Monday, July 25, 2016

Romeo and Juliet - Shakespeare

This may be Shakespeare's most well known story, so I won't bother with a plot recap.  Instead, I'll just jump into the parts that interested me most.

I was in this play more than twenty years ago (back when I had hair and looked like my profile picture), but I hadn't reread it since.  I've seen the Baz Lurhman version and the movie 'Shakespeare in Love' which features the story prominently.  (I own both of them.)  But I haven't read through it.
I was amazed at how fresh the language seemed to me.  Large chunks of it came back, most from the spaces where I was on stage.  An enormous amount seemed familiar to me.  But it isn't stale.  The language is still fresh and authentic.  It isn't hard to imagine the teenage love of Juliet and Romeo producing that set of thoughts and words.
When the two lovers talk about each other, it creates some of the greatest love poetry ever.  They have given each other over to love, perhaps in the way that only teenagers without the scars of previous refusal can.  It is the way that we want to feel about being in love.

How many times do the lovers actually meet?
1. They first meet at the party.
2. Shortly after, they meet in the garden/balcony.
3. The next day(!) they are secretly married.
4. After killing Tybalt, Romeo visits Juliet for their wedding night.  They part in the morning.
5. They meet in the tomb, each thinking the other dead.  They kill themselves.

Five meetings in total.  Only four while living.  It's a very quick love story.  Of interest, to me, at least, this makes the story more closely fit into Aristotle's theory of unity of theater.  The action takes place not in one day, but over the space of just a few days.
I have no idea if Shakespeare had that in mind when he wrote this.  His earlier tragedy did not fit this pattern and of course the histories take place over a lengthy time period.  His comedies are a bit more hit and miss, with at least fairly compressed time spans.  Of the tragedies, however, I believe this one takes the shortest amount of calendar time.

As adults, we can cynically sit back and wonder about this.  If my children, when they become teens, become so passionately wrapped up in love as Juliet or Romeo, I would be worried.  I would constantly urge them to patience and time.  (My personal theory is that we don't know who anyone will be until about the age of 22.)  One reading of the play is that they burned so bright and so fast because they were young.  If they could have slowed down, they could have averted tragedy.
Maybe.  Though Shakespeare gives them a spur.  Juliet is to be wed to Paris, who is something of a blank.  This wedding will be quick, a weeks notice or less.  They don't really have time for patience.
If anything, the warning here should be not to force your 13 year old daughter to marry someone.

I loved reading this again.  My daughter is almost nine.  She knows the bare outlines of the story, but not the heart of it yet.  I look forward to sharing it with her, and the boys, when they are old enough.  Such beauty.
I don't exactly envy teens who have fallen in love, but I recognize how wonderful/terrible it can be.  It is a prime human experience.  Shakespeare captures the wonderful/terrible aspect of it as well as anyone has.  This is a great play. 

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