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Ever since the publications of the good quarto, published in 1599, Romeo and
Juliet, by William Shakespeare, has been one of the classics of Western
literature (Evans 1093). In being this, it has been produced many different
times, in many different ways. I will be discussing how the production of this
great play has changed over time. First, though, I will supply a little
background for the play. The stories of two star-crossed lovers and forbidden
passion are not new to literature. There were many works before Romeo and Juliet
from which Shakespeare borrowed. Some of these include Mosuccio of Salerno in
his 1476 work, Il Novellin o, Luigi da Proto with his Istoria . . .di due nobili
Amanti, in about 1530, and Arthur Brooke’s three thousand line poem titled The
Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet, published in 1562 (Evans 1055). All of
these had the same themes as Romeo and Juliet. This borrowing of ideas and loose
use of the text continued in the manner in which the play has been produced. In
1745 and 1750 David Garrick direct several productions of Romeo and Juliet (Branam
170). In these productions he made several changed to both the way the
characters are presented and to the play itself. In a 1748 text, Garrick wrote a
note To the Reader: The alterations in the following play are few and trifling,
except in the last act; the design was to clear the Original, as much as
possible from the Jingle and the Quibble, which were always thought the great
objections to reviving it (qtd. In Branam 173). Garrick uses several means to
remove the Jingle and Quibble from the play (Branam 173). Where he thought the
rhyme and wordplay to be excessive he would compact it. For example the long
drawn out exchange between Samson and Gregory in the first scene is compressed
to four lines: Sam. Gregory, I strike quickly, being mov'd. Gred. But thou are
not quickly mov'd to strike. Sam. A dog of the house of Montague moves. Greg.
Draw thy tool then, for here come of that house. (qtd. In Branam 173) Garrick
also took liberty with Romeo's lyrical nature. He shortened many of Romeo's
lines in order to dull it somewhat. For example, Garrick shortens: Why such is
love's transgression. Griefs of mine own lie heavy in my breast; Which thou wilt
propagate, to have it prest With more of thine: this love that thou hast shown
Doth add more grief to too much of mine own. From act one, scene one, to: Which
thou wilt propagate with more of thine; This love, that thou hast shewn in my
concern, Doth add more grief to too much of mine own. in his 1748 text (Branam
173-174). In reading the play the rhyme is missed, but in watching a performance
the mood is more set by the interaction of the two lovers, then the actual
words. Another change that Garrick made, albeit reluctantly and under pressure,
was the complete removal of Rosaline from the play. In 1784 he explains: Many
people have imagin'd that the sudden change of Romeo's Love from Rosaline to
Juliet was a blemish in his Character, but alteration of that kind was thought
too bold to be attempted; Shakespear [sic.] has dwelt particularly upon it, and
so great a judge of human nature, knew that to be young and inconstant was
extremely natural (qtd. In Branam 177). Garrick's largest, and most prominent,
change was in modifying the tomb scene. Here Garrick borrows from Thomas Otwayis
History and Fall of Caius Marius, published in 1679 and based on Romeo and
Juliet (Branam 174). In Shakespeare's original work the act of the poison on
Romeo is almost instantaneous, but in Garrick’s new rendition the poison acts
slowly. This gives new light to both Romeo and Juliet's characters. Garrick
designed the scene to be more tragic then the original play. In this rendition,
Romeo sees Juliet and she speaks to him: I now remember well Each circumstance
– Oh my lord, my Romeo! Had'st thou not come, sure I slept for ever: But
there's a sovereign charm in thy embraces That can revive the dead – Oh honest
Friar! – Romeo is filled with joy seeing his love alive, but suddenly realizes
the horror of the situation and is overcome by it. Juliet continues: Dost thou
avoid me, Romeo? let me touch Thy hand. And taste the cordial of thy lips –
You fright me – speak – (qtd. In Branam 174-175) John Hill in The Actor
(1755) describes Spranger Barry's portrayal of the situation: Thus we see in the
character of Romeo a scene of distress, to which no other can be equal: his
wife, on whose suppos'd death he had swallowed poison, revived, and himself
dying of the effect of that poison; snd we see, as Mr. Barry plays it, his
sensib ility getting the better of his articulation; his grief takes effect upon
the organs of his voice; and the very tone of it is altered: it is broken,
hoarse, and indistinct. We give the applause to this consummate piece of playing
that it deserves: we natu re triumphing over what we would direct: and we give
it a praise which are without this strong appearance of nature never could
deserve (qtd. in Branam 175). Many modern productions of Romeo and Juliet also
have changed some parts of the play. For example the 1968 production directed by
Franco Zefirelli cut several lines out and changed the ending such that the two
clans did not find the lovers' bodies in the tomb, but carried them into the
town, with no indication that they had formed a peace between them. Zefirelli,
in an interview conduvted by John Tibbetts, explains his opinion of Shakespeare.
You know, I think culture – especially opera and Shakespeare – must be
available to as many people as possible. It irritates me that some people want
art to be as "difficult" as possible, an elitist kind of thing. I want
to give these things back to the people (138-139). Others do note share
Zefirelli's opinion of freely changing the plays. Michael Flachmann in his
review of Romeo and Juliet at La Jolla, in 1983 states, Romeo and Juliet is a
particularly frequent victim of this preoccupation with finding a
"concept" or gimmick to render the tragedy intelligible to its
(supposedly) benighted viewers (Flachmann 106). This production was altered from
the original only in costume. In the beginning, before the costume ball, all the
characters are in contemporary clothing. After the ball and up to the death
scene they are in Renaissance garb. After the death scene the characters
reappear in modern dress, this time with stark white and black tones. The total
effect at the end was a frightening rush back into reality, a chilling reminder
that the same feud had been reaping its disastrous consequences for centuries,
Flachmann states (107). Another production was altered, like La Jola, not with
dialogue but with only costume and scenery. The costumes in this production were
best described at "hip retro '70s" with each character wearing
something appropriate for his role: Benvolio in a white poet's shirt and crushed
velvet pants, Juliet with a boldly colored spaghetti-strapped dress, and Romeo
with a black leather trenchcoat (Johnson-Haddad 87). The set also differed from
what was originally intended. The opening scene starts with Friar Laurence
kneeling between two models of palaces. Here he recites the Two houses, alike in
dignity. . . prologue, motioning to each of the palaces when. Then the quarrel
scene between the two houses' servants takes place behind a large white shroud
where the audience can only see large silhouettes. The scene closes with the
Prince breaking up the brawl and the actors freezing in place as a large red
ribbon falls in front of the curtain and finally the curtain itself falling to
the floor. This leaves the actors seemingly hovering in an endless black stage.
Johnson-Haddad calls the scene distinctive and fowerfully soncieved, . . . it
sets the mood for the innovative production to come (87). The newest cinematic
adaption has also made many changes to the original. In the 1997 film Romeo and
Juliet, directed my Baz Luhrmann, the characters are set in a darker modern
southern Florida dominated by designer guns, customized cars, and incessant
music (McCarthy 1). Luhrmann uses race to differentiate between the two clans,
though the effect is subtle. The Capulates are predominantly Latino, while the
Montagues are mainly white. Religious symbolism plays a large role in the film
as well. Tybalt has a large tat oo of the Virgin Mary on his chest, and Juliet's
room is inundated with angels and other icons. Friar Laurence's chapel is a
large cathedral with a huge statue of Jesus separating the skyrises owned by
each of the feuding houses. While Lurmann went fast and loose with the setting
and costume, he stuck to the text. Most of the second filial text is included in
the film, with minor changes. Todd McCarthy says that most of the cast adequatly
portrays the original text's meaning with one supurb exception, Claire Danes as
Juliet. Danes has somehow found a way to both enunciate the Shakespearean lingo
[sic.] and make its meaning lucid and accessible in a way that eludes most of
the others, McCarty states (1). The exotic setting is the main change in the
work. It is set in Verona Beach, Florida, which is loosely based on a darker
Miami. The location or Romeo's banishment is a trailer park in what looks like
the Arizona badlands. Here the film almost loses credibility, when you consider
the contemporary reaction to banishment, but the play still maintains its focus.
Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet has been performed in many different ways with
many different media, and through this it is still considered an important part
of Western literature. With all of the changes that many different producers
have made, the story still remains one of passion, romance, and tradegy. In
every lover we see at least part of Romeo or Juliet; and as long at that holds
true the play will remain a classic.BibliographyBranam, George C. The Genesis of David Garrick's Romeo and Juliet.
Shakespeare Quarterly 32.2 (1989): 170-179. Evans, G. Blakemore, ed. The
Riverside Shakespeare. Boston: Haughton Mifflin Company, 1974. Flachmann,
Michael. Romeo and Juliet, At La Jolla, 1983. Shakespeare Quarterly 35.1 (1984):
105-107. Johnson-Haddad, Miranda. Shakespeare Performed, The Shakespeare
Theatre, 1993-1994. Shakespeare Quarterly 37.1 (1995): 82-90. McCarthy, Todd.
REVIEW/FILM: Romeo and Juliet Update Over The Top. Yahoo News.
News (29 Oct. 1996, 2:15 AM). Tibbitts, John C. Breaking the Classical Barrier:
Franco Zefirelli interviewed. Literature/Film Quarterly 22.2 (1994): 136-140.
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