Romeo & Juliet

I am returning to this blog, after a bit of a hiatus, with one of the most iconic and timeless shows that Shakespeare ever wrote.  It’s not the best play he ever wrote, but it’s still an iconic love story that is always going to be around.  The question becomes making it relevant, and not a pointless exercise in self-indulgence.

As I've said before: ther is a right way and a wrong way to do that.

The trick is making the love seem important.  Most people know the show going in, and in all likelihood they have already made their opinion about the show whether or not you perform it in a traditional fashion.  Either they like it, and anything honest will hold their interest; or they hate it and think that Romeo and Juliet are idiots in young love that is completely different from real love.

You know: the sort of love that LASTS.

I think it is interesting that the play really functions as a comedy until the death of Mercutio.  The behavior is silly, the masculinity is ridiculous, and the world seems absurd until we witness that unexpected murder.  After that, there is a weight to the action that never goes away, even as comedic elements remain.  The Musicians, for example, are a ridiculous insert to a melodramatic moment, which only make sense with an audience that does not assume there will be a heavy death scene.  So the trick is, either way, making the love story seem important.  Everyone has heard this story, and the problem with a modern audience is that most of them simply don’t believe it.  They don’t believe that a girl who “hath not seen the change of fourteen years” can feel anything more than an intense adolescent passion.  In some opinions, Romeo is just changing the focus of his emotional focus from ” fair Rosaline” to “some other maid.” But that forces the play into a stupid angle, makes it irrelevant, and destroys any effort to make the play important.  It simply cannot be a case of petulent young affection.  It has to mean something deep and important if you want your audience to care about them.

Otherwise, you're just waiting for these stupid teenagers to get killed off.

The key is to make their world totally inhospitable.  On the most basic level, Montague and Capulet are fighting some meaningless gang war that has nothing to do with whatever the original conflict was.  The opening Chorus explains the plot of the whole show, that “From forth the fatal loins of these two foes A pair of star-crsst lovers take their life; whose misadventured piteous overthrows Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife.”   But when we investigate the text, we realize that they live in an Italy that is beyond any hope of romance.

Naturally, my mind jumps to the Italy of World War I

First off, there’s the mere intolerance of the Citizens who come to join the street fighting against BOTH houses in both scenes.  Then there’s the fact that the “ancient grudge” between these families has no real meaning anymore, and the kids are fighting simply for the sake of fighting.  But then we get to the banquet that the Capulets throw in an attempt to feel happy,  and Second Capulet comments that it has been “Thirty years” since there was any similar celebration.  Friar Laurence cannot get his letter to Romeo because an “infectious pestilence” is ravaging the countryside.   The long horror of life that consumes this world would also explain why old Capulet is so suddenly eager to marry his underage daughter to the county Paris after the tragic death of Tybalt.  These characters are looking for any slight happiness that they can find in order to distract them from the horrors of their violent world.

No, but seriously, can we talk about how she's 14?

At the beginning of the play, old Capulet is uncertain about giving away his daughter to Paris, even if the young man is wealthy and powerful.  In that period, marriage practices were common that would be considered pedophilia now, yet Capulet says “Too soon marr’d are those so early made.”  His opinion does not seem to change until the death of Tybalt at the hands of Romeo in a street fight.  All of a sudden, the man is ready to disown his daughter if she does not consent to an elaborate marriage ceremony.

In any case, they live in a terrifying, violent place.

The final result must be, no matter what the costumes or the concept, that Romeo and Juliet fall in love becaus there is something truly vibrant and lovely that they see in each other, and which is sorely lacking in the world around them.  There is a lot I can say about how I would like to do this play, but it all really just comes down to that simple dynamic.

That simple, horrifying dynamic.

So that’s all I really have to say about the matter.  You already know the story of forbidden love, so this is not one of the plays where I will recap the plot.  You know what happens.  I only ask that anybody who produces this play is willing do explore the darkest aspects of Verona, and the love story will carry itself.  For this entry, I’m going to end with a fantastically morbid quote from the old Capulet, when the Nurse discovers the body of Juliet, and her betrothed Paris enters to hear the tragic news:
” O son, the night before thy wedding-day Hath Death lain with thy wife: – see there she lies, Flower as she was, deflowered by him.  Death is my son-in-law, Death is my heir; My daughter he hath wedded: I will die And leave him all; life, living, all is Death’s.”

Next week I’ll see you with All’s Well that Ends Well!

3 Responses to “Romeo & Juliet”
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  1. […] the plot is Othello meets Romeo and Juliet, which I know sounds ridiculously awesome.  Even that Romeo and Juliet poison, “which, being ta’en, would cease The present power of life, but in short time […]

  2. […] Tale seems to be relatively obscure in popular culture – nowhere near the status of Romeo & Juliet or Midsummer Night’s Dream – it is frequently cited as the favorite play of Shakespeare […]

  3. […] often for some strange reason.  Unlike the overproduced tales in Midsummer Night’s Dream or Romeo and Juliet, – those scripts actually have merit when viewed on their own – you have to really dig […]

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