Let Me Explain…

Today I had a lot of explaining to do.

Shakespeare has hidden little dirty jokes or off-color phrases in his text, and then students find them like troubling Easter Eggs during in-class readings aloud. Today we read through one landmine of a section during which I had to explain the use of “bastard”, followed by “harlot” and then “cuckold.” In a rather unfortunate turn of events, I became flustered while trying to say “the technical definition of bastard” and ended up saying “testicle”. You try explaining to teenagers what harlots and cuckolds are while your mind is reeling from a gaff of that scope.

Then I had to explain why we dedicated so much time to the significance of the flowers Ophelia handed out to people in her madness. “There’s rosemary for remembrance…”

Then I explained the concept of a sonnet wreath, and I read aloud to them A Wreath for Emmett Till, a brilliant and horrifying and heartbreaking sonnet wreath whose structure and content alludes heavily to Ophelia’s flower-distributing scene, while expressing mourning, heartbreak, and remembrance about the vicious murder of Emmett Till. “The screams of a shortened childhood…”

And silence fell. I closed the book, with so much to explain and no time and no words. I told them to fight against hatred, stamp out prejudice and ignorance whenever it is found, and spread love and kindness wherever they go. Then class ended too soon. Some students lingered to talk about the poem, and ask questions.

“But why did they kill him? What had he done?”

I had no way to explain. None exists. In those awful, heart-wrenching moments, between his question and my answer I wanted to freeze time, and keep them as they are; young, safe in my classroom, flustered and giggling over the earthier side of Shakespeare. I hate moments when I have to break the news to them about life. Some things are beyond explanation.

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