I went to see the RSC production of Romeo and Juliet at the Courtyard Theatre in Stratford last weekend. To be honest, some of the online reviews are mixed to say the least! (i.e. the good , the bad and the ugly ) I found myself largely disagreeing with the more negative critics.
The play had been given a sort of vintage Italian look with a clear ‘Godfather’ inspiration. Just in case anyone had any doubts about the setting, an onstage band played music that echoed the famous theme tune from the Movie. A minor gripe was lack of balcony! (see link ‘the bad’ above)
The director chose to have Juliet deliver the immortal ‘wherefore art thou’ line whilst leaning over the end of her bed! This line was delivered to Romeo who was sitting a few feet away – trying manfully to look as if all of this made any sense at all!
People have always re-interpreted Shakespeare and played with settings – I have no problem with this, I would have been surprised to see the cast in (Shakespearean) costume. Watching the play led me to reflect upon the sort of influences that Shakespeare might have considered.
Having read Claire Asquith’s book ‘Shadowplay’, I have started to consider Shakespeare differently. Taking the by now familiar idea that Shakespeare was a Catholic sympathiser, this book explores how these sympathies may have influenced his works.Take for example Romeo’s famous line from the balcony (or the floor at the end of the bed!) scene:
But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks?
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief,
That thou her maid art far more fair than she:
Be not her maid, since she is envious;
Her vestal livery is but sick and green
And none but fools do wear it; cast it off.
The usual reading of this would be as follows . According to Asquith though, we need to look more deeply to understand this.
Apparently, the story of Romeo and Juliet – especially the secret love affair and marriage had a covert meaning.
Shakespeare’s patron, the Earl of Southampton had incurred royal displeasure for his marriage without permission to Elizabeth Vernon, one of the Queens ladies in waiting. If one also considers that the ’Moon’ is a coded reference to Queen Elizabeth then the above lines start to take on a different meaning. Furthermore, the originally text of the play referred to ‘Pale and Green livery’ – a reference that was only changed to ‘sick and green’ in a later version of the play. Asquith argues that this refers to the Tudor livery of Green and white, and the reference may have been just too risky to leave in!
Of course, we will never know for certain how far all of this is true. The fact that people choose to interpret Shakespeare differently is clear. If nothing else though, perhaps it also serves to remind us not to be too precious about how Shakespeares work is presented – I still think a balcony would have been good though!