[LMB] Rom and Jules, was When World-Views Collide, books

John Lennard john.c.lennard at gmail.com
Tue Jan 11 16:42:19 GMT 2022

> Side note: as a tragedy of bourgeois teenagers (both Capulets and
> are mercantile, not noble),

Markus: which however in the italian renaissance city states made very
little of
a difference

forex: the Medici were bankers (or banksters?)

John: True (and I do like banksters), but in Shax it makes a difference.
Mercutio (and the County Paris) are kinsmen of the Prince, Tybalt and Romeo
are not ; had Mercutio slain Tybalt (after Tybalt had wounded Romeo, say),
I doubt he'd have been banished. Mercutio's higher status may also underlie
his fatal attempt at peacekeeping.

I mentioned it, supporting the domesticity of the tragedy, because a silly
number of editors promote Juliet's ma to Lady Capulet, which is an error.
The Folio gives her a notable range of speech-prefixes -- Mother, Lady, Old
Lady, Wife, Capulet's Wife -- but the uses of 'lady' indicate gender, not
rank, and genuine ranks are not often omitted in speech-prefixes of the
period. Her false elevation also -obscures- the radical domesticity of the

Katherine: My daughter Nicola was in a limited-cast production of R&J in
graduate school, in which she was both Romeo and Lady Capulet; her
portrayal of Lady Capulet made clear that Lady Capulet was afraid of her
husband and likely abused (certainly being married at 14 to an older,
powerful man would meet our definitions of abuse).

John: Yes, I've seen productions go that way (though never Mrs Capulet and
Romeo doubled -- fun). But for me it has to gibe with other things (see
below), and doesn't always.

Margaret: Actually Juliet isn't *quite* 14, since the nurse and Lady
Capulet discuss
her *upcoming* fourteenth birthday ("at Lammas Eve at night shall she be

John: True. Mea culpa, being lazy ; and that makes her birthday 31 July,
confirming that it's a summer-time play.

Jean: (Of course, I am allowed by the topic to brag about Cathy being
Juliet in
high school in 2000. She pranked 'Romeo' by having straight vinegar be in
his 'potion' and the face he made was definitely in character since it was
supposed to be poison. Counterpranks ensued. Plus, the byplay between the
Nurse and Peter was, um, unforgettable).

John: Heh. And just how Romeo drinks his poison is interesting -- one often
sees him take it straight from a vial, but Juliet speaks of a cup in her
true love's hand, so decanting it into, mostly obviously, wine would make
good sense. But then Romeo has to arrive at the tomb with a winesack and a
goblet, and whatall he's doing exactly with Juliet's (supposed) corpse as
he claims a last embrace and kiss gets awkward -- which I'll bet
shakespeare intended but we now tend to shy from.

Pouncer: Now do Mercutio. <snip interesting speculation>

Margaret: [Mrs] Capulet being attracted to the younger fire-eater Tybalt is
certainly plausible.

John: Could be, surely, but yu're both being a bit purely
intradiegetic/Watsonian for me. Take the Queen Mab speech, frex, which
could be all sorts of things but is partly and critically there because of
the evident connection with *Midsummer Night's Dream*, probably a
season-pair with Rom & Jules in the winter of 1595-96 ; as also witness the
presence in Dream of the lamentable tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe -- which
has the same plot as Rom & Jules. And in both plays you also have a core
unit of father, daughter, right suitor, wrong suitor, which derives from
commedia dell-arte and Plautine comedy.

This is also what I meant up-mail in responding to Katherine, because
whatever particular character/role interpretations one favours or finds
suasive, I think any production of Rom & Jules needs to make some governing
decisions about its very uneasy mixes of humour and tragedy. Two examples.

1. In (usually) 4.5, as Juliet is discovered 'dead', all the early texts
agree that the Nurse does some extraordinary, repetitive, and wildly
histrionic wailing over the (supposed) corpse. Now often cut (which is
cowardly), those histrionics are unavoidably OTT, and edging towards funny
(cf., interestingly, the wailings of Pyramus for Thisbe, when he wrongly
supposes her dead), yet there is no supposition whatever that the Nurse's
grief is anything but real, as are the griefs of Juliet's parents. But the
paying audience know what Fr Laurence told Juliet about the drug she took,
and while first-timers cannot be certain she's alive -- she was imagining
Lawrence having lied to her before she takes it, in 4.3 -- they have fair
reason to suspect and suppose it. What, though, is the relation between the
disturbingly humorous wailings of the Nurse and that suspected knowledge?

2. In the catastrophe, Romeo insists in his lengthy death-speech that
Juliet's cheeks are still ruddy (death's pale flag is not advanced there)
-- signs, on Fr Laurence's accounting of its symptoms, that the mock-death
drug is wearing off. But he takes the poison anyway -- cue groaning,
horrified audience -- and dies. For a while there is silence, then Laurence
arrives, discovering Paris and Romeo dead, and Juliet just stirring -- and
he panics, flaps, says he'll dispose of her in a convent, and legs it in
terror of the watch, while she ignores him and everything except Romeo and
finding a swift way to kill herself, which she does after speaking only 14
lines (one a dimeter, one a monometer). Authority in a frightful flap is
also typically comedic, and funny, and the more so as Laurence has been so
calm, authoritative, resourceful throughout acts 1-4 ; but the counterpoint
with one of the fastest, most laconic, and terrifying suicides in world
drama is excruciating.

And I'll bet most anything that that is exactly what Shax intended it to be
; it should IMO take any audience out of its comfort zone, and hard. Such
moments with onstage corpses recur often in Shax, and in whatever register
slam home -- bleeding Henry in Richard III, Falstaff and Hotspur at
Shrewsbury in 1 Henry IV, Hal and his father in 2 Henry IV, Hamlet and
Polonius, Thaisa in Pericles, Hermione in Winter's Tale, and in Cymbeline
Imogen-as-Fidele laid next to headless Cloten (which has to have been an
effigy, but which she also extravagantly mourns) : so ignore one in a play
you're in at your peril.

I have nothing against -any- particular set of actorly or directorial
choices, if they work : but for me working includes how they do or do not
negotiate the more disturbing bits of Shax's amazing generic fusion.

Gwynne: If her mum was only 28 she should still be having
children, by the expectations of that society she should have half a dozen
already. So if she didn't, and Juliet is the only one (problems with the
there's a whole other stressor there, for her mother; she's failed in her
to produce the valuable sons. That would tend to make her put even more
pressure on Juliet - as her mother has to deliver the most value she can out
of her sole child.

John: Yes, some of that's in there, as well as some of what I should here
call Ma Mattulich syndrome. But Shax doesn't play that pyschological melody
loudly here, because male-line inheritance is not at stake dramaturgically
in the way it is when royalty or high nobility are involved, and in 1595-96
he was only on the cusp of his most psychologically concerned period, not
yet fully into it. Richard II also points the way, but none of the mid-90s
plays have figures equivalent to Hamlet and Cladius, Brutus, Angelo,
Othello and Iago ; and they retreat again thereafter -- cf, say, Othello
and Leontes as jealous husbands, and how much explanation we do get of
Othello's delusion, and how little of Leontes's. Point is simply that in
much Shax there does not -have- to be any fully coherent through-line of
the kind Stanislavski promoted and method acting picked up : well before we
get to the romances/late plays, where characterisation through language is
working very differently indeed, the underlying armatures or stock-roles
may dictate otherwise, and so may occasional dramatic profit. Even in very
psychological Hamlet, Polonius natters on about chastity and dowries in
large part because that's what a Plautine senex does, and a Pantalone, even
when they've been dropped into a tragedy ; and come act 1 of King Lear,
that's why those same things are on his agenda, telling auditors what his
structural armature is, setting up expectations that Shax can then twist
into pretzels or just blow out of the water as the play develops.

JLWT: I know opinions vary on the new *West Side Story *(personally, I
loved it)
but one thing that occurred to me while watching it - and has occurred to
several reviewers whose reviews I've read - is that the bones of the R & J
story are much more visible and evident in the structure of the movie than
in the older version.

John: Haven't seen it yet so I can't say, but one thing about Baz Luhrman's
Romeo + Juliet was that it paraded its (deep) debts to West Side Story
(gangs, bike chains, leather). Stuff goes around, and comes around.

John Lennard, MA DPhil. (Oxon.), MA (WU)

Associate Member, Hughes Hall, Cambridge
Independent Scholar

*Mock-Death in Shakespeare's Plays*
The first full study of Shakespeare's favourite dramatic device

*The Exasperating Case of David Weber, or The Slow Death of The Honorverse*
22 years ago Weber created it and in the last ten he has broken it ...

*Tolkien's Triumph: The Strange History of *The Lord of the Rings
Just how did a 1000-page book with 6 appendices come to sell 8,500 copies
per day?

*Talking Sense About *Fifty Shades of Grey*, or Fanfiction, Feminism, and
The story the media *isn't* telling ...

Available from Kindle Stores, and in PDF from the author.

More information about the Lois-Bujold mailing list