ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Syracuse Stage would like to thank TIAA CREF, the corporate sponsor of Romeo and Juliet, for their generous support. In addition, we would like to thank our radio sponsor, WSYR. We would also like to acknowledge the use Shakespeare Set Free from The Folger Library, which was used in preparing the curriculum guide.
Romeo and Juliet Table of Contents Performance Policies and Procedures……………………………………………….2 New York State Learning Standards………………………………………………....4 Audience Role and Responsibility…………………………………………………..17 One-Minute Etiquette Reminder…………………………………………………….18 Technical Elements………………………………………………………………….19 Dramatic Criticism…………………………………………………………………..21 Characters, Setting, and Synopsis…………………………………………………...24 William Shakespeare………………………………………………………………..27 Taking Liberties with Shakespeare: An Interview with Robert Moss……………...28 Revisiting (and Reinterpreting) the Bard……………………………………………33 Famous Grudges…………………………………………………………………….34 Sources of Romeo and Juliet: Palace of Pleasure: Rhomeo and Julietta………….37 Commentary on Time, Motifs and Language………………………………………40 Questions for After Reading the Story (or Script)………………………………….42 Post-Performance Questions………………………………………………………..43 For Further Discussion……………………………………………………………...44 Writing Assignments………………………………………………………………..45 Arts Activities……………………………………………………………………….46 Quotations from the Play……………………………………………………………47 Vocabulary………………………………………………………………………….49 Works Consulted …………………………………………………………………..56
Dramaturgical research for Romeo and Juliet prepared by Pat Pederson, Education Associate. She was assisted by Rachel Edwards Harvith, Literary Assistant. Curriculum activities prepared by Richard Keller, Director of Dramaturgy and Education.
PERFORMANCE POLICIES AND PROCEDURES WHEN TO ARRIVE AT THE THEATRE: We recommend you arrive at the theatre at least 30 minutes prior to the performance to allow time for seating. This is a professional theatre production and will start at the scheduled time. BUS DROP OFF AND PARKING: Busses not staying may load and unload at the Centro bus stop on East Genesee Street. Bus parking is available along East Genesee Street at the bagged meters. Cars must make arrangements in parking facilities as they will be ticketed if parked at the bagged meters. SEAT ASSIGNMENTS: As each seat at Syracuse Stage is reserved and performances are often standing room only, students must sit in their assigned seats. For reasons of convenience, efficiency, and courtesy, we request that students do not trade seats. Regardless of the number in your block of seats, we request that this rule is respected. We ask that chaperons and teachers do not sit together but sit evenly distributed throughout the students. LATECOMERS: Latecomers will be seated at the discretion of the Management. There is no late seating below Row F. BACKPACKS, CAMERAS, AND WALKMANS: Backpacks, cameras and tape recorders (including Walkmans) are strictly prohibited in the theatre. As we do not have storage facilities for these items at Syracuse Stage, we ask that you leave them at school or on the bus. PHOTOGRAPHY: Cameras (flash or otherwise) are strictly prohibited in the theatre. Union rules do not allow the taking of pictures during a production and flash cameras are a distraction to both acting company and audience. FOOD, DRINK AND GUM: There is absolutely no food, drink, or gum allowed in the theatre. Please leave snacks and lunches on the bus. Students will be asked to leave the theatre to remove any food items or the items will be taken and not returned. INTERMISSION REFRESHMENTS: Soda will be available during intermission. Pepsi, Diet Pepsi and 7Up will be offered for $1.00 (exact change will be appreciated). Reminder: You must dispose of all snack items before reentering the theatre. AUDIENCE ETIQUETTE: Live performance theatres require behavior different from that required in the movie theatres. Please review theatre etiquette with your students before attending the performance. If any student becomes disruptive to the point of interference with the performers or other audience members, the chaperon will be asked to remove that student.
POST-SHOW FOLLOW UP: Performances at Syracuse Stage are funded by grants, corporations, and individuals. They do want to hear from you. We ask students and teachers to write the sponsors with your likes and dislikes and to let the sponsors know that the student matinees are an important program. Please: 1] Write thank you letters to the sponsors to let them know that this is an important program. (Names and addresses can be obtained from the Director of Education.) 2] Write to Syracuse Stage with suggestions to improve your theatre experience. 3] Call the Director of Education if you have any questions or if there is an issue that requires immediate action. Thank you in advance for the work you put into helping Syracuse Stage present the student matinee program. We hope that the season entertains and enlightens you and your students. Part of the art of living is living with the arts.
PEOPLE YOU SHOULD KNOW Director of Dramaturgy and Education.................. Education Associate……………………………… Group Sales Coordinator........................................ House Manager...................................................... Producing Director................................................. Artistic Director.....................................................
Richard Keller Pat Pederson Tracey White Lisa Kehoe James Clark Robert Moss
IMPORTANT NUMBERS Syracuse Stage Administration Offices: 315/443-4008 Education Department: 315/443-1150 Group Sales: 315/443-9844 3
The New York State Standards of Learning The following chart is designed to assist you in using the activities and questions in this guide to address the New York State Learning Standards for the Arts in the areas of Theatre, English Language Arts, and Career Development and Occupational Skills in the areas of Universal Skills. As you are the experts at adapting these activities to meet the needs of your specific classroom, this grid is only meant as an easy reference and does not intend to suggest that these are the only learning standards to which these activities apply, nor is every activity and question included on the grid. We hope this is helpful, and if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, you should feel free to call us at (315) 443-1150.
AUDIENCE ROLE AND RESPONSIBILITY As audience members, your students have a distinct role and responsibility. The success of any performance depends on the actors on the stage as well as the people in the seats. Because, for many students, this is their first exposure to a live theatre production, they might not realize that the behaviors used in the movie theaters or when watching a video or television are not always appropriate in this setting. We encourage you to spend time discussing the subject with your students and have included two pages to assist you. The first contains some discussion questions to use in classroom (with some suggested answers in italics) while the second is a ONE MINUTE ETIQUETTE REMINDER to read on the bus. [ 1 ] What are some of the differences between a live theatre production and a movie? * A movie can be filmed in any order of scenes and can be redone as many times as needed to get a “good scene.” Once a scene is done to the director’s satisfaction, it is “in the can” and will not be done again. Live theatre must be done in sequence as written, continues regardless of mistakes and problems, and is done in its entirety each performance. * The audience’s noise level, activity level, and attention level do not affect the movie actor’s performance. All of these things are heard and noticed by the actors of a live performance and have an immediate effect on the performance. This might be a positive or negative effect-- if the audience laughs at funny lines or is leaning forward in anticipation of the action, this encourages the actors to give an energetic performance; if the audience does not laugh at appropriate times or is restless during the performance, the actors often find it difficult to give their best performance. * The special effects in a movie can be generated by computers or camera angles while the special effects in the theatre rely on the audience’s imagination to help create them. * Movies provide realistic images while live theatre provides images of reality.
[ 2 ] What is the best way to approach viewing a live performance of a play? * The audience attending a live performance must walk into the theatre willing to “suspend their disbelief” and use their imagination to provide part of the setting. * Theatre is alive and active in ways that television and movies are not. Look for the passion and emotion behind the actions and the words. * Because each performance is complete and affected by audience response, an audience member will never see a duplication of a performance. Though the meaning is the same, each performance has its own underlying interpretations.
[ 3 ] What is the audience’s role during a live performance? How do you think audience behavior can affect an actor’s performance? The audience’s role is to form a connection with the actors and to appropriately respond to the performance. This response may be laughter, gasps, applause, or quiet attention as well as restlessness or silence. Noises such as paper rattling from unwrapping food, watch alarms, cell phone ringing, or talking can distract the actors and cause a disruption of the energy flow which in turn weakens the performance. It also keeps those around you from maintaining their connection with the actors.
ONE MINUTE ETIQUETTE REMINDER Please read to students on the bus prior to entering the theatre.
Stay in the group to be seated. Your school or class will be called and seated at the same time. Sit in the seat to which you are assigned. If you move or refuse to take a particular seat, you will be sitting in someone elseâ€™s place and it will cause a delay in seating other classes. No food, drink, gum-chewing, headsets, or backpacks in the theatre. Please leave lunches and snacks on the bus. NO TALKING OR GETTING UP DURING THE SHOW. This includes whispering. Every performance of a play is a unique experience, created by particular actors with a particular audience. The audience is a very important part of the play. The experience of seeing live theatre is very different from seeing TV or a movie where nothing the audience can do will change the show. Stage actors are very much aware of the reactions of the audience, and indeed it is the audience-- you-- that helps the actors toward a great performance. An audience may applaud, laugh, cry and respond in any way that makes it part of the on-stage action. Please avoid talk or inappropriate actions that distract attention from the stage. Remember, the actors can see and hear you. Please use the restrooms before the show or at intermission only. If you have any problems or questions, please ask the ushers for help. Enjoy yourself!
TECHNICAL ELEMENTS A performance does not just happen; it is the product of a great deal of teamwork. The technical elements of a production support the characters the actors create to present the audience with the illusionary reality that is theatre. Sets, lights, sound, props, and costumes create the environment in which the play lives. These elements combine with the audience’s imagination to create the special effects and illusions. The following discussion questions are intended to help students focus on each of these technical elements and analyze its part in a production. SECTION A: SETS Before the performance began, what were your first impressions of the set design? How did it make you feel? Which of your senses were involved by the set design? What was the physicality of the stage? Did the set incorporate any theatrical devices such as a rake, a thrust, ramps or stairs, voms or the pit? What type of action did you expect? As the performance progressed, how did the set change from scene to scene or did it remain one setting for the entire play? Were the changes of location made by actual set alterations or by the actors use of the set? How was the stage used? Did the action take place across the whole stage or was it contained in small areas? What could you tell about each environment and time of the used area? Was movement between areas fluid or rigid? Did the actors move around the set in purposeful motion or did action flow from one area to another? What materials and color schemes were used for walls, the deck (stage floor), set pieces? Did the materials and colors fit the time and location of the play? Were you able to concentrate on the action and characters or did the elements of the set attract your attention? After viewing the performance, do you feel the set design supported the play? Did it make sense to you? Would you have done anything differently? SECTION B: COSTUMES What could you tell about each of the characters based on his or her appearance before any action took place? Did the costumes influence your expectations or opinion of each character? Did the costumes put you in the correct time period? Did the style of the costumes go with the personality of the character and the mood of the play? How did the colors and materials used compliment or contrast with the colors and materials of the set? Did the colors and materials group the characters in any way? Were there any parts of the costumes you found distracting or out of place? SECTION C: LIGHTING What clues did the lighting give you about the feel or emotional tone of the play? Was the lighting from an identifiable source or did it blend into the setting? Was the lighting supportive to the action of the performance or distracting? Could you identify the colors that were used? Why do you think these particular shades were chosen? Did any one character have a particular shade or degree of lighting?
SECTION D: SOUND What types of sounds were used? Were the sounds environmental noise or in response to specific character actions? (for example: crickets chirping in the summer or a gunshot) Did the sounds fit the situation or distract you from the performance? Were the sounds correct for time period and location? SECTION E: PROPS Were the props appropriate to the time period and setting? Did the characters have all the props they needed for the scenes? Did they have too many props? SECTION F: GENERAL What aspect of the performance impacted you the most? Was this aspect more content or physical? Did the technical elements of the performance enhance or detract from your enjoyment of the play? Would you have changed anything about this production? How would you have changed it?
The following is taken from a chapter in Katherine Anne Ommanney’s Book, The Stage and the School. Though her book was written in 1939, the information she imparts is still valid today. The questions that follow are designed to help students focus on the areas she discusses. No matter what degree of mechanical perfection the theatres of the screen and air may obtain, they can never take the place of the legitimate stage because they can never create that intangible magnetic quality which passes from actor to audience. To appreciate fully any type of drama and judge it fairly, you must consider the play itself, the interpretation by the actors, its staging by the director, and its reception by the audience. Your judgment is naturally colored by your personal preferences, immediate state of mind, social background, and technical theatrical knowledge. Often the company you are in can make or break the joy of a performance. There are four considerations to be kept in mind as you judge the play-- the type, the theme, the plot, and dialogue and characterization: [a] The Type-- Naturally the type of play and its fundamental purpose must color your attitude toward it-- a frothy social satire cannot be judged by the same standards as a romantic drama in blank verse, though both may be worthy of discriminating analysis. [b] The Theme-- If you are to be an intelligent playgoer, the theme of the play will receive your first consideration. It is the theme about which the keen discussion of successful “first nights” of new plays usually centers. It is their themes which hold the attention of the theatrical world on dramatists of the first rank. Determine for yourself what you consider to be the theme of the play, and be prepared to justify your belief by adequate reasons. You might follow Goethe’s example and ask: What did the author try to do? Did he or she do it? Was it worth doing? [c] The Plot-- When you go to a play, you are naturally more interested in the plot than in anything else. If the play is any good at all, you will be asking yourself, “What is going to happen next?” most of the time, and be really eager for each act. At the same time, you should consider whether the events are plausible and whether the people and places are presented convincingly. [d] Dialogue and Characterization-- The playwright’s style is perhaps the last element to notice, for you will be so interested in the play that the author and the style are of secondary interest. However, it is the dialogue through which the plot is developed and the characters portrayed, and professional critics are more interested in the lines than in anything else. The characterization, of course, gives the actors a chance to interpret the play correctly, and you will often find that you have forgotten who is playing the parts in your interest in watching the characters in the play meet and solve their problems. They should express themselves so well through their words and actions that you should not be conscious of either the author or the actors. The people themselves should be very real to you, and you should feel that you are meeting new acquaintances and accepting or rejecting them as the play progresses. Part of the fun of going to a play comes during the intermissions when you can discuss these new-made friends and speculate upon their ultimate actions. It is during the intermissions that you can take time to consider the playwright and the skill with which he or she has given the actors worthwhile lines to say and interesting things to do.
Judging the Acting-- It is the acting of the play which arouses the keenest response from the onlookers. The just appraisal of the work of the artists is to be expected as a result of any theatrical training. If actors create living people for us, losing themselves in the artistry of assuming other individualities by utilizing all that is best in their own physical and spiritual equipment, you should appreciate their ability and applaud their success. The star system has led many people to either condemn the work of an actor because of stupid prejudice, or to acclaim wildly any performance of a favorite star, no matter how good or bad the interpretation of a particular role may be. No greater opportunity for helping to create a finer American theatre is available to students than their refusal to let press-agent glorification or scandalous notoriety in place of artistic and sincere interpretation on the part of the actors they acclaim. The Direction-- The most important factor in the ultimate success or failure of a play is the director, and they are the last people to receive their deserved praise or blame from the public. They are personally responsible for every phase of the production: the adaptation of the play, the casting of the parts, the interpretation of the characters, the effectiveness of the staging, the length of the rehearsal period, and the total effect of the production. You will get real enjoyment from noting how directors have developed contrast in casting, costuming and interpretation, how they have worked out interesting stage pictures and emphasized their center of interest, and how they have created the proper atmosphere to bring out the author’s meaning with all their tools-- actors, lights, setting, and costumes.
The following questions from Katherine Ommanney’s book, The Stage and the School, may help you to view shows intelligently, but don’t let them spoil your enjoyment of the theatre or turn you into a commentator during the performance! Real enthusiasts of the theatre free their imaginations and emotions while seeing a play or a picture, while using their intelligence and discrimination to heighten their appreciation of this great art.
Section A: Theme 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.
Is the fundamental idea of the play true or false in its concept of life? Is the theme warped by a distorted or limited life experience on the part of the author? Are we better or worse for having seen the play? Is the theme consistent with the setting, plot and characters presented in the play? Do you agree with the author’s philosophy? In your opinion, should the general public be encouraged to see the play?
Section B: Plot 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.
Is it a clear-cut sequence of events? Does it rise to a gripping climax? Are we held in suspense until the end? Are we as emotionally stirred as the author apparently wants us to be? Are you satisfied as to the final outcome? Are you chiefly interested in the events, the people, or the place?
Section C: Characterization 1. Are the characters true to life? 2. Are they consistent throughout the action of the entire play? 3. Are they in keeping with the social and geographical background of the play? 4. Do they arouse such feelings as sympathy, affection, disgust, admiration, or hatred on the part of the audience? 5. Are their actions in keeping with their motives? 6. Are the situations at the climax and conclusion the result of their inherent natures?
Section D: Style 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8.
Is the dialogue of a nature so as to retain your interest throughout the play? Is it consistent with the characters and the setting? Is it an end in itself or an adequate means of plot advancement and characterization? Does it make us think about the author or the characters themselves? Do we remember lines after the play because of their pithiness or beauty? Is the use of dialect correct in every detail? Would people of the class represented talk in real life as they do in the play? Is the power of expression worthy of the ideas expressed?
Section E: Acting 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9.
Is the interpretation of any given role correct from the standpoint of the play itself? Does the actor make his or her role a living individuality? Are they artificial or natural in their technique? Are we conscious of their methods of getting effects? Do they grip us emotionally-- that is, do we weep, laugh, suffer, and exult with them? Are their voices pleasing and their presence magnetic? Do they keep in character every moment? Do we think of them as the characters they are depicting or as themselves? Does any actor use the play as a means of self-glorification, or are each of them an intrinsic part of the action at all times? 10. Does each apparently cooperate with the other actors, the director, and the author in interpreting the play by knowing his or her lines, helping to focus attention on the center of interest, and by losing himself or herself in the part?
Section F: Audience Reaction 1. Is the audience attentive or restless during the performance? 2. Is there a definite response of tears, laughter, or applause? 3. Is there an immediate appreciation of clever lines, dramatic situations, and skillful acting? 4. Is the applause spontaneous and whole-hearted, or politely perfunctory? 5. After the performance are people hurrying away, or do they linger to discuss the play? 6. Are they apathetic or animated, bored or buoyant, serious or scoffing? 7. To what types of people does the play seem to appeal?
The Design Team Scenic design
Garrett Bligh Eisler/Rich Keller
Costume research by Michael Krass
Character List for Romeo and Juliet (in order of appearance) The Prince – Ruler and keeper of the peace, though lately even he is unable to maintain peace. He is not without compassion—he himself has “lost a brace of kinsmen”—but his primary duty is to stop the violence. Montague – head of the house of Montague, and a party to the long-running feud. Romeo’s father. He is an “old” man of forty-something. Capulet – head of the house of Capulet, and a party to the feud like his rival Montague. He is also 40+, which prompts him to find a suitable match for daughter Juliet, to provide for her future. He is often characterized as “irascible, tyrannical,” even “illogical.” Friar Laurence – the personal priest for both Romeo and Juliet, well known to both families and most of Verona. Because he is known to them as a trustworthy adult who will listen to them, both young people turn to him for guidance rather than their parents. Laurence is also an herbalist, well versed in herbs’ properties, how to combine them, and so forth. Like the Prince, and as a man of God, he loves peace and would like nothing better than to help end the violence. Benvolio – Romeo’s best friend, cousin and confidant, a Montague. He is thoughtful, logical, slow to anger and opposed to the feud. Tybalt – A Capulet, quick to fight and very good at it. He incites or tries to incite quarrels with Benvolio, Mercutio and Romeo. Mercutio calls him “king of cats” in reference to a character in the tale “Reynard the Fox.”
Romeo – Montague’s son. At the beginning of the play he is pining for the fair Rosalind who does not return his affection. Like Benvolio, who he relies on for peer support, he has been avoiding the fighting. A young man wrestling with the nature of love and war. Paris – a young nobleman, kinsman to the Prince, who is eager to marry Juliet but is respectful of her feelings and those of her father. Schlegel says of Paris, “The well-meaning bridegroom, who thinks that he has loved Juliet right tenderly, must do something out of the common way; his sensibility ventures out of its everyday circle, though fearfully, even tot he very borders of the romantic. How far different are his death-rites [for Juliet] than those of the beloved [Romeo]! How quietly he scatters his flowers! Hence I cannot help but ask: ‘Was it necessary that this honest soul, too, should be sacrificed? Must Romeo a second time shed blood against his will?’ Paris belongs to those persons whom we commend in life, but do not immoderately lament in death; at his last moments he interests us especially by the request to be laid in Juliet’s grave. Here Romeo’s generosity breaks forth, like a flash of light from darksome clouds, when he utters the last words of blessing over one that has become his brother by misfortune.” Lady Capulet – Juliet's mother, who defers to Capulet in most areas and has left Juliet's rearing to their Nurse (like all well-to-do wives). She does love Juliet in her way, which includes the expectation that parental wishes and directives will be followed. She has little patience with the Nurse's prattling. For modern audiences, Lady Capulet often appears cold, almost disinterested in what Juliet may be facing, thinking or even involved in, but her demeanor toward her daughter was the norm for upper-class families in old Italy; professional nannies (“nurses,” that is, wet nurses) take care of childrens’, especially daughters’, day-to-day needs until they leave home. And today’s students may know parents who are not very involved in their sons and daughters lives, and young people who wouldn’t think of turning to their parents for advice or help. Juliet - the Capulets' only child, she is a dutiful daughter who has not considered marrying anyone yet. She is bright, thoughtful and brave, not foolish. Since she is 13 and single (she’ll be 14 on July 31, which is about 2 weeks away) her movements outside home are strictly limited (she has to get permission to go to confession, for example). Nurse - originally Juliet's wet nurse (Nurse’s own daughter was born about the same time, so Nurse nursed them both) Juliet has taken her daughter's place in her life since Susan's death. She is perhaps over fond, and a bit foolish, but she has Juliet's best interests at heart: she may seem to be callous toward Romeo when she suggests Juliet marry Paris, but Nurse’s thought is that Juliet will be more likely to have a normal, secure, possibly even happy life with him than rash, banished Romeo. She does love to talk, and she is, let us say, earthy. Peter - a servant of the Capulets who often accompanies the Nurse about town. He is not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Mercutio - of the house of Montague; the wittiest of them, perhaps, and rather a hothead. A fair swordsman very comfortable taking risks. A guy. Of him Coleridge said: “Wit ever wakeful, fancy [imagination] busy and procreative as an insect, courage, an easy mind that, without cares of
its own, is at once disposed to laugh away those of others, and yet to be interested in them—these and all congenial qualities, melting into the common copula of them all, the man of rank and the gentleman, with all its excellences and its weaknesses, constitute the character of Mercutio!” Family/Social groups in Capulet/Montague Verona It may be useful to consider the characters in their relationships to the family feud: The Prince, Escalus Paris, a noble young kinsman to the Prince Mercutio, a gentleman, kinsman to the Prince, friend of Romeo Friar Laurence, a Franciscan monk/father confessor/herbalist Lord Montague Romeo, Montague’s son Benvolio: Montague’s nephew, Romeo’s cousin, friend to Mercutio
Lord Capulet Lady Capulet Juliet, their daughter Tybalt, Lady Capulet’s nephew, Juliet’s cousin Nurse, Juliet’s childhood nanny, now her personal servant Peter, a Capulet servant, often assists the Nurse Capulet party guests/combatants
Setting A community burdened with an ancient grudge. Is it Dublin? Sarajevo? Johannesburg? Bensonhurst? Jerusalem? Synopsis: Arriving at yet another incident arising out of the long-standing feud between the Capulets and Montagues, the Prince of the city demands answers from Friar Laurence, who claims to know the background to the latest slayings. Romeo, a Montague, avoided the bitter feuding between his family and the Capulets as assiduously as Rosalind, the object of his affection, avoided the company of men in general. Encountering Juliet Capulet at a family party (he's there to see Rosalind) sparks much more than affection between the two, as they feel compelled to defy their families' strife and marry. Traveling through the city after the ceremony Romeo is caught up in a fight begun by his relative Mercutio and Juliet's cousin Tybalt: he inadvertently causes Mercutio's death and has killed Tybalt in a fit of fury before he knows it. Though the Prince compassionately orders Romeo's banishment rather than another death the enforced separation is almost too much for the young lovers. Turning to their father confessor Friar Laurence, Romeo is spirited away to a neighboring city. When Juliet is confronted with an arranged marriage with Count Paris, the good friar gives her a drug that will make her appear dead; after she is buried Friar Laurence will rescue her from the tomb and take her to Romeo. Unfortunately Romeo does not receive Laurence's message but only learns that Juliet is dead. Racing back for one last look at Juliet Romeo encounters Paris and striking out blindly, kills him. He then enters the tomb and takes poison. Friar Laurence does arrive but Romeo is already dead, and Juliet is just awakening. She drives Laurence from the tomb and kills herself with Romeo's sword.
Bio of the Bard William Shakespeare, third son of John Shakespeare, glover and trader, and Mary Arden, landowner's daughter, was born in Stratford-on-Avon in 1564. His birthdate is celebrated April 23 by convention only; since Shakespeare himself left no personal records we glimpse him only through official records. In 1568 his father was elected mayor of Stratford. Young William would have attended the town's free school to learn his "small Latin and little Greek." But merchant's sons did not attend university, so his schooling was probably over when he was 15, in 1579. In November 1582 young Will and Anne Hathaway were issued a marriage license; in May 1583 their daughter Susanna was christened. Some believe Will was forced to marry Anne when she became pregnant but others point out that formal betrothal, to which they had committed themselves, was both legally binding and permitted conjugal rights. In early 1585 the Shakespeares became the proud parents of twins, Judith and Hamnet. By then John Shakespeare had suffered financial setbacks and shortly thereafter, Will seems to have left Stratford. Although several acting companies are known to have passed through Stratford (the Earl of Leicester's Men in 1586, the Queen's Men in 1587), none seems to have filled vacancies while "on the road," so it is unlikely Shakespeare traveled to London in a troupe. Somehow though, between 1589 and 1592, he became a London actor and sometime playwright. It is known that several of Shakespeare's early plays—The Comedy of Errors, Titus Andronicus, the Henry VII plays and possibly The Taming of the Shrew and Richard III—were performed by such troupes as Sussex's, Admiral's, Pembroke's and Strange's before the plague hit in 1592, and that Richard III was a very big hit for Strange's Men, which may have led to Will's being hired by them. Many scholars believe that Shakespeare wrote Love's Labor's Lost, Romeo and Juliet, King John, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Richard II between 1594 and '96, as a member of the Chamberlain's (Strange’s) Men. In 1596, Will's son Hamnet died. After 1599, when he became a partner in James Burbage's new Globe Theatre and began to share in the "box office" take, the popularity of the plays written between 1596 and 1603 allowed him to send more money home. These plays include: The Merchant of Venice, The Merry Wives of Windsor, both parts of Henry IV, Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, Hamlet, Twelfth Night, and Troilus and Cressida. Love's Labor's Lost was the first of his plays to be published, in 1598. Once King James of Scotland came to Elizabeth's throne in 1603 Chamberlain's Men became the King's Men and performed twice as often at court than before. This "new" audience saw Othello, All's Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure, King Lear, Macbeth, Coriolanus, Antony and Cleopatra, and perhaps Pericles and Timon of Athens between 1603 and 1608. In the Blackfriar's Theatre they enjoyed Henry VIII, The Winter's Tale, Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Cymbeline.
Between 1608 and 1611 Shakespeare gradually withdrew from the King's Men and London, retiring to Stratford. The Tempest, generally considered to be his last play, may have been written at his home, New Place; it was presented by Burbage's troupe in 1611. Shakespeare died at home on April 23, 1616.
Taking Liberties With Shakespeare: An Interview with Bob Moss Even if you’ve seen Romeo and Juliet before, on the screen or on the stage, we guarantee that it will not be like the one we are doing this spring at Syracuse Stage. Yes, we are using Shakespeare’s original script, but the director, Bob Moss, has rearranged it a little bit. Read the following interview, conducted by our Literary Assistant, Rachel Edwards Harvith, and you’ll find out “wherefore.” *** REH: What made you decide to produce and direct Romeo and Juliet now? BM: Well, they’re two different things, producing it and directing it. So we have to divide my personality, or being, into two parts. The producer in me chose it because we haven’t done Shakespeare in a while, and one wants, as a producer, to always somehow be scaling these heights. These are the great plays, and we should always be revisiting them, it seems to me. We take that for granted. So, we hadn’t done this in a while, I thought it made a good balance in the season, it’s a popular play, I thought it would be good in the high schools . . . these are all marketing and artistic director concerns. So, the artistic director of the theatre put it in the season. REH: Right. BM: Then, Bob Moss was asked to direct it. Now, Bob Moss the director has no interest in these marketing concerns. It doesn’t help me direct the play. And I, as a director, have to know what my organic connection is to the piece. How do I get into it? And I’m sure I’m not a good enough director to be just hack work -- you know, “cross down right, cross down left, louder, softer . . .” I mean, I don’t know how to do that. So I have to be spurred by something I believe in in the play. So, it took me a while to figure it out. REH: And what is it you found that you believe in? BM: Two years ago, during the Kosovo crisis, there was a photograph in the New York Times of a youth who had obviously been killed. In the foreground of this photograph there’s this young man who is dead, and this blanket up to his chin, and his face is completely white -- it actually looks like marble, until you realize that it’s a real face. And surrounding him, fanning out over him, are all of these women with babushkas on screaming in agony. And the light on each person is a little different. The emotion in the photograph is unbelievably palpable. And at first, when I saw it in the paper, I thought it was a painting. It has the quality of a Rembrandt, because of the lighting and because of the emotionality. So I ripped it out of the paper and I put it on my wall. And then, of course, promptly forgot about it, because you don’t look at everything every day. Well, a couple of months ago, when I was thinking about Romeo and Juliet, I suddenly looked at that photograph again, and I thought, “Oh my God, that’s Romeo.” And as soon as I did that, the whole play fell
into place for me. Because I thought, here’s this Kosovo crisis with people killing themselves, and why are they doing it? Because of some ancient grudge, which is what Shakespeare says is going on between the Montagues and the Capulets. I think the grudge is extant in Verona. I think these people hate each other and want to kill each other, and at the end of the play, they’re going to arrive at some sort of peace. And it took the death of their children to make them learn it. So this doesn’t in any way deny the wonderful love story happening in the middle of the play. But the bookends of it are the grudge. The play is not a tragedy, I don’t think, and the play can have a healing effect. Now, the costume designer, Michael Krass, who’s done twenty-five or thirty shows with me and knows me perfectly well, I explained this to him, and he said, “Oh, so now all the people in Syracuse, everyone’s going to get over their grudges.” And I said, “somebody might.” Somebody might say, “this is foolishness.” And my feeling is, this is happening all over the world right now. There are ancient grudges, by which we mean, something happened hundreds of years ago, and we’re just as happy to die for it today. Well, I think every human life is sacred, and I think that’s wrong. “Get over it,” my feeling is. “Get over it.” And people have the power to do that. We have the power to get beyond, if we want to. Or we can just dig our heels in. REH: Now, fitting in with that, I know you’ve done some revisions with the script in terms of editing and rearranging the text. BM: Here’s all I’ve done, and I don’t think this is in any way serious. Yes, we have trimmed it a little. We have gotten rid of some of the dirty jokes that are, it seems to me, unnecessary. And I’ve gotten rid of some minor characters that, it seems to me, slow the story down. Four hundred years ago, people were happy to spend endless hours, and in today’s society people would rather not, if they didn’t have to. And I’m happy, if I can, to go along with that. A Long Day’s Journey Into Night is four hours long, and you couldn’t cut a word. Here, there are a few things that can go, and the play will be lighter and stronger and the message will be more clear. So I did some trimming, but not very much. The play ends with the Prince saying to Friar Laurence, tell us how this happened. And then he has this very long speech where he tells the entire story of the play. And everybody cuts it. Because, they say, “the audience knows all this.” The thing is, the parents have to hear it. But unless you have the greatest actors in the world playing the parents, who are ostensibly just listening to it, it doesn’t seem like a very dramatic scene. So we’ve decided to start the play at the moment where the Prince says, “tell us how this happened.” Because in Shakespeare’s Prologue, he says the lovers die. Shakespeare wants us to know that at the beginning of the evening. So I don’t think it’s any sort of a violation to say, okay, I’m going to start with that then. The two fathers, with the bodies in their arms, and the Prince saying, how did this happen, and Friar Laurence says, “well...” and then we crossfade back. Through that, I was
able to cut that speech, but, because of the bookends nature, with the parents listening to the story. So that’s the one thing, which doesn’t seem to me an incredible violation. The other huge thing that I did [deals with the fact that in Shakespeare’s script] the play takes place in four days. It’s something most people don’t realize. It starts on Sunday, and ends dawn, Thursday. And there are a number of scenes that clearly, in the text, take place at the same time. That’s textual. I’m not making it up. So it was exciting for us, in order to further accentuate the speed at which this story happens, with one scene breathing down the neck of the next, is to, in fact, intercut them and let them play simultaneously. REH: There are some purists out there who say that Shakespeare is better left alone. How would you respond to them? BM: Pish-tosh, I would say. Whenever you come to Shakespeare, you can’t do it the way it was done, because it was done in a very different mood. It was done without lights, it was done with men playing women, it was done very differently. And the Shakespeare stage was huge, with inner aboves and belows and without all the accoutrements we have today. We have lights, we have sound, we have all kinds of things that they didn’t have. So why shouldn’t we take advantage of that? I would say this, also, which is something I deeply believe in -- the theatre is not a museum. A museum shows us how things were, but the theatre shows us how things are. And therefore, any time you put on any play, the assumption has to be this is the first time this play is going on, and we must look at it absolutely freshly. That is our job. And besides which, these scripts are cobbled together from all kinds of different versions and that’s why you have all different kinds of folios and quartos and nobody knows exactly [how they were in Shakespeare’s day]. There’s never been two productions of a Shakespeare that looked alike. Because your job is to go in and investigate the material. You have an obligation to see what is says to you. That isn’t selfish, that’s our job. REH: Now, with the switching back and forth between scenes. How did you decide exactly when you were going to place those cuts back and forth and when you were going to just let it progress? According to the order the things were happening? BM: Yeah. It seemed to me that the first big scene is Benvolio talking Romeo into going to the party, and Juliet’s mother talking Juliet into going to the party. And they’re each saying to the other (to Juliet or to Romeo), “you’ll find a date there.” Well, it’s the same scene. So, I thought, what a perfect thing to have them happen side by side. The next thing that happens is, I think, the banishment? REH: Yes, it starts with “Gallop apace, you fiery footed steeds” BM: Right, right, it’s the banishment scenes. So, again, we know those are happening at the same time because the nurse says, “I know where Romeo is.” Well, okay, so those are going to happen in the same space. They’re not going to happen side by side. Those four actors will probably be all over the stage together. Because that’s exactly the same scene. Some of the words are even the same. Romeo says, “Oh, this has mangled my life.” And then Juliet says, “Oh, this is mangling my life.” I mean, it’s unbelievable. So they just cry out to be done absolutely smashed together. And I think that will be thrilling for the audience to see. The next one is -- Is the next one Juliet talking to the nurse --
REH: Yes. BM: And Paris -- Well, that was great. She’s saying, “Do you think I have to marry him?” And before the nurse has a chance to answer, Paris says to the Friar, “Well, we’re getting married tomorrow!” It puts incredible pressure on Juliet. So, again, it seems like there’s natural scenes. And it forces, it impels the play forward. And I think by doing them simultaneously, it dramatizes the incredible forward movement of this play. Isn’t there another one? REH: Yes, there is, Romeo dreaming he found her dead. BM: Oh, yes, because that’s the next morning. That’s dawn on Wednesday. Romeo wakes up, and the Nurse goes to wake up Juliet. So again, they’re happening at the same time. REH: And for me, I think one of the wonderful things about that is it highlights, as the chorus says, “star-cross’d lovers.” That there really are points of intersection there. The two are just destined to come together. BM: Right. Well, that’s why I thought at the end of those first two scenes, the two of them are standing side by side. And the beauty of the theatre is that we know they’re in different spaces. But looking, they’re standing right together. And I think there’s a kind of thrill at that, because we know that they’re going to meet. And there they are, standing next to each other. You can’t do that in the movies, you can’t do that in television, it doesn’t make any sense. In the theatre, you can do something like that. And it works. And people know it REH: (laughs) That’s fabulous. Now, do you think those jumps are going to confuse the audience at all? BM: No, no. Nowadays, are you kidding? People, certainly young people, are doing their homework, watching television, and have headsets on. They can take in all kinds of information at once. And I don’t think anybody will have any problem with it. But some people will complain. Oh, yeah, there are going to be people who will complain. REH: Well, Shakespeare’s so touchy. BM: Right. People are very touchy, and you know, I’ll respond as best as I can, but at a certain point I have to say you can like it or lump it. We’re certainly doing Romeo and Juliet, I’m being absolutely faithful, I’ve only cut a very few words, I have moved some scenes next to each other. That’s really all I’ve done. I haven’t violated the text, in my way of thinking. I’m just showing it in certain juxtapositions. REH: Now let’s talk about the setting. Where and when?
BM: Well, it’s hard to describe it in a way. I would say it’s in a sort of modern Never-Never Land. The floor treatment looks like a Christo wrapping. The idea came from a painting that Michael Krass had showed me of an unmade bed where the sheets and pillows were all sort of rumpled. And as soon as we had that idea for the floor, we realized that maybe everybody should be barefoot. So right away, we’re in a kind of dreamscape. The clothes are going to be modern, with maybe little touches of the Renaissance. Downstage, there is very modern steel scaffolding. Upstage are some Renaissance arches. So there’s a sense of the journey of time. REH: Why this dream-like atmosphere? BM: Well, I didn’t want to do a modern dress production. I didn’t want to set it in Kosovo. That seemed just too boring. And sort of selfish, in a way. So we little by little got into sort of a modern look, but I didn’t want it to be in blatantly modern times because then there’d be laptops and cell phones and there’s no reason why Romeo wouldn’t be told “Get home fast” or something, it would have taken a second. And I didn’t want to make that into an issue. So by making it into this big kind of dreamscape, where the floor is sort of padded and fabriced and everything, it has a slight “other” quality which buys me iambic pentameter. If it were just modern dress, people would have to say, “People don’t talk like that with those clothes on!” But because the floor and the barefoot combination takes us just somewhere else, there’s just some sense of “other-ness,” if you will, that buys me iambic pentameter. It justifies it for me. We’re somewhere else. It looks like today, but isn’t. REH: So, overall, what do you hope that audience members will come away with after seeing your production? BM: Well, I think what the production is saying is, does somebody have to die in your immediate family to help you move on? It’s like everyone has to have their own Jesus, if you will. Everyone has to have a sacrifice made in their laps for them to believe, or to understand, or to move forward. And that’s human nature, I guess. But couldn’t we learn another way? ***
Revisiting (and Reinterpreting) the Bard Bob Moss is not the first director to tackle Shakespeare in a nontraditional way. Many contemporary directors are finding that splicing Shakespeare’s words and inserting them into different worlds (i.e. other than Elizabethan England) add new layers of meaning to these classic plays. One such notable director is Charles Marowitz. Born in New York City in 1934, Marowitz has served as a director, producer, editor, adapter, and critic-historian in the theatre world. His credits include work with Peter Brook and the Royal Shakespeare Company in England. In his book, Recycling Shakespeare (1991), Marowitz challenges traditionalists to abandon their preconceived notions about how classics “should be” done because, he explains, “if the word ‘classic’ has any meaning at all it must refer to a work which is able to mean again, and perhaps mean something else” (7). Here are some passages from Recycling Shakespeare to give you a sense of the justification Marowitz and other nontraditionalists give for unorthodox approaches to Shakespearean production: There are those that are enraged by such extrapolations and variations—not to say distortions—of what they take to be Shakespeare’s original meaning; those that contend that a masterpiece already contains a richness of contemporary parallels which, because they exist in the depth of the text and the breadth of the spectator’s imagination, need not be tangibly translated on the stage. Indeed they contend that to make one particular parallel explicit is to rob the play of a host of other, more implicit meanings. This is a persuasive argument, until one considers the very nature of stage production. For, in the theatre, the actors’ and the director’s job is to make a play concrete: to make specific choices about decor, costume, textual emphasis and thematic interpretation. In the theatre, one cannot put on the stage a kind of multifaceted resonating-chamber called a classic and allow all members of the public to draw their own conclusions from it. The artist proceeds from conclusions he has already drawn—from the reading of the text. The strictures of his profession insist that he choose certain ideas, images and information over other ideas, images and information. Since there is no way to render Shakespeare in a pristine state (that is, to let Shakespeare speak for himself), since interpretation necessarily involves diluting Shakespeare’s work by putting him through the strainer of actors’, directors’ and designers’ imaginations, the search for parallels is an unavoidable part of the theatre-work. Therefore the public is always receiving Shakespeare-plus or, as is more often the case, Shakespeare-minus, but what it is never receiving is Shakespeare pure . . . What we most want from Shakespeare today is not the routine repetition of his words and imagery, but the Shakespearean Experience, and, ironically, that can come only from dissolving the works into a new compound—that is, creating the sense of vicissitude, variety and intellectual vigor with which the author himself confronted his own time . . . The real mystery is not really who he was or where he came from, but why we allow his influence to inhibit our conception of what we are capable of turning him into . . . Earlier I discussed the myths embedded in his works, but the greatest myth of all is that we cannot transcend him. Once we kill that myth, we will have launched our own renaissance, one that, theatrically speaking, is long overdue.
Famous Grudges Romeo and Juliet opens with the prologue: Two households, both alike in dignity, (In fair Verona, where we lay our scene) From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean. The romance that occurs between Romeo and Juliet is against the backdrop of two warring families, continuing an “ancient grudge.” It is only through the deaths of their children that the Montagues and Capulets are able to make peace with one another. Ancient grudges, or feuds, were a very common thing during the Renaissance. Italy, the country where Romeo and Juliet takes place, was a particular hot bed of feuds. But it is important to keep in mind that blood feuds are not entirely a thing of the past. Even today, people are dying all over the world because of some “ancient grudge.” These grudges emerge from a variety of causes, including ethnic, political, and religious differences. But regardless of the cause, the result is the same—many lives are lost as the two opposing groups battle it out against each other. Here are two modern examples of ancient grudges.
Northern Ireland To fully understand the situation in Northern Ireland, it is necessary to give a little background historical information. In 1171, Henry II of England invaded Ireland. By the late 13th century, an Irish parliament modeled on England’s legal system had been put into place. England still only controlled certain areas of Ireland, however. Therefore, in the 16th century the English monarchs Henry VIII, Mary I, and Elizabeth I attempted to gain full control of Ireland by using military force and sending over colonies of English settlers. Matters were complicated when Henry VIII changed the official Church of England from Catholic to Protestant. Virtually all of the native Irish were Catholic. So, when England completed its take-over of Ireland, the “official” religion of Ireland was different than the religion of the majority of the population. Most of the Irish Protestants were descendants of English or Scottish immigrants, and belonged to a propertied elite. Descendants of this group went on to profit from industrialization, and mainly inhabit the northern part of Ireland. They benefited from Ireland’s status as one of the Commonwealth of Nations. So, when a majority of Irish clamored for independence in the 19th century, the Protestants were not among them. In 1912, Protestants opposed to home rule armed themselves and organized The Ulster Volunteer Force. Nevertheless, the Home Rule Bill was passed in 1914, but delayed until the end of World War I. Perturbed by the wait, Catholics in favor of home rule responded in 1916 by organizing their own paramilitary group, the Irish Republican Army (IRA). The IRA lashed out in the 1916 Easter Uprising. Five years of internal warfare ensued, concluding in an independent Irish government for 26 of the 32 Irish counties. The six of the northern counties remained under British rule—this is what came to be termed Northern Ireland.
Because the population of Northern Ireland was divided against itself, with two-thirds Protestant and in favor of British rule, and one-third Catholic and in favor of Irish rule, from 1920 on Northern Ireland became a location of almost constant conflict. And from 1969 to 1998 in particular, Ulster politics were characterized by violence. Catholic and Protestant paramilitary groups and the British Army lashed out at each other. Military bases, public places, and homes were bombed. From 1969 to 1990, more than 2,500 were killed—a huge number for a country whose population was only 1.5 million. On January 30, 1972, “Bloody Sunday,” British paratroopers fired on a non-violent A British Army soldier tries to engage local Catholic march, killing 13. That year alone, there people in the Creggan area of Derry . . . . The fact were 10,000 shooting incidents, 1,300 explosions, that two Creggan teenagers had been shot dead by British soldiers . . . the previous day, was to have and 467 killed. more impact on local residents than anything this Britain tried to convince Northern Ireland to soldier could have said. set up a government based on “power sharing,” in Photographer: Eamon Melaugh which both the Protestant and Catholic views could Date Taken: 1 August 1972 get equal representation, but to no avail. Finally, a power-sharing assembly was elected in 1998, and violence stopped on both sides. The Good Friday Peace Agreement brought a cease-fire to a country ravaged by internal warfare for over 78 years. But still, the IRA refuses to disarm until Northern Ireland is granted its independence from Great Britain.
A British Army patrol carries out a raid on a house in the Creggan area of Derry. Photographer: Eamon Melaugh Date Taken: 1973 Copyright: © Eamon Melaugh
Rwanda and Burundi The population of Rwanda and Burundi is made up of three groups, the Hutu (85%), Tutsi (14%), and Twa (1%). All three speak the same language, Kinyarwanda/Kirundi, and share the same culture. The Twa were the first to inhabit Rwanda and Burundi. They made their living by hunting and gathering. The Hutu, farmers, came some time later, in the 7th to 10th centuries. The
final group to arrive were the Tutsi, in the 14th to 16th centuries. The Tutsi became chiefs and cattle-owners. The royal families were generally made up of Tutsi. However, it is important to note that originally the tribal designations Hutu and Tutsi were indicative of class, and, as such, could change with an increase or decrease in wealth and social status. When Europeans arrived on the scene, all this changed. Rwanda and Burundi were German protectorates from 1899 to 1916. The Germans rigidified tribal designations, and formed stereotypes for each group. They assumed that the Tutsi were superior and “born to rule” because of their tall height and “more refined” features which they compared to those of whites. As a result, the Tutsi were given more education and were, in general, groomed to rule. Government became more centralized, and more solely-Tutsi. After World War I, the Belgians took over, making Rwanda and Burundi one country (1916). The Hutu were still barred from educational opportunities, however, until the early 1950’s. Around this time, Hutus started to organize protests and demand equal rights. Hutu public demonstrations caused the deaths of tens of thousands of Tutsi. In 1961, with the support of the Belgian government, the Hutu seized the government away from the Tutsi monarchy and claimed Rwanda a republic. They claimed that since the Hutu had arrived in Rwanda first, they were the “real” Rwandans, whereas the Tutsi were colonizers, like the Germans and the Belgians. This was the beginning of nearly half a century of merciless bloodshed between tribes. Hutu burned and looted Tutsi homes, and the Tutsi retaliated with violence. The Hutu government exiled 200,000 of the 600,000 Tutsi to the now separate Burundi. In Burundi, where the Tutsi were still the political leaders, relations between the Tutsi and Hutu had been peaceful, but the arrival of exiles with vengeance in their hearts began to cause unrest between the two tribes. Hutu began to be afraid to accept job raises, for fear that they would be murdered once they achieved a high status. The Tutsi feared that, if the Hutu gained political control, they would try to kill off the Tutsi. Those Hutu who had had political power saw it disappear over night. In 1965, a group of Hutu army officers mounted an unsuccessful coup against the Tutsi. The Tutsi responded by killing 2,500-5,000 innocent Hutu civilians. In 1972, Hutu civilians rioted, killing 1,000-2,000 Tutsi. In response, the Burundian government massacred 80,000150,000 civilians, mainly Hutu. Hutus were declared an enemy of the state, and the civic responsibility of all Tutsi was to kill them. In 1988, the Hutu attempted to eliminate the Tutsi, killing 2,000-5,000; the Tutsi retaliated against the Hutu with heavy artillery. In 1993, the first free election was held in Burundi, and the winner, a Hutu, was assassinated. The riots that ensued left 50,000-100,000 dead. The worst incident so far occurred in Rwanda in 1994, when the aircraft carrying President Juvenal Jabyarimana of Rwanda and President Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi, both Hutu, crashed. 500,000 Tutsi civilians were murdered in the aftermath. Many of Hutu refugees pour out of Burundi those responsible for this horrendous incident of genocide fled to surrounding countries such as the Congo. There, they formed armed rebel groups. Today, civil war still rocks Burundi. The Tutsi remain in control, but rebel Hutu groups are using violence to seize the government. Former South African President Nelson Mandela is calling peace talks to end the now 7 ½ year war, but the rebel groups are reluctant to attend. Meanwhile,
Hutu refugees have taken up residence in nearby countries such as Tanzania. They refuse to return to Burundi unless a new, shared government of Tutsi and Hutu develops. The region's past was not perfect peace. Over centuries, there were local conflicts and conquests. But they seem insignificant and unconnected to these estimated killings since independence: 1963 1972 1988 1993 1994
Rwanda Burundi Burundi Burundi Rwanda
10,000 100,000 20,000 100,000 200,000
Sources of Romeo and Juliet: Palace of Pleasure: Rhomeo and Julietta Evangeline O’Connor, in her Who’s Who and What’s What in Shakespeare, is clear that [The story of Romeo and Juliet] is very old. Some of the chief incidents appeared in a Greek romance by Xenophon of Ephesus. It was first told in Italian by Luigi da Porto, of Vicenza, who died in 1529. His novel was published six years after his death. It was told again by Bandello, in 1554, and from him translated in to French by Boisteau. William Paynter [sic] translated the French version of this into English for his Palace of Pleasure, 1567. But the story had previously appeared in English verse by Arthur Brooke, 1562. Shakespeare no doubt used both Paynter and Brooke in his play, but it bears a closer resemblance to Brooke’s poem . . . Brooke speaks in his preface of having seen the story on the stage not long before; so that there was an English or perhaps Latin play to which Shakespeare and he may both have been indebted. The time [period in which the story takes place] is early in the fourteenth century; at least the occurrence on which it is founded is referred to the year 1303, and the events of the play occupy but a few days. Shakespeare is, of course, well known for refashioning well-established tales and plays. Fortunately, William Painter’s translation of Rhomeo and Julietta, from his three-volume Palace of Pleasure, was available to us as we prepared this introduction. Note: today’s reader should be prepared to encounter 16th century vocabulary and writing style that at times does not seem far removed from Middle English. Nonetheless, the similarities between the Painter/Bandello story and Shakespeare’s are quite clear.
Bandello’s setting is Verona, and his two ancient families, the Montesches and Capellets, have been “at war” for generations. The Prince of the city, Senior Bartholomew Escala, is not directly involved in the conflict, but like good governors everywhere, is determined to diffuse the situation. The families are just as determined to continue things to what they consider a satisfactory ending, just as in Shakespeare’s version. Rhomeo has been pining for a woman who rejects him “sight unseen” but, in trying to get over her, attends a Christmas feast at old Capellet’s, where he is recognized as belonging to the house of Montesche but is allowed to remain because he is known as a well-mannered young man. There he sees and is attracted to Julietta, who is also attracted to him. They exchange some words but do not learn who the other is until after they have spoken. After the ball Rhomeo finds Julietta’s balcony and they admit their feelings for one another, Julietta first broaching the subject of marriage. Rhomeo agrees to make arrangements, and they are married by Friar Laurence in his chambers, the good father hoping it will lead to a resolution of the fighting. Conjugal bliss is followed by Thibault’s challenge to Rhomeo, who declines to fight until enraged, whereupon he kills Thibault (Julietta’s cousin). The Prince condemns Rhomeo to banishment since he believes Rhomeo acted in self-defense; Julietta is inconsolable when she learns this, though both the Nurse and Rhomeo try to assure her that, because he is so well-liked, if they are just patient he will probably be recalled after a brief exile. Rhomeo adds that, if he must stay away more than a few months, he will be able to arrange for her to join him. Still, Julietta mourns his loss so (telling the family she misses Thibault) that her parents decide to distract her by marrying her off to Paris, to Julietta’s horror; Capellet threatens to disown her when she won’t consider it. Friar Laurence offers Julietta a potion
that will put her in a deep sleep for 40 hours, long enough for him to contact Rhomeo and have him rescue Julietta. Julietta’s “death” upsets all of Verona, by the way. Laurence’s messenger is retained at Mantua’s monastery under a plague quarantine; when Rhomeo’s servant Peter brings him the news of Julietta’s death, Rhomeo sends him back to serve his father, giving Peter a lengthy letter explaining everything, to be given to Montesche when appropriate. Rhomeo then finds a poor druggist who will sell him poison enough to commit suicide (which sale is against the law). Rhomeo dies in Capellet’s tomb just as Friar Laurence arrives to rescue the waking Julietta. Seeing that Rhomeo is dead she drives Laurence away and commits suicide; the city watch, or guards, find Laurence and Peter loitering around the tomb and accuse them of murder. Peter is cleared when Rhomeo’s letter is read aloud (he was only following orders, like a good servant), and the aged Laurence (he is “3 score and 10 or 12”) is forgiven for having tried to end the conflict. Through their actions Rhomeo and Julietta do reconcile the Montaches and Capellets, and the lovers are immortalized in marble, in the town square. Obviously, Shakespeare stayed very faithful to the main elements, but he did refashion the story to heighten the dramatic effects, largely by compressing the timespan. Bandello’s story takes place over some months—Rhomeo pines for weeks, he visits feasts and balls for weeks, he and Julietta converse from her garden balcony for some time before they marry, and meet secretly in her room more than once before Thibault is killed. Charles Boyce notes in Shakespeare A to Z, “The progression of the days is clearly marked by a succession of dramatic daybreaks: before he appears, Romeo is described as wandering at dawn; the next sunrise finds him below Juliet's window in the famous balcony scene, and the following morning he leaves by that window after the couple's surreptitious wedding night. The Nurse finds Juliet's drugged body at sunrise on Wednesday, and at the play's end, a gloomy daybreak accompanies the discovery of the tragedy by the Prince, the couple's parents and Friar Laurence. The playwright uses a virtuoso display of techniques to heighten the explosive speed of the plot development. . . .” Shakespeare’s compression of events also allows him to set his play during the hot summer months, when the heat alone could prompt rational beings to easy provocation; besides, summer nights are short!, and the days long, even tedious. By setting the events over the course of a few long summer days, Shakespeare infuses the love story with greater urgency and tension than that inherent in its backdrop, the feud. Further, “telling juxtapositions [in Shakespeare’s retelling of the story] also catch our attention, perhaps most strikingly when the fury and desolation of the duel scene . . . follows Romeo and Juliet's marriage; Romeo falls into the depths of the feud just as he ascends to seeming bliss. His very effort to effect a reconciliation with Juliet's kinsman [Tybalt] leads to the death of Mercutio, which in turn requires vengeance. These connections do not occur in his source; Shakespeare added them to heighten the dramatic tension,” says Boyce. Boyce agrees with Friar Laurence that “they stumble who run fast”: However, the accelerating passage of events begins to take on an ominous tone. Juliet, after she and Romeo have first acknowledged their love, says fearfully: ". . . Although I joy in thee,/I have no joy of this contract tonight:/It is too rash, too unadvis'd, too sudden,/Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be/Ere one can say 'It lightens' (2.2)." Hearing of Romeo's love for Juliet, the Friar warns, "Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow." From this point, the pressures of time only intensify: Romeo and Juliet must end their wedding night suddenly; Capulet impulsively moves the wedding date forward a day; Friar Laurence arrives only seconds too late to prevent the fatal denouement.
Several times feverish haste is described as resembling the flash of lightning or gunpowder, combining the image of fleeting seconds with that of light, the second major motif in the play. When Romeo first encounters Juliet, he compares her to the brilliant light of torches, and in the balcony scene he associates her with sunlight, starlight, daylight and the brightness of an angel. Juliet proposes that Romeo, if she "cut him out in little stars," could fill the sky and cause the night to outshine the day. But light, with time, comes to work against the lovers. As dawn arrives to end their wedding night and signal the beginning of Romeo's exile, he moans, "More light and light;/ more dark and dark our woes." Bandello’s lovers are more isolated than Shakespeare’s: Rhomeo has no friendly confidant named Benvolio or Mercutio (Mercutio is a lesser figure who appears at the Capellet party to entice Julietta), and Julietta manages much more of their affair herself, rather than relying on her Nurse. It is also interesting to note that Rhomeo is 20 or 21 years old, and that he is generally known throughout Verona as a true gentleman, socially acceptable even to the Capellets because of his reputation as a peaceful man. (While Julietta’s age is not made explicit, since her parents are just now making wedding plans for her she is probably in her mid-teens, younger than Rhomeo.) A younger Rhomeo, while easier for Shakespeare’s company to cast, would also be understandably more reckless and rash. Further, providing Romeo with the like-minded Benvolio as a confidant, fashioning the Nurse into Juliet’s confidant, and transforming Mercutio into a full-fledged character also created performance opportunities for a young actor (Benvolio) and the company’s top comedians—feeding the Nurse pre-Dickensian malapropisms and plenty of earthiness, and peppering Mercutio with plenty of bawdy humor that would be out of place coming from Romeo though exactly what one would expect from any young, lusty man—while fleshing out Romeo and Juliet’s world for the sake of the audience. Thus the Bard served the audience members looking for some good laughs with their good cry in addition to those who were fans of chivalric romances, all the while ensuring Burbage’s actors not only time onstage but stage business aplenty.
Commentary on time, motifs and language From: Charles Boyce, Shakespeare A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Plays, His Poems, His Life and Times, and More. Images of contrasting light and darkness color the play's tragic climax. The Friar describes the action of the potion he gives the desperate Juliet as "like death when he shuts up the day of life," but when Romeo opens the tomb he calls it a "lantern" lit by Juliet's beauty, making "this vault a feasting presence, full of light." Finally, the Prince's speech [at the end of the play] begins with the observation that "a glooming peace this morning with it brings;/The sun for sorrow will not show his head." As the prominence of darkness and light suggests, Romeo and Juliet is a play about extremes and oppositions: the union of the lovers versus the feud between their families; age against youth; the weight of the past versus the promise of the future. Most important, the lovers themselves stand in opposition to the rest of the world—Juliet's irritable father, her match-making mother, the bawdy Nurse, the volatile Mercutio, and the self-righteous Friar, all of whom are content to enact the roles required by their places in society. The lovers, however, experience another, private world, in which they feel a finer degree of responsibility to each other and to their
love. Their isolation gives their dying a sacrificial quality, atoning for the sins of the families and of [their community] at large. The lovers are especially distinguished from their fellow citizens by their speech. Their expressions of love are filled with the intense language of lyric poet striking images, exaggerated comparisons, and with use of rhetorical figures traditionally associated with love. Among these is the use of the sonnet, which formal organization and lyrical fervor suggest the nature of the play itself: rigorously paced and emotionally high-pitched. . . . Following a number of sonnet fragments (as in Romeo and Benvolio's exchange the end of their first scene), Romeo and Juliet's first encounter takes the form of a sonnet that they deliver jointly (“If I profane with my unworthiest hand/This holy shrine” through “Saints do not move, though grant for prayers’ sake.”/“Then move not, while my prayer’s effect I take.”). Their subsequent dialogue is in blank verse, less stylized and more dramatically powerful but the use of the sonnet form in the opening scene suggests the poet's private recollection of emotion. This permits an exhibition of the lovers' intimate experience, inexpressible in ordinary speech. Shakespeare was writing his early sonnets while he was composing Romeo and Juliet; the idea of integrated love lyrics within his romantic love story must have seemed delightful. As a tragedy of love, ultimately derived from the prose fiction of Renaissance Italy, Romeo and Juliet was a novelty in its day; Elizabethan audiences expected to find lovers in comedy, whose complicated plots led to happy endings in marriage. Although the tale of Romeo and Juliet was well known in prose versions, tragic destinies in the theatre were customarily reserved for ancient rulers and quasi-mythical figures, in dramas (such as Shakespeare's own Titus Andronicus) that imitated those the Roman playwright Seneca. However, despite unusual protagonists, Romeo and Juliet also reflects the traditional values of medieval melodramas of the Wheel of Fortune and, like them, carries catharsis with its load of woe. Fortune, to the medieval mind, brought down the mighty and thus demonstrated that humanity was subject to forces beyond its control. This was not necessarily a pessimistic notion, for it expressed the certainty of a world of fate beyond human suffering. This ancient tradition was strongly reinforced by the Christian concept of heaven, which was still a vital force in Shakespeare's day. Romeo and Juliet concerned the destiny of two young people—not that of, say, an emperor—but it demonstrated the turnings of the Wheel of Fortune equally well. Thus the play was both conventional and novel.
Questions for after Reading the Script 1. Much of Shakespeare's work continues to inspire today's writers and artists. Did you recognize any of the text or situations in Romeo and Juliet? If so, which passages were familiar and where had you encountered them prior to reading this? 2. Shakespeare chooses not to detail the reasons for the feud between the Capulets and the Montagues. Does this omission enhance the story or detract from it? Why do you think Shakespeare made this choice? What are some of your ancient grudges? Do you remember how they began? 3. What do Romeo and Juliet see in each other? Is there such a thing as love at first sight? 4. Meter is an important feature of the dialogue in Shakespeare's plays. Describe the metrics in Romeo and Juliet. Is there a pattern to the verse? When it rhymes? When it doesn't? 5. Why do you think Shakespeare included a prologue in the script? Does this tell us anything about the audiences that attended plays in Shakespeare's time? 6. Why would Shakespeare have Romeo pinning away for Rosaline at the beginning of the play? What does Romeo's easy dismissal of his affections for Rosaline tell you about his personality? 7. What role does Friar Laurence play in bringing Romeo and Juliet together? Why do you think he endeavors to help them? 8. How does Juliet relate to her nurse? Would a relationship like this exist in contemporary times? Give some examples. 9. It has been said that the premise of Romeo and Juliet is that "love conquers hate." Do you think that this is made evident by the text? Do you agree with this assessment? What has Romeo and Juliet's love wrought? 10. Romeo experiences a full range of emotions during the course of the play. Starting from the beginning, track Romeoâ€™s frame of mind throughout the play? 11. What event in the play hastens the demise of Romeo and Julietâ€™s relationship? Is one character more to blame than another? Explain why. 12. How old is Juliet in the play? How old is Romeo? Where in the play do you learn this information?
Post Performance Questions 1. Did reading the text prior to seeing Romeo and Juliet help you better understand the dialogue on stage? Did the action coincide with how you envisioned the scenes when you read the play? 2. The play takes place in the village of Verona. Based on Syracuse Stage’s set design and the costuming, can you determine what era the play takes place? Is there a specific time? Do these design elements evoke a sense of place that seems contemporary or historical? 3. One difficult performance element of the play is the fight scenes. How did the director choose to stage the combat? Were the scenes realistic? 4. The word “chemistry” is often used to describe the level of attraction between characters in a love story. Did the actors playing Romeo and Juliet have the chemistry necessary for us to believe they were instantly in love with each other? Do you believe they would choose to die before living without one another? 5. Describe how Romeo behaves around Mercutio and Benvolio as compared to when he is with Juliet. 6. How does the sound design enhance your experience of the play? Where was the sound used most effectively? Did the music convey a specific time or place? 7. The balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet is perhaps one of the most famous scenes in theater. Was this scene reminiscent of other scenes you have seen in either the theater are in film? Was it staged as you expected? 8. A great deal of effort went into casting the roles in Romeo and Juliet. Did the actors seem right for their roles? Is there any character that you would’ve cast differently? If casting this play was your responsibility, what actors would you have chosen for the play? 9. Shakespeare’s plays have five acts. Today, the plays are most often performed with just one act break. Often this entails some editing of the play. Think back on Syracuse Stage’s production. How did it differ from the text you read? Why do you think these changes were implemented? 10. Robert Moss, the director of Syracuse Stage’s production, chose to present the play as a flashback with Friar Laurence as a narrator. How does this impact the beginning and end of the play? Was this an effective way of telling the story?
For Further Discussion and Exploration 1. In 1959 "West Side Story" transplanted Shakespeare's story of Romeo and Juliet to New York City, where the Capulets and Montagues became the street gangs Jets and Sharks. In what conflict would you place the story if you were to set it in modern times? 2. Research some past and present feuds. Choose one and trace the underlying cause for the feud. Has the feud been resolved? If so, how? 3. Much of Romeo and Juliet concerns the young couple’s love for each other. Discuss the differences and similarities between romantic love, passion, infatuation, and mature love. How would you define each of these? What were the characteristics of Romeo and Juliet’s relationship? Do you know of anyone Romeo and Juliet’s age who have a relationship like theirs? Can you imagine yourself having a relationship like theirs? 4. In Syracuse Stage’s version of Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio’s speech about Queen Mab (the fairy who influences dreams) has been edited. Go back to the original text and read the entire speech. Why do you think Robert Moss, the director, choose to cut some of the speech? What are some reasons for leaving the speech intact? Using this as a starting point, discuss the structure of Shakespeare’s plays and the obstacles their length present. 5. Initially, Romeo chooses to ignore Tybalt’s invitation to duel, trying instead to persuade him that he feels like kin to Tybalt. Fiery tempers eventually lead to the death of Tybalt and Mercutio. If Romeo had chosen not to fight, apart from being banished, how would his life with Juliet be impacted by his action? Would he see himself as a coward? Would he resent the Capulet’s for the death of his friend, and would that it turn taint his love for Juliet? When in the play do you believe their relationship is doomed? 6. Juliet is expected to marry at 13. Discuss how would your life be different if you got married at that age. How would society be different if people generally married so young? 7. Explore the "authorship" question related to Shakespeare's plays. (Some scholars doubt the attribution to him of some of the plays and poetry usually called Shakespearean.) What is known about the origin of Romeo and Juliet? Find out the original source of the plot ideas. Is this play more or less "original" than his other tragedies or comedies? 8. Read the original Italian Renaissance poem on which Shakespeare based Romeo and Juliet and compare and contrast plot points with the play. (The English version by Arthur Brooke that Shakespeare read can be found in some editions of the play, including the Arden, Oxford, and Cambridge printings.) What parts did Shakespeare copy and what did he change? Also take note of when Shakespeare only slightly altered the language and discuss what that teaches us about Shakespeare's own distinctive style. Pick a favorite poem or song of your own and write a short play telling the same poem.
Writing Assignments 1. Most of "Romeo & Juliet" is written in iambic pentameter verse. Define and study this form. Write your own dialogue in this style (or in another poetic meter) based on situations found in the play (A friend comforting another friend over a break-up; love at first sight; a fatherdaughter argument over a boy) 2. Examine the historical accuracy of the movie "Shakespeare in Love," which depicts Shakespeare's process in writing "Romeo & Juliet." Research what is known about Shakespeare's early life and career and about the origins of this play. Why do you think the screenwriters chose to diverge from the historical facts? Write a letter to the screenwriters where Shakespeare himself responds to their portrayal of him and his work. 3. By the end of the play, five characters are dead (Mercutio, Tybalt, Paris, Romeo and Juliet). Create an obituary for one or more of the fallen. Include age, survivors, accomplishments and/or philosophy. The obituary might briefly describe the circumstances of his/her death as well. Or, create an epitaph for one of the deceased, written by a family member. 4. Have students write a soliloquy for any of the characters in Romeo and Juliet. Write a brief preface in which you place your soliloquy in a specific frame of reference. Your soliloquy should reveal the innermost feelings and motivations of your character. 5. Ask students to select a line from the play that would make a good song title. Develop lyrics around the chosen line or phrase. (Example- "What's in a name?) 6. Dreams, although often disjointed, contain many theatrical elements. In fact, some directors, such as Richard Foreman, mine the qualities found in dreams for their stage productions. Keep track of your dreams by writing them down each morning in a journal. Using the dreams you’ve recorded, see if you can develop a story line for a play. Don’t worry that your dream might seem nonsensical. Let the story be fantastic. 7. One of the many pleasures of reading Shakespeare is unearthing new words—especially the insulting ones! Few playwrights enjoy a good barb as much as Shakespeare. Have your students cull Romeo and Juliet for as many insulting words they can find. Have them look up the words in the dictionary. Using their new-found arsenal, divide the students into groups and see which students can compose the most melodious string of insults. 8. In Act Two, Scene Four of Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio teases the Nurse by singing a brief verse. Discuss the intent and meaning of this song. Can you determine its content from the Nurse’s reaction? Try your own hand at composing a song using some of the language you’ve learned from the text.
Arts Activities- Visual Arts and Acting & Improv 1. Improvise contemporary situations from the text of Romeo and Juliet, such as a feud between rival families, a parent threatening to disown a child, two lovers eloping, etc. Divide the class into groups, and give each group a situation. Allow fifteen minutes for the students to prepare their scenes. Have the groups perform their scenes for the class. 2. Divide your class into as many groups as there are scenes in the play. Have each group create a frozen statue or tableau that captures the essential emotion, conflict, or tension of that scene. Present the tableaux in sequence. 3. Using pales, papier-mache, and other materials, have students create a mask that represents one of the Elizabethan humors (sanguine, choleric, phlegmatic, or melancholy). Ask students to explain their designs. Have a group create a scene, using the masks for each humor, in which the various character types interact. 4. Have students choose any character from Romeo and Juliet and create a character collage. They should include pictures (hand drawn or cut from newspapers/magazines) of actions the character performs, relationships the character has with others, typical moods, feelings, attitudes, etc. Include quotations from the play that reveal something about the character (these may be quotations from the character as well as those about the character). 5. Compare Shakespeare's treatment of love in "Romeo & Juliet" to that in another of his tragedies (Othello, Antony & Cleopatra) or his comedies (As You Like It, Twelfth Night). Pick a scene from one of these plays to perform back-to-back with a scene from "Romeo & Juliet." 6. Recreate the Capulet’s ball. A) Have the students bring in materials to create a mask of their own design. They must have a specific character in mind for their mask. Based on the mask design, see if the class can determine what character is behind each mask. B) Research some Elizabethan dance steps (see Pilgrims and Saints Dance--The Folger Library’s Shakespeare Set Free). Distribute an instruction sheet for a dance and have the students perform it while wearing their masks. 7. Have the students develop a design concept for Romeo and Juliet, including lighting, set, sound, and costume. Have them draw a sketch of how they would envision the production. Students should prepare an oral presentation discussing how their design elements are interrelated. 8. Divide the class into groups of two. Have each group choose a monologue from the script. One student will serve as the director, the other as an actor-orator. The students should analyze the text together and then present the monologue. (The text doesn’t have to be memorized.) The group should then discuss their interpretation of the monologue and how they attempted to convey its meaning. An alternative to presenting the monologue is have the students present a two-person scene.
Quotations from the Play Use the following quotations to discuss specific events from Romeo and Juliet in context, or to discuss the universal ideas expressed by the quotations. You might use the quotations as a springboard to role-playing, or as the first line of letters, poems, and short stories; or you may choose to use them as titles for pictures, paintings, other visual images or music. PARIS:
“Younger than she, are happy mothers made.”
MERCUTIO: “If love be rough with you, be rough with love, / Prick love for pricking, and you Beat love down.” BENVOLIO: “Blind is his love, and best befits the dark.” ROMEO:
“O she doth teach the torches to burn bright.”
“But soft, what light though yonder window breaks? / It is the East , and Juliet is the Sun.”
“Deny thy father and refuse thy name.”
“Alack, there lies more peril in thine eye / Than twenty of their swords: look thou but sweet, / And I am proof against their enmity.”
“My bounty is as boundless as the sea, / My love as deep, the more I have to give to Thee, / The more I have, for both are infinite.”
“Young men’s love then lies not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes.”
“These violent delights have violent ends.”
MERCUTIO: “Men’ eyes were made to look, and let them gaze; / I will not budge for no man’s Pleasure, I.” 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.” PRINCE:
“Mercy but murders, pardoning those that kill.”
“O serpent heart, hid with a flowering face!”
“’Romeo is banished.’ / There is no end, no limit, measure, bound, / In that word’s Death; no words can that woe sound.”
“’Tis torture and not mercy, heaven is here / Where Juliet lives, and every cat and Dog, / And little mouse, every unworthy thing / Live here in heaven, and may look on her, / But Romeo may not.”
“Thou canst not speak of what thou dost not feel.”
“Some grief shows much of love, / But much of grief shows still some want of wit.”
“Is there no pity sitting in the clouds, / That sees into the bottom of my grief?”
“Death, lie thou there, by a dead man interr’d.”
“O Churl! Drink all, and leave no friendly drop / To help me after?”
“See, what a scourge is laid upon your hate, / That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love.”
Vocabulary (in order of appearance) Ghostly father – Ghostly refers to one’s soul, so this greeting recognizes Laurence’s role as a priest who hears confessions to cleanse the confessor’s soul. Shrift – confession of one’s sins to a priest or minister, who gives absolution and penance. Lammas tide – an early English harvest festival celebrated on August 1st during which bread made from the earliest ripe corn was blessed (to ensure a good harvest). The old English word this derives from meant loaf mass. This is an instance of Shakespeare localizing the Italian story for his audience as he indicates what time of year the action is taking place. Dame Fortune – She was originally a Roman goddess who distributed the “lots of life,” whether for good or ill, and thus was recognized as a cause of events and general changes that seemed to have no cause. She was often pictured with a wheel, which the Romans saw as describing how one’s fortunes rose and fell, but Renaissance thinkers took to indicate the vicissitudes of fortune that arose from the Dame’s wish to help or harm each individual. Diana – Romeo compares Rosalind to this Roman goddess, twin sister of Apollo, and thus goddess of the moon (as he is god of the sun). However Diana was primarily known as a hunter and champion of war, and in that regard, she did not need nor want male companionship, preferring to live chaste. This is the problem Romeo has with Rosalind, that she refuses male companionship (although we don’t really know that it might be entirely personal between them). There is a great deal of moon imagery in the play, because of all the scenes at night, but most of the rest of it is romantic imagery. “Find them out whose names are written here” – like most servants, Peter cannot read, which fact luckily escapes Capulet, else Romeo would not know about the party. Mild oaths – holidame: though this also means holiness it originally referred to the Virgin Mary, to whom Catholics prayed to intercede on their behalf with God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost; marry: another means of calling on the Virgin Mary in surprise, exasperation, indignation, etc.; by Jesu: obviously, calling on Jesus for support when surprised, excited, upset, etc.; by the rood – rood means twig or rod, but also the Cross, the holiest twigs; Z’blood or S'blood – God’s blood, a citation of blood shed by Jesus during his crucifixion; God’s wounds or S’wounds: referring to wounds Jesus sustained as he was crucified; God’s bread: a reference to bread blessed by Jesus at the Last Supper; God shield: asking the supreme being to protect the speaker, though this could, of course, be invoked ironically; God’s lady dear – undoubtedly a reference to the Virgin Mary. “Paris is a man of wax” – The Nurse means Paris appears as perfect as a wax figure or statue, his physique is very pleasant to look at. Queen Mab – According to the Riverside Shakespeare Queen may have been a pun on the slang term Quean, meaning slut, particularly since Mab was a common nickname for a prostitute. Lusty
young Mercutio then peppers his description of the dreams she brings with sexual slang, which would of course be uppermost in the minds of young men crashing a forbidden party (and in the young women’s minds too!), and fencing terms, good old sex and violence. Atomies – diminutive of atom, which, to the medieval/Renaissance mind, meant a small bit of anything, even time (an atom of time was thought to be 15/94 of a second!). Mercutio is simply underscoring the concept that Mab is very small. Ambuscadoes – Spanish for ambushes, thrilling for soldiers to spring on their enemies. Cock-a-hoop – the Riverside points to 2 possible definitions: that of unrestrained drinking, from a keg that has had its tap or cock removed, thus allowing the wine or beer to flow without stopping; also perhaps referring to a rooster asserting his dominance, which is in keeping with Capulet’s remonstrance to Tybalt that Tybalt is making himself master of Capulet’s household. “He that can lay hold of her/Shall have the chinks” – the Nurse boasts to Romeo that any man lucky enough to marry Juliet will have secured a prize, possibly referring to Capulet’s wealth, to Juliet’s beauty and sweetness, and so on. Keep in mind that the Nurse is an earthy person, too, and may use chink to imply a hole or slit. Humours –According to the website of Estrella Community College’s English Department, the humours represent “a traditional theory of physiology in which the state of health—and by extension the state of mind, or character—depended upon a balance among the four elemental fluids: blood, yellow bile [choler], phlegm, and black bile [melancholy]. These were closely allied with the [traditional Western] four elements (air, fire, water, and earth). Their correspondence is described as follows: BLOOD YELLOW BILE PHLEGM BLACK BILE Air Fire Water Earth hot and moist hot and dry cold and moist cold and dry SANGUINE CHOLERIC PHLEGMATIC MELANCHOLIC amorous, happy, gluttonous, lazy, Violent, vengeful dull, pale, cowardly generous sentimental The "humours" gave off vapors which ascended to the brain; an individual's personal characteristics (physical, mental, moral) were explained by his or her "temperament," or the state of that person's "humours." The perfect temperament resulted when no one of these humours dominated. By 1600 it was common to use "humour" as a means of classifying characters; knowledge of the humours is not only important to understanding later medieval work, but essential to interpreting Elizabethan drama, especially the late-16th century genre known as the "comedy of humours" (cf. Ben Jonson).” Romeo is melancholic during the opening scenes, while Juliet is sanguine, and Tybalt is definitely choleric, for example. Truckle bed – what we call a trundle bed, a small bed on casters that may be hidden under another; a child’s bed.
“I am proof against their enmity” – Romeo is bragging to Juliet that, as long as she loves him he can withstand anything. Watch this exchange for the irony of Romeo boasting that he would could die happily with Juliet’s love (“My life were better ended by their hate/Than death postponed, wanting of thy love”). Elizabethans would have taken his speeches, and his sense of foreboding before entering Capulet’s house, as signs that he and Juliet are fated to die. Hist – Psst! Juliet hopes to call Romeo back as a falconer summons his trained bird. Tassel-gentle – a tame bird kept on a cord by a spoiled child. Juliet says: “a wanton’s bird,/who lets it hop a little from her hand,/Like a poor prisoner in his twisted irons,/And with a silk thread plucks it back again,/So loving-jealous of his liberty.” Osier-cage (for Laurence’s herbs) – a willow basket; more specifically , a specie of willow branch particularly suited to being woven into a basket, which, to the free imagination, resembles a small cage. Benedicte! – Literally, I pronounce or speak goodness; actually Laurence is greeting Romeo with a blessing. Blind bow-boy – Cupid, the boy with the arrows, is here blind, as love is blind. A lot is made of love and/or Cupid being blind in this play: neither Romeo nor Juliet nor Paris has a satisfactory or successful love affair. Butt–shaft - a blunt practice arrow, such as would be used by a child or other inexperienced archer. Cupid is generally thought of as a very young boy. Prince of cats - In versions of the famous fables about Reynard the Fox Tibalt or Tibert (sic) is the name of the prince of cats. Prick-song – printed music. Mercutio condemns Tybalt for fighting according to a plan, by rote, rather than being skilled and experienced enough to fight spontaneously by comparing him to a singer who must have written music rather than simply sing by ear. Minim rest - this is the shortest rest in music. Mercutio is continuing with his music theme, implying that anyone who knows how to improvise, who can catch on to a piece of music quickly, could take Tybalt by surprise, because he can only follow exactly. “One, two and three in your bosom” is yet another description of Tybalt being easy to read as a fencer. Butcher of a silk button – a skilled fencer could pinpoint a button on your vest in the heat of battle. First and second cause – the Riverside says these are times when a gentleman would take offense and demand satisfaction by fighting a duel, though it doesn’t say why. Immortal passado – a fencing term for a forward thrust. Punto reverso – fencing again, meaning a backhanded thrust, a tricky move.
The hai – to thrust home. Apparently Benvolio does not fight by the book because he is not familiar with this term, but then, he is a reluctant fighter, we know. Mercutio doesn’t like the affectations of “courtiers,” who he thinks are phonies, and Tybalt, to him, is one of these. Famous lovers: Romeo refers to a number of women known a famous lovers, although the first one, Laura, is accompanied by her devoted Petrarch, the fourteenth century Italian poet. Trained
for the law, the young Petrarch ultimately took minor holy orders but that did not interfere with his writing some of the most famous love poetry of the Renaissance. The Encyclopedia Britannica notes that “he first saw her in the Church of St. Clare at Avignon on April 6, 1327, and loved her, although she was outside his reach, almost until his death. From this love there springs the work for which he is most celebrated, the Italian poems (Rime), which he affected to despise as mere trifles . . . but which he collected and revised throughout his life.” They never met, though he continued to love her and dedicate his work to her. Only the plague of 1348 ended this platonic love affair: Laura died on April 6, the anniversary of Petrarch's first seeing her. Britannica adds that “in the jubilee year of 1350 he made a pilgrimage to Rome and [renounced] sensual pleasures,” which most believe was prompted by Laura’s death. Dido – This beautiful, widowed Queen of Carthage was a pawn between the ancient gods,
according to Edith Hamilton (Mythology). Juno, Jupiter’s wife, wanted to entangle Aeneas, the Trojan hero, with Dido to thwart any further Trojan successes, particularly the prophesied future conquering of Dido’s city by Rome, which was to be founded by Aeneas’ progeny. However Venus, who greatly admired Aeneas, simply wanted to ensure that no harm came to him when his ship was forced to land in Carthage. After getting Jupiter’s assurance that he would see that Aeneas continued to western Italy, Venus also engaged Cupid to work his magic on Dido, who indeed fell in love with the Trojan (she had so admired the Trojan victory that her public buildings were decorated with bas reliefs of Priam, Achilles and other leaders). Having been given both Dido and her city, Aeneas was at first happy to stop his arduous journey but, when challenged by Mercury (speaking for Jupiter) as to why he was wasting time and not establishing cities, Aeneas left Dido, who was so distraught that she committed suicide as his ships sailed. Cleo(patra) – This Queen of Egypt is very well known as having attracted the eye of both Julius
Caesar and his eventual challenger, Marc Anthony. Caesar first travels to Egypt in pursuit of Pompey, with whom he had been ruling the Roman Empire; when Pompey is murdered by JC sympathizers Caesar remains to wage civil war on behalf of 20-year-old Cleopatra, who regains her throne (he is 51). Two years later Cleopatra travels to Rome as Caesar’s mistress, staying till his murder two years later (the Ides of March, B.C. 44). She murders her brother on returning, claiming the throne for herself alone. Three years later Marc Anthony meets and falls in love with Cleopatra (he’s 42, she’s 28), leaving his wife, though he marries a Roman woman when his wife dies, and yet another when wifie #2 dies. It is only after his army is defeated in a battle for supremacy over the Empire that he marries Cleopatra; he remains married to his third Roman wife until a rumor spreads that Cleopatra is marshaling forces to win the Empire for herself: Marc Anthony divorces Octavia just months before her brother Octavian defeats Antony and Cleopatra’s forces, driving them back to Egypt. Within a year Marc Anthony has committed suicide over a false report that Cleopatra has killed herself; she doesn’t apply the famous asp to her bosom until she fails to seduce Octavian, knowing that she will lose control of Egypt to him.
Helen – Hers is, of course, the “face that launched a thousand ships/and topped the topless towers
of Illium,” as Marlowe wrote. She was the prize given to the Trojan youth Paris, son of King Priam, by Aphrodite in exchange for his naming her the most beautiful of the goddesses. Unfortunately, Helen was the wife of King Menelaus of Greece at the time, which brought the two countries to war. This was the immediate cause of the Trojan war, a devastating conflict during which many of the best young men of both countries perished, including Paris. Helen was subsequently reunited with Menelaus, but the legend of a great love between Paris and Helen is what Romeo is thinking of. Hero – She was one of Aphrodite’s priestesses who fell in love with Leander, a young man who
lived across the Hellespont, the strait between Europe and Asia, linking the Aegean and Marmara Seas. Out of love of Hero Leander swam this strait every night until one fateful evening when his guiding light, which may have been a lighthouse but may have been a large torch set by Hero herself, went out as he was crossing. Finding Leander’s drowned body on the beach the next day, Hero killed herself. Thisbe – Young Thisbe is, of course, the beloved of Pyramus, the boy next door. Their parents
had built a strong wall between the two households, so the lovers could communicate only through a small hole in the wall. Their love overpowering them, they agreed to meet in the woods nearby and run away, but, as fans of A Midsummer Night’s Dream know, Thisbe was chased away from the meeting place by a lion, and Pyramus, mis-reading the bloody scarf he found at the site, attacked the lion, who killed him. Thisbe returns to find her lover dead and kills herself with Pyramus’ sword. Romeo’s reference to Thisbe as a “grey eye” is a reflection of the Renaissance distaste for eyes of that shade; her traditional description would not commend her as a beauty to the Renaissance mind. Hildings – good for nothings. Harlots – prostitutes. Pump/pump – Mercutio & Romeo are making bad puns as they impugn each other’s reputation; a little round of jocular hostility between 2 young men, same as goes on today. Single-soled jest –a thin (in the sense of weak) joke. Switch and spurs – Romeo challenges Mercutio to keep going or he’ll declare himself the winner, the wittier one. Wild goose – “Mounted follow-the-leader,” says the Riverside, a child’s game, though goose is also slang for prostitute, so we’re back to sexual innuendo, and, not surprisingly, this theme continues into Romeo’s encounter with the Nurse. Bear in mind too that goose meant a fool or simpleton. It is also interesting to consider the game of goose, also, a board game in which landing one’s token on a square featuring a goose doubled one’s roll.
Goodly gear – Romeo sees the Nurse and refers to her outfit, gear meaning adornment, equipment, armor, but also “the organs of generation,” according to the OED. The phrase good and gear referred to wealth or property, by the way. Hare/lenten pie/stale & hoar – hare, or rabbit, is a pun for prostitute, as is stale and hoar/whore. As Lent was a time to abstain from all meat (meat also means prostitute), a lenten pie should be meatless but someone might slip some bits of rabbit meat into a pie, or someone might look for such a pie to “unwittingly” break the rules. Ropery - roguery or knavery, that is; the Nurse wants to know who Mercutio thinks he is to impugn her good name like that?! “Pale as any clout in the versal world” – the Nurse means cloth when she says clout; we would say “white as a sheet.” This is just another malapropism from her, like confidence instead of conference. Versal was a common abbreviation of universal. “Here’s such a coil!” – Juliet feels the Nurse is making a fuss over very little inconvenience when Nurse returns from meeting with Romeo and learning how the marriage will take place. Get Latin trans. On p. 48 “Buy the fee-simple of your life” - Benvolio means that hot-tempered Mercutio is much more likely to give away control of his life (fee-simple = absolute ownership) in a sword fight than he himself. Alla stocata – a fencing term: at the thrust. Mercutio is disappointed that Romeo seems to be backing down from Tybalt’s simple verbal challenge. “I am peppered for this world” - Mercutio knows he is dying. The old sense of peppered is to “inflict severe punishment or suffering, beat severely, trounce. Formerly also, destroy, ruin; to deliver a death blow,” according to the New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. Phoebus/Phaeton – Phoebus is another name for Apollo, whose task it was to drive the sun around the earth in a chariot. When Phaeton, his son, tried to do the same thing he could not control the horses and was killed by Zeus in order to stop the destruction Phaeton was causing. Cockatrice eye – the cockatrice was a fabled creature that could literally kill a person by looking at him. Beshrew – to make wicked or evil; to deprave, corrupt, pervert. Also, to treat evilly or abuse; to invoke evil upon or curse. Drag thee on a hurdle – as a criminal is dragged to his execution, so Capulet would drag Juliet to her wedding.
Your gossips – Capulet is referring to women friends of the Nurse who would, in his view, waste their time talking about their betters although the word gossip still had a connotation of being one’s spiritual guide, such as a godmother or father. The modern meaning arises out of the older sense of a gossip being an intimate friend (so intimate she would be invited to sit in on her friend’s labor and childbirth) who would be privy to events and actions best kept private; however, in the interest in getting the best advice, one might be tempted to share these tidbits with other intimate friends . . . Puling - crying or whining, or to speak in a plaintive or querulous way. Capulet is disgusted with Juliet and calls her childish. forsworn – abandoned, renounced in a formal sense; also, to swear falsely, to perjure oneself. Mandrakes (torn out of the earth) – the mandrake plant, commonly used in potions meant to incite sexual desire, were thought to resemble the shape of a man, and to literally shriek when pulled from the ground, causing the hearer to go mad or die on the spot. Apothecary – a pharmacist. Penury – poverty. This druggist is so thin Romeo is sure he won’t be able to refuse a bribe; he’s probably starving. Obsequies – rituals performed for the dead. Paris intends to mourn Juliet as if they had been married. beauty’s ensign – ensign means flag or flag bearer; it can also mean sign or token. Romeo is noticing that the bloom of youth is still in Juliet’s face, naturally, because she’s still alive.
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