Saw Seattle Shakespeare Company’s production of Romeo and Juliet, my first time seeing the play as a full-fledged adult. Whatever that means. In this particular case, it means over 20 years old.
Thoughts, haphazard. We’ll start by starts and fits.
I know how this play ends. Seattle Shakes markets it as a play “within our DNA,” and I have to admit that it’s not an exaggeration. I studied it and variants of it at least three times between high school and undergrad… and I have to say, it’s only as an adult that I get it.
It’s similar to JM Barrie’s Peter and Wendy like that – about children and childhood, for adults. About young love for older lovers, and/or ex-lovers.
In this production during the masquerade, Juliet wore a veil that altered but did not conceal – transparent, just like her. Juliet shocks us in her frankness. Romeo in his twisted teenage self wore a half-mask that covered only one side of his face, because as teenagers we stumble as half-people – feeling misshapen, out of focus, deformed.
When he and Juliet are finally face to face he takes off his mask entirely, and fibre-optic lights descend around the two of them, mirroring the electricity in our brains of adrenaline and serotonin and oxytocin that is love at first sight.
I heard something new this time, Lord Capulet speaking of his daughter:
But saying o’er what I have said before:
My child is yet a stranger in the world;
She hath not seen the change of fourteen years,
Let two more summers wither in their pride,
Ere we may think her ripe to be a bride.
Younger than she are happy mothers made.
And too soon marr’d are those so early made.
The earth hath swallow’d all my hopes but she,
She is the hopeful lady of my earth.
Juliet is the final living child of the Capulets. No wonder they are protective. No wonder when Tybalt, likely his heir, is killed, Capulet’s first instinct is to make sure Juliet is safe forever.
I finally heard the nurse too –
Susan and she–God rest all Christian souls!–
Were of an age:
Infant mortality. It’s an odd reminder, the rarity of children who have lived into their teens. That the surviving children were precious and fearful to their parents in a way that we cannot fully understand.
I saw something new in the friar this time too – as a chemist, he is familiar with catalysts, diffusions, careful recipes, parsing ingredients one by one and adding them in a particular order for a particular result. How tempting to think that human beings can work the same way… and frequently, they do.
The characters were real in a way that sometimes seems impossible for myths. Juliet was immediate and over analytic, in one breath sure that she doomed her love by speaking her thoughts too truthfully, but setting her terms of marriage in the next. And Romeo…
What does Romeo do? It is difficult to find an action of his that is not a reaction. At the beginning he mopes because Rosaline does not return his love. He goes to the dance because Mercutio bullies him into it. He marries Juliet because that is the condition of her love; he refuses to fight Tybalt because his is Juliet’s kinsman; he kills Tybalt because Tybalt kills Mercurio; he leaves the city because of the Prince’s exile; he returns and kills himself because he believes Juliet to be dead.
His free action is to approach Juliet at the beginning at all.