Romeo And Juliet
Romeo and Juliet opens with "fair Verona" in turmoil because of the fighting between two families, the Capulets and the Montagues. Escalus, Prince of Verona, warns the families that all violence must stop under penalty of death. Oblivious to the turbulence in the streets, the love-sick Romeo, a Montague, wanders in and finds his friends Mercutio and Benvolio who tease him about his latest love, Rosaline Meanwhile, old Capulet arranges for his daughter, Juliet, and the Prince's cousin, Paris, to meet at a hall that evening. Knowing Rosaline will be at the Capulet's, the Montague boys decide to crash the party for a closer look at Romeo's newest infatuation. Upon seeing Juliet, however, Romeo forgets Rosaline, saying "Did my heart love til now? Forswear it, sight!/ For I ne'er saw beauty til this night" (I, v, 54-55). Fortuitously, Juliet also falls in love with Romeo. Later that evening, Romeo sneaks into the garden below Juliet's window and overhears her confession of love for him. They decide to marry secretly the next day. Friar Lawrence, mentor to Romeo, consents to perform the ceremony hoping that this marriage will end the feuding. After the ceremony, though, Romeo finds his friends in a fight with Juliet's cousin Tybalt. Mercutio is killed and in revenge Romeo kills Tybalt. Upon learning that Romeo had tried to stop the quarrel, Escalus banishes him from Verona instead of enforcing the death penalty. Unaware of the secret wedding, Capulet continues to make plans for Juliet to marry Paris. She goes to the Friar for help; he gives her a sleeping potion that will make her appear dead and tells her that he will send word to Romeo so he can come and take her away. However, Romeo never receives the message and, upon hearing of Juliet's "death," goes to the tomb where she has been prepared for burial, drinks a real poison and dies. At that moment, the Friar's potion wears off and Juliet wakes to find Romeo dead. Realizing what has happened, Juliet takes Romeo's dagger, stabs herself, and dies as the Friar comes running in to save her.
The tale of Romeo and Juliet was not new to the audiences of Shakespeare's tragedy. The people of Verona, Italy, claim that the real story of Romeo and Juliet happened in 1303, although star-crossed lovers had been the source for stories and poems dating back to second century Greece. The first appearance of the Verona tragedy in Italian literature occurred in 1476. Another version was written in 1554 and was translated into French in 1559. In 1562 Arthur Brooke, an Englishman, wrote a poem The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet, based on the French translation. In all probability, Shakespeare based his text upon Brooke's verse in 1594-95.
The CSF production of Romeo and Juliet this summer will be set in mid-seventeenth century Italy, about 30 years after Shakespeare's play was written. This period offers a very important interpretation of what happens in the play and why. We learn from our history books that Italy in the seventeenth century was under Spanish domination and influence- Because Italy was made up of small city-states, or principalities, there was no central form of government like we have in the United States. Actually, many of these city-states were owned by Spain. With the Spanish came a more austere form of dress, a move to push women into more subservient roles, a more apparent separation between the nobility and the lower classes, and an increase in violence. This period in Italian history has been called the "century of murders." Time and again stories are told of bloody crimes, some punished and others ignored. They were often planned and could be prompted by such trivialities as arguments over proper etiquette. The Spanish also brought with them the institution of the "duel," as we know it today, as a way of settling such arguments. The writer, Collison-Morley, tells of a count who beat his servant and then shot him. As he fell, the servant, being armed, shot his master. As they lay there, they confessed their sins, crawled toward each other, asked for forgiveness and then embraced each other as they died. Ironically, this violence was partly due to the peace which Spain enforced upon the people with her influence. There were no longer the natural outlets of wars and city-states feuding with each other. The inner turbulence was transferred from state vs. state to man against his neighbor and family vs. family, as evidenced in the feud between the Capulets and the Montagues. According to Tony Church, the director for Romeo and Juliet, the play is about love, or more specifically, the "price of love." Unfortunately, for Romeo and Juliet, the price of love is death. It is clear from the prologue that the play recounts the story of these two "starcrossed lovers" whose new-found joy in one another is thwarted by family loyalties and illtimed disasters. Church describes the characters, Romeo and Juliet, as a "wildly passionate pair [who] come up before every block possible" These blocks are part of love's bargaining price which Church and his cast hope to explore on the stage of the Mary Rippon Theatre. The first part of the play is heavily influenced by the on-going feud between the Capulets and the Montagues. The violence of this feud is underscored by the period in which the play is set: Verona, Italy in 1640 under strong Spanish influence. The costumes express much of this influence in their austerity and dark tones of rust, green and black. For example, the costume of Tybalt, Juliet's cousin, is black outlined in silver, complete with silver buckles and spurs. This design is intended to display Tybalt's desire to be on the cutting edge, not only in sword-play but in Spanish fashion and style. The second half of this play is dedicated to the love story: the love of Romeo and Juliet running full tilt against disaster. Church believes that the element of time crowds this second half of the play as the "grim reaper" pressing down on the two lovers. With time running out for the young lovers to make their union known, messages and meetings are missed due to ill timing. Therefore, the elements of time and pressure are important aspects of this play. The set has been designed to give impetus to these aspects by defining a pressed space. A two-story stucco facade stretches the width of the stage, thus reducing the regular acting area by half. Physically, the looming structure, reminiscent in style to the University of Bologna's archways, balconies and Venetian shutters, suggests a concrete and immovable presence which envelops and suppresses Romeo and Juliet's love.