ROMEO AND JULIET · THEATRE

ROMEO AND JULIET @ THE OLD GLOBE

Image result for romeo and juliet
Still from Franco Zeffirelli’s film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, 1968.

I know, I know. I have no business showing my face around here, especially because my post on Coriolanus is twelve days late. I actually have a legitimate reason for being a terrible Shakespearean: I’ve been recovering from a mild concussion. I wasn’t even allowed to read during my recovery, which means that the last act of Coriolanus is still waiting for me. I feel a lot better now, which means I was able to see the production of Romeo and Juliet that I had already bought tickets for.

This isn’t a personal blog, so I won’t keep harping on about myself, but it was pretty terrifying going back to Shakespeare after my concussion. There was a period of time where I didn’t feel like myself, and I kept guiltily looking at Coriolanus as it began to gather dust on my bedside table. I was a bit scared that if I started to read, I wouldn’t understand anything. That my favorite thing to do would be a struggle to get back into. But as I listened to the familiar words of Romeo and Juliet, I realized how silly I had been. But speaking of Romeo and Juliet

If you’ve been reading this blog for any period of time, you know that I am not a fan of modern productions. I don’t like modern costumes, and I don’t like modern music. But I try to be open, so I bought myself tickets to this production knowing it would end with me looking at a jeans-clad Romeo.

This production, unfortunately, combined modern clothing with modern music – and, frankly, that was too much for a purist like me. I can stand it when productions choose one or the other, but both is going a bit overboard. That is just a matter of personal taste, though, so let’s talk about the characters instead.

Romeo (Jose Martinez) was played with the perfect amount of boyish charm. He was overemotional and overdramatic, but I think Romeo should be played that way. I did take issue with the delivery of his ‘O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!’ Actors can get away with delivering all of Romeo’s lines with the same air of boyishness, but I think it’s very important for his delivery to be a combination of firm and shaken when he firsts see Juliet. We need to be convinced that this is love – this is more than what he felt for Rosaline. This is the kind of love that moves mountains, and if Romeo doesn’t convince us of that when he first speaks about Juliet, then the rest of the play suffers for it.

The way Juliet (Larica Schnell) was played was not for me, sadly. As you know, I am very passionate about the women in Shakespeare. I see them as being incredibly strong and admirable. Juliet is no exception. But if Romeo is going to be played as overdramatic, then Juliet should be played with a softer edge. There was a lot of yelling from Juliet in this play. Yelling does not equal strength – there can be strength in a soft voice as well. Give me a sweet Juliet, not one brimming with attitude. She can still be strong. There are so many ways to write and play strong women, and yet I find that they are always played the same way. It was a wasted opportunity to do something unique with Juliet’s character, really.

Speaking of wasted opportunities, let’s talk about Mercutio (Eric Weiman) for a moment, shall we? Weiman played Mercutio well, and my criticism has nothing to do with his skills as an actor. This is a criticism of how Mercutio is always played. In every film, in every stage production, Mercutio is played for laughs. He is painted as vulgar and loud – the clown to Benvolio’s straight man. But does it need to be that way? I am so curious to see what would happen if Mercutio were played as the straight man for once. Hell, I wouldn’t mind having no clown at all. That dynamic doesn’t matter in this particular trio. Romeo is the overdramatic one, isn’t he? Let his friends handle him with exasperation. There is no need for dramatics from more than one character in this play. Mercutio is a joker, but just as strength doesn’t equal yelling, joking doesn’t equal clowning around. Again, an opportunity was missed for a different kind of Mercutio to be explored.

The balcony scene is incredibly iconic, but there wasn’t one. This was a very prop-free play, but I believe that they had the tools to put together a makeshift balcony if they had wanted to. I know that the balcony isn’t mentioned in the actual play, but I think it’s a wonderful way to stage the scene simply because it adds a lot of tension. You really feel the distance in between these two characters who so badly want to be in each other’s arms. When they are standing a few feet away from one another, that tension is lost.

The Nurse (Samantha Sutliff) was my absolute favorite in this production. She was hilarious, and dealt with Juliet in a loving, protective manner. The Nurse is usually played for laughs, but really letting us feel her affection toward Juliet was an excellent touch.

Overall, I would say that the play was just okay. I know that makes me come off as a snob, but I can’t help having very strong feelings about Shakespeare. I love Romeo and Juliet, but not everybody does. The reason is because we’ve fallen into this trap where the characters are the same every time. There is nothing fresh about this play anymore, and that’s terrible. Romeo and Juliet is still ours to re-mold, and if put on correctly, it can pull someone into the world of Shakespeare like nothing (other than Measure for Measure) else.

My post on Coriolanus is coming up soon, I promise! I am so behind, I know, but I will be finishing these plays no matter what. If it takes us into January of 2018, then so be it! I definitely wasn’t planning for a concussion, but that won’t stop me from finishing this resolution.

ROMEO AND JULIET

O JULIET, I ALREADY KNOW THY GRIEF

Image result for romeo and juliet 1968
Romeo (Leonard Whiting) and Juliet (Olivia Hussey) in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 adaptation of Romeo and Juliet.

In 2017, Romeo and Juliet is known as nothing but a series of cliches. It’s still popular, yes, but it’s also quite popular to cast a cynical eye on it and call it silly and frivolous. If you’ve been reading this blog at all, you may have realized that I’m more or less the Queen of Cynics, and have been since I was a preteen. But – brace yourself – I could not find it in me to hate Romeo and Juliet. In fact, I rather love it now. It’s almost an embarrassing admission to make, but I’ve made it and now we can move on.

It took me five days to read Romeo and Juliet, and nearly every person who found out I was reading it mentioned something about the stupidity of both Romeo and Juliet. One of my sisters was surprised to hear me defend the play at all. But it wasn’t difficult to defend it, and that is because I don’t think Romeo and Juliet are stupid. They’re in love – Shakespeare was probably in love. And while I’ve never been in love myself, I had to sympathize with them.

I am smitten with the masquerade scenes. There is so much to notice – Tybalt’s fiery anger toward Romeo, Capulet’s insistence at keeping the peace, and Romeo – oh, Romeo – flush with emotion:

ROMEO
O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
As a rich jewel in Ethiop’s ear –
Beauty too rich for use, for Earth too dear.
So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows
As yonder lady o’er her fellows shows.
The measure done, I’ll watch her place of stand
And, touching hers, make blessèd my rude hand.
Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight,
For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.

I understand anybody who finds themselves annoyed with Romeo. I’m quite aware that he can be a bit too dramatic, and that he was just pouting over Rosaline a few scenes ago. But what he had with Rosaline wasn’t love  – this is love. Rosaline is easily dismissed not because Romeo is a dog, but because his love for Juliet is true and all-encompassing. He is stricken by her, as we can see in his flowery and beautiful language.

Romeo’s dramatic and lovesick nature is very nicely balanced out by Mercutio and Benvolio. And, wouldn’t you know it, I love Mercutio. Nothing I say could compete with Stephen Greenblatt’s words: “For Mercutio […] words are fantastic trifles in a world fit only for satire, sexual teasing, and make-believe.” Mercutio’s sharp wit quickly won me over, and I was just devastated when Tybalt killed him. Well, half-devastated and half-pleased, since Mercutio insisted on going out with a bang:

ROMEO
Courage, man, the hurt cannot be so much.

MERCUTIO
No, ’tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church door, but ’tis enough. ‘Twill serve. Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man. I am peppered, I warrant, for this world. A plague o’ both your houses! Zounds, a dog, a rat, a mouse, a cat, to scratch a man to death! A braggart, a rogue, a villain that fights by the book of arithmetic! Why the devil came you between us?  I was hurt under your arm.

ROMEO
I thought all for the best.

MERCUTIO
Help me into some house, Benvolio,
Or I shall faint. A plague o’ both your houses!
They have made worms’ meat of me.
I have it, and soundly, too. Your houses!

Also, and I’m not saying this because I like Tybalt (I do, actually), but it stings that Mercutio’s death was an accident. I have no doubt that the two of them were fighting to humiliate, not to kill. In contrast, we could say that Romeo was out for Tybalt’s blood, if only because he was so overcome by the death of his friend.

Juliet is often reduced to a simpering silly maid – and although she can be silly, she isn’t always. During the infamous balcony scene, she comes across as having more sense than people give her credit for:

ROMEO
Lady, by yonder blessèd moon I vow,
That tips with silver all these fruit-tree tops  –

JULIET
O, swear not by the moon, th’ inconstant moon,
That monthly changes in her circled orb,
Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.

ROMEO
What shall I swear by?

JULIET
Do not swear at all.
Or, if thou wilt, swear by thy gracious self,
Which is the god of my idolatry,
And I’ll believe thee.

ROMEO
If my heart’s dear love –

JULIET
Well, do not swear. Although I joy in thee,
I have no joy of this contract tonight.
It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden,
Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be
Ere one can say “It lightens.” Sweet, good night.
This bud of love, by summer’s ripening breath,
May prove a beauteous flower when next we meet.
Good night, good night. As sweet repose and rest
Come to thy heart as that within my breast.

And she tells him to send word to her tomorrow, but only if his love is true and his intentions are to marry her. Juliet is no fool! She knows her worth, and she is cautious to a degree. She doesn’t even speak in absolutes: this new-found love may prove to be something more.

If we speak of Juliet, then we must mention her nurse. I love how supportive Juliet’s nurse was of her relationship. Who are we to call it silly if Juliet’s own mother figure helped to push her forward? Juliet’s nurse is so loving and merry that it’s difficult not to see her as Juliet’s actual mother. She cares for Juliet more than anything, and only wants to see her happy.

I want to talk about Juliet’s parents for a moment, because along with the Montagues, they are part of the larger problem. Juliet is incredibly young – two weeks away from her fourteenth birthday. And while I initially applauded old Capulet for telling Paris to wait a while, I was incredibly annoyed with his reaction to Juliet’s refusal to marry:

CAPULET
How, how, how, how? Chopped logic? What is this?
“Proud,” and “I thank you,” and “I thank you not,”
And yet “not proud?” Mistress minion you,
Thank me no thankings, nor proud me no prouds,
But fettle your fine joints ‘gainst Thursday next
To go with Paris to Saint Peter’s Church,
Or I will drag thee on a hurdle thither.
Out, you green-sickness carrion! Out, you baggage!
You tallow face!

Juliet is Capulet’s only daughter, so you’d think he’d try to treat her gently and with love. Neither of her parents think to ever properly talk with their daughter. They have raised her to hate the Montagues – and it is their silly grudge that stops Juliet from telling them the real reason she doesn’t want to marry Paris. And, of course, Romeo’s parents are at fault for this too: their own son cannot share the joy of his love with them because all he knows is their hatred of the Capulets. When Romeo and Juliet act rashly, it is not because they are inherently foolish, it is because their families have led them to believe that there is no other choice.

Before I move on, can I just say I was in hysterics when it was implied that Paris was harassing Capulet for Juliet’s hand at like 5am? Old Capulet mentions that the time is so late, it may as well be day. I sat there in tears for a good three minutes. This is who they want to be their son-in-law?

Father Lawrence, Verona’s resident fuck-up, gives Juliet a potion that makes her appear to be dead for 42 hours. But his message to Romeo never reaches its destination, and we are left with a tragic, tragic end. Poor Paris, who is clearly nocturnal, is caught up in all of this as he visits the Capulet’s monument to pay his respects to Juliet. The play ends sombrely: “There never was a tale of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo.” And only when Romeo and Juliet die can their families finally let go of their grudges for one another, which is sad in and of itself.

What was going on with Shakespeare? How on earth does on go from writing something like Titus Andronicus to writing Romeo and Juliet? He must have been in love. In Women of Will, Packer says: “[…] Ultimately, we learn about life through living, through our relationships with other people. And the only way to understand the deeper sexual/spiritual love is through experiencing sexual/spiritual love. So I declare: Shakespeare knew it. He lived it. And the language to say it flowed from his pen because of it. And he didn’t just experience it from the man’s point of view. He experienced the woman’s position just as deeply, felt her emotional journey as if it were his own.”

Romeo and Juliet is a curious play because the titular characters are equals. Shakespeare does not gloss over Juliet’s challenges – in fact, we see them in plain view. I would expect to read about Romeo’s personal problems, but it is interesting to also see Juliet’s, especially because Shakespeare was a man. The success of this play is a testament to his skill as a writer. In it, we find the very essence of passion and love, written out in plain words. And maybe Packer is right – it feels real because, for Shakespeare, it was.

To round off this play, I watched the 1968 adaptation of Romeo and Juliet (pictured above). I found both Romeo and Juliet to be very well-cast and charming. There was perhaps a touch too much wailing for my liking, but I was overall happy with what I had chosen to watch. I was not happy, however, with Mercutio: I think they played him as too much of an ass. Mercutio can be ridiculous, but he is closely associated with the Prince. I think they went overboard with his antics. Mercutio is wild, but I think it would be better to have a less in-your-face approach to his character. He can still be funny without being annoying and unlikable. Overall, however, I felt like it was quite close to the original text (typically my only requirement for these films!) and I had a good time watching it. I was kind of relieved to see Mercutio go, however, which is a bit sad considering how in love with him I was while reading.

I love that Romeo and Juliet is so well-known and so intertwined with the human experience. I love that people pin their love letters to the wall below Juliet’s balcony in Verona. I love that you can go see a statue of her, tragic heroine that she is, and place your hand upon her breast for good luck. Romeo and Juliet isn’t silly in the slightest – it tells us of the power of love, and (if you’re me) makes you want to experience it, if only for a while.

I will be moving on to The Two Gentlemen of Verona next week! I know nothing about it, so hopefully I have a good time. I hope to see you then!