Safe for Shakespeare

On the common message board at work I posted quick thoughts on the local Romeo and Juliet this weekend, where I called it (among other things), “safe.”

“I’m curious what exactly a safe production of Romeo and Juliet is,” said a coworker in person.  “Do they not die in the end?”  Laughter from random overhearing coworkers.

“Nope, they definitely still die.”

“Is there still an implied teenage sex scene?”

“Yup, definitely has that.”

“And they still murder people?”

“Yes, yes they do.”

“And you call that safe? As a parent?”

“Fair point.  My kids definitely gave me the, ‘Seriously, Daddy?’ look when Mercutio was writhing and grinding on the floor a few times. But everybody knows the story, it’s not like anything was a surprise.  By safe I meant it was a traditional, expected interpretation.  At no point did I think, “Whoa, hey, that’s different! I’ve never seen that particular interpretation of that moment before!”

“Ohhhh,” said he, “You meant it wasn’t avant-garde.”

So I immediately sent him this picture from Slings & Arrows as the first thing that comes to mind when somebody mentions an avant-garde Romeo and Juliet:

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A Three Hour Shakespeare, A Three Hour Shakespeare

Tis now the very witching time of night, plus about three hours.

What is Shakespeare’s fascination with three hours?  I was at Romeo and Juliet this weekend and this stood out to me:

Ah, poor my lord, what tongue shall smooth thy name,
When I, thy three-hours wife, have mangled it?

Because I thought, “Hmm, that’s interesting, because clearly they’ve been married more than three hours so it’s like she’s using that as just a generic term for some length of time. Kind of like how Hamlet does it, doesn’t he?” Actually I was off on that one:

how cheerfully my mother looks, and father died within these two hours.

But then I thought about that one about, “Better three hours too soon than a minute too late,” from Merry Wives of Windsor.  I got to wondering just how often he used this expression. Turns out, quite a lot. Some of them could even be literal (such as “the length of time after supper and before bed time”) but surely not all of them.

All’s Well That Ends Well

Ten o’clock: within these three hours ’twill be
time enough to go home.

Coriolanus

Within these three hours, Tullus,
Alone I fought in your Corioli walls,
And made what work I pleased:

Cymbeline

I have read three hours then: mine eyes are weak:

Henry VI Part 1

More than three hours the fight continued;
Where valiant Talbot above human thought
Enacted wonders with his sword and lance:

Love’s Labour’s Lost

And then, to sleep but three hours in the night,
And not be seen to wink of all the day—

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

what dances shall we have,
To wear away this long age of three hours
Between our after-supper and bed-time?

Romeo and Juliet (again)

Now must I to the monument alone;
Within three hours will fair Juliet wake:

The Tempest

My father
Is hard at study; pray now, rest yourself;
He’s safe for these three hours.

How thou hast met us here, who three hours since
Were wreck’d upon this shore;

What is this maid with whom thou wast at play?
Your eld’st acquaintance cannot be three hours:

Twelfth Night

Ay, madam, well; for I was bred and born
Not three hours travel from this very place.

 

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Commonwealth Shakespeare 2017 : Romeo and Juliet on Boston Common

I haven’t missed a Commonwealth Shakespeare performance on Boston common since the infamous Hamlet incident in 2005. Every year I wait to see what they’ll play, every year I tell friends and family and coworkers for weeks leading up that I’ll be going.  It’s something of a holiday for me.

This year is Romeo and Juliet. Or, like I told everybody, “The one everybody knows!” I could not say that about Love’s Labours Lost or Two Gentlemen of Verona :). Better, I could at last take the kids. People might think that my kids have grown up with Shakespeare, and they have. But that doesn’t mean that at under ten years old they can sit through an actual 2-3 hour Shakespeare performance in the original text.  They’ve seen movie versions, clips, kids versions, modern versions – but this would be the first time they would sit through a “real” show.

This was a very traditional interpretation, which made it even more perfect.  Period scenery, with a balcony dominating the stage.  Period costumes, with the Montagues in one color and the Capulets in another (and Mercutio in a third).

All in all I liked it, and I’m glad my kids – who also liked it – got to see this one. But I didn’t love it. My oldest, who just finished the play in high school, spent the play explaining things to her sister, and occasionally turning around to me when they chose a particularly interesting interpretation, or altered a more obvious line. My middle, who is fascinated primarily with story, wanted me to tell her the plots of basically all the Shakespeare stories. At one point she apparently realized that Shakespeare collaborated (when I called The Tempest his last solo effort) and she got all bent out of shape over that, declaring that she never knew Shakespeare was a fake, and that she’d have to seriously think about this. My youngest did his best to piece together everything he knew about the story, coupled with what he could skim in the program, with what he was seeing on the stage.  Of course that led to moments like the early scene where Benvolio is explaining to Lord Montague where Romeo has been, and my son explains to me, “That’s Tybalt talking.”  In this particular cast, both Benvolio and Tybalt were two African American gentlemen, and from our seats I’m sure they looked very similar to him.

Stuff I Liked

One particularly fascinating moment came during the “pre-show” of sorts. The troupe put on a stage combat demonstration. No explanation or narration, just an opportunity for the audience to get a sneak preview at the fight scenes.  I watch two guys go at it and tell my kids, “That must be Romeo and Tybalt, because that’s not how Mercutio gets it.”  My attention drifts, because in a few minutes I realize there’s about twenty people all battling and I think, “Oh, cool!  The opening scene!”  When suddenly this tall, athletically built woman, in a dress, leaps into the fray with sword drawn and parts two warring men.  It was actually pretty cool, and looked like something out of a movie fight scene. I had no idea what was going on.  My brain immediately flipped through the script trying to figure out what I’m watching.  “Wait,” I say out loud, “Are they going gender blind for this?  Cool.”  I ask my oldest to look her up in the program, and without looking (because apparently she already had), all I hear her say is the word “princess” because now there’s some other noise, I think the director had come out to talk.  I still don’t get it, and I think that this is the actress’ name.

Nope – that’s Princess Escalus.  They have gone gender flipped for that particular role, and I’m totally ok with it because she was seriously badass. When this Princess said to knock it off, people took her seriously.  (What I did not like is that they put her in a dress but still left her lines calling herself Prince.  Can’t we just pick one?  Either you’ve got a woman playing a man, or else you’ve flipped the gender of the character.  It’s jarring to me when they play it from both angles.)

Love Mercutio.  I tell my kids, “The trick with Mercutio is, the minute you see him, you have to like him.  He’s the cool guy that everybody wants at the party.  He’s the one where you’re invited to hang out and you’re all, Oh, Mercutio’s gonna be there?  Dude, absolutely, let’s go!”  And this Mercutio (who was giving off a strange Key and Peele vibe) crushed it there.  During the Queen Mab speech all of the other masqueraders are hanging on his every word.  But he can just as easily flip and talk one on one with his pal Romeo.  I find myself looking sadly forward to watching him die because I already like him.

Commonwealth Shakespeare 2017 Romeo and JulietRomeo and Juliet are … well, annoying. Overacting every word.  And I’m totally ok with that.  I am of the “Romeo and Juliet are two stupid kids who think the world is ending around them” school, and kids in that situation *are* annoying, even if it’s Shakespeare they’re reciting.

The soundtrack. I don’t know how to explain it, it just worked.  The party scene was hopping.  The fight scenes were ominous.  With my kids at this one I was especially aware of anything happening that would help make it obvious what is happening on stage, and when the music suddenly switches when Tybalt walks in, you know something’s about to go down.

There were also bits of interaction with the audience that were pretty cool, and kept my kids entertained.  Several times the Friar actually motioned to the audience to complete his lines.  Granted this had the effect of really killing the mood because he was enunciating the first part like Inigo Montoya playing rhyming games with Andre the Giant’s Fezzick the giant (“You have a great gift for ….rhyme…”) but hey, it was fun.  I’m not holding this production up to any high standard.

There’s also a funny bit in the beginning where Romeo and Benvolio are arguing about Rosaline, and Romeo’s got his line, “Show me a mistress that is passing fair,” so Benvolio hops down into the audience, picks out a woman to stand and show off for comparison to Rosaline.

It was little stuff, but it worked.  The party scene at the Capulets had the dancers all come through the audience to enter, but then back out into the audience to dance.  There were even these little mini stages set up around the edges that they made their way toward, which I even commented at the time seemed like a lot of effort because they were there for just that scene, and delivered no lines (just regular dancer/partygoers).  Strange amount of extra effort for that little effect.

A word, too, for the overall visual presentation of this production. I thought it was absolutely beautiful. Totally traditional, but that’s fine, there’s a reason why it’s iconic.  There’s a moment when Juliet’s up on the balcony in her nightclothes and the wind is blowing them just ever so slightly, I found it quite near perfect.

Stuff Not So Much

The pacing of many scenes was off.  Fred Sullivan, the most senior actor of the group, plays Lord Capulet as I expected. I go into every show wondering what role Fred will play, because I know he brings everything he’s got.  Saw him as Nick Bottom years ago and never forgot him. But it felt like all of his scenes this year were this sort of zero to sixty ride where one moment he’s laughing and jovial and the next HE’S RANTING AND SCREAMING AT THE TOP OF HIS LUNGS LIKE HE’S GOING TO HAVE A STROKE and then he’s back to being his jolly old self.  This was true at the Capulet ball where he had to yell at Tybalt, but it was really obvious when Juliet tells him she doesn’t want to marry Paris.  He’s talking to her so softly and quietly that you barely realize he is…taking off his belt.  The next thing you know he’s chasing her around the scene trying to whip her with it, screaming the whole time.  It got so bad that when he finally delivers the “My fingers itch” line, with his hand poised above his head to strike, I’m thinking, “Dude, the belt was way scarier.” Later when she apologizes and he goes back to being the loving father. He basically seems bipolar.  Which I think is an oversimplification of his personality (seems to be a theme here).

Same with the opening scene.  I like the opening scene to build and be mostly comedy, so the audience can get into it and feel the transition between the humor and the violence at any time.  Not here, here it is all loud screamy violence all the time.  We all know the Baz Luhrmann version, right? The scene in the gas station with all the screaming?  I liked that one better. Here it just felt like the actors couldn’t bring any more depth to their roles than, “These guys just want to fight because they hate each other so much.”

Worse, though, was Mercutio’s death.  Above I said I sadly looked forward to it, because I liked the character, and I think that the whole mark of a tragedy is you can know what’s going to happen and still be sad about it because you feel something for the characters.  Here I didn’t get that.  First, it was over way too fast.  They fight, Romeo dives in, Mercutio is struck and then immediatelydelivershisnextthreelinessofastIwasn’tsurewhatwashappening.

I like a good dying Mercutio. I want him struggling for breath, on the ground, uttering his dying words like a curse. This Mercutio was running around the stage during the whole thing.  It wasn’t even obvious that there was any blood on him until the end of the scene, and if you didn’t know what was going on you might have missed it. He even walks out practically under his own power.

I did like (and I realize this should go in the section above but they go together) Romeo’s reaction.  I’ve always thought that his line about “Mercutio’s soul is little ways above our heads, and you, or I, or both must go with him” is underrated.  I like a Romeo that’s a combination of fire-eye’d furious and yet also terrified because he thinks there’s an equal chance that he’s going to die, too.  I got that.  That was cool.

Bonus?  The rest of the scene plays out, and at some point, as the lights go down, Tybalt’s body is borne off.  But not before Benvolio taps one of the Capulets on the shoulder and takes his spot, helping to carry him.  Loved the idea of that.  Easily went past many people – it was dark, they were getting focused on their intermission bathroom break, no words are even spoken.  But it shows that Benvolio, who just replayed the scene as “Romeo didn’t do anything wrong, he came here trying to make peace,” maybe realizes, unlike the parents, that this is an opportunity to bring the families closer, not farther apart.

Conclusion

I liked it, but I didn’t love it. I ended up describing it to a co-worker this way: “It’s way better than any school or community performance you’ll see, but at the same time, it didn’t feel like the professional standard you might expect. I’m glad it was a free show. If I’d paid fifty bucks to go see it, I think I would have come away disappointed. There were things I liked, a lot, but there were many things that I felt could have been done so much better.”

It disappoints me to say that, but I’m just being honest. I’ve seen more than a dozen of their shows, and I’m not going to say each one of them moved me to tears. They’re quite capable of it. I’ll never forget the image of Kent in the storm, calling out for King Lear.  I loved the play so much I wrote two posts about it- part one, part two.

Of course, everything I’ve said above – the traditional interpretation, the oversimplification of the characters, the over acting – all made it the perfect show to take my kids.  So there’s that!  I just hope that next year when it comes around again, whatever show they may choose – because I’m going! – that I bring it up to the kids and see whether they want to come with us again.

 

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Coffee Break : Romeo and Juliet Songs

Thank you Google for “randomly” serving me up this cool bit of content!  I wasn’t even googling, this was just in my recommended links today.

“The Current”, which I guess is a Minnesota public radio station, decided to do Romeo and Juliet songs yesterday. While the “article” itself is short and only lists the 8 songs they played, it’s in the comments where the gold lies.

No special constraints were given, so there are some songs that tell the story, some that just reference the characters, and some who knows what the connection is.

This could well be the definitive list.  Surely many in this one that I hadn’t known for their Romeo and Juliet references. I’ve got to put together a new playlist!

I haven’t been able to vet all of these for accuracy, just the ones that made me scratch my head and say, “Wait, really? I thought I knew that song.”  Make corrections or add more in the comments!

Romeo and Juliet Songs

Dire Straits – Romeo and Juliet

Indigo Girls – Romeo and Juliet

The Reflections – (Just Like) Romeo and Juliet

Madonna – Cherish   (* really? I never noticed)

Bruce Springsteen – Fire

Michael and The Messengers – Romeo and Juliet

Basement Jaxx – Romeo

Blue Oyster Cult – (Don’t Fear) The Reaper   (now with more cowbell)

Arctic Monkeys – I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor

Radiohead – Exit Music (For a Film)

Garbage – #1 Crush

Lou Reed – Romeo Had Juliette

Pointer Sisters – Fire  (had to look that one up, but it’s there)

Michael Penn – No Myth

Ratt – Round and Round

Peggy Lee – Fever

Semisonic – Singing in my Sleep

Butthole Surfers – Whatever

Tom Waits – Romeo is Bleeding

Taylor Swift – Love Story

Van Morrison – Domino

Emmylou Harris – Boy from Tupelo

Neil Sedaka – Calendar Girl

What Romeo and Juliet songs did I / they miss?

 

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First, Let’s Kill Tybalt

Without Tybalt, would there be a Romeo and Juliet?  My preferred interpretation of the “ancient grudge” is that it’s on its dying days, if not for Tybalt single-handedly keeping it alive.

  • The Prologue tells us, “from ancient grudge break to new mutiny.”  I’ve always taken this to mean that during the play we will see the grudge reignited.
  • Sure, the opening scene is a fight between Montagues and Capulets, but it’s also a comedy scene, isn’t it?  None of the four (I just realized, Balthazar is in that scene but doesn’t appear to have any lines?) comes off as a genius.  It’s all talk, and doesn’t turn into a fight until, you guessed it, Tybalt shows up.  Tybalt’s not there, maybe they exchange some heated words and go on their way.
  • Also worth pointing out here is that not only is the Montague (Benvolio) trying to stop the fight, he tries to reason with Tybalt to do the same. He doesn’t just attack Tybalt.
  • Enter the heads of both families – both men wielding (or calling for) their swords, but both women holding them back and talking to them like they’re idiots for even thinking about it.  Nobody assumes that either Lord Capulet or Lord Montague is going to join the fray, it’s just posturing to not show weakness in front of the other.
  • So, maybe without Tybalt escalating this one, we don’t need the Prince to lay down the law because they’ve thrice disturbed the peace.  Who knows, maybe it was Tybalt instigating it every time?  The Prince wants to speak with Capulet first, so maybe he’s planning to say “Dude, what are you going to do about Tybalt? He’s the trouble maker here.”
  • Next time we see Lord Capulet:  “’tis not hard, I think, for men so old as we to keep the peace.”
  • Then there’s the masquerade ball.  Who calls out Romeo?  Tybalt.  Lord Capulet doesn’t care, and even yells at Tybalt for ruining the party.  Imagine if Gregory or Sampson from the first scene was the one to bust Romeo.  Lord Capulet says don’t worry about it, they say fine, they don’t worry about it.  But because it’s Tybalt, we get what reminds me of the scene from Karate Kid II where the constipated uncle learns his lesson but the hot-headed nephew can’t get over losing his honor.  “NOW……TO YOU……I AM DEAD!
  • Of course we know what comes next. Tybalt comes seeking Romeo to avenge the stain on his honor, and whether Mercutio drew first or not, the body count climbs and the rest is history.  Very different from the Karate Kid II ending.

So, what’s your position on the grudge?  If there was no Tybalt, would the story still play out the same?  Somebody else would simply step into his shoes and, like any other sci-fi time travel story, whatever was destined to happen will still manage to happen?  Or is the story really all about Tybalt?

 

 

 

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Reddit’s Favorite Shakespeare

Hello /r/Shakespeare!Anybody that knows me knows that when I see a post titled 1000 Most Mentioned Books on Reddit (or, really, anywhere), the first thing I’m going to do is search it to see where Shakespeare shows up.  Any guesses?

I’d love to say more about who made the list and why and how, but there doesn’t seem much to go on. The post, on Medium, was made by BookAdvice.  Have to look more into that, see what other cool lists they have.  All we know about the methodology is, from the summary, “Sorted based on the number of upvotes and the number of different users linking to them in post and comments.”  I suppose that’s got a certain chronological bias — a book that came out last year couldn’t possibly compete with those that have been around since before Reddit.  But it does say “most mentioned” and not “best” or “most loved” or anything like that, so I suppose it’s accurate to say that a book that has existed for ten years will typically be mentioned more than a book that’s only existed for one.

Much of the list is highly predictable, if you know anything about Reddit.  Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Hitchhikers’ Guide To The Galaxy all rank in the top ten.  I’m pleasantly surprised to see To Kill A Mockingbird in there, and The Count of Monte Cristo (though not so pleasantly Catcher in the Rye.  Really, reddit?)  Thrilled to see J.K. Rowling’s name not appear until well after the 250 mark.  Not that her work is bad, just that I’m tired of seeing such brand new books always top the lists of “all time classics”.

Ok, you want the data?  Drum roll, please. Presented in reverse order, from least to most mentioned, we have …

905. The Taming of the Shrew

754. The Tempest

674. Merchant of Venice

625. King Lear

578. Much Ado About Nothing

568. Othello

371. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (*)

295. Macbeth

237. Romeo and Juliet

and the most mentioned work of William Shakespeare on Reddit is……

144. Hamlet

What do we think, any surprises?  Surely not the great tragedies, I think those became self-fulfilling long long ago.  Is Romeo and Juliet popular because it’s so good, or is it considered so good because it’s popular?  Little surprised about Othello, that one doesn’t usually get much love, and I’m kind of wondering if they took the time to rule out references to the board game.

When I first made this list, searching for the word “Shakespeare”, I was surprised to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream not make the list.  I had to go back and double check.  It’s because they’ve got it listed by, and I’m not kidding, SparkNotes.  I wondered if there were many on the list marked this way, but it turns out that’s the only one.  Glad I checked, I almost missed it!

Anything you think should be on the list that’s not there?  Hey, wait … where’s Twelfth Night?

 

 

 

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Review : Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

What about Romeo and Juliet?
Shallow, confused, then dead.

Eleanor and Park : Romeo and Juliet?I honestly thought that Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell as a new release, after seeing it on some random “must read this summer” list.  It had some sort of Romeo and Juliet connection, so I thought, “I’m in.  Maybe it’ll be something my kids will like.”  Turns out it’s published in 2013 so I’m late to the party.

The first line of the book is, “He’d stopped trying to bring her back.”

Interesting!  I immediately wondered whether the book was taking a page from Romeo and Juliet and giving us ye olde “star-crossed lovers take their life” right there in the prologue.  So I was hooked for the rest of the story thinking, “When’s it all gonna go down?”  The boy (Park) is still narrating so I guess he doesn’t die, but then again, no one says that we’re starting at the very end.  This could be the middle.  He could be telling us the equivalent of standing in front of her tomb holding his own poison.

Eleanor and Park does have some Romeo and Juliet in it.  On the surface, it’s just the standard “boy and girl decide they like each other to the backdrop of high school English class,” where of course they’re studying Romeo and Juliet. This gives us a chance to learn about the modern teenager’s interpretation of love at first sight:

 

‘I just don’t think it’s a tragedy.’ She rolled her eyes again. She knew Mr Stessman’s game by now. ‘But he’s so obviously making fun of them. Romeo and Juliet are just two rich kids who’ve always gotten every little thing they wanted. And now, they think they want each other.’

‘They’re in love …’ Mr Stessman said, clutching his heart.

‘They don’t even know each other,’ she said.

‘It was love at first sight.’

‘It was “Oh my God, he’s so cute” at first sight. If Shakespeare wanted you to believe they were in love, he wouldn’t tell you in almost the very first scene that Romeo was hung up on Rosaline … It’s Shakespeare making fun of love,’ she said.

The rest of the book, of course, is two teenagers from different worlds (he from the nice happy family, she from the broken home with the abusive step father) who fall head over heels in love and can’t bear to live life without each other.

I still can’t figure out if it’s supposed to be a Romeo and Juliet story or I’m just looking for parallels.  It’s got some weird gender flippy things going on, with the weird girl who likes to dress in boys’ clothes and the longer boy who discovers he really likes how he looks in makeup.  I thought that would be cool to run with.  But the girl’s still got violent family members and her boyfriend couldn’t be caught dead at her house, so I guess she’s still playing the Capulet role. She’s welcome at his house, though, which was the motivation for my earlier post “Dinner At The Montagues.”

Without the Shakespeare? I suppose it’s good, but maybe it’s too far removed from my world to fully appreciate.  I get what it’s like to be young and in love, I’m not that old.  The author does a great job of painting that slow, slow crawl from “Oh god I hate you” to “I hope that girl I hate sits next to me again” to “Maybe today I’ll tell her I liked what she said in English class” to “I should ask her about those song lyrics written on her book cover…” until one day you’re deciding whether or not you’re boyfriend and girlfriend and should you tell anybody? Eleanor and Park ride that entire rollercoaster right before our eyes.

I was expecting a Bridge to Terabithia twist through the whole thing. I thought I knew where it was going.  I was mistaken.  I think I would have liked my ending better.

 

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Dinner At The Montagues

I’m currently in the middle of a YA story that I think is playing itself out like a Romeo and Juliet, but I haven’t decided yet. But it made me think of an interesting question.

We get a very in depth look at the Capulet family in Shakespeare’s story. We see Lord Capulet in a good mood and a bad one. We see where Lady Capulet and the Nurse’s loyalties lie. We know Tybalt’s story.

 

Mom, Dad, this is Juliet.
My wife’s a statue! No, wait, wrong play.

But what about the Montagues? How would the story have played out if the shoe was on the other foot and Romeo invited Juliet over to dinner? What do we think Romeo’s parents would have done? I don’t think they would have had a problem with it. In fact, many interpretations seem to imply that the Capulets were more well off than the Montagues and thus this would be an advantageous marriages for the Montagues.

 

 

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B- For You, TV Guide

Skimming through the reviews of Still Star-Crossed I stopped on this one from TV Guide entitled, 6 Issues William Shakespeare Might Have With Still Star-Crossed.  The author says that we should dust off our freshman English copies of the play, but methinks she should have done the same.

The new series focuses primarily on Rosaline (Lashana Lynch), who in Shakespeare’s version was the unrequited object of Romeo’s affections before he ever laid eyes on Juliet. That means she had to be aligned with the Montagues or else the story would have been called Romeo & Rosaline. Shondaland not only switched Rosaline’s family allegiance, but made her an adopted servant of Lord (Anthony Head) and Lady Capulet (Zuleikha Robinson) — so she filled the role of Juliet’s nurse. She went from being a maiden of high society and the first love of Romeo (though she wasn’t into it) to being Juliet’s servant. Talk about a creative demotion.

She’s quite hung up on this point, because later in the article she adds this:

Though it will take some serious adjusting to get used to seeing Rosaline as a Capulet…

First of all, Rosaline is literally never in the original so it should take some serious adjusting to get used to seeing her *at all*.

But second and more amusingly …. what do you think, should we tell her?  Ok, yes, let’s tell her.

ROMEO

Stay, fellow; I can read.

Reads

‘Signior Martino and his wife and daughters;
County Anselme and his beauteous sisters; the lady
widow of Vitravio; Signior Placentio and his lovely
nieces; Mercutio and his brother Valentine; mine
uncle Capulet, his wife and daughters; my fair niece
Rosaline; Livia; Signior Valentio and his cousin
Tybalt, Lucio and the lively Helena.’ A fair
assembly: whither should they come?

Servant

Up.

ROMEO

Whither?

Servant

To supper; to our house.

ROMEO

Whose house?

Servant

My master’s.

ROMEO

Indeed, I should have ask’d you that before.

Servant

Now I’ll tell you without asking: my master is the
great rich Capulet; and if you be not of the house
of Montagues, I pray, come and crush a cup of wine.
Rest you merry!

Exit

Rosaline is a Capulet in the original, too.  Don’t feel bad, it’s easy to miss that (heck, I only really paid attention to it last year).  But it’s precisely because she’s going to be at the party that Romeo is convinced to go.  I think the big mistake people tend to make is thinking that the Montague / Capulet thing is black and white, “every Montague will attempt to kill every Capulet they meet, and vice versa,” when really that’s not the case at all.  It’s far more likely that in these two substantially extended families, everybody in town is one or the other, and they basically get along.  It’s really only the heads of the families that still have “ancient grudge” issues.  So while maybe it was ok for Romeo to lust (because really, that’s what it is) after a second or third cousin, him waltzing into the patriarch’s party and trying to hook up with his only daughter?  Maybe not so cool.

 

 

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Review : Still Star-Crossed

Well, that was underwhelming.    I think I can give it more of a chance now that the pilot is out of the way and it becomes its own story, rather than having to recap the changes they made to the Shakespeare original.  But this just means that it pretty much gave us very little Shakespeare and will now promptly leave it all behind.

Right off the bat, Benvolio and Rosaline (who is now a servant in the Capulet house, even though she is still acknowledged as family) are witnesses to Romeo and Juliet’s wedding.  There is no Nurse character – Rosaline is Juliet’s confidant, which turns out to be a very small role.

Tybalt and Romeo meet in the streets, Mercutio – who we only saw briefly a few minutes ago and who has no real lines – dives into the fight, promptly gets killed, Romeo then kills Tybalt without a second thought.  He’s even a dick about it, when Tybalt says “I thought you wouldn’t fight me,” Romeo stabs him and says, “I lied” or “I changed my mind” or some other 1980’s action movie catch phrase. He then escapes in a ridiculous chase scene where one moment he’s sloshing through water with armed guards chasing him maybe 20 yards away, and in the next Friar Laurence is confronting Benvolio in a bar who says, “I gave Romeo a horse” and that’s that, he’s gone.  But no worries, he’s heard that his wife died, so he comes back.

We all know what happens next – fight scene with Paris, drink poison (did we even see where he got the poison? I may have missed it), Juliet wakes up, drinks poison too (ok, bit of a liberty there).  But!  Paris is still alive!

The story is surprisingly full of holes for modern primetime standards.  We open with Prince Escalus and his sister reassuring their dying father that everybody will know his proclamation – that anybody committing murder in Verona will be executed without trial.   It’s repeated several times.

First…isn’t this a thing anyway? The way they spell it out makes it sound like we’re missing something, like this isn’t normally the way things would be done in this time and in this place.  If you’re caught killing somebody, your life is forfeit.  Not sure why he’s so big on making sure everybody understands this “new” rule.

Second, as an example of the weak writing – when Isabella (Escalus’ sister) repeats their father’s proclamation she says, “Any man accused of murder in the city of Verona will be executed without trial.”  Excuse me?  Any man accused? Without trial?  Well that sucks.  “Hey,  I accuse that guy of murdering somebody.”  *stab*

But!  A few scenes later, when brother and sister are discussing it, here’s the dalogue:, Escalus is made to repeat, ”

Isabella “…until our father proclaimed…”
Escalus: “…That anyone who commits murder will be executed without trial.”

That’s literally NOT what he said, and Isabella knows that, since she said it herself two scenes ago.

Third, the whole thing is useless because not only does Escalus himself stab somebody soon after, but the entire city breaks out into a riot where people are just randomly killing each other in broad daylight all the time.  Maybe it’s a rule that will come back around later in the series?

There’s all kinds of other weird back story added.  Rosaline has a sister, and both come across like Cinderella to Lady Capulet’s wicked stepmother. I guess she resents them because she was jealous of their mother? They say Shakespeare’s hard to follow when he moves the plot along off stage, but I have no idea what’s going on here.

What this is all moving toward is Escalus ordering that Benvolio and Rosaline are to be married, to forcibly join the two houses.  It doesn’t help that Escalus and Rosaline love each other, and Benvolio sees them together.  I’m not sure why this matters, because Rosaline and Benvolio are playing the Beatrice/Benedick game and proclaim their hatred of each other every chance they get, so I’m not sure why Benvolio would suddenly be all jealous because a woman who he doesn’t love, who doesn’t love him, wants to be with a different guy.

Ultimately the only Shakespeare we really got was Mercutio saying “A plague on both your houses” and Romeo saying “Thus with a kiss I die.” Other than that this is just an entirely new story told with some of Shakespeare’s characters.  It might turn out to be good, but there’s no point in following or reviewing it as if it’s got anything to do with Shakespeare.  I’m still hoping for some flashbacks (I see that the IMDB entry for Romeo’s actor lists him as “unknown number of episodes”), but I’ll be surprised if we get any.  We’re far more likely to get back story for Rosaline – her mother (and mother’s death), her relationship with Escalus, and so on.

 

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