Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet

I don’t know why it has taken several weeks before we got round to sitting and watching our next Shakespeare. “Romeo and Juliet” is one of those plays we are are convinced we know. We are sure we have seen it several times (though the only performance we can remember was one in Chester a few years ago). We know “West Side Story” very well. Julie did a while as an Supply Teacher in English, and had used Baz Luhrmann’s version in her lessons, so we watched that.

I wasn’t really expecting anything like this. I assumed Mr Luhrmann was an American, but now discover he is Australian. I had seen “Moulin Rouge”, but I wouldn’t have known he was the director. Romeo + Juliet was released by 20th Century Fox in 1996. It cost $14.5 million, and grossed $151.8 million. It starred Leonard DiCaprio and Claire Danes. I can see why a teenage class would enjoy it – he is a bit too pretty (I think), she is rather lovely.

The Capulets and Montagues are rival business empires at Verona Beach, on the west coast of America. Benvolio and Romeo gatecrash a Capulet party, and Romeo meets Juliet through a fish tank. There are some interesting balcony scenes which also include the young couple getting very wet in the swimming pool.

The fight scene takes place at the beach, with Tybalt, Mercutio and Romeo. The Prince is played (by Vondie Curtis-Hall) as a Police Chief – quite effectively – and he banishes Romeo from the city.

Miriam Margolyes is Juliet’s nurse, and she brings Romeo to Juliet for their wedding night. She was a breath of fresh air.

Pete Postlethwaite plays Father Laurence (he is Friar Laurence in the play). I commented on my daily Facebook post “I have decided that, however much I get wrong in the next six months, I will probably be more successful than Friar Laurence. He marries Romeo and Juliet (two very young people) as part of a plan to end the civil strife in Verona, he spirits Romeo into Juliet’s room and then out of Verona; and he devises the plan to reunite Romeo and Juliet through the deceptive ruse of a sleeping potion – basically he causes the death of both of them. BBC Bitesize describes him as “trustworthy, wise and compassionate” – I disagree.

At the end Romeo enters the church where Juliet lies and bids her goodbye, and, thinking her dead, drinks a vial of poison. Juliet awakens just in time for them to share a final kiss before Romeo dies. A distraught Juliet picks up Romeo’s gun and shoots herself in the head. The two lovers are soon discovered in each other’s arms.

I read that Shakespeare wrote the play between 1591 and 1595, basing it on an Italian tale written in poetry in the 1560s. It was, and has remained, one of his most popular plays – although Samuel Pepys wrote in 1662: “it is a play of itself the worst that I ever heard in my life.” I can’t say it is a one I really enjoy – the youth of the two of them is a problem, the role of the clergy frightens me, and it is not particularly cheerful. Mr Luhrmann’s film was certainly different.

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