Play Of The Month: Romeo and Juliet

Immortal Longings Artwork for "Romeo and Juliet" by Elizabeth Schuh, used with permission.
Immortal Longings Artwork for “Romeo and Juliet” by Elizabeth Schuh, used with permission.
Movie Pitch- A Love Story For All Time- The excellent, lamentable, and cruel story of two young people who attempt to defy fate, and plant a blossoming love in the midst of hate. They swear eternal love to each other in spite of their feuding families. Filled with song, dance, gorgeous poetry, and bloody revenge, this story is truly one for the ages.

My two cents-

For those of you who haven’t read this play yet: Relax, this play is famous not because it’s artsy or high-minded or lofty; it’s famous because Shakespeare really knew how to take a classic story and cram it with enough sex, jokes, songs, and violence to entertain people of any age and any time period.

A note on the language: We live in an age where words are not trusted. Nowadays people do not believe what they hear because they expect to hear lies and misinformation. Likewise, people rarely say what they think because they are afraid of what people will think. When Shakespeare wrote this play, the English language was 400 years younger than ours- his is a world where characters always speak the truth that is in their hearts. The ideas that his characters express are so great that they need a whole new way of speaking to convey them, which is why he writes in such exquisite poetry. Shakespeare never chooses a single word that is not full of meaning. This is particularly true in Romeo and Juliet, which speaks to us about the two most profound emotions within the human heart- love and hate. Shakespeare uses metaphor, allegory, rhetoric, personification, puns, and even the sounds of spoken words to make you aware of one eloquent truth: Love makes us foolish, passionate, irresponsible, and sometimes even miserable, but in Hate, there is only death.

Famous Lines (almost too many to count).

  • “O! she doth teach the torches to burn bright. Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight! For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.”
    – William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, 1.5
  • “It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night like a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear”
    – William Shakespeare,Romeo and Juliet, 1.5
  • “O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
    Deny thy father and refuse thy name.
    Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love
    And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.”- William Shakespeare,Romeo and Juliet, 2.2
  • “It is the east, and Juliet is the sun”- William Shakespeare,Romeo and Juliet, 2.2
  • “Good Night, Good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say good night till it be morrow.”- William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, 2.2
  • “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” – William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, 2.2

For more quotes and analysis of the characters, click here: http://www.shakespeare-navigators.com/romeo/Romeo_and_Juliet_Quotes.html

General Data

Title: Romeo and Juliet

Playwright: William Shakespeare

Year Written: approx. 1593

Source: Various, most recently Romeus and Juliet by Arthur Brooke, 1562. Click here for more info on the sources and history of Romeo and Juliet.

Genre: Elizabethan Tragedy: Prose/ Verse

Play Data

Structure: Five Acts, 24 scenes, 3,185 lines (uncut)

Setting: Verona, Italy

Characters: 35 characters 18 male characters, 4 female characters, plus Servingmen, Officers, Musicians, Citizens, and a Chorus.

Character Notes (“What’s In A Name):

All the names in Romeo and Juliet mean something that explains the character:

Romeo – Pilgrim. When Romeo first meets Juliet, he calls himself, (or more specifically his lips) a pilgrim. Even before that, Romeo is searching for a woman to love and when he finds her, he feels like a sinner that is going on a pilgrimage to seek purification from Juliet, his saint.

Tybalt– Tybalt is both the name of Dutch fencing master and a character from Reynard the Fox. Because Tybalt is such a great fighter, it is appropriate that he shares the name of a real swordsman, who was so popular, he even gets a line in The Princess Bride!

Prince Escalus– Escalus means “Scales” in Italian. Escalus is a judge of both the Capulet and the Montegues, so his name reflects his function.

Juliet– Juliet’s name is probably a relation to the Roman Julio-Claudian house, which included Julius Caesar and Augusts. The family claimed they were descended from Venus, the goddess of love. You can see how this illustrious connection establishes Juliet as not only lovely, but strong and powerful.

Prudence (The Nurse)– The Nurse’s name is Prudence, as established in this line from Act III, Scene v- “And why, my lady wisdom? hold your tongue,
Good Prudence; smatter with your gossips, go.”

I think Shakesperae gave her this name because she is a sensible person; she isn’t romantic, she just says whatever she wants and thinks in a very earthy sort of way.

Play Summary In Verona Italy, two families, the Montegues and Capulets, are involved in a blood feud that also involves their children and servants. The feud has gotten so bad that Prince Escalus has decreed that any more fighting will be punished by death. The next night, Romeo, the youngest of the Montegues sneaks into the Capulet’s masked ball and encounters Lord Capulet’s beautiful daughter Juliet and falls in love at first sight. Despite their differences, the pair decide quickly to be married in secret, but Juliet’s fiery cousin Tybalt fights Romeo in a duel, resulting in Tybalt’s death and Romeo’s banishment. The lovers try in vain to re-unite and allow their love to flourish. Pain, death, and reconciliation ensues. For a complete summary of the play, click here:

Concerns for Directors I hope I’m not running into the ground that this is a classic love story, but for a director, that’s the biggest blessing and the biggest curse. The director can choose any time period, any place on Earth, virtually any context imaginable for the story because it’s about love and hate. On the other hand, this also means the director has to try to find choices to make this production unique

Concerns for Teachers

  1. Full play: http://shakespeare.mit.edu/romeo_juliet/romeo_juliet.3.5.html 
  2. Lesson plans for teachers
    1. Royal Shakespeare Company
    2. Folger Shakespeare Theater
    3. NYC Department Of Education: “Who’s To Blame For Romeo and Juliet’s Death.”

Artwork (wave mouse over each image to find out the artist/ year).

Frederic Lord Leighton. The Reconciliation of the Montagues and Capulets, 1854 Frank Dicksee. "Romeo and Juliet", 1884Philip H. Calderon. "Juliet", exhibited in 1888.Richard Dadd. Sketch for the Passions. Love, 1853

For more artwork, visit Illustrated Shakespeare: http://www.english.emory.edu/classes/Shakespeare_Illustrated/R&JPaintings.html 

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