The School Doctor: Romeo and Juliet: The OCR Version

In the latest column for Schools Improvement, The School Doctor writes about the recent OCR exam mistake.

The Oxford, Cambridge and RSA (OCR) exam board has flummoxed approximately 14,000 GCSE English students by making a mistake in a question on Romeo and Juliet. The question implied that Tybalt was not a member of the Capulet family: ‘How does Shakespeare present the ways in which Tybalt’s hatred of the Capulets influences the outcome of the play?’. Which got me thinking … what if OCR rewrote the whole of the play?

Two households, both alike in dignity, in fair Verona, where we lay our scene. Actually, Verona’s a bit of dump, but its highlight is the strong working relationship between its two key families: the Montagues and the Capulets. For generations, these two families have formed political and economic alliances, with frequent intermarriage cementing these bonds. The son of Lord Montague, Romeo, is in a strong and loving relationship with his girlfriend, Rosalind. He is so happy that he spends his days skipping through sycamore groves, telling his cousin, Benvolio, just how much he and Rosalind love one another.

One afternoon, a harmonious party is going on in the streets of Verona, with the Montagues and the Capulets celebrating their fondness for one another. The Prince, jealous and fed up with all this harmony, brings Lords Capulet and Montague together to stipulate that, in fairness to the other political and economic interests in the city, the two families should work less closely. That evening, Romeo, Benvolio and their friend Mercutio attend a masquerade ball at the Capulet house; Lord Capulet and his nephew, Tybalt, are only too happy to invite the younger generation of their great Montague friends. At the party, Romeo and Juliet, Capulet’s daughter, spy one another across the room. Their respective stomachs turn; they exchange insults then leave. Tybalt is delighted that Romeo has been able to attend, and resolves to catch him later to thank him for coming.

Juliet, meanwhile, falls for Paris, an eligible young man to whom she was introduced at the Capulet ball. Romeo passes below her balcony as he heads to see Rosalind, and he can’t help but reflect out loud how much he detests the young woman he saw at the ball that evening. Juliet overhears and hurls back insults in return. The two resolve that they would never be seen dead with one another. Romeo seeks counsel from Friar Laurence, who tells his young charge to keep his distance from a girl clearly so unpleasant as Juliet.

The following day, Juliet asks her Nurse (a meek and quiet retainer) to seek out Romeo to let him know that she is going to marry Paris, and she sure as hell doesn’t want to see him again at one of the Montague-Capulet shindigs. Meanwhile, Tybalt is also on the search for Romeo, to thank him for attending the ball so graciously and for showing him his latest moves. The Nurse turns up, spits on Romeo’s foot, and tells her to keep away from Juliet, or Romeo will face the wrath of Paris. Mercutio, also delighted to see Tybalt, celebrates just how wonderful the Montague-Capulet alliance is. ‘A blessing o’both your houses’, he says famously. Romeo, Mercutio and Tybalt discuss future business plans and even suggest renting a house together so they can brainstorm more Montague-Capulet ideas.

Juliet and Paris plan to get married, even though Lord Capulet is not totally keen on the young nobleman. He’d rather his daughter found a nice young man like Romeo. The night before the wedding, Juliet has one too many drinks; her hangover is so bad that the following morning her parents are unable to rouse her. Lord and Lady Capulet, and the Nurse, mistaking a stonking hangover for death, start to grieve and place her in the family vault.

Meanwhile, Romeo has gone to Mantua on a business trip (he and Tybalt are thinking of opening a ‘Montulet’ franchise there). A churchman, Friar John, turns up – he is able to travel freely because Verona is mercifully free of plague. Friar John tells Romeo about the Capulet mix-up: Lord and Lady Capulet, and the Nurse, seem to be the only ones who don’t realise Juliet isn’t really dead. Romeo rolls his eyes and asks after Rosalind, who is dutifully waiting back at home in Verona.

Back in Verona, Paris heads to the Capulet vault to wake up Juliet with some ‘hair of the dog’. He wakes up Juliet who, despite an intolerable headache, leaves the vault with Paris; they head home to see Lord and Lady Capulet, who are delighted to see their daughter, if rather embarrassed about the whole ‘death’ thing. Lord Capulet is still irked that Paris is going to be his son-in-law, though. ‘What about that lovely boy, Romeo?’ he asks Juliet. The Capulet family look out of the window, over Juliet’s balcony, to see Romeo and Rosalind walking hand-in-hand, gazing lovingly into one another’s eyes. Lord and Lady Capulet go doe-eyed; Juliet rolls her eyes and smiles longingly at Paris. And they all live happily ever after – apart from the Prince, who continues to plot ways to cause divisions between the sickeningly close Montague and Capulet families.

The School Doctor is a practising teacher at a UK school, using a pseudonym to allow more freedom in his/her regular columns for Schools Improvement.

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