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Romeo and Juliet, pt. 1

Whereas the posts for Much Ado About Nothing walked through the play start to finish, I find myself inclined to approach the discussion of Romeo and Juliet a bit differently. I'm going to assume right up front that you know this story, because you read it in school and/or saw it on stage and/or you saw either the 1968 Zeffirelli version starring Olivia Hussy or the 1996 Baz Luhrman version starring Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio, and/or because you got the gist of it from some movie or TV show that had this play going on as a theatre production and/or because you love West Side Story, so I'm jumping right to discussion.

In which I jump to the discussion

First, an important point: The story of Romeo and Juliet is not original to Shakespeare. There was an earlier play called Romeo and Giulietta (in which Juliet was 16), Painter's Palace of Pleasure, Hero and Leander, and Pyramus and Thisbe (known to fans of A Midsummer Night's Dream as the play performed by Bottom and his friends – there's probably no coincidence that Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night's Dream at the same time, and the theme of star-crossed lovers touches both plays).

Romeo and Juliet is, hands-down, one of Shakespeare's best-known and most popular plays. It's been a major motion picture twice already during my lifetime, and I remember seeing it at the drive-in when I was little. (For those of you born in the time of VCRs and whatnot: you've probably only seen a drive-in in the movies (Grease and Twister both feature them). Back in the day, they'd play 2 (and sometimes 3) movies. The first one was always kid-friendly. The second one was for the grown-ups, with the theory being that families could leave or that in many cases, the kids would be asleep. Which explains why so many children in pajamas could be found at the drive-in.) I have no clue what the opening movie was, but I can assure you that I was awake for most of Romeo and Juliet, and that I was riveted by it. Particularly since there's a naked bed scene in the Franco Zeffirelli movie. Then there was poison and a dagger and death, and I was dumbfounded. (Did I mention that I was, like, four at the time?)

These days, I've found other things about the play to dumbfound me. Such as the fact that the time-line for the entire play spans a mere five days. Five days from the beginning, where Romeo is convinced he's horribly in love with a girl named Rosaline, who won't give him the time of day, until Romeo is dead, having met and married Juliet, murdered someone, fled the town, and returned. I mean, really . . . he didn't stay fled for long, is all I'm saying. Or, if you prefer this take, five days from when Juliet – a mere two weeks from her 14th birthday (!) – meets Romeo until she kills herself, having married and bedded him in secret, and then having been all but sold off to Count Paris by her father in the interim. That's right – she's still 13 at her time of death. I have heard it said that most Englishmen in Shakespeare's time hadn't met any Italians, and they conceived of them as a hot-blooded, passionate people, with men predisposed to temper and women predisposed to marry and breed at an exceedingly young age. Still, I find Juliet's age as selected by Shakespeare to be a bit skeevy. Particularly when one examines some of his likely source material and finds that Juliet/Giulietta was previously depicted as being 16 – much, much more appropriate, methinks.

Setting aside your dismay for a moment, what about the play?

Um, not yet. First I want to talk about why I picked Romeo and Juliet to follow Much Ado About Nothing.

Okay, then. Why did you pick this play to follow Much Ado About Nothing?

Well, you see . . . it has to do with Claudio. Tessa Gratton (tessagratton) said it concisely in one of her comments to yesterday's play-related post: "One note that I want to make about Claudio, which is appropriate since we're moving on to R&J tomorrow: If Romeo had lived, he'd have become Claudio. They have the same faults. Probably why I dislike them both." Well-spoken, Tess.

Claudio, as you may recall, was all "I'm bored now that there's no war, gee, Hero's kind of pretty – is she rich? Okay, I'll marry her," and then he proved ambivalent about wooing and to be a complete wanker later on, although he did deign to marry her after all. Romeo, as you probably know, begins the play pretty much in tears, mooning over Rosaline, who won't give him the time of day. In a trice, he forgets all about the woman he's been pining over for weeks and fixates on Juliet, and in five days, he's dead. Had he not been dead, the likelihood of him staying "happily ever after" was pretty slim – one of the reasons that Shakespeare killed his characters off, according to Harold Bloom, is that Shakespeare faced two "pragmatic possibilities" when dealing with romance: "Love dies or else lovers die". (See Bloom's Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, p. 88.) This play chooses option B.

In addition to perceived similarities between Claudio and Romeo, both couples have similar issues in their relationships. For instance, both have a troubled relationship that involves the female pretending to be dead at some point. In both cases, the virginal maiden falls for the swashbuckling guy, to whom she is faithful and true. In Hero's case, she is slandered, falls into a swoon and everyone pretends she's dead until Claudio comes to his senses. In Juliet's case, her father tries to force her to marry Paris, so she takes a sleeping potion and everyone thinks she's dead; she's supposed to come around once Romeo comes to Verona, but, well, things gang agley, so to speak.

Anything else?

Gee, I'm glad I asked.

In both cases – that of Hero and Claudio and that of Romeo & Juliet – reference is made to the much older story of Hero and Leander, an ancient Greek tale that appears to have been wildly popular in Shakespeare's time. Shakespeare references the story of Hero and Leander directly in Much Ado About Nothing, not only by using Hero's name (which would have reminded contemporary audiences of the story of Hero & Leander on its own), but also by having Benedick compare himself to Leander; in Romeo and Juliet, the tragic ending, wherein Juliet kills herself once she learns Romeo is dead, is a direct echo of the story of Hero & Leander as well. In addition to Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, Ben Jonson and Sir Walter Raleigh all wrote about Hero and Leander as well.

This ancient Greek tale, let me tell it to you

Hero was a lovely woman (and one of Aphrodite's priestesses) who lived on one side of a strait. Leander, her lover, lived on the other. At night, she'd put a lamp in the tower and he'd swim across to her. Things went beautifully well for a while, until the night that a storm came up and Hero's lamp went out and Leander drowned. In sorrow, Hero threw herself off her tower and died.

Wow, that's sad.

It is indeed sad. Which reminds me that I'd like to talk about what this play is.

This play is not a love story.

There are folks out there who will tell you they think it's one of the greatest love stories ever told. I am not one of them. I will say that I believe it's one of the best tragedies ever written, but I don't think it qualifies as a love story, really. Sure, Romeo and Juliet fancy themselves in love with one another. Certainly, Juliet has some of the loveliest love lines ever spoken on stage. During the balcony scene, Romeo asks her to exchange vows of love with him.

I gave thee mine before thou didst request it,
And yet I would it were to give again.

Would'st thou withdraw it? For what purpose, love?

But to be frank and give it thee again;
And yet I wish but for the thing I have.
My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep: The more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.
  Act II, sc. 2

Those last three lines are gorgeous. But when one thinks they're said by a 13 year old virgin, they lose a bit of credibility; who among us wasn't desperately "in love" as a young teenager, only to find out that we had no clue what love really was? Also, let's be real here: Juliet's declaration of love was based on her brief meeting with Romeo in Act I, sc. 5, in which they exchanged little more than 14 lines of dialogue and two kisses. In my experience, they made it to the infatuation level and decided that was the same thing as "epic and true", which is laughable. (Probably why this T-shirt from zazzle.com, excerpted from Sarah Rees Brennan's recent release, The Demon's Lexicon, is so funny to me.)

But as S said yesterday when I discussed this notion with her, it doesn't matter whether or not Romeo and Juliet were actually in love; they themselves have become a metaphor for true love whether they actually qualify as great lovers or not. I have been schooled by my 16 year-old, but I'll be damned if I don't think she's right. I'd love to hear what others think about this particular issue: Is Romeo and Juliet a love story?

In which I blather about Shakespeare's use of suspense and expectation

I think the story structure is what makes the play so compelling – and so tragic, really. When it opens, this play feels like a comedy, notwithstanding the somewhat ominous prologue that assures listeners that it's a sad story, the first two Acts lull the reader/watcher/hearer into a false sense of security. The play opens with comical characters in the form of Capulet and Montague henchmen who are biting their thumbs at one another. There are hints of violence between the two families, and warnings about death to anyone who breaks the peace, but those are more than counterbalanced by Romeo's ridiculous mooning over the unattainable Rosaline, whom he quickly swaps out for Juliet after meeting her at a party, and by the developing relationship between the two young lovers, who acknowledge that being from the warring families is a problem, but not enough of a problem to prevent them from getting hitched.

By the end of the second Act (a total of eleven scenes), nothing's actually gone wrong. The young lovers have met, wooed (such as it is – one conversation where she's on a balcony and he's in the orchard isn't much of a basis for a relationship, but perhaps you think me too cynical), and managed to get married. Well done, happy ending, let's all go home.

Only the play isn't over – there are, in fact, three Acts to go. And in the first scene of Act III, a street fight breaks out, wherein Juliet's cousin Tybalt kills Romeo's friend (and fan favorite) Mercutio, and Romeo manages to kill Tybalt, making him a dead man walking (because either the Capulets will get him, or the Prince's men will, the Prince having declared a penalty of death to anyone who breaks the peace between the families). In the 4th scene of Act III, we learn that Juliet's father (unaware of the secret marriage between Juliet and Romeo) has decided to sell marry her off to her cousin, Paris. In the final scene of Act III, we find that Romeo and Juliet have consummated their marriage, and that he's bound for Mantua, out of range of the Prince's men. Readers/hearers may be excused for hoping that perhaps maybe this will all turn out well after all. It could happen, right? It's at least possible.

Act IV is all about Juliet, who is the true heart of the story. (Why, yes, that was a double entendre, thank you for noticing.)* Paris at least seems to be in love with her, judging from his conversation with Friar Laurence. Juliet is having massive hissy fits and threatening to kill herself, and good Friar Laurence figures out how to give her a sleeping draught that will cause everyone to think she's dead. He sends a letter to Romeo to let him know what's up. Juliet takes the sleeping potion, everyone thinks she's dead – just as planned. Hey, this could still have a happy ending!

Act V contains 3 scenes. In the first, Romeo gets word from Balthasar that Juliet is dead, so he buys poison for himself and plans to head to her grave. In the second, we learn that Friar Laurence's letter telling Romeo about the sleeping potion never got sent; Friar Laurence rushes off, hopeful of catching Romeo at Juliet's tomb. In the third, Paris shows up to pay tribute to the sleeping Juliet, followed by Romeo and Balthasar. Paris intercepts Romeo, they fight, Paris dies. Still, our lovers have a chance, right? After all, Juliet might wake up in time. And Friar Laurence is on his way. And then, in rapid order, Romeo hauls Paris into the tomb, soliloquizes, then drinks his poison and dies. And the audience now knows for the very first time – a mere 200 lines from the end of the play – that things are not going to end well. Friar Laurence turns up, Juliet to wakes up, figures out that Romeo is dead and stabs herself, just to be sure she's good and dead before anyone can stop her. Pretty much everyone in the cast enters to mourn their losses and make a real and lasting peace, which comes far too late to do anyone any good. Ironic, isn't it?

Points to ponder

Tomorrow, further discussion of the play. Meanwhile, remember that substantive comments to this post count as entries in this week's contest. The clever dotificus suggested yesterday that perhaps it'd be easier for folks to come up with substantive posts if I asked questions to get things started. So here are a few to think about: Is this play a love story? Can you remember what your expectations were the very first time you saw or read this play? At what point did you know that it was not going to end well, and why did you come to that conclusion?

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( 74 comments — Leave a comment )
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Jun. 3rd, 2009 10:08 am (UTC)
Two things... the image of you as a four-year-old watching R & J at the drive-in explains a lot. And also...I keep meaning to comment & tell you how much I'm loving this series of posts. (More of a comedy girl myself, I am quietly hoping that MIDSUMMER & AS YOU LIKE IT will make appearances, but I'm guessing everyone is rooting for their favorites!)
Jun. 3rd, 2009 01:02 pm (UTC)
I'm trying to find out from my folks if they remember what year they saw it - since it was at the drive-in, it could have been a year or so later than when the film was released. Still, I was little, and way too young to actually process what I saw, although I can still see parts of it in my mind's eye quite clearly - it made an impact!

The list of plays I'll be covering was in this post, and includes the two you mentioned.
Jun. 3rd, 2009 10:25 am (UTC)
An un-substantive slatts comment
I became aware of the the story of Romeo and Juliet by none of the items you listed but rather a parody of the movie in MAD magazine.

And maybe then, at 13, I stuck it in "Blechh!" category. And maybe in my own "courting days" I saw the earlier movie on VHS or "Movie At Eight." I'm sure I "lied" as all young lovers do but behind the mask, I, at best, moved it "chick-flick" status.

Your post hasn't won me over but it did open my eyes to parts of the story that I was unaware of.
Jun. 3rd, 2009 01:03 pm (UTC)
Re: An un-substantive slatts comment
It's definitely not a chick flick, at least based on what goes on. There's lots of braggadocio and swordplay (or, in the case of the Baz Luhrman version, gunplay) and quite a few funny parts. Also, if one understands Elizabethan double meanings, it's rife with sexual puns and bawdy humor.
see.... - slatts - Jun. 3rd, 2009 02:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kellyrfineman - Jun. 3rd, 2009 03:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tessagratton - Jun. 3rd, 2009 03:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 3rd, 2009 12:38 pm (UTC)
Okay, I don't think Romeo and Juliet is a love story because I also believe the only reason they stayed in love for all eternity is because they died before they ever had to deal with working through "real" love, because love is work and decision and determination.

Passion burns but unsteadily -- it can consume as easily as it can power, but real love is a rock. Romeo had already shown he was a man of passion...and that the burn could leap to a new source at small provocation. Death is really probably all that saved their relationship.

In a way, R&J reminds me of how the Dark Materials trilogy worked out. [Note: spoilers]. The great fullfillment of prophesy that saved all of the worlds was for two young people to experience their first flame of passion, have sex, and then walk away from one another. Excuse me, but that's pretty much just...well, what young people do... often.

If you want REAL sacrifice. If you want something truly epic then they should work out the challenges of real love. The love that survives knowing she doesn't digest beans well or that upon waking, he is a veritable symphony of gaseous emissions. The love that comes from two people who literally become one...because they are both completely themselves and completely together. The love that isn't broken by the changing tides of passion. Then, when they have that kind of love -- then hit them with the prophesy that demands they walk away. That would be something I would buy as real tearing sacrifice.

To me, R&J is almost a morality tale about the dangers of confusing passion and love and acting on the fires of passion without restraint or thought...not the sex part, but the self-destructive part because passion isn't all athletics, it can also be jealous, violent, and deadly. Passion didn't just result in Romeo and Juliet's death but all the deaths of the play.

But then again, I'm also part of the Twilight isn't a love story camp so I may be a humbug.
Jun. 3rd, 2009 01:10 pm (UTC)
Woo,Jan! Excellent points, all! I am in the Twilight = obsession camp myself, so I hear you on that final point. And Meyers's attempt to work an R&J theme in Eclipse totally didn't work for me - all that "Paris falls" crap, etc. was misplayed and misapplied. Then again, her attempts to work in Austen and Brontë didn't really work for me either. But I digress.

Your points about this being about passion, not love, are entirely correct. And I think Shakespeare explores passion in all forms - devotion to the houses of Capulet/Montague, fights that occur in the heat of passion, etc. It's all about being hotblooded.

I like your take on it being a morality tale. I will have to think that through later. Interestingly, while some other plays end with a narrator addressing the crowd (think As You Like It) or a song that sums things up somehow (Twelfth Night), this one ends with the characters moralizing together. I'm wondering now if Shakespeare meant to provoke thought and discussion of just the point you're making.
(no subject) - tessagratton - Jun. 3rd, 2009 02:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kellyrfineman - Jun. 3rd, 2009 03:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tessagratton - Jun. 3rd, 2009 03:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kellyrfineman - Jun. 3rd, 2009 03:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tessagratton - Jun. 3rd, 2009 03:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kellyrfineman - Jun. 3rd, 2009 03:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 3rd, 2009 01:50 pm (UTC)
Love. This. Post.

R + J has always been my least favorite story of his, because everyone gets all muah! happy! over it. And it struck me as people being impulsive and short-sighted and not having any real idea what love is. And we glorify them for it, even though that's not the point of the story.
Jun. 3rd, 2009 02:28 pm (UTC)
It's not a happy tale, that's for certain. I have to agree with Jan's assessment that it's a cautionary tale.
Jun. 3rd, 2009 02:02 pm (UTC)
While I get the whole infatuation notion, and agree with it to some extent, I just can't view a 13-year old living in the sixteenth century as so innocent of the ways of life. I would guess that most young women were married off in their early teens, so the notion of Juliet falling for someone she kissed, when she was facing the prospect of having a husband (probably a much older one) chosen for, doesn't seem so hard to believe.
Jun. 3rd, 2009 02:18 pm (UTC)
Also, her Nurse is always reminding her about sex, talking it up within the bounds of marriage and what to look forward to. So when Juliet feels lust, compared to her cold feelings for Paris, I totally agree that she's jump onto Romeo's wagon.
(no subject) - kellyrfineman - Jun. 3rd, 2009 02:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tessagratton - Jun. 3rd, 2009 03:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kellyrfineman - Jun. 3rd, 2009 02:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 3rd, 2009 02:16 pm (UTC)
Is Romeo and Juliet a love story?
Absolutely not. A story about teenage angst, sure. A story about bad parenting, maybe.

Everflame turned me on to your journal yesterday after I posted about a news story in which couples can now for a fee of $1300.00 get married on Juliet's balcony in Verona. All I could think of was, did people not read to the end of this play? Apparently people all over the world write Juliet forlorn love letters as well. Seriously? You think a 13 year old virgin is going to empathize with your love woes? What is wrong with people?

I first ready Romeo & Juliet when I was about 14, I was torked about the ending even then. All I could think was...well you two sure got what you deserved, idiots. Even as a teenager I didn't get all schmoobly over this one. Give me Othello any day over R&J, now there is some truly tortured love and a MUCH better villian to boot.

The only redeemable qualities about R&J are some of the beautifull lines. I hadn't realized it happened in a span of 5 days, fascinating, makes me like it even less lol.

Jun. 3rd, 2009 02:36 pm (UTC)
Re: Is Romeo and Juliet a love story?
Hello and welcome!

And yeah - the 5 day thing clinched it for me on the WTF factor. In tomorrow's post, I'm going to talk about how the development in the language used by Romeo to reflect his developing maturity makes it feel like it takes longer. Plus, a lot of events happen. But it's a 5-day time span, which makes it all that much less credible, imo.

There's a YA novel out called The Juliet Club that talks about the association that receives and answers letters to Juliet. And about how you can tour her balcony.

Oh, and from some research I just did for these posts, I inadvertently learned that there's a bronze statue of Juliet in Verona near "her" balcony, and it's considered good luck to rub her breast. I shit you not.
Re: Is Romeo and Juliet a love story? - wyckedgood - Jun. 3rd, 2009 02:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 3rd, 2009 02:26 pm (UTC)
One more agreeing that R&J is not a love story - unless it's R's love story with himself, because himself is certainly the only person R's in love with. ;)

I don't remember when I first saw this play. I only remember disliking it because Romeo was such a dick. We read it in 9th grade and watched Zeffirelli's, and I was bored. I DO, however, remember seeing Baz's movie in the theater and thinking for the first time that parts of the play have a lot of merit, so long as you stop pretending R&J are in love. Probably because I was so invested in Tybalt and Mercutio (thanks, John Leguizamo and Harrold Perrineau), AND PARIS (oh, Paul Rudd, yes I had a major crush on you) that I for the first time actually CARED about the outcome.

I own "Romeo + Juliet" now, and usually stop watching after Tybalt and Mercutio are dead. Unless I'm feeling masochistic. Their (non)relationship is so vivid, and I think that's a great example of what a director can do to draw out other aspects of a story.

My fav line from the play is "Palm to palm in holy palmer's kiss."
Jun. 3rd, 2009 02:43 pm (UTC)
You know his highly stylized modern version is MUCH more entertaining, clever and just goregous to watch than anything previously. The soundtrack rocked too.

Mercutio is the only character I really care about in that play period.

Re: Baz - kellyrfineman - Jun. 3rd, 2009 03:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Baz - tessagratton - Jun. 3rd, 2009 03:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kellyrfineman - Jun. 3rd, 2009 02:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tessagratton - Jun. 3rd, 2009 03:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kellyrfineman - Jun. 3rd, 2009 03:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
More sex puns! - tessagratton - Jun. 3rd, 2009 03:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cute_n_cranky - Jun. 3rd, 2009 03:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kellyrfineman - Jun. 3rd, 2009 03:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cute_n_cranky - Jun. 3rd, 2009 04:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 3rd, 2009 03:31 pm (UTC)
I was always a Tybalt girl, myself. Don't ask me why. I also always wanted to name a cat Tybalt, but I haven't yet.

We used to watch the Zeffirelli version in school. I think I must have seen it three or four times. All anyone seemed to get from it was that Olivia Hussey was . . . well-blessed. So we would have told you that it's not a love story, but a story about cleavage.
Jun. 3rd, 2009 03:46 pm (UTC)
David Lubar has a cat named Tybalt, if memory serves. And you should see the drawing of Tybalt in the Manga Shakespeare copy of R&J - as I'll say later, he's completely ripped, with badass tattoos on his back.

Olivia Hussey was only 15 when that movie was made, which is, in my opinion, a more sensible age for the character to be.
(no subject) - robinellen - Jun. 3rd, 2009 04:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
I was always a Tybalt girl, myself - dotificus - Jun. 3rd, 2009 11:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: I was always a Tybalt girl, myself - kellyrfineman - Jun. 3rd, 2009 11:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
is Jack Sparrow Mercutio? - dotificus - Jun. 4th, 2009 09:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 3rd, 2009 04:17 pm (UTC)
Okay, having read this a billion times in school, I have to comment (again). Anyway, first thought: I remember 8th grade boys having a heyday during the film when they showed Olivia whats-her-names breasts. Strongest memory from that reading (we also listened to it on a RECORD). Second thought: one of my favorite teen books (which is probably out of print these days, but you might enjoy it if you can find it) is called THE KEEPING DAYS, and in it, the MC plays Juliet in the school play -- and falls in love with the boy who plays Romeo. She's 14, and your thoughts about how this isn't really a love story totally resonate with me. THE KEEPING DAYS is the first in a series of seven, and through the series, Tish goes from 14 to a grown woman (the last two are from the POV of her niece) -- anyway, her niece looks at her aunt's 'love story' with amazement (because things dont' quite work out as planned)...really, you should look for it. Norma Johnston is the author.

Third Thought: I've never seen the LD and CD version, but at least she looks 14 in that picture ;)

I've always thought R&J was a great story filled with teen angst!
Jun. 3rd, 2009 04:54 pm (UTC)
I think that Clare Danes was 16 when the film was shot, and Leonardo was 21.

R&J is decidedly filled with teen angst. I have to say that the more I think about it, the more I agree with Jan (cute_n_cranky)'s assertion that it's more of a cautionary tale, however.
(no subject) - amygreenfield - Jun. 4th, 2009 12:21 am (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 3rd, 2009 04:39 pm (UTC)
Yes, I do think R&J is a love story. It is Shakespeare's portrait of idealized love, aka first love -- angsty, heedless, sudden, and irrational though it may be -- it's love at first sight and love in its purest form, because it's not tempered in any way by "adult" concerns or experience.

Teenagers are all emotion, and casting Juliet so young was believable in the context of an age when people rarely lived beyond the age of 40. Traditionally, daughters of noblemen were married off this way; no greater prize than a fresh, unspoiled virgin with a sizeable dowry.

Yes, R&J is a tragedy -- but the tragic elements employed by Shakespeare (or should I say, borrowed by Shakespeare), have to do with manipulated plot elements like ill-timing and senseless family feuds over which the two young lovers had no control.

The mere idea of "tragic lovers," ill-fated and starcrossed from the get-go, is in itself a highly romantic notion. Shakespeare took it to the limit with his gorgeous poetic language, which is really what makes this play exceptional and well loved. I think other commenters miss the point when they impose realistic, modern-day standards of love upon a work intended to examine and glorify idealized love.

Jun. 3rd, 2009 05:03 pm (UTC)
I'm glad to see someone take a contrary view
I understand your points about it being common at the time for young women to be sold off at relatively young ages. And I agree that R&J both believed they were in love, and that, with the play lasting only 5 days, they certainly died in that belief. (I happen to think that they'd never have stayed in love if they hadn't died, however.)

Your point about this play being a tribute to idealized love is intriguing - I suppose it's rather like the notion of the chaste and pure knight (I'm looking at you, Galahad) in that respect. But is it not also about the destruction that can result when headstrong young lovers get swept up based on emotion?

The astrological implications of this play are interesting as well, and are something I'll be discussing in tomorrow's post; how, according to Shakespeare, these two never really stood a chance because of the stars. And if that's so, is it not a sort of warning against bucking fate/destiny and/or the social order?

I don't have answers to these questions, by the way, they were just what turned up as I was thinking through your comments.

Also? I'm completely stoked to have someone chime in with a vastly differing opinion. It's got me thinking, and I like thinking.
(no subject) - kellyrfineman - Jun. 3rd, 2009 11:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
of what institutions do you speak? - dotificus - Jun. 4th, 2009 09:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dotificus - Jun. 3rd, 2009 11:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kellyrfineman - Jun. 3rd, 2009 11:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dotificus - Jun. 4th, 2009 09:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 3rd, 2009 05:53 pm (UTC)

I just read that BBC2 will air a filmed version of the HAMLET with David Tennant and Patrick Stewart, AND that they will probably release a DVD. *DIES*
Jun. 3rd, 2009 05:55 pm (UTC)
*is ded*
Jun. 3rd, 2009 09:25 pm (UTC)
On the love issue, when I finally saw the play a couple of years ago, I was struck that it's not really about love, it's about being young--they actors I saw just did a beautiful job of showing the intensity, how much ANYTHING--love, whatever--MATTERS at that age. And how so much of your life is taken out of your own control by those adults, whether they're indulging in a generations-old feud or not. So, yes, I think agree with M--that it doesn't matter whether they're in love or not, THEY think they are.
Jun. 3rd, 2009 09:48 pm (UTC)
So, you're saying it's a continuation of the notion that "youth's a stuff will not endure" (a line from O Mistress Mine, a song from a different Shakespeare play)? I like that notion, too. And it really is about first love, in many respects.

Also? I kinda think that tomorrow's post on this play may actually contradict to an extent some of what I said today. Heh.
Jun. 3rd, 2009 10:59 pm (UTC)
I love this discussion.
I first became aware of the play when I read Mom's Complete Works as a 4th grader. I kept reading R & J over and over, because I noticed I'd be 13 someday and wanted to play Juliet. Nobody did the play until I was 30, so that didn't happen.

I think you're spot on about Claudio/Romeo and Juliet/Hero, for a lot of reasons.

As for Juliet and Romeo not being in love, I think that's our projection. These are nobles. They are the Fortunate Hundred, and will probably hang out with the same 100 people their entire lives. The girls know by age 10 pretty much every man they could marry. And unlike modern women, they are not presented with any other career options. It's marriage or the convent.

Juliet is a little young for marriage even by the standards of the time. Paris and Capulet argue about it. If she were 16 she'd just be an ordinary girl. She needs to be young enough to sell the line, "it is an honor that I dream not of," and to have the Nurse treating her like a baby one minute, and a woman the next. If Shakespeare wrote today, Juliet would be just under whatever the age of consent in his home state was.

There's a lot of dramatic irony about the brevity of this relationship, foreshadowing the deaths of R&J. And I've always thought the fact that Romeo didn't take Juliet to Mantua with him was odd, (though the Luhrman film clarified this for me--it was probably just too dangerous.) I don't think Shakespeare meant his lovers to be a bad example of love. I think he meant to show two exceptional young people who had a shot at something wonderful, but died before they ever got a chance.
Jun. 3rd, 2009 11:59 pm (UTC)
Re: I love this discussion.
It's lovely to "meet" you! Man - too bad you did all that prep work for naught. You should totally have forced someone to do the play when you were 13.

I believe there's a line in the play somewhere about Juliet not having the same ability as a man to move about - not only would it have been dangerous for her, it would have been logistically difficult - they'd have had to arrange a carriage, and servants, and possibly a lady's maid or some such, which is hard to do on the fly.

In tomorrow's post, I shall be contradicting myself a wee bit, I believe, in discussing Romeo's affections. And in discussing some of the issues raised by the play about the nature of the individual, the role of fate, and astrology. (There - you've been forewarned!)
Jun. 4th, 2009 12:46 am (UTC)
R&J was just about destroyed for me in high school, when we read the play out loud, moving from desk to desk with each successive line. Just about everyone hated it, and it showed. By the time we were halfway through, the poetry was pretty much gone.

In my 20s, I remember being frustrated with Juliet, and thinking how crazy it was to die for love, especially if you hardly knew the guy in question.

But when I saw the balcony scene again a year ago, I wept. I guess the question of love and time and change has more resonance for me now than it did at twenty.

"Love's not time's fool" -- what a heady declaration!
Jun. 4th, 2009 03:23 am (UTC)
In tomorrow's post, I've embedded video of the scene where Romeo and Juliet first meet, and it's enough to make one swoon, long before they get to the balcony. The Romeo+Juliet version of the meeting is dead sexy, too, although I didn't post it, and in that version, the balcony scene is in the pool. Yum!
Jun. 4th, 2009 12:46 am (UTC)
After reading this, I'm inclined to think of this play as sort of a 1500 Columbine tragedy.
13, huh? Raging hormones and no logic, oh yeah.
Loved Pyramus and Thisbe, though.
Jun. 4th, 2009 03:26 am (UTC)
Pyramus and Thisbe reappear in A Midsummer Night's Dream (as I'm positive you already know), which we'll get to eventually. In the movie version with Kevin Kline as Bottom, Sam Rockwell plays Flute, who is given the role of Thisbe. His performance reduces me to tears every single time I see it - when he pulls his wig off and drops the falsetto, it just slays me.
(no subject) - lizjonesbooks - Jun. 4th, 2009 10:13 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kellyrfineman - Jun. 4th, 2009 12:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
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