’t imagine my life without it. The love of literature is completely ingrained in me. Surely, if my best friend read my writing, she would hear my familiar tones, my stubborn opinions, and my innermost thoughts ringing out through my words?

Well, not exactly. Despite its huge importance and prominence in my life, writing is still only a part of me. Elaine knows I am a writer, but she doesn’t know my creative voice, because it’s not the one I use aloud. It drives me, but it doesn’t define me. It’s a small but essential piece of me, hiding shyly at the back of my mind, waiting for the moment it can let loose on a blank page. It’s always within me, whether it’s heard or not; like she said, it’s the part of me that others don’t really see.

Writing

Creative Writing

I am writing this post in an angered response to the “writer’s advice” that I read online this morning. The author in question, Ray Bradbury, claims that “you can’t learn to write in college”. This ridiculous statement was provided by a man who turns ninety-one this year, and is out of touch with the brilliant learning experience and outstanding platform that writing at university today can give you.

Au contraire to Bradbury’s opinion, you can certainly learn to write well in college. Writing courses at university are there to encourage and develop creative ability. Bradbury paints writing tutors as disgusting, repugnant people for daring to have the nerve to be renowned experts in the creative fields. “The teachers always think they know more than you, and they don’t.” Excuse me, Mr. Bradbury, isn’t that the purpose of having a writing mentor? Someone to guide and shape your work, offering criticism and positive feedback, not only helping you to improve it for publication, but also increasing your belief in your capabilities? Surely you can only strengthen your chances at establishing yourself as a writer by pushing your writing limits, as well as attending seminars and lectures on your chosen art form, and by talking to those in the profession who you would otherwise not have access to? Creative writing at university is undoubtedly a marvellous opportunity for this.

Bradbury defends his assessment by stating, “They [creative writing lecturers] have prejudices. They may like Henry James, but what if you don’t want to write like Henry James? They may like John Irving, for instance, who’s the bore of all time.”

The writers that we study in college are successful for a reason. Their techniques are there, for the taking, to emulate. You don’t have to like what they have to say, you don’t have to agree with their philosophies or opinions, but you can learn something from them. Just because my mentor happens to have a soft spot for John McGahern (looking at you Dr. John Kenny) does not mean that he forces said writer’s short stories down my throat. In fact, in my experience, creative writing teachers are always open to discovering and discussing new authors. College writing courses are shaped to bring out the best in you as an author, whether your specialism be in poetry, screenwriting, playwriting, fiction, non-fiction, or even all of the above. Having a working and professional writer as a mentor is really important, because they have been in the same position as you – with the bonus that they’ve experienced the publishing game and know how to enforce the word ‘EDIT’.

I am currently undertaking Creative Writing as an undergraduate at the National University of Ireland, Galway, and having a bloody fantastic time doing so, which is why I find Bradbury’s criticism of this so infuriating. I have learned more about writing over the last two years in my course than I have in the total of fifteen years that I have been pursuing this passion, and I’ve gained a lot more confidence in my writing than if I’d dismissed it as a mere hobby and not continued it to third level. I’ve met people who thankfully are just as enthusiastic about writing as I am. Writing in a group has made me less coy about focusing on my writing future, comfortable in the knowledge that I will be spending next year working solely on my writing portfolio. Studying it at university has made me realise that writing, for me, is far more than a pastime. I want to make it my career, and thanks to college, I have mentors who are not only flourishing in terms of their own creative abilities but who are determined to help me do the same.

Marése O’Sullivan

National University of Ireland, Galway

Link to Ray Bradbury article in ‘Advice to Writers’: http://www.advicetowriters.com/