What Makes or Breaks a Romeo and Juliet?

I can’t believe it’s taken this long, but this week my oldest is finally seeing an actual live Shakespeare production as part of her studies (i.e. not because I made it happen).  The production in this case is Romeo and Juliet (why is it always Romeo and Juliet?) and I’ve already told her that my assumption is she already knows moRomeo and Julietre about the play going in than anybody else in her class.

Since she’s already seen and read the play on her own, plot and character and all that stuff are out of the way (as has always been the plan).  So what I’d like to do is give her some suggestions to watch out for that will make this particular interpretation different.  In other words, it’s a great opportunity to discuss how everybody gets the same script, but every production is different.

What do you suggest?  For instance, I’m a big fan of watching the minor characters. I think they can really fill out the play when you give them a chance.  How’s Friar Laurence?  Is he just an incompetent adult, or should we see him as more of a villain who brings about all the tragedy because he is overly zealous in his desire to be the one who ends the feud?

Similarly consider Lord Capulet.  Which face is the right one? The one that says Juliet must decide for herself to marry Paris? Or the one that says do what I tell you or get out of my house?  I’ve always thought of him as a bad guy. But I’ve had people defend him, saying he’s merely a man with a temper who doesn’t mean what he says.

Another question I like to ask is how violent is the conflict between the two families in this version?  I don’t like the overly violent interpretation where both sides are always this close to killing each other. I prefer to believe that the grudge is dying out. Both sides now are all talk and bluster but neither is really serious about doing injury to the other. That way, Mercutio’s death is an accident. Even Tybalt is surprised – which makes Romeo’s revenge darker because while Tybalt accidentally killed Mercutio, Romeo deliberately killed Tybalt.

See what I’m talking about? When you see Romeo and Juliet for the umpteenth time, what are you paying close attention to?

One thought on “What Makes or Breaks a Romeo and Juliet?

  1. It’s a good question, but I think it’s one for after the show. You are absolutely right that she has the thrill of going into the show with expectations, which are much more fun to see subverted or satisfied than just going in to learn the story. I’d avoid trying to plant those moments though. They have to be her own expectations.

    Before the show, ask her about what she expects. Is she excited to see a the balcony scene, or the poison scene, or the swordfighting? Handsome Romeo? Just get her to touch base with the version that’s in her head.

    Then afterwards, take her out for a milkshake and just see what she wants to talk about. Let her tell you that her favorite part was the costumes, or about a particular special effect that moved her, and then see if you can dig into that a little more and help her realize all the choices that went into it and how it served the story, and maybe share some of the other ways you’ve seen that element handled.

    In this way I think you allow the greatest chance for both of you to be surprised (maybe she’ll say something you’ve never thought about that inspires a post), and to share the experience of just being two people who love the play and are talking about it. She’ll get plenty of lessons at school, just help her feel the magic of it all.

    Just my two cents. What a thrill for her. It’s because of my father that I love Shakespeare. I chased the role of Malvolio for many years because I knew it was his favorite. Now there are two pictures on the mantle taken 30 years apart, each in yellow stockings! I know my dad is as proud as I am of those pictures. You have given your children a tremendous gift.

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