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Wednesday, 7 December 2011



Inside Shakespeare's mind: Romeo and Juliet

The whole literary world believe Romeo and Juliet to be the young lovers who loved each other unto death. They indulged in the purity of unstained affection in the very short span of meeting each other and sacrificed their love to prove it.

But was Romeo so chaste as Juliet?

Is this what Shakespeare intended? Or is it what was in his mind? Probably yes or probably not. If not what was in his mind to have brought Juliet's cousin, Rosaline to the scene as Romeo's first lover before he met the young Capulet. It was not first love for Romeo. His friends, Mercutio and Benvolio made fun at Rosalin but Romeo was serious about Rosalin according to Friar Lawrence.

Let's look at the proof... (Enter Romeo)

Romeo: Good morrow, father.

Friar Lawrence Benedict: What early tongue so sweet salute me?

Young son, it argues a distempered head. So soon to bid good morrow, to they bed. Care keeps his watch in every old man's eye and where care lodges sleep will never lie. But where unbruised youth with unstuff'd rain doth couch limbs,there golden sleep doth reign. Therefore they earliest doth me assure. Thou art uprous'd with some distemp'ature. Of if not then here I hit it right. Our Romeo hath not been in bed tonight.

R: That last is true, the sweeter rest was mine.

Fri: Good pardon sin. Was thou with Rosalin?

Juliet – ‘Tis almost morning. I would have thee gone’. Act 1 Sce II

R: With Rosalin, my ghostly father. No. I have forgot that name's woe.

Fri: That's my good son, but where hast thou been?

R: I'll tell thee ere thou ask it me again...

Act 2 Sce III

Overtaken by his sudden rush of love for Juliet, Romeo tells the friar how he met her and what followed at the ball when later how he confessed his love for her ready to take her hand immediately. Gone were the infatuations for Rosaline. The tender Romeo pleads with the friar to join them in holy matrimony whatever the consequence be. Where the couple aware what marriage meant. Shakespeare should have pondered about or was he bitter how at eighteen he wedded Anne Hathaway who was eight years older than him?

Romeo's urgency is visible and though young in years, the friar takes it upon himself to comply.

Here again we see Shakespeare starting a chain of irregular events that finally lead the young couple to death. Was marriage necessary at that point. Juliet who was not yet fourteen and the teenaged Romeo was too immature to think of marriage but in their innocence, they could have runaway from the House of Capulet. Pausing behind to tie the knot by an old friar was not in keeping. He could have used his influence on their parents to do so. Then the story ends. For that matter the parents should refuse and the feud to ignite again between the Capulets and Montagues.

Introducing Rosalin was way out. Some directors have placed her even at the ball. What was going in Shakespeare's mind to so do?

Going back to Romeo's confession to Friar Lawrence, it is evident that Romeo took the holy man by surprise by his fickle nature.

Romeo: Then plainly know that my heart's dear love is set on the fair daughter of rich Capulet. As mine on hers, so hers is set on me. And all combined save what thou must combine by holy marriage. When and where and how. We met, we woo'd and made exchange of vows. I'll tell thee as we pass, but his I pray that thou consent to marry us today.

Fri: Holy Saint Francis, What a change is here. Is Rosaline, that thou did'st love so dear so soon forsaken? Young men's love, then lies not truly in their hearts but in their eyes. Jesus Maria, what a deal of brine hath washed thy shallow cheeks for Rosaline.

How much salt water thrown away in waste... Women may fall, when there's no strength in men.

R: Thou child'st me for loving Rosalin.


Elsewhere his friends, Benvolio and Mercutio search for him.

Mercutio: Where the devil should this Romeo be? Came he not home tonight.

Benvolio: Not to his father's. I spoke with his man.

Mer: Why, that same pale hard-hearted wench, that Rosalin torments him so that he will sure run mad.


Two households both alike in dignity, the Montague and the Capulets are at each other all the time. After a brawl between the two families, the Prince warns anyone who disturbs the streets again with death. Romeo, masked at a Capulet's ball, becomes infatuated with Julia and avow to make her his bride. She stands on the balcony and their love scenes are enacted after dark ad the last guest has gone. Romeo refuses the fight with Tybalt because he is cousin by marriage after the friar tied the knot between him and Juliet. The gallant Mercuttio takes the challenge himself and is killed accidentally. The enraged Romeo kills Tybalt and the Prince banishes him. When her father forces Juliet to marry a young nobleman called Paris, she refuses. Her mother and nurse gives her so support and they are not aware that Juliet is already married. Juliet runs to the friar for help and he gives her an opiate to put her in a death-like trance for forty hours after which Romeo will come and take her away. But the message does not reach Romeo and when he comes to the vault and find Juliet dead, he kills himself. Juliet awakes from the trance and finding Romeo dead, she too kills herself. Over their bodies the Capulets and Montagues leave behind their differences and are reconciled.

In performance

No one for any director to mount a drama among Shakespeare's plays. The immortal lovers have been brought to the stage and screen as well as to TV in a big way. There is no one who do not know this much loved tragedy of the Bard and no love story is considered equal to it. Few plays have been acted so often. All great thespians over the centuries have portrayed the title roles. For instance, in 1784, David Garrick played Romeo for 11 years with great success.

Revived over and over again, the play has featured the main players getting younger and younger in new production which should be so. However none of Romeo and Juliet films has been much lasting value.

Hollywood's version in which Norma Shearer and Leslie Howard featured had been a great film. A British Italian version had Renato Castellini in 1954 and a second version by Franco Zeffirelli with two very young lovers in Leonard Whiting at sixteen as Romeo and Juliet with the fifteen year old Olivia Hussey. Tchaikovsky scored for a version 1880 and Delius in 1839.

Even Serge Prokofiev scored for Romeo and Juliet in 1957. There were two silly 'modernized' versions of this play in the last decade with Romeo driving a sports car and in the other version, Shakespeare acting as Romeo to feed the dialogue into the original version. With lot of fanfare, Shakespeare in Love was not a success as I wished. No Shakespeare play must ever be 'modernised'. They have to retain the old order, the dialogue must be the same as well as the costumes of the era. Nothing ever must change.



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