Stuff that Happens
Stuff that happens in the play
- Two families (the Capulets and the Montagues) brawl in the city streets of Verona.
- The Prince promises death to those who “disturb our streets again.”
- Romeo, the only son of Montague, shows up after the brawl professing, to his cousin Benvolio, unrequited love for Rosaline.
- Paris, kinsman to the Prince, wants to marry Juliet, the only child of Capulet; Juliet’s father tells Paris that Juliet is too young to marry, but he invites Paris to a Capulet party and encourages him to woo his daughter and win her love.
- Benvolio persuades Romeo to crash the Capulet party so that Romeo will see women other than Rosaline.
- Mercutio, another kinsman to the Prince and good friend to Romeo, leads Romeo and Benvolio in masks to the Capulet party.
- Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin, recognizes Romeo at the party and wants to throw him out; Capulet orders Tybalt to leave Romeo alone; Tybalt vows revenge.
- Romeo meets Juliet at the party; they share a sonnet and a kiss, and quickly fall in love.
- After the party, Romeo escapes from Mercutio and Benvolio; he overhears Juliet at her balcony declaring her passion for him.
- From the balcony, Juliet tells Romeo, “If thy love be honorable, thy purpose marriage…”
- Romeo tells Friar Lawrence of his new love and asks the Friar to marry them today.
- Secret nuptials, fatal swordplay, banishment, potions, poisons, and tragedy ensue.
Notes from the Executive Director
Resisting the icon
Romeo and Juliet is a cultural icon so powerful that our shared concept of the play competes with any production of it that we see. Just hearing the sound of the title is enough to put on a show in our heads: two innocent young lovers, a family feud, a well-meaning friar, a comic nurse, a bull-headed father, an unwanted suitor, and a lot of bad luck. That play is the one that audiences bring with them to any staging or screening of Shakespeare’s script.
And not just audiences. Actors and directors have this universal preview in their heads as well. When asked why he left our Romeo’s killing of Paris in his great 1968 film version of the play, Zefferelli replied with words to this effect: “Romeo is too lovely to do anything like that.”
Is he? When we first meet him, he is obsessed with a girl who is not Juliet; he says he is in love, but his main complain is that even for ready money he can’t seduce her – she will not “ope’ her lap to saint-seducing gold.” Once Romeo meets Juliet, Shakespeare has him quite literally climbing the walls with desire, killing Juliet’s cousin, trying to kill himself, falling down in a tantrum, buying drugs, threatening to kill his servant, actually killing his rival, and then committing suicide about one minute too soon. How lovely is all that?
As to the bull-headed father, we first see him declining to approve a marriage for his 13-year-old daughter on the grounds that she is too young. We then see him being a generous and excellent host at his own party. We even see him refusing to let any harm come to the young Montague who has crashed that party. When he does accept Paris’s offer to marry Juliet, he does so not out of greed or dynastic ambition, but because his little girl seems to be so unhappy.
And what about Paris, that unwanted suitor? Every word we hear about him is good. He’s young, rich, and handsome. In fact, repeatedly he is described in almost the exact terms as Romeo (both even have the names of fabulous cities). And what is he doing when Romeo kills him? He is visiting the tomb of his beloved Juliet. He has brought her flowers, and he gets into a fight with Romeo because he sees a notorious young man rather suspiciously carrying a crowbar and mattock into her tomb.
But the ravishing language of the two lovers and the universal group-think that pre-envisions the play the minute one mentions the title competes with these facts in the script. One hope we have for our Actors’ Renaissance Season is that a production prepared by the actors in a rehearsal process more like the one used by Shakespeare’s actors might recover something of the more complex work that Shakespeare wrote.
Ralph Alan Cohen