Romeo and juliet, p.26
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       Romeo and Juliet, p.26

           William Shakespeare
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As the movement of their scenes combines mutuality and male persuasion, the words they use about their love can imply both mutuality and patriarchy. "It is my lady" (10), says Romeo of Juliet at the beginning of the balcony scene, and near the end she promises that if they marry "all my fortunes at thy foot I'll lay / And follow thee my lord throughout the world" (147-48). This could reflect either reciprocity of service or a conventional shift from female power in courtship to male power in marriage.

  Similarly, when Juliet anticipates her secret wedding night with Romeo, the imagery of female subordination is balanced by imagery of sharing. She speaks of losing her virginity as losing a game, but then it becomes a victory, and her virginity parallel to Romeo's, as she prays to Night, "learn me how to lose a winning match, / Played for a pair of stainless maidenhoods" (3.2.12-13). Here and elsewhere, financial imagery turns Juliet into property more directly than it does Romeo: when she speaks of herself as possessing, the object is less Romeo than love.

  O, I have bought the mansion of a love,

  But not possessed it; and though I am sold,

  Not yet enjoyed. (26-28)

  Similarly, Romeo calls her "merchandise" for which he would adventure "as far / As that vast shore washed with the farthest sea" (2.2.82-83), while Juliet says "my true love is grown to such excess / I cannot sum up sum of half my wealth" (2.6.33-34).

  Romeo and Juliet use the image of woman as property in a way that transcends its source in female social subordination; both of them are far from the financial interest that Lady Capulet suggests in her praise of Paris and the Nurse in her observation that Juliet's husband "shall have the chinks" (1.5.119). Nevertheless, the asymmetry in their use of financial imagery coheres with the asymmetrical demands that the male code of violence will make on Romeo and the female code of docility on Juliet.

  Their use of other images is more symmetrical. Both lovers speak in words at once sensuously descriptive of beauty and celestially idealizing. Juliet, says Romeo, hangs upon the cheek of night

  As a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear. . . .

  So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows.

  (47-48, 50)

  Romeo, according to Juliet, "will lie upon the wings of night / Whiter than new snow upon a raven's back" (3.2.18-19). Romeo has imagined Juliet as the sun and her eyes as stars. Juliet overgoes Romeo's praise in saying that, transformed into stars, he will make the face of heaven so fine

  That all the world will be in love with night

  And pay no worship to the garish sun. (23-25)

  Unlike some of Shakespeare's more solipsistic early lovers, such as Berowne and Proteus, Romeo understands the value of reciprocity in love. He wants its ritual--"Th'exchange of thy love's faithful vow for mine" (2.2.127)--and explains to Friar Laurence, "Her I love now Doth grace for grace and love for love allow" (2.3.85-86); he speaks of "the imagined happiness that both Receive in either by this dear encounter" (2.6.28-29). All this is far from the identification of sex and violence that the imagery of the servants and Mercutio suggests is more usual in Verona.

  Why do Romeo and Juliet keep their love secret not only from their parents but also from their peers? Romeo never tells Benvolio or Mercutio of his love for Juliet, though neither one is so committed to the Montagues that they would necessarily be hostile. (Benvolio had no objection to Rosaline as a Capulet; Mercutio belongs to neither house.) This secrecy helps make Mercutio's fight with Tybalt inevitable. Romeo's exclusion of Mercutio from his confidence suggests that his love of Juliet is not only a challenge to the feud but also a challenge to associations of masculinity and sexuality with violence. How can Romeo talk of Juliet to someone whose advice is "If love be rough with you, be rough with love, / Prick love for pricking, and you beat love down" (1.4.27-28)?

  It is in part because of the difference between their experience of love and Verona's expected distortion of it that Romeo and Juliet try to keep their relationship private. Yet this secrecy is avoidance of a problem that they cannot ultimately escape. When Romeo tries to act according to his secret love of Juliet instead of according to the feud, Tybalt and Mercutio insist on fighting. And when Romeo's intervention--to stop the fight--results in Mercutio's death, it is clear that Verona's definition of masculinity by violence is partly Romeo's definition as well. "O sweet Juliet," he says, "Thy beauty hath made me effeminate" (3.1.115-16), as he prepares for the fight to the death that causes his banishment.

  Just before their crucial fight, Tybalt and Mercutio, speaking of Romeo, quibble on the point that "man," a word so important as an ideal, has from the opening scene the less honorific meaning of "manservant."

  Tybalt. Well, peace be with you, sir. Here comes my man.

  Mercutio. But I'll be hanged, sir, if he wear your livery.


  This pun is an analogue of the irony that is precisely in his "manly" vengeance for Mercutio's death that Romeo most decisively loses control of his own fate and becomes, as he says, "fortune's fool" (138). In a sense, as Mercutio's elaboration of his pun suggests without his awareness, a commitment to proving manhood by violence makes one easily manipulated by whoever offers a challenge. "Marry, go before to field, he'll be your follower! / Your worship in that sense may call him man" (59-60). In the larger sense, the code of violence that promises to make Romeo a man actually makes him its man--its pawn.

  If Romeo shares Mercutio's belief in the manhood of violence, he also shares the Friar's wish for reconciliation. But the Friar has his own version of gender polarization that also contributes to the disaster. He repeatedly uses "womanish" as a synonym for "weak" when speaking to both Juliet (4.1.119) and Romeo (3.3.110), and, more crucially for the plot, encourages Juliet to pretend obedience and death through his potion rather than helping her escape to Romeo (though she has expressed willingness to leap "From off the battlements of any tower, Or walk in thievish ways"--4.1.78-79). His image of manhood (desirable as an ideal for both sexes) is emotional control: he chides Romeo for his fury and grief at banishment by calling him "Unseemly woman in a seeming man! And ill-beseeming beast in seeming both!" (3.3.112-13). The Friar distrusts passionate love, and, like much of the conventional imagery of the play, identifies passionate love with violence: "These violent delights have violent ends" (2.6.9). It is consistent that he should not encourage Juliet to elopement but rather hopes to stage their reunion in a context of family reconciliation.

  Juliet's confidante, the Nurse, has a more positive attitude toward sexuality, but she too underestimates the lovers' intense commitment to each other. Like the Friar, too, she keeps the love secret and encourages Juliet to appear docile to her parents, and finally to marry Paris, since Romeo, she says, "is dead--or 'twere as good he were / As living here and you no use of him" (3.5. 226-27). Thus she is counseling Juliet to a conventional acceptance of the husband chosen by her parents. While Juliet refuses this advice, she follows the counsel of pretense that she receives from nurse and friar. The controlled stichomythia of her dialogue with Paris is a sad contrast to her spontaneous participation in Romeo's sonnet. Juliet's acceptance of their advice of pretense and mock death is the point analogous to Romeo's duel with Tybalt where failure to transcend the gender polarization of their society makes disaster inevitable.

  Yet before their deaths, Romeo and Juliet can transcend the aggressions and stereotypes of the outside in their secret world. Fulfilling the promise of the balcony scene, they rename each other "Love" in their aubade scene, and their imagery suggests the creation of a private world with a technique oddly similar to that of the crucial scene in The Taming of the Shrew. To keep Romeo with her longer, Juliet transforms the lark into the nightingale and then transforms the sun into "some meteor that the sun exhales / To be to thee this night a torchbearer" (3.5.13-14). Romeo, after initially contradicting her, showing the caution that was primarily hers in the balcony scene, goes along with the game and accepts her transformation, with awareness of the likely cost: Let me be ta'en, let me be put to death.
r />   I am content, so thou wilt have it so.

  I'll say yon gray is not the morning's eye.

  'Tis but the pale reflex of Cynthia's brow.


  The scene in which Kate joins in Petruchio's transformation of the sun into the moon and old Vincentio into a young girl is of course quite different in tone. Kate and Petruchio have been engaged in a farcical combat of wills; they are now returning to Kate's father's house, accompanied by Petruchio's friend Hortensio, rather than in a romantic solitude, and they are under no sentence of death or banishment. But both scenes use a verbal transformation of the world--a creation of a private world through words--as a metaphor for a relationship. Such a private world is crucial to Shrew's mediation between ideologies of patriarchy and companionship in marriage, as well as to the attempt that Romeo and Juliet make love to each other tenderly in a world of violence. The secrecy of their love heightens at once its purity and intensity and its vulnerability. When the private world is established it is already threatened. As soon as Romeo accepts the pretense "it is not day" (25), Juliet resumes her caution and returns them to the real world, where Romeo must flee. Nevertheless, they have an absolute trust in each other; on their departure there is no questioning of each other's truths. . . . Presciently, they imagine death as the only possible obstacle to their reunion.

  Shakespeare changed his source to reduce the age of the lovers, and historical evidence suggests that he also made them much younger than the typical age of marriage for Elizabethan aristocrats (twenty for women, twenty-one for men), who married still younger than other classes (median age twenty-four for women, twenty-six for men). However young the members of Shakespeare's original audiences were--probably a high proportion were in their late teens or early twenties--Romeo and Juliet were still younger than almost all of them. The extreme youth of the lovers emphasizes their innocence and inexperience. Anyone who has lived longer than Romeo and Juliet--anyone who has given up a first love--has made more compromises than they have. It is their extreme purity that gives their love its special tragedy. The play expresses both the appeal and the danger of a love in which two people become the whole world to each other. This little world precariously remedies the defects of the larger one--its coldness, its hierarchies, its violence--but the lovers cannot negotiate recognition by the outer world except by their deaths because of their residual commitment to the outer world and its gender ideals.


  Romeo and Juliet on Stage and Screen

  In "To the Memorie of the deceased Author, Master W. Shakespeare," a commendatory poem published in the first collection of Shakespeare's works (1623), Leonard Digges wrote, Nor shall I e're beleeue, or thinke thee dead

  (Though mist) untill our bankrout Stage be sped

  (Impossible) with some new strain t' out-do

  Passions of Juliet, and her Romeo.

  When Digges published these lines, Romeo and Juliet had been on the stage for some twenty-five years. The first printed text of the play, issued in 1597, claims (probably truly) that it "hath been often (with great applause) plaid publiquely"; the second printed text, issued in 1599, says that Romeo and Juliet "hath been sundry times publiquely acted." And yet, despite allusions to the play, such as Digges's poem, we have no report of a specific production in England (there are some early references to German productions) until 1662, when William Davenant revived Romeo and Juliet.

  Despite the absence of early references to productions, we know at least a little about the Elizabethan staging of the play. Because the earliest text, a so-called Bad Quarto (see page 122), probably is based on the memories of actors who had performed in the play, it gives us some idea of what Romeo and Juliet was like when it was put on the stage. For instance, certain stage directions in Q1 surely report what the spectators saw. Here are a few of these directions, keyed to the lineation of the present text: "Enter Juliet somewhat fast, and embraceth Romeo"


  "He offers to stab himselfe, and Nurse snatches the

  dagger away" (3.3.107);

  "Nurse offers to goe in and turnes again" (3.3.161);

  "She goeth down from the window" (3.5.68);

  "She fals upon her bed within the Curtaines" (4.3.58);

  "All at once cry out and wring their hands" (4.1.50);

  "She stabs herselfe and falles" (5.3.170).

  It is possible, too, that some of the omissions in the Bad Quarto (evident when it is compared to the Good Quarto, which was published two years later) may reflect an Elizabethan cut production of the play. True, most of the cuts in the 1597 text must be due to lapses of memory, but some may faithfully represent an abridged performance. For instance, Benvolio's account (1.1) of the first brawl--ten lines in a later, better text--consists of only two lines in the 1597 version, perhaps because two lines were thought to be enough in production. Similarly, the servants who open 1.5 with talk abut preparing for the banquet are deleted--perhaps because the actors preparing the text did not recall the speech, but possibly because the material was not given in a stage performance. In any case, many later directors have similarly cut these speeches.

  One other point should be made about Romeo and Juliet on the Elizabethan stage: female parts were played by boys, which mean that Juliet, who is said to be almost fourteen, was in fact played by a performer of approximately that age. Elizabethan child actors were carefully trained, and judging from surviving comments about them, they were remarkably skillful performers. Later centuries have been less successful in their child actors, and attempts to use adolescents in the title roles of the play have usually been unimpressive. Even John Gielgud, when he first played Romeo at nineteen in 1924, was judged inadequate.

  Between 1642 and 1660 the London theaters were closed, but with the restoration of Charles II to the throne the theaters reopened. Of Davenant's revival of Romeo and Juliet in 1662, the self-assured theater-enthusiast and diarist Samuel Pepys wrote, "To the Opera, and there saw Romeo and Juliet, the first time it was ever acted, but it is a play of itself the worst that ever I heard, and the worst acted that ever I saw these people do, and I am resolved to go no more to see the first time of acting." As Pepys's comments on other productions of Shakespeare's plays show, his taste did not run to Elizabethan drama (except when it was heavily adapted to Restoration taste); his comments on the ineptitude of the performers are more surprising, since Thomas Betterton (a leading actor of the period) played Mercutio, and the much-acclaimed Mary Saunderson, later to be Betterton's wife, played Juliet.

  A little later--the exact date is not known--James Howard transformed the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet into a tragicomedy, keeping the lovers alive at the end. One report says that versions were alternated, "tragical one day and tragicomical another." Howard's adaptation, however, as well as Shakespeare's original, was driven from the stage by an even freer adaptation, Thomas Otway's Caius Marius (1679). In this work, set in Republican Rome, Romeo is changed to Caius Marius and Juliet to Lavinia. Otway restored Shakespeare's tragic ending, but Juliet revives briefly before Romeo's death, and in an effort to increase the pathos the lovers exchange dying speeches. Caius Marius, virtually an original play, was staged regularly until 1727, utterly displacing Shakespeare's play during these years.

  In 1744 Romeo and Juliet--somewhat cut, and still with some added passages from Otway, and still with Juliet awakening before Romeo dies--first reappeared on the stage, in a version by Theophilus Cibber, with Cibber playing Romeo, and his daughter Jenny playing Juliet. This version, however, was halted after only nine performances because it was given in an unlicensed theater. In 1748 David Garrick, manager of the theater in Drury Lane, put on his own adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, and this adaptation held the stage for the rest of the eighteenth century. During this period, in fact, it was the most frequently performed Shakespeare play on the stage. Its life continued well into the first half of the nineteenth century, for John Philip Kemble's modified version (1803) of Garrick's v
ersion was performed until 1845, thus in effect giving Garrick's Romeo a run of ninety-seven years. Although Garrick's version marked a significant step in the direction of restoring Shakespeare's texts to the stage, by modern standards Garrick treated the text very badly. Although at first he restored Romeo's early love for Rosaline, when he published his text in 1753 he bowed to critical opinion and, following Otway and Cibber, omitted all reference to Romeo's love for Rosaline. Moreover, again taking a cue from Otway, he restored Juliet to life before Romeo died so that the lovers could exchange words Garrick invented for them. Further, he cut almost half of the play, including the bawdry, and he touched up a good many lines--for instance simplifying some lines for his hearers. In deference to the eighteenth-century opinion that puns do not belong in tragedy, most of the puns are cut--even Mercutio's line that he is "a grave man." After 1750 Garrick added to the beginning of the fifth act a funeral dirge for Juliet. And of course there is added dialogue (about sixty-five lines) between the lovers at the end of the play. Here is a sample from the addition: Romeo. I thought thee dead! distracted at the sight (Fatal

  speed) drank poison, kiss'd thy cold lips And found within

  thy arms a precious grave--But in that moment--O--

  Juliet. And did I wake for this!

  Romeo. My powers are blasted, Twixt death and love I'm

  torn--I am distracted! But death's strongest, and I must

  leave thee, Juliet! O cruel, cursed fate!--in sight of


  Juliet. Thou rav'st--lean on my breast--

  Romeo. Fathers have flinty hearts, no tears can melt 'em

  Nature pleads in vain--children must be wretched.

  Juliet. O my breaking heart--

  Romeo. She is my wife--our hearts are twined together;

  Capulet forbear; Paris, loose your hold--Pull not our

  heartstrings thus--they crack--they break--O Juliet! Juliet!

  Juliet. Stay, stay for me, Romeo; a moment stay; Fate mar

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