Romeo and Juliet in Palestine

Tom Sperlinger, a Reader in English at Bristol University, has published an account of jhp54ef08e49f548the five months during which he taught literature at the Palestinian Al-Quds University, under conditions of occupation. His memoir Romeo and Juliet in Palestine chronicles the time he spent with Al-Quds students and faculty, and the difficulties he faced teaching English literature to Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. His memoir challenges those in the humanities who consider life in Palestine irrelevant to the kind of learning we undertake when we study literature.

His University of Bristol website, notes that “Romeo and Juliet in Palestine, was published by Zero Books in June 2015 and has been reviewed in The Observer, the Electronic Intifada and SCTIW Review. It is about a semester [Sperlinger] spent teaching at Al-Quds University in 2013.”  See the interview with Sperlinger about the book for the Bristol Festival of Ideas and for the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper in Brazil.”

As detailed in Bayan Haddad’s Electronic Intifada article, Sperlinger’s time in Palestine required developing new methods for teaching English literature to students in Abu Dis, the East Jerusalem neighborhood where Al-Quds is located. At Al-Quds, Sperlinger taught large classes in which he sought to make English literature relevant to Palestinian students. One way he did so was to ask his students to produce their own versions of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. This gave students the opportunity to relate the divisions in Romeo and Juliet to, for example, lovers separated by the restrictions Israel places on Palestinian mobility, which makes movement from one part of Palestine to another extremely difficult if not altogether impossible.

Sperlinger found that the restrictions on movement, whether in the form of laws or the architecture of occupation (checkpoints, the Apartheid wall), determined in many ways his experiences as a faculty member at Al-Quds. His experiences were also significantly shaped by what he learned from his Palestinian students about the effects of living under occupation, which has influenced his teaching and has relevance for how literature is studied in the UK.  His memoir provides instructive insights to scholars of literature into the difficulties faced by Palestinians students and faculty as a consequence of the occupation and in this regard it is particularly relevant to MLA members.