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About this book

An introductory guide to 'Romeo and Juliet' in performance offering a scene-by-scene theatrically aware commentary, contextual documents, a brief history of the text and first performances, case studies of key productions, a survey of screen adaptations, a sampling of critical opinion and annotated further reading.

Table of Contents

1. The Text and Early Performances

Abstract
Romeo and Juliet exists in three different texts: the first Quarto (Q1), published in 1597; the second Quarto (Q2), published in 1599; and the first Folio (F), published in 1623. It is, indeed, one of what is now called Shakespeare’s multi-text plays, and as is true with all these plays the existence of two or more texts creates challenges for editors, performers, readers, and scholars — and, as will be suggested, opportunities for thinking about performance.
Edward L. Rocklin

2. Commentary

Abstract
When we become immersed in a production of Romeo and Juliet, we have an experience which Michael Goldman has captured in a passage in which he reminds us that
Everything in Romeo and Juliet is intense, impatient, threatening, explosive. We are caught up in speed, heat, desire, riots, running, jumping, rapid-fire puns, dirty jokes, extravagance, compressed and urgent passion, the pressure of secrets, fire, blood, death. Visually, the play remains memorable for a number of repeated images — street brawls, swords flashing to the hand, torches rushing on and off, crowds rapidly gathering. … The dominant bodily feelings we get as an audience are oppressive heat, sexual desire, a frequent whiz-bang exhilarating kinesthesia of speed and clash, and above all a feeling of the keeping-down and separation of highly-charged bodies, whose pressure toward release and whose sudden discharge determine the rhythm of the play. (1972, p. 33)
When we turn from watching such a performance to reading or rereading a text of Romeo and Juliet, we will realize just how much the co-creative efforts of the director, designers, fight choreographers, and, most of all, actors — as well as the presence of our fellow spectators — have contributed to our experience.
Edward L. Rocklin

3. The Play’s Source and Cultural Context

Abstract
The items in this chapter include excerpts from the source for Shakespeare’s play; documents on the honor code and violence; and poems in the forms that Shakespeare used in the play, including two sonnets, part of an epithalamium, and an aubade.
Edward L. Rocklin

4. Key Productions

Abstract
‘Of all Shakespeare’s plays’, wrote William Hazlitt in his preface to Oxberry’s 1819 edition of Romeo and Juliet, ‘this is perhaps the one that is acted, if not the oftenest, with most pleasure to the spectator’ (Levenson, 2000, p. 70). In London during the period from 1750 to 1800 it was performed 399 times, ‘more than any other Shakespeare play’ (Hogan, 1952, II,p. 716), and from 1970 to 2005 there were at least 40 productions in the United Kingdom (O’Connor and Goodland, 2007, pp. 1222–303). This chapter examines five productions. The first two, directed by David Garrick (1748 and 1750) and John Gielgud (1935), were the most influential versions of their respective eras. The third, West Side Story (1957 and 1961), had a powerful impact on the play’s subsequent stage history. The last two are Michael Bogdanov’s for the Royal Shakespeare Company (1986) and P.J. Papparelli’s for the Folger Shakespeare Theatre (2005).
Edward L. Rocklin

5. The Play on Screen

Abstract
Film versions of Romeo and Juliet differ from stage versions because the medium is not the actor’s voice and body but film itself. In a film some of Shakespeare’s language will be replaced by physical action, and that action will be shaped by the camera’s capacity to control what we see. When watching a theatrical performance we are free to look at anything happening anywhere on stage: at the climax of Hamlet, most of us will focus on the duel between Hamlet and Laertes, so that when Shakespeare wants us to attend to the dying Queen he has Osric cry ‘Look to the Queen there ho’ (V.ii.303) –before Horatio directs attention to Hamlet, Osric directs attention to Laertes, and her own speech directs attention to Gertrude’s final words to Hamlet. In addition, the filmmaker can use the camera so that we have no choice but to look at the Queen and no option to look at anyone else, no matter how urgently we wish to see their reaction. There is, moreover, a tension between the two mediums insofar as Shakespeare wrote for a stage where words create the setting while film excels at showing fully realized locations. So the film director must decide whether to keep the Friar’s description of gathering plants or simply show him doing so, and whether to keep the comment on‘grace and rude will’ (2.2.28) which can frame Romeo. Filmmakers can also invent ways to realize Shakespeare’s images, as when the play’s ‘fourteen references to the sun’ become embodied when Zeffirelli’s prologue shows the sun over Verona (Rothwell, 1999, p. 135).
Edward L. Rocklin

6. Critical Assessment

Abstract
Romeo and Juliet remains one of the most popular plays in the theater and, with an irony Shakespeare might well appreciate, the title figures have become at least as famous as the patterns of doomed love mockingly cited by Mercutio (2.3.37–42). A number of critics have praised the play as a superlative achievement. T.J.B. Spencer, for example, announces that ‘[n]othing in European drama had hitherto achieved the organization of so much human experience when Shakespeare, at about the age of thirty, undertook the story of Romeo and Juliet’ (1967, p. 7). Kenneth Muir claims that ‘[i]n his last scene [Shakespeare] wrote the finest poetry which had yet been heard on the English stage; … and in the characters of Mercutio and the Nurse he displayed for the first time his unequalled power for the dramatic presentation of character’ (1978, p. 46). And Cedric Watts asserts that ‘at the time of its appearance, Romeo and Juliet was the most brilliant tragedy to have emerged since the ancient Greek drama’, adding that ‘[i]t was wholly original in making the central matter the combined fates of two young lovers within a credibly diversified modern society and in telling their story with such acumen and stylistic verve’ (1991, p. 3).
Edward L. Rocklin
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