A letter to Shakespeare

We Shakespeare profs have to have patience with pop-culture references to the Bard.

Dear Will,

As a Shakespeare scholar, I am familiar with the casual, even cynical uses of your work in popular culture, so the trailer for the new film Letters to Juliet did not take me by surprise. I haven’t seen the film — and I’m not criticizing it; I’m sure it’s delightful — but I gather that the practice of writing letters to Juliet (she of Romeo and Juliet) is the starting point. I think I even read somewhere that people actually do this in Verona.

Fair enough. As I often say, you’re in no danger from popular culture. You practically invented popular culture. Besides, you borrowed liberally from everyone else, why not borrow liberally from you?

But I do find it strange that Juliet (and I guess Romeo, too) has become a symbol for magical, fulfilling romance. Has anyone even read the play? As you well know, Will, Juliet has exactly one love affair: it lasts about three days and she is dead by the end of it. All before her fourteenth birthday. Why would she be someone to dish out advice like a sixteenth-century Dear Abby?

Lovelorn on the Lido: I think my husband might be cheating on me — I read some very sexy texts on his phone.

Juliet: Great question. First, what’s a text? Also, what’s a phone?

Confused in Canterbury: I think this boy likes me, but I’m not sure. What should I do?

Juliet: It’s always best to send a message through your wet nurse. Oh, and marry him right away. No time like the present!

Aching in Athens: I’m in love with one man, but my parents want me to marry someone else. What should I do?

Juliet: Do you know your local priest? Have him mix up a potion… no, wait…

Will, I certainly hope this practice of writing to your characters doesn’t catch on. What’s next? Letters to Hamlet for those trying to make tough decisions? Letters to Iago about how to win friends? Letters to Shylock with questions on sound financial planning?

Letters to you about how your plays are man-handled these days? Now, that really would be going too far.