Romeo and juliet, p.27
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       Romeo and Juliet, p.27

           William Shakespeare
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  ries us in death, and we are one. No pow'r shall part us.

  [Faints on Romeo's body.]

  Garrick went on, after Juliet kills herself, to reduce Friar Lawrence's long summary (5.3.229-69) by half, and to reduce lines 270-94 (by the Prince, Balthasar, and the Boy) to three lines spoken by the Prince. Capulet's and Montague's speeches of reconciliation are retained, and the play ends with a speech Garrick composed (drawing on Shakespeare) for the Prince: A gloomy peace this morning with it brings,

  Let Romeo's man and let the boy attend us.

  We'll hence and farther scan these sad disasters.

  Well may you mourn, my lords, now wise too late,

  These tragic issues of your mutual hate.

  From private feuds what dire misfortunes flow;

  Whate'er the cause, the sure effect is woe.

  It is easy to laugh at Garrick's verse, and to become indignant with his cuts and revisions, but acted by Spranger Barry and Mrs. Cibber (Cibber's estranged second wife), this version was the talk of the age. When Barry and Mrs. Cibber abandoned Garrick and Drury Lane, and went over to the rival theater, Covent Garden, they continued to perform something close to this version of Romeo and Juliet. The ensuing War of the Theaters aroused both interest and irritation, for if it allowed theater buffs to compare performers (Garrick and Miss George Anne Bellamy now took the title roles at Drury Lane), it also narrowed the choice of plays that one could see. A theatergoer expressed what must have been a widespread feeling: "Well, what's tonight?" says angry Ned,

  As up from bed he rouses;

  "Romeo again!" and shakes his head;

  "Ah, pox on both your houses."

  But there was also a good deal of excited commentary about the relative merits of the performers. Perhaps the most engaging judgment was that of the actress Hannah Pritchard, who said that if she were playing Juliet to Garrick's Romeo, his words were so hot and passionate in the garden scene that she would have expected him at any moment to climb up to the window--but if she were playing to Barry's Romeo, his words were so sweet and seductive that she would have gone down to him. One other point should be made about the eighteenth-century productions of Romeo and Juliet: they were done in fashionable contemporary dress, not in the Italian Renaissance costumes used in most nineteenth-and twentieth-century productions. Details about Juliet's costume are not known, but Romeo wore a knee-length coat, knee breeches, and a wig with the hair gathered together behind and tied with a knot of ribbon.

  Although Garrick's text, in Kemble's adaptation, held the stage during the first four decades of the nineteenth century--even the great William Charles Macready in 1838 used the Garrick version--in 1845 Charlotte Cushman, an American actress in London, returning to Shakespeare's ending, abandoned the added dialogue of the dying lovers in the fifth act. Cushman played Romeo, and her sister, Susan, played Juliet. Since Ellen Tree had played Romeo as early as 1829, and Priscilla Horton had played him in 1834, the novelty was not that a woman played Romeo, but that Shakespeare's text was restored to the stage. On the whole the reviews of Cushman's production were favorable, and the play had a substantial run--substantial enough for Samuel Phelps in 1846 to use Shakespeare's text in his revival of the play.

  To say that Shakespeare's text displaced Garrick's is not to say, of course, that Shakespeare's text was faithfully followed down to the last word. Few productions added speeches, but almost all made substantial cuts. Take, for example, Henry Irving's production of 1882, with Irving as Romeo and Ellen Terry as Juliet. Irving, in his usual manner, employed illusionistic sets, for example an elaborate marketplace (fountain, donkeys, and all) for the opening scene, a great hall for the masked ball, and an impressive marble balcony for Juliet. He therefore had to delete or rearrange some scenes, so that the cumbersome sets would not have to be struck, set up again, struck again, and set up again. Moreover Irving, in the tradition of the Victorian actor-managers, cut much in order to emphasize the roles of the star actors. Thus the final scene in the tomb, after the death of the lovers, was completely cut except for the Prince's final four lines, ending the play with a tableau that Ellen Terry described as "magnificent." Henry James, however, wryly commented that the play was not "acted" but was "obstructed, interrupted." Irving, by the way, was forty-three when he played Romeo, and Ellen Terry was thirty-five--ages that are not especially remarkable when one recalls that Garrick played Romeo until he was forty-four, and within living memory Olivia de Havilland was thirty-five, and Katharine Cornell was thirty-six, when they played Juliet.

  Under the influence of William Poel, who argued that Shakespeare's plays are best staged in comparatively simple conditions approximating those of Shakespeare's own stage, and of Poel's more imaginative successor, Harley Granville-Barker, most productions of Shakespeare in the first half of the twentieth century were relatively simple and fast-moving when compared with Irving's, but somehow Romeo and Juliet remained an exception until fairly recently; reluctant to lose the chance of dazzling with showy spectacle, directors of the twentieth century continued the Victorian tradition of using splendid sets that supposedly evoked the Italian Renaissance. What may well be the most successful production of the twentieth century (1935), however, achieved its greatness not through spectacle but through the acting of Peggy Ashcroft (Juliet), Edith Evans (the nurse), and John Gielgud and Laurence Olivier (alternating as Romeo and as Mercutio). Gielgud himself, however, in an autobiography entitled Early Stages, has expressed reservations about his own performance: I know Romeo and Juliet by heart, and I have played

  Romeo three times, yet I cannot say that I have ever

  pleased myself in it completely. I have always felt I knew

  exactly how the part should be played, but I have neither

  the looks, the dash, nor the virility to make a real success

  of it, however well I may speak the verse and feel the emo-

  tion. My Romeo has always been "careful," and I love the

  language, and revel in it too obviously.

  If the staging of the play, at least until the 1960s, continued to smack of the Victorian period, so did the text, which usually was presented with much of the bawdry deleted. But this fault has been amended in our day. Thus, in Terry Hands's 1973 production at Stratford, Mercutio (who was portrayed as a homosexual) obscenely dallied with a life-size female doll during his conjuration of Romeo: I conjure thee by Rosaline's bright eyes,

  By her high forehead and her scarlet lip,

  By her fine foot, straight leg, and quivering thigh,

  And the demesnes that there adjacent lie. . . .


  This production was notable, too, for the set (a severe metallic affair), the costumes (somber), and the manner in which Romeo killed Tybalt (a thrust in the groin with a short dagger).

  Probably Hands's choice of a set was dictated by our age's tendency to avoid prettiness and to see the plays through the eyes of Samuel Beckett, but he may also have felt that the one kind of set that surely must be avoided, if unfavorable comparisons were to be avoided, is the showy Renaissance set (very much in Henry Irving's tradition) that Franco Zeffirelli used in his production for the Old Vic in 1960, with John Stride (twenty-four years old) and Judi Dench (twenty-six) in the title parts. One reviewer thought that Stride seemed to be a chubby Marlon Brando, and Dench "a younger Kim Stanley." In an interview in Shakespeare Survey 27 Dench forthrightly says that in this heavily cut production Zeffirelli offered youth in place of poetry. Chiefly, however, he offered spectacle, at the expense of actors and of the text. No later director could hope to compete with Zeffirelli in this department; or if a director had any such hopes, they must have been dashed by Zeffirelli's film version--to be discussed in a moment--made in 1968, with its spectacular Renaissance interiors.

  In 1968, the Washington, D.C., Summer Shakespeare Festival staged Romeo and Juliet at the outdoor Sylvan Theatre, on the slope of the Washington Monument grounds. The play (perhaps taking a cue from the
popularity of West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents, and Stephen Sondheim) was converted into a play about race: Juliet's family was black. Romeo's white; the setting was New Verona, in Louisiana in the early nineteenth century, and the ball scene was part of the Mardi Gras. A decade later, in 1978, Los Angeles saw a racial version, again with the Capulets black (though Juliet's nurse was white) and the Montagues white. The production seems to have been well received, even though it ran for four hours. (In the Prologue to the play, the Chorus speaks of "the two hours' traffic of our stage," and though most productions of Romeo and Juliet run to more than two hours, four hours seems excessively long for what is one of Shakespeare's shorter plays.) Another modern production in Washington--this one at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre in 1986--turned Romeo and Juliet into a play about teenage suicide. At least the program note says that the play "addresses a tragic crisis facing our nation--teen suicide," and the production was co-sponsored by the Folger and the Youth Suicide National Center.

  One other revival must be mentioned before we look at screen and television versions, Michael Bogdanov's production at Stratford-upon-Avon, in 1986, with Niamh Cusack as Juliet and Sean Bean as Romeo. Eschewing Zeffirelli's untoppable Renaissance Italy, the play was set in Verona at the present time: the Prince was a Mafia don; Romeo and Juliet first met at the Capulets' poolside party; Tybalt (in black leather) drove an Alfa Romeo; Mercutio, Tybalt, and Juliet died to rock music; Romeo injected the poison into his arm (he got a packet, not a potion), and Juliet killed herself with a switchblade knife. Inevitably some of Shakespeare's lines were at odds with the text. For instance, Juliet, awakening to find the dead Romeo, says, O churl! Drunk all, and left no friendly drop

  To help me after? I will kiss thy lips.

  Haply some poison yet doth hang on them

  To make me die with a restorative. (5.3.163-66)

  The play ended with the Prince at a press conference, standing in front of two gold statues, reading the first eight lines of the Chorus's opening sonnet, with the tenses changed from present to past. Photographers then snapped pictures of the bereaved parents shaking hands (Lady Montague did not die, as stated in the text at 5.3.210), and finally Benvolio, alone, moved offstage. The implication was that the reconciliation was a media event, and that the tragic loss produced nothing.

  Predictably, most academic viewers were unhappy, but the production attracted considerable favorable comment in the press, which saw in it a play that spoke to the materialism and brutality of the late twentieth century. That may not be how most people think of Romeo and Juliet, but in fact the play does include materialism and brutality; Bogdanov, making Shakespeare our contemporary, touched on something that in fact is there. But there is no such thing as a free lunch; his emphasis on this aspect had to be paid for, and some people thought the cost too high.

  Film versions of Romeo and Juliet have been around for a long time. Apart from at least two silent films of Romeo and Juliet, there were two sound films, a 1936 version with Leslie Howard (then forty-two) and Norma Shearer (thirty-one) in the title parts, and a 1954 version, with Laurence Harvey (twenty-seven) and Susan Shentall (young, but her exact age is a well-kept secret). Both of these films cut the text fairly heavily; the 1954 version even omitted such famous passages as Romeo's line about the light in "yonder orchard," and Juliet's speech, "Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds."

  Neither of these two film versions, however, had anything like the popular success of Franco Zeffirelli's film of 1968. Although he had made extensive cuts in his stage version of 1960, he made even more extensive cuts in the film. Probably half of the text has been dropped in order to "open up" the film, that is, to allow time for the camera to convey a sense of what is supposed to be zesty Renaissance life, for instance by roving through crowded streets. There are lots of torches, lots of eating, lots of swishing of costumes, lots of attention to codpieces, and lots of quick cutting to heighten the activity. Many bits of business are added. For instance, in the middle of Friar John's first speech the Angelus sounds, allowing the Friar to genuflect. In the balcony scene Romeo climbs a tree and supports himself on a ledge so that he may touch Juliet's fingertips (surely part of the point of Shakespeare's scene is that the two lovers are separated), and later he leaps from the balcony and runs through a forest glade. Not all of the additions, however, are so busy; in the fifth act, much of the text is cut in order to allow for a tableau effect as the bodies are laid to rest in an elaborate funeral.

  The popular success of Zefirelli's film was due to visual matters and to Nino Rota's music (the sound track became immensely popular with young people) rather than to anything in the text. Especially popular was Zeffirelli's choice of his two leading performers, Leonard Whiting (age seventeen) and Olivia Hussey (age sixteen), both of whom brought an appropriate (and rare) youth and beauty to the roles. Nor were Whiting and Hussey utterly inexperienced performers; Whiting had played in the London company of Oliver! when he was twelve, and Hussey had played for two years in London in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Nevertheless, despite the fact that a film, unlike a theater production, can keep shooting a scene until the performers get it right, and despite their engaging looks, Whiting and Hussey were not adequate to the language and the emotions of the play. John Simon cruelly but aptly characterized Zeffirelli's film as "a Romeo and Juliet for teenyboppers and pederasts."

  Baz Luhrmann's film entitled William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, with Claire Danes as Juliet and Leonardo Di Caprio as Romeo, was released in 1996. If Terry Hands's 1986 stage production, with its black leather and its switchblades and its red sports car (an Alfa Romeo, of course) sought to make us see Romeo and Juliet in a fresh way, so too did Luhrmann's film. Shot in Mexico, its Verona Beach evoked contemporary Miami Beach. Most of the characters are Latino or black except for Romeo and Juliet, who are white. The prologue is spoken by a TV newscaster, there is a shootout at a gas station, Captain Prince arrives in a police helicopter, Mercutio is a drag queen, Romeo shoots pool with Benvolio, and Friar Lawrence sends his message by Federal Express. Obviously in such a version swords and rapiers cannot be used; handguns are used, but they are named "Swords" and "Rapiers" so the text is not altered in this respect, though elsewhere there are cuts, especially in the parts of Paris, the Nurse, Capulet, and Montague. It all sounds odd, maybe even dreadful, but the two principal actors are effective. What most viewers probably find objectionable is not the modernization but the director's willingness to drown out Shakespeare's words with loud music.

  The BBC television version (1978) is tolerable, but only that. Its chief virtue is the inclusion of almost the entire text (the chief cut is in Friar Lawrence's long speech in 5.3, beginning at line 229). The set is clearly a studio set, the acting undistinguished except for Michael Hordern's Capulet. It is perhaps sad to end by saying that this dutiful, traditional production makes viewers think, despite their high-minded disapproval of gimmicks, that maybe there is something to the vigorous reinterpretations of Bogdanov and Lurhmann.

  Bibliographic Note: For comments on productions, see below, Suggested References, Section 4 (Shakespeare on Stage and Screen, p. 215). For a short book devoted entirely to the play, see Jill L. Levenson's Romeo and Juliet (1987), in a series called "Shakespeare in Performance."

  Suggested References

  The number of possible references is vast and grows alarmingly. (The Shakespeare Quarterly devotes one issue each year to a list of the previous year's work, and Shakespeare Survey--an annual publication--includes a substantial review of biographical, critical, and textual studies, as well as a survey of performances.) The vast bibliography is best approached through James Harner, The World Shakespeare Bibliography on CD-Rom: 1900-Present. The first release, in 1996, included more than 12,000 annotated items from 1990-93, plus references to several thousand book reviews, productions, films, and audio recordings. The plan is to update the publication annually, moving forward one year and backward three years. Thus, the se
cond issue (1997), with 24,700 entries, and another 35,000 or so references to reviews, newspaper pieces, and so on, covered 1987-94.

  Though no works are indispensable, those listed below have been found especially helpful. The arrangement is as follows: 1. Shakespeare's Times

  2. Shakespeare's Life

  3. Shakespeare's Theater

  4. Shakespeare on Stage and Screen

  5. Miscellaneous Reference Works

  6. Shakespeare's Plays: General Studies

  7. The Comedies

  8. The Romances

  9. The Tragedies

  10. The Histories

  11. Romeo and Juliet

  The titles in the first five sections are accompanied by brief explanatory annotations.

  1. Shakespeare's Times

  Andrews, John F., ed. William Shakespeare: His World, His Work, His Influence, 3 vols. (1985). Sixty articles, dealing not only with such subjects as "The State," "The Church," "Law," "Science, Magic, and Folklore," but also with the plays and poems themselves and Shakespeare's influence (e.g., translations, films, reputation)

  Byrne, Muriel St. Clare. Elizabethan Life in Town and Country (8th ed., 1970). Chapters on manners, beliefs, education, etc., with illustrations.

  Dollimore, John, and Alan Sinfield, eds. Political Shakespeare: New Essays in Cultural Materialism (1985). Essays on such topics as the subordination of women and colonialism, presented in connection with some of Shakespeare's plays.

  Greenblatt, Stephen. Representing the English Renaissance (1988). New Historicist essays, especially on connections between political and aesthetic matters, statecraft and stagecraft.

  Joseph, B. L. Shakespeare's Eden: the Commonwealth of England 1558-1629 (1971). An account of the social, political, economic, and cultural life of England.

  Kernan, Alvin. Shakespeare, the King's Playwright: Theater in the Stuart Court 1603-1613 (1995). The social setting and the politics of the court of James I, in relation to Hamlet, Measure for Measure, Macbeth, King Lear, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, and The Tempest.

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