Monday, April 1, 2013

Review: Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare


Romeo and JulietRomeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first read this play in college, and then Audible offered it as a free sample for Valentine's Day. My sample wound up expiring, so I downloaded it to finish listening.

I can't imagine anyone reading this who doesn't know the story, but here it is: Romeo and Juliet are the son and daughter, respectively, of the feuding Montagues and Capulets. They fall in love, get married secretly, and then Romeo is banished for killing Tybalt, Juliet's cousin. Arguably, he had good reason; Tybalt had just killed the Prince, Romeo's friend. Juliet's parents assume her tears are for her dead cousin, and attempt to cheer her up by marrying her off. She plots to fake her death to get out of it, but messages are crossed, Romeo thinks she's really dead, and kills himself. Then she kills herself to join him.

The more familiar I become with this work, the more I shake my head at its classification as a love story. When we start out, Romeo is mooning over Rosaline, who won't be seduced. The first we hear of Juliet, her father is setting her up to marry a local Count, but says it should wait a couple of years, because she's only 13. The romance between Romeo and Juliet takes about half a scene to solidify. At the famous balcony scene, they're both already throwing around the L word. This play isn't about a perfect love. It's about how stupid young people are about it.

I reiterate: Juliet is 13 years old in this play. Some scholars have theorized that, because Shakespeare's daughter was that age at the writing of this play, it was a cautionary tale for her to wait until she was old enough to make the right choice (and not die in childbirth). The fact that Juliet's father talks about young women dying in childbirth because they married too soon lends some credence to this theory.

In the end, yes, the young lovers' deaths do unite the families, but the deaths leading up to that are plentiful. For a play supposedly about love, there's an awful lot of blood in it. In my view, Romeo and Juliet is as much about how grand love is as Othello.

The Audible version I listened to was a performance by LA Theatre Works. All of the actors cast sounded distinct enough that I had no trouble following who was speaking, and Romeo's voice was very well suited. Juliet (played by Calista Flockhart) and her maid (Julie White) tended to gasp to elicit strong emotions, of which the two characters have several, and it got old fast. Otherwise, though, I enjoyed the performance, and I'm glad I purchased it. I'll want to listen to it again in the near future, I'm sure.


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