So, Should We Talk About Romeo and Juliet?

I’m sure you know the news I’m talking about. The following is just stream of consciousness on the subject.

Can I see some ID, please?

There’s not a Gen-X AP English kid out there that didn’t see this film. It was always a good day when the teacher said you were going to watch a movie, but how often did they tell you ahead of time that this movie contained nudity?

In the 1980s, that’s what we had to work with – the 1968 Zeffirelli version of the movie, starring Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting (and Michael York as a badass Tybalt, let’s not forget him!) Let’s not forget it won some Oscars. It was a good movie. It just so happened to have a brief bit of nudity, and the naked people happened to be 16 years old. (How was that even possible? Well, it was filmed in Italy, for one. In the 1960s. Rules were different?)

Fast forward to the 90s and suddenly everybody got to watch the 1996 Romeo+Juliet with Leo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, and everything changed. The 1968 went back into the archives, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t recall it being all that big of a deal. We knew it existed. Some of us had seen it. So?

Here we are, fifty-something years later. The director, Franco Zeffirelli, died a few years ago. Guess what? Here come the stories. We didn’t want to do the nude scene. He lied to us. Could we please have fifty million dollars?

Oh, and did we mention that in 2021 she’s on record saying that she was broke? So, let’s see, built her whole career on the fame that this movie brought, now she needs money, and the guy she’s accusing is gone. Jackpot.

“Repackaging what is essentially pornography,” the article says. Have these people heard of the internet? Do we really think anybody’s wading through Shakespeare for a half-second glimpse of something that you could probably see at will by visiting a nude beach in Italy? Granted, it’s been a long, long time since I saw the scene in question (and given today’s world I’m not going to go looking for it) but in the time it would take you to fast-forward to it you could have googled stuff a thousand times worse.

By today’s standards, literally everything about this story would be unacceptable. No question. Hussey, like many child stars, has had a pretty terrible life coming out of this (mental health issues, abusive relationships, etc…) Pin that on the entire system, absolutely. There’s multiple generations of child actors that are right there with you. But to reach back fifty years, after decades of promoting both the accused (she worked with him again) and the movie (she’s spoken well of the production in the past), now you want money? I don’t think so. I hope this goes nowhere. This story, not anything about the original movie, gives Shakespeare a bad name.

Oh – for those that aren’t familiar with the term Streisand Effect, it refers to people who try to hide things on the Internet, or say “Nobody can see this!” Most of the people that hear that never saw it in the first place, never even knew about it, but now that you said that, they go hunt it down. Named for Barbara Streisand, who tried to suppress the California Coastal Records project from including pictures that showed her house, resulting in way more people seeing the pictures than ever would have if she’d said nothing.

I’m not saying that there are people out there who hear about a movie that includes a brief glimpse of a topless 16yr old and think, “Man, I gotta see that,” but, come on, this is the internet. Of course there are.

The Rosaline Trailer is … Actually Good?

I’ve been dumping all over the YA book (now movie) Rosaline that tells us the story of Romeo and Juliet from Rosaline’s point of view. You know, that character mentioned once that plays no significant role in the play. So the idea of retelling R&J really means, just making up a whole new story. Maybe if we’re lucky we get a new Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, but I wasn’t holding out hope. There aren’t that many Tom Stoppards out there.

Well the trailer’s out and … I like it? It looks like it’s got legs to stand on its own (unlike, say, the wretched Ophelia that I couldn’t even finish).

It’s reminiscent of that heyday of high school Shakespeare comedies when we got 10 Things I Hate About You, and She’s The Man. It’s got the pacing, it’s got the humor. I laughed at a few bits. Strangely adult, for what it is (who says “blow me” in a PG-13 trailer?) but maybe that’s just where the bar is set these days.

Anyway, I’m more optimistic than I have been. Now that we see what it’s trying to be, I look forward to seeing the finished product. And I guess it’s a Hulu thing now? Which is good, I won’t have to get myself to the theatre to see it!

Is “Rosaline” Finally Coming Soon?

I remember writing about the Rosaline movie, based on the 2010 young adult novel, back in 2011.

I did not remember calling it a “train wreck” that had not yet been “put out of its misery” :). Man, I was tough in those days! The very premise of Rosaline is that she still loves Romeo, and it’s Juliet that came into town and caused their breakup. So, you know … it has literally nothing to do with the original story other than the setting and slightly disguised character names? No wonder I didn’t have much hope for it.

Jump forward ten years, because apparently it’s still coming! Now we have a real cast – it will star Kaitlyn Dever, best known for Booksmart (which I have not seen).

I gave Ophelia the benefit of the doubt at the time, because as a general rule I think that almost all Shakespeare content, even the fictionalized stuff around the edges, has some inherent value. If it revitalizes people’s interest in the source material, I support it.

Having said that, please oh please be better than Ophelia was. I literally couldn’t finish that one, and I don’t say that about many Shakespeare-ish movies. There’s nothing new about the actual content of this movie, just a bunch of name dropping about the previous credits of the writers and director, so I can’t tell if it’s just going to be a straight teen romantic comedy? I suppose She’s The Man did ok. But wouldn’t it be great to have another 10 Things I Hate About You?

Let’s Talk About Queen Mab

For my birthday, I made my family sit and watch the NTL production of Romeo and Juliet that was on tv last week 🙂 (Review to follow at some point.) I’ll just say that before the first scene was over, I was alone in the room.

But! They did eventually come back to watch, because after all it was my birthday, and they do know how much I love this stuff. So much so that they have learned to be patient with my liberal use of the pause button while I explain interesting(?) things to them at random moments.

Which brings us to Queen Mab. I’ll admit freely that I’ve never fully understood Queen Mab’s importance. From the perspective of your typical high school student, it doesn’t advance the plot in any way, it’s just a bunch of illustrative language that they’re going to be told to memorize.

At one point I recalled hearing that Queen Mab is basically a Shakespeare invention (not entirely accurate – more on this in a moment). So I thought, from the perspective of the play, well, that’s kind of cool, and I told the kids as much. “What’s cool,” told them with my finger on the pause button, “is that Queen Mab doesn’t exist before this. Mercutio’s the kind of guy that’s literally making this stuff up on the spot. The man’s freestyling that whole thing.” I may have actually used the term “spitting bars”, because I be hip like that, yo. 🙂

I’m not sure I ever really gave much thought to this context before. I kind of want to make the comparison to the modern concept (not the Neil Gaiman concept) of the Sandman? As if somebody said to you, “Awww, did somebody get a visit from the Sandman last night?” Not for the complexity of the image, but from the point of common knowledge – if you said that, we’d all generally know what you meant. So I always kind of assumed that Romeo and Benvolio know what Mercutio is talking about when he talks of Queen Mab.

But that’s my question for discussion now. Do they? In the universe of the play, would they have learned about Queen Mab presumably from wherever and however Mercutio learned it, so he’s just reciting to them something they’ve heard before? Or is it, as I told my kids, something that’s entirely new to them, a proceeding from Mercutio’s dream-obsessed brain?

I’m led to believe that Queen Mab is based on Celtic folklore’s Queen Maeve, but two things with that. One, other than the name similarity, I see no comparison. There’s nothing in the Celtic version of the story about the “fairy’s midwife”. On the contrary, she’s apparently a warrior. Second, it still doesn’t answer my question. Shakespeare appears to be the one that brought the idea to English literature either way, fine, so there’s that. But it doesn’t answer my question about the context inside the play.

So I’ll ask it again. Was the story of Queen Mab something that Romeo and the others all already knew, or did Mercutio make it up?

Masters Of Their Wealth

So I proposed a question on Twitter the other day:

Which Shakespearean character is most associated with tremendous wealth? Nothing symbolic or metaphorical, I’m talking about good old-fashioned net worth. Shylock’s not really what I’m looking for.

I don’t particularly think of Shylock as wealthy, but I do think of him as being “all about the ducats.” In theory, somebody who’s very … careful? … with their money is a potential candidate for someone who is very wealthy. But I wasn’t looking for technicalities, I was looking for a character that just screamed, “Look how rich I am.”

The responses on Twitter were intriguing, and much more varied than I would have expected! There was one in particular I assumed would win (do you have the same one in mind?) so I was pleasantly surprised to see the other contenders…

Each Receiving One Vote

Orsino and Olivia from Twelfth Night each got a vote (in two separate responses from two separate people).

Lord Capulet from Romeo and Juliet and Baptista from Taming of the Shrew each got a vote, because if you’re going to woo a young Shakespearean lady, make sure she’s got a rich dad.

Speaking of Shylock, Antonio from Merchant of Venice got a vote, with the caveat that he basically lost it all.

Julius Caesar was emperor of Rome, and you have to figure that’s a pretty wealthy position to be in, even if it’s not explicitly discussed in the play.

Tamora (Titus Andronicus) made the list as well, though I don’t know enough about the play to speak to why.

How about Falstaff (Henry IV)? Anybody ever think of him as wealthy? He got a vote.

Receiving Two Votes

Portia, from Merchant of Venice, gets more votes than Antonio for being in the “super-rich tier” where suitors are bankrupting themselves wooing her.

“Any of the English kings” was mentioned, though Richard II specifically was called out twice.

Three Votes

Speaking of kings, King Lear got three votes. At the beginning, maybe, sure.

The Runner Up with Five Votes

Guesses? Anybody? Cleopatra (Antony and Cleopatra) garnered much praise, what with her “poop of beaten gold” and everything.

And the Winner is …

With a whopping ELEVEN votes, more than double any other contender, our winner for “Shakespearean character most associated with tremendous wealth” is …

Timon of Athens! Exactly who we thought it would be when we asked the question :). “Easy,” said one response. “Definitely the most obvious,” said another.

But there was a reason why I asked in the first place, too. People also commented “at least on paper” and “maybe in principle”, too. “At least in the beginning,” several responses noted. I was curious whether he’s generally regarded as wealthy, or as someone who lost it all. Now I guess we know the answer!

You’d think he can afford nicer clothes.