To simply know a story is to not be in complete possession of its details, tone and nuances until one has read it and experienced it for ones self. I’ve known the story of Romeo and Juliet ever since I can remember. When very young I thought it incredibly sad, and as a young adult I found it absolutely melodramatic (aye, I was never really a teenager). What silliness was this to go and kill ones self because someone one loves is dead? And what unnecessary deaths!
But, now I’ve read Shakespeare’s rendering of this tragedy. And I am not so unforgiving of such a plot (which isn’t really his anyway) as I once was. Perhaps this is because of a little more insight into the likes of Romeo and his Juliet.
To explain this insight allow me to go off (seemingly) at a tangent. For the last month or so my mother and I have been following a teen sit-com called Awkward. It’s about this fifteen year old called Jenna, and her inability to decided which of two boys she loves the best. To me, they are merely children playing at adult games. But the games are so real to these teens, and the hurts and betrayals more keenly felt because of their tender age and lack of maturity to deal with certain situations.
As I read Romeo and Juliet it finally hit home that our young lovers are actually teenagers! Juliet is not yet fourteen and I am assuming Romeo is but two or three years older than she is. Hence, they seem to react to their circumstances like their very lives depended on it (which sadly becomes true). Also, with such parents as Lord and Lady Capulet thrown into the mix, one can’t help but sympathise greatly with this young pair. I wonder…had the Capulets been willing to listen to Juliet when she tried to tell them about Romeo, if things might have turned out for the better? Or…likely not. They are probably more likely to have sent someone out to kill Romeo and thereby free Juliet for Paris. Hmmm…that sounds more like a Capulet.
At the beginning , Romeo seems so fickle in love when he so easily switches from Rosaline to Juliet. Do you think had Rosaline responded to Romeo’s overtures or Juliet been cold to Romeo as was Rosaline, the results of Romeo’s love would have been the same? There is so much passion between Romeo and Juliet that I suspect, had these young lovers not died by the end of the story they likely would have grown tired of each other. Or wait! Maybe not! Two such gentle spirits could not possibly grow cold to each other — perhaps theirs would have deepened to a quieter more steady love. But, obviously, it was not meant to be.
I have often wondered that neither Romeo nor Juliet had the strength to live without the other. Such cowardice? Have any of you watched The Westside Story? It’s a take on Romeo and Juliet. Only it ends differently. Maria (the movie’s Juliet) has the courage to move after her lover’s death, and I have always admired that. However, while reading Romeo and Juliet now, and understanding that our young lovers are mere children, with not much experience and wisdom to guide them out of a helpless situation, made the worse by the feud between their families, I see how things might have com to such an end.
I feel that all this tragedy was really triggered off by Tybalt (Juliet’s cousin) and his awful bullying temper. Right form the start he looks like a young man always spoiling for a fight. I suspect, had there been no enormity between the Montagues and the Capulets that Tybalt would have found himself another set of people to be disgruntled with just so that he can have a good fight every now and then. Sheer blood lust. And if only Mercutio had not been a fool to fall for Tybalt’s taunts all would have been well. But then again they are all human.
I begin to appreciate Shakespeare’s insight into human nature. Taking Juliet for instance, it made me smile when she realised that Romeo had overheard her raptures about him, and she frankly tells him that had he not beard her she would have played hard to get. I wonder how that would have turned out? And then when she hears of Tybalt’s death by Romeo’s hand, her anger and pain, thinking she was deceived by Romeo, only to realise again how much she loves him and to see that had it not been Tybalt who died it would have been her Romeo. I loved the way Shakespeare wrote that scene, as well as the one where just as she is about to take the sleeping potion the friar gave her, how doubts and fears assail her. It was all so natural.
Then there is Friar Lawrence, poor man. Full of wisdom and yet fate interfered to make wisdom void in saving the young lovers. I found myself constantly nodding my head in solemn agreement with him every time he tried to reason with either Romeo or Juliet or both of them. I like practical people!
Another thing that caught my attention toward the middle of the play was the language and structure. I complained in a previous post that Shakespeare’s language could be too crude and vulgar for my taste. But then I was speedily put in my place by the sheer poetic exchanges between Romeo and Juliet — music tripping out of the mouths of babes. I loved reading these exchanges, and sometimes found myself re-reading them aloud just to feel the words and the sentiments behind them. Then there was the prose oft used between Romeo’s friends, and the coarser poetry of the older Capulets. In other words, Shakespeare’s use of language and poetry add to the over all make up of his characters.
Also, being aware of the end there was much foreshadowing and premonition through out the play that I found very uncanny…especially when these premonitions came from the young couple. There is so much more that I would have loved to write about what I’ve thought of this play. But this post is already too long and I am not done yet. Following are quotes from this play that are very familiar and are a part of the English language now.
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet; (Act 2, Sc 2, l. 43-44)
My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; (Act 2, Sc 2, l. 133-134)
Good night, good night: parting is such sweet sorrow,
That I shall say good night, till it be morrow. (Act 2, Sc 2, l. 185-186)
…they stumble that run fast. (Act 2, Sc 3, l. 93)
The rest are short phrases: “Scurvy knave!”; “fools paradise”; “it were a very gross kind of behaviour”; “fortune’s fool”.
My favourite lines:
O! She doth teach the torches to burn bright.
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiop’s ear;at
Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear! (Act 1, Sc 5, l. 44-47)
It took me a few scenes to get into trying to visualise the whole play on stage. It made understanding easier. Then I remembered mom’s talking of the 1968 film version of Romeo and Juliet and decided to look up the scene where the two first meet. It is absolutely adorable and I just have to share it with you all. I will quote that brief scene first before leaving you with the video.
Romeo: If I profane with my unworthiest hand
This holy shrine, the gentle sin is this;
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.
Juliet: Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
For saints have hands that pilgrim’s hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmer’s kiss.
Romeo: Have not saints lips, and holy palmer’s too?
Juliet: Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.
Romeo: O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do;
They pray, grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.
Juliet: Saints do not move, though grant for prayers’ sake.
Romeo: Then move not, while my prayer’s effect I take.
Thus from my lips, by thine, my sin is purg’d.
Juliet: Then have my lips the sin that they have took.
Romeo: Sin from my lips? O trespass sweetly urg’d!
Give me my sin again.
This scene made sense to me after I watched this!
What did you folk think? The perfect actors to play these roles, and brings home more strongly to one that these plays are meant to be watched not read!
On a different note…does anyone have any idea why. in the midst of Italian names, there are some very British ones like Peter, Gregory, Sampson and even Friar John?
I’ve read this play for Let’s Read Plays and The Classics Club.
I’ve given this play 4/5 stars on Goodreads. Would have preferred to have given it 4.5/5 though.