13 April 2014

Romeo and Juliet

I keep intending to finish off the comedies and then move into the histories properly, but for some reason, I'm stuck in the first act of Winter's Tale and can't get past it yet. So here's my thoughts on a play I've read before, for at least two different English courses. We're skipping ahead briefly to the tragedies. 

Romeo and Juliet is not the easiest play for me to write about. Like many kids, I had to read it in grade nine, and I hated it. Two idiots falling in love, making a series of stupid mistakes, and then killing themselves, is not my idea of a good story. "They're morons," I thought. "Why on earth do people idolize this story?"

Then I watched Season 2 of Slings and Arrows. Romeo and Juliet is the secondary plot in that season, and the treatment of the play there transformed how I responded to the play. The language is beautiful and draws me in, and I have been able to accept the story more. The characters are not wise, and in that sense, they represent most teenagers. I too, fell in love all of a sudden with someone I barely knew when I was only fourteen. I made an idiot of myself, and the only reason I didn't make any really colossal mistakes was that he wasn't interested (and years later it occurred to me that he could have done a lot of damage had he been a certain sort of guy, and I breathed a sigh of relief that I'd escaped that. Embarrassment was far preferable). After acknowledging that, it's easier for me to put myself into the main characters' minds. I would never have gone so far as suicide, but their passion is more understandable when I remember how I was in my early teens. I can empathize.

Despite my new-found empathy for the story, I still don't love this play. Romeo starts it off in love with another girl, Rosaline, and crashes a party hosted by his family's enemies, the Capulets, in order to see her. Then he spots Juliet Capulet, and the young Montague instantly forgets what's-her-name, and makes it his mission to conquer a different girl's heart. I almost wrote, "to nail Juliet" instead, but though I'd guess his interest in her is primarily sexual, he does appear to be emotionally involved as well. The two of them talk in the famous balcony scene, make plans to run away and marry, do so, and then before Romeo kills Juliet's cousin for murdering his best friend, and is banished from the city. Juliet is heart-broken, especially when her parents suddenly decide to marry her off to another man. As she can hardly tell them she's secretly married her cousin's killer, she fakes her death with the help of the friar who had conducted their marriage. He sends word to Romeo to come fetch Juliet. Unfortunately, Romeo receives the news of Juliet's death first. He arrives in Verona to find Juliet's intended lurking around her tomb, kills him, then kisses his beloved goodbye and downs a vial of poison. Then, of course, Juliet wakes up. As Romeo has been so inconsiderate as to consume all the poison, Juliet makes use of her husband's dagger to kill herself. In the aftermath of their children's suicides, the Capulets and Montagues reconcile.

See? Disappointing. I'm not inclined to think of suicide as romantic, so it just seems like a tragedy of morons and miscommunication. But it is a tragedy of morons with pretty language, so it does have some redeeming qualities. Just a couple of quotes this time, though.


"Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean." Romeo and Juliet, I.1.4 This one somehow resonates with me--a poetic comment on the darkness overlaying these so-called 'civil' people, these nobles who can't stop killing each other.

"Look, love, what envious streaks
Do lace the severing clouds in yonder east:
Night's candles are burnt out, and jocund day
Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops." Romeo, Romeo and Juliet, III.5.7-10 The third line here is most often quoted, but a little context shows that the speech is even more lovely.

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