Romeo And Juliet, Lovers For All Time 2 Essay, Research Paper
Romeo and Juliet, Lovers for All Times
For: English 442 Purdue University
?1998 Chrisitan L Mattix
Ever since the publications of the good quarto, published in 1599, Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare, has been one of the classics of Western literature (Evans 1093). In being this, it has been produced many different times, in many different ways. I will be discussing how the production of this great play has changed over time. First, though, I will supply a little background for the play.
The stories of two star-crossed lovers and forbidden passion are not new to literature. There were many works before Romeo and Juliet from which Shakespeare borrowed. Some of these include Mosuccio of Salerno in his 1476 work, Il Novellin o, Luigi da Proto with his Istoria . . .di due nobili Amanti, in about 1530, and Arthur Brooke’s three thousand line poem titled The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet, published in 1562 (Evans 1055). All of these had the same themes as Romeo and Juliet. This borrowing of ideas and loose use of the text continued in the manner in which the play has been produced.
In 1745 and 1750 David Garrick direct several productions of Romeo and Juliet (Branam 170). In these productions he made several changed to both the way the characters are presented and to the play itself. In a 1748 text, Garrick wrote a note To the Reader:
The alterations in the following play are few and trifling, except in the last act; the design was to clear the Original, as much as possible from the Jingle and the Quibble, which were always thought the great objections to reviving it (qtd. In Branam 173).
Garrick uses several means to remove the Jingle and Quibble from the play (Branam 173). Where he thought the rhyme and wordplay to be excessive he would compact it. For example the long drawn out exchange between Samson and Gregory in the first scene is compressed to four lines:
Sam. Gregory, I strike quickly, being mov’d.
Gred. But thou are not quickly mov’d to strike.
Sam. A dog of the house of Montague moves.
Greg. Draw thy tool then, for here come of that house.
(qtd. In Branam 173)
Garrick also took liberty with Romeo’s lyrical nature. He shortened many of Romeo’s lines in order to dull it somewhat. For example, Garrick shortens:
Why such is love’s transgression.
Griefs of mine own lie heavy in my breast;
Which thou wilt propagate, to have it prest
With more of thine: this love that thou hast shown
Doth add more grief to too much of mine own.
From act one, scene one, to:
Which thou wilt propagate with more of thine;
This love, that thou hast shewn in my concern,
Doth add more grief to too much of mine own.
in his 1748 text (Branam 173-174). In reading the play the rhyme is missed, but in watching a performance the mood is more set by the interaction of the two lovers, then the actual words.
Another change that Garrick made, albeit reluctantly and under pressure, was the complete removal of Rosaline from the play. In 1784 he explains:
Many people have imagin’d that the sudden change of Romeo’s Love from Rosaline to Juliet was a blemish in his Character, but alteration of that kind was thought too bold to be attempted; Shakespear [sic.] has dwelt particularly upon it, and so great a judge of human nature, knew that to be young and inconstant was extremely natural (qtd. In Branam 177).
Garrick’s largest, and most prominent, change was in modifying the tomb scene. Here Garrick borrows from Thomas Otwayis History and Fall of Caius Marius, published in 1679 and based on Romeo and Juliet (Branam 174). In Shakespeare’s original work the act of the poison on Romeo is almost instantaneous, but in Garrick’s new rendition the poison acts slowly. This gives new light to both Romeo and Juliet’s characters. Garrick designed the scene to be more tragic then the original play. In this rendition, Romeo sees Juliet and she speaks to him:
I now remember well
Each circumstance – Oh my lord, my Romeo!
Had’st thou not come, sure I slept for ever:
But there’s a sovereign charm in thy embraces
That can revive the dead – Oh honest Friar! –
Romeo is filled with joy seeing his love alive, but suddenly realizes the horror of the situation and is overcome by it. Juliet continues:
Dost thou avoid me, Romeo? let me touch
Thy hand. And taste the cordial of thy lips –
You fright me – speak – (qtd. In Branam 174-175)
John Hill in The Actor (1755) describes Spranger Barry’s portrayal of the situation:
Thus we see in the character of Romeo a scene of distress, to which no other can be equal: his wife, on whose suppos’d death he had swallowed poison, revived, and himself dying of the effect of that poison; snd we see, as Mr. Barry plays it, his sensib ility getting the better of his articulation; his grief takes effect upon the organs of his voice; and the very tone of it is altered: it is broken, hoarse, and indistinct. We give the applause to this consummate piece of playing that it deserves: we natu re triumphing over what we would direct: and we give it a praise which are without this strong appearance of nature never could deserve (qtd. in Branam 175).
Many modern productions of Romeo and Juliet also have changed some parts of the play. For example the 1968 production directed by Franco Zefirelli cut several lines out and changed the ending such that the two clans did not find the lovers’ bodies in the tomb, but carried them into the town, with no indication that they had formed a peace between them. Zefirelli, in an interview conduvted by John Tibbetts, explains his opinion of Shakespeare.
You know, I think culture – especially opera and Shakespeare – must be available to as many people as possible. It irritates me that some people want art to be as “difficult” as possible, an elitist kind of thing. I want to give these things back to the people (138-139).
Others do note share Zefirelli’s opinion of freely changing the plays. Michael Flachmann in his review of Romeo and Juliet at La Jolla, in 1983 states, Romeo and Juliet is a particularly frequent victim of this preoccupation with finding a “concept” or gimmick to render the tragedy intelligible to its (supposedly) benighted viewers (Flachmann 106). This production was altered from the original only in costume. In the beginning, before the costume ball, all the characters are in contemporary clothing. After the ball and up to the death scene they are in Renaissance garb. After the death scene the characters reappear in modern dress, this time with stark white and black tones. The total effect at the end was a frightening rush back into reality, a chilling reminder that the same feud had been reaping its disastrous consequences for centuries, Flachmann states (107).
Another production was altered, like La Jola, not with dialogue but with only costume and scenery. The costumes in this production were best described at “hip retro ’70s” with each character wearing something appropriate for his role: Benvolio in a white poet’s shirt and crushed velvet pants, Juliet with a boldly colored spaghetti-strapped dress, and Romeo with a black leather trenchcoat (Johnson-Haddad 87). The set also differed from what was originally intended. The opening scene starts with Friar Laurence kneeling between two models of palaces. Here he recites the Two houses, alike in dignity. . . prologue, motioning to each of the palaces when. Then the quarrel scene between the two houses’ servants takes place behind a large white shroud where the audience can only see large silhouettes. The scene closes with the Prince breaking up the brawl and the actors freezing in place as a large red ribbon falls in front of the curtain and finally the curtain itself falling to the floor. This leaves the actors seemingly hovering in an endless black stage. Johnson-Haddad calls the scene distinctive and fowerfully soncieved, . . . it sets the mood for the innovative production to come (87).
The newest cinematic adaption has also made many changes to the original. In the 1997 film Romeo and Juliet, directed my Baz Luhrmann, the characters are set in a darker modern southern Florida dominated by designer guns, customized cars, and incessant music (McCarthy 1).
Luhrmann uses race to differentiate between the two clans, though the effect is subtle. The Capulates are predominantly Latino, while the Montagues are mainly white. Religious symbolism plays a large role in the film as well. Tybalt has a large tat oo of the Virgin Mary on his chest, and Juliet’s room is inundated with angels and other icons. Friar Laurence’s chapel is a large cathedral with a huge statue of Jesus separating the skyrises owned by each of the feuding houses.
While Lurmann went fast and loose with the setting and costume, he stuck to the text. Most of the second filial text is included in the film, with minor changes. Todd McCarthy says that most of the cast adequatly portrays the original text’s meaning with one supurb exception, Claire Danes as Juliet. Danes has somehow found a way to both enunciate the Shakespearean lingo [sic.] and make its meaning lucid and accessible in a way that eludes most of the others, McCarty states (1).
The exotic setting is the main change in the work. It is set in Verona Beach, Florida, which is loosely based on a darker Miami. The location or Romeo’s banishment is a trailer park in what looks like the Arizona badlands. Here the film almost loses credibility, when you consider the contemporary reaction to banishment, but the play still maintains its focus.
Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet has been performed in many different ways with many different media, and through this it is still considered an important part of Western literature. With all of the changes that many different producers have made, the story still remains one of passion, romance, and tradegy. In every lover we see at least part of Romeo or Juliet; and as long at that holds true the play will remain a classic.
Branam, George C. The Genesis of David Garrick’s Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare Quarterly 32.2 (1989): 170-179.
Evans, G. Blakemore, ed. The Riverside Shakespeare. Boston: Haughton Mifflin Company, 1974.
Flachmann, Michael. Romeo and Juliet, At La Jolla, 1983. Shakespeare Quarterly 35.1 (1984): 105-107.
Johnson-Haddad, Miranda. Shakespeare Performed, The Shakespeare Theatre, 1993-1994. Shakespeare Quarterly 37.1 (1995): 82-90.
McCarthy, Todd. REVIEW/FILM: Romeo and Juliet Update Over The Top. Yahoo News. http://www.yahoo.com/headlines/961028/entertainment/stories/review_romeo_1.html News (29 Oct. 1996, 2:15 AM).
Tibbitts, John C. Breaking the Classical Barrier: Franco Zefirelli interviewed. Literature/Film Quarterly 22.2 (1994): 136-140.