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Romeo and Juliet

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Romeo and Juliet is a famous play by William Shakespeare concerning the fate of two young star-crossed lovers.

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Romeo and Juliet by Ford Madox Brown
Contents

History of the story

The story originates from a 1476 story of Mariotto and Gianozza by Masuccio Salernitano, in Il Novelino. Luigi da Porto's Istoria novellamente ritrovata di due Nobili Amanti gave the story much of its modern form, renaming the lovers to Romeus and Giulietta and shifting the action from Siena to Verona. Da Porto's story was taken up and included by Matteo Bandello in his Novelle of 1554, and versified by Arthur Brooke, whose narrative poem "Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet", written in 1562, was the source for Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare enriched its texture through his vivid characterizations of both major and minor characters, in particular the Nurse and Mercutio.

The Story

The play begins with a prologue in the form of a sonnet. The speaker explains to the audience that the story concerns two warring families in Verona, Italy, and how the feud between them is ended in a manner which neither side could have wanted or expected.

Act I

The action proper starts with a typical street-brawl between the two families, Montague and Capulet, started by their servants and put down by the Prince of Verona. He fines the heads of both families and declares severe penalties, including death, for those who disturb the peace again.

Paris, a young nobleman, talks to old Capulet about marrying his thirteen-year-old daughter Juliet. The Capulet demurs, citing the girl's young age: "My child is yet a stranger in the world; She hath not seen the change of fourteen years." Paris persists, arguing "Younger than she are happy mothers made." The Capulet asks him to attract the attention of Juliet during a masquerade ball that the family is to hold a day later. Meanwhile Juliet's mother tries to persuade her young daughter to accept Paris's wooing during their coming ball. The question of Juliet's age is again raised, as her mother, echoing Paris, declares, "younger than you / Here in Verona, ladies of esteem / Are made already mothers." Juliet does not want Paris, but, being a dutiful daughter, accedes to her mother's wishes. This scene also introduces Juliet's nurse, the comic relief of the play, who recounts a bawdy anecdote about Juliet at great length and with much repetition.

In the meantime, old Montague and his wife fret to their nephew Benvolio about their son Romeo, who has long been moping for reasons unknown to them. Benvolio promises Montague that he will try to determine the cause. Benvolio queries Romeo and finds that his melancholy has its roots in his unrequited love for old Capulet's niece, a girl named Rosaline. Benvolio tries to snap Romeo out of his funk, to no avail: despite the good-natured taunts of his fellows, including the witty nobleman Mercutio, Romeo resolves to attend the masque at the Capulet house, relying on not being spotted in his costume, in the hopes of meeting up with Rosaline.

Romeo attends the ball as planned, but he does not see Rosaline and falls instead for Juliet. Tybalt, Juliet's hot-blooded cousin, recognizes Romeo under his disguise and calls for his sword. Old Capulet, however, speaks kindly of Romeo and, having resolved that his family will not be first to violate the Prince's decree, sternly forbids Tybalt from confronting Romeo. Tybalt stalks off in a huff.

Act II

But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks? - Romeo, Act II, scene ii

Emboldened, Romeo risks his life by remaining on the Capulet estate after the party breaks up, to catch another glimpse of Juliet at her room, and in the famous balcony scene, the two eloquently declare their love for each other. The young lovers decide to marry without informing their parents, because they would undoubtedly disallow it due to the planned union between Paris and Juliet.

With the help of Juliet's Nurse and the Franciscan priest Friar Lawrence, the two are wedded the next day. Friar Lawrence performs the ceremony, hoping to bring the two families to peace with each other through their mutual union.

Act III

Things take a darker turn in the next Act. Tybalt, still smarting from the incident at the Capulets' ball, meets up with Romeo and attempts to provoke a fight. Romeo refuses to fight Tybalt because they are now kinsmen - although Tybalt doesn't know it. Mercutio, who is also unaware of the marriage, is incensed by Tybalt's actions and takes up the challenge himself. In the ensuing swordplay Mercutio is fatally wounded by Tybalt and Romeo, in his anger, kills Tybalt. Although under the Prince of Verona's prior proclamation Romeo would be subject to the death penalty, the Prince reduces Romeo's punishment to exile in light of the fact that Tybalt had killed Mercutio, who was not only Romeo's friend but a relative of the Prince. Romeo flees to Mantua after spending a final night with Juliet.

Meanwhile, Lord Capulet agrees to set the date of Paris' and Juliet's wedding three days hence. He breaks the news to his daughter just after Romeo leaves her bedroom unseen. Juliet, unwilling to enter this arranged marriage, throws a tantrum and tells her parents that she will not marry, and when she does, "it shall be Romeo, whom you know I hate." Capulet flies into a rage and strikes his daughter before leaving. Juliet decides to seek the help of Friar Lawrence once more.

Act IV

Friar Lawrence, an expert in herbal medicines and potions, gives Juliet a potion and a plan: the potion will put her in a death-like coma for two and forty hours; she is to take it before her marriage day, and when discovered dead, she will be laid in the family crypt. Meanwhile, the Friar will send a messenger to inform Romeo so that he can rejoin her when she awakes. The two can then leave for Mantua and live happily ever after. Juliet takes the potion, and things proceed as planned.

Act V

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Romeo finds Juliet on her deathbed, Henry Fuseli, 1809.

Unfortunately, the Friar's messenger is unable to reach Romeo due to Mantua being under quarantine, and Romeo learns only of Juliet's supposed "death" through a family servant(An interesting inconsistency in the story. How did the servant get back into Mantua if he saw Juliet's "funeral"?). Grief-stricken, he buys some strong poison, returns to Verona in secret, and proceeds to the Capulets' crypt, determined to join Juliet in death. Upon arrival he encounters Paris, who has also come to mourn privately for his lost love. After killing Paris in a duel, Romeo drinks the poison after seeing Juliet one last time. Seconds later Juliet awakens and sees Romeo dead. Juliet cannot imagine a rewarding life without Romeo and so she stabs herself fatally with his dagger. The two lovers lie dead by each other's sides, madly in love and devoted until the last breath of life.

All three are found dead shortly thereafter by a squire, who runs off to alert others. As word spreads throughout Verona about the deaths, the two feuding families meet at the tomb with the Prince. They are horrified to find Romeo, Juliet, and Paris all lying dead, and Friar Lawrence, who has hurried to the crypt but is too late to prevent the tragedy, reveals to them the love and secret marriage of Romeo and Juliet. The feuding families are reconciled by their children's deaths and agree to end their violent feud, as explained by the prologue.

Commentary

In common with many of Shakespeare's plays, the majority of Romeo and Juliet is written in iambic pentameter. However, the play is also notable for its heavy use of rhymed verse, especially in the sonnet contained in Romeo and Juliet's dialogue in the scene where they first meet. This sonnet figures Romeo as a pilgrim (palmer) praying before an image of the Virgin Mary, as many persons in early-sixteenth-century England did at shrines such as the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.[1] (http://www.galbithink.org/sense-s5.htm) Because of its use of rhyme, its extravagant expressions of love, and its implausible plot, Romeo and Juliet is considered to belong to Shakespeare's "lyrical period", along with the similarly poetic plays A Midsummer Night's Dream and Richard II.

Romeo and Juliet is one of the earlier works in the Shakespearean canon, and while it is often classified as a tragedy, it does not bear the hallmarks of the 'great tragedies' like Hamlet and Macbeth. Some argue that Romeo and Juliet's demise does not stem from their own individual flaws, but from the actions of others or from accidents. Unlike the great tragedies, Romeo and Juliet is more a tragedy of mistiming and ill fate. However, others consider rashness and youth to be the tragic flaws of Romeo and Juliet.

It has been noted that the plot of Romeo and Juliet is more that of a farce or comedy of errors than a tragedy, except that it lacks the vital last-minute save and everyone dies at the end instead of living happily ever after. However, it can also be argued that not all is woe at the end. A long-running feud is ended, although at the price of the two lovers' lives, thus, no doubt, future deaths have been prevented.

In this time Italy did not yet exist and its warring Communes stood divided, many of them against the interests of the Catholic Church - particularly in the Verona and Venice areas, (Venice would become known as a thorn in the side of the Church in the 1500s). The play attacks the Catholic Church (largely to please Queen Elizabeth) and, by making Romeo marry a girl who was seen as scandalously young, making a form of the modern redneck joke.

Adaptations

There have been quite a few adaptations of Romeo and Juliet, created for many media.

Plays

Other versions of the Romeo and Juliet play had been made, which had the "culture" of where the play was made as the "setting". For instance, a version of the play which had Romeo as a Palestinian and Juliet as a Jew in Israel and the Palestinian territories was made, which criticizes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Opera

The story was converted into the opera Romo et Juliette by Charles Franois Gounod in 1867 with a libretto written by Jules Barbier and Michel Carr.

The Romeo and Juliet story was also the subject of Vincenzo Bellini's opera I Capuleti e i Montecchi, although Bellini and his librettist, Felice Romani, worked from Italian sources, and these were only distantly related to Shakespeare's work.

Ballet

Several ballet adaptations of the story have been made, the first written in the 18th century. The best known feature music by Sergei Prokofiev, and a variety of choreographers have used this music. The first version featuring Prokofiev's music was performed in 1938. See: Romeo and Juliet (Prokofiev)

Musical

The musical West Side Story, also made into a film, is based on Romeo and Juliet but updates the story to mid-20th century New York City and the warring families to ethnic gangs.

Romo et Juliette, de la Haine l'Amour, a musical by Grard Presgurvic, premiered on January 19, 2001 in Paris, France.

The song "Exit Music (For a Film)" by Radiohead was made for the 1996 movie version (see below) of Romeo and Juliet and is sung from the point of view of someone waking up his lover and inviting them to join them in escaping from the oppression of their respective families through suicide.

Instrumental Music

Among the instrumental pieces inspired by the play are Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet, Fantasty Overture after Shakespeare and Hector Berlioz's Romo et Juliette "Symphonie dramatique", although the latter does have substantial vocal parts. Prokofiev also created three orchestra suites and a piano suite, Romeo and Juliet: Ten Pieces for Piano, based on the music from his ballet.

Movie versions

There have been over forty movie versions of the tale, with the first in 1900. Some of the more notable adaptations include:

1936 - Romeo and Juliet, produced by Irving Thalberg and directed by George Cukor
The 1936 screen version was one of the more notable of Classical Hollywood. Thalberg spared no expense, and showcased his wife, Norma Shearer, in the lead role. Romeo was played by Leslie Howard, John Barrymore was Mercutio, and Andy Devine was Peter, the servant to Juliet's nurse. However, the film was criticised because Howard and Shearer were both far too old for the roles.
Academy Awards nominations:
1954 - Romeo and Juliet directed by Renato Castellani.
A notable Italian production with a strong cast and a colorful setting. The cast includes Galina Ulanova, Laurence Harvey, Bolshoi Ballet, Mervyn Johns, Flora Robson, Yuri Zhdanov and Susan Shentall.
1968 - Romeo and Juliet, directed by Franco Zeffirelli
Filmed in Italy, the performance of the young Olivia Hussey as Juliet has been considered truly inspired by some, as weak by others. It won Oscars for best cinematography and best costume design, and was nominated for Best Director. It also starred Leonard Whiting as Romeo - he was seen as 'the next big thing' in film at the time, but his career did not match up to expectations. This version is often considered the definitive one, if measured only by viewing in American high schools.
1978 - Romeo and Juliet, directed by Alvin Rakoff
for the BBC Television Shakespeare series. This production is generally unregarded due to its inexperienced stars and low production values, although Alan Rickman's Tybalt is watchable.
1983 - Romeo and Juliet, directed by William Woodman
This film features an excellent set of costumes and more naturalistic line delivery than was used in Shakespeare's time. The cast includes Alex Hyde-White, Blanche Baker, Esther Rolle, Dan Hamilton, and Frederic Hehne.
1996 - Romeo + Juliet, directed by Baz Luhrmann
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes in the title roles, Luhrmann gave the famous tale a modern setting. This radical interpretation of the play is either loved or loathed by filmgoers, but its art direction and cinematography are undeniably impressive.
At the Berlin International Film Festival 1997, it won:
  • Best Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio)
  • Alfred Bauer Prize
Academy Awards 1996 nominations:
1996 - Tromeo and Juliet, directed by Lloyd Kaufman
The Troma team put their own inimitable spin on the story, setting it in Manhattan in a punk milieu. Lemmy from Motrhead narrates.

External links

Template:Wikisourcepar Template:Wikiquote

  • Romeo and Juliet (http://www.italicon.it/index_biblio.asp?MNUEICON=04&Lettera=M&autore=34&titolo=51) - The electronic text in Italian of the original story
  • Romeo and Juliet (http://www.gutenberg.net/etext/1112) - plain vanilla text from Project Gutenberg
  • Romeo and Juliet (http://www.shakespeare-literature.com/Romeo_and_Juliet/) - searchable, indexed version from shakespeare-literature.com
  • Romeo and Juliet (http://william-shakespeare.classic-literature.co.uk/romeo-and-juliet/) - HTML version of this title.
  • Romeo and Juliet (http://the-tech.mit.edu/Shakespeare/romeo_juliet/full.html) - HTML version at MIT
  • Study guide of the play (http://www.bookrags.com/notes/rj/)
  • The history of the story (http://www.operaworld.com/belcanto/capsrome.shtml) at OperaWorld.com

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