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The liberation of women in Love and of men in passion
, September 4, 2011
This review is from: Romeo and Juliet - BBC Shakespeare Plays (DVD)
The dreadful and dreaded drama had to come sooner or later and it is the twentieth play of that series we watch. And the promise is kept. We shiver at the love and we quiver at the death of these two young people and we have nothing to do except simmer in our empathy and whimper in our impotence.
This play is first of all a marvelous love story and as such it is the brightest and most beautiful play we know. From the very start the star Juliet meets with the meteor Romeo in pure love, a tempestuous love at first sight that needs no explanation and accepts no excuse or no opposition. They are young indeed since Juliet's age is lengthily discussed with plenty of humor from the nurse and some rather nostalgic pleasure from the mother. Juliet is not yet fourteen and as the mother says some ladies of note in Verona at her age are already mothers of a child.
But Shakespeare does not condescend to make that love story in any way lurid. It is witty, as witty as so many sonnets by the same, witty but not bawdy. He brings pilgrims and prayers in the simple gestures of lovers, of hands meeting hands and lips kissing lips, and we can know what we are talking of here because the first scene is just a bawdy scene on the very verge of obscenity in the gross exchanges between the servants of the two houses. Obscenity is in the different between "biting one's thumb" and "biting one's thumb AT someone", equivalent of some F-word in present day English. They are as pure as unblinking eyes and un-twinkling stars. Juliet does not even want to bring the moon into their story because that moon is inconstant, and that is a key to Shakespeare's style and power.
This moon and her three phases (in Shakespearean times it had only three phases), waxing, full and waning, is the most wicked character you can imagine. She is the triple goddess, the thrice crowned goddess, Hecate, goddess of the dead, Selene, goddess of the moon and the night, and Diana, the goddess of daytime, hunting and young animals, life in one word. That triple reference is used over and over and each one of these triplets, triple structures, leads to death and unhappiness. The Montague and their son Romeo are three and one will have to die, and in fact two will. The Capulet and their daughter Juliet are three and one will have to die. And the three women in the Capulet house, the mother, the daughter and the nurse, are the very pot in which the witch's brew of a clandestine unapproved marriage is going to germinate and then explode. And the play had started with the three social brawls and the three street battles caused by each of the two families.
That couple is doomed because there will always be someone in-between the two lovers, good or bad, who will bring doom. The friar marries them in the back of everyone. Paris wants to marry the already married Juliet. Tybalt wants to prevent the relation between Romeo and Juliet. Tybalt and Mercutio will reach death, for Mercutio, when Romeo jumps in-between and Mercutio is killed under the arm (beautiful ambiguity, of Romeo. And the Nurse wavers with the situation and is the go-between of the doomed marriage, and then the supporter of the marriage with Paris. And there will be three corpses in the funeral monument at the end of the last, in fact third, night of this drama that is contained in three days, Monday, Tuesday, Wedbesday with tso small night extension (Sunday night and Wednesday night). Three is trouble, three is drama because a third element, character or whatever, always jumps between the two lovers directly or indirectly, like the death of Tybalt between Juliet cousin to Tybalt and husband to Romeo but who is also cousin to Juliet and step-cousin to Romeo.
But this play has another dimension that is a lot less known or considered. It is an archetype of the freedom of lovers in a world where love is a family merchandise, or rather should I say in which a virgin is a merchandise to increase the power and prestige of her family, and we are dealing with the virginity of girls, since boys have whores and bawdy women to pass there desires from one body to another. This play is a tremendous pamphlet for the freedom of women in love, but also in life. It is a feminist play before all ages and probably the best homage Shakespeare could deliver to his Queen and supporter Elizabeth I without being indecent or superfluously flattering. That's the political dimension of this play, and it is also the best testimony England was advanced on all other countries at the end of the 16th century, at least 100 years ahead, and such dramas will only be put to the stage in France at the end of the 17th century, and in Germany with people like Goethe and Schiller one more century later, and the Italians will touch the problem essentially through religious Vespers, operas or other rites to Mary, Mary Magdalena and others starting at the end of the 1'th century in painting and in the 16th century with Monteverdi.
This play has become a source of inspiration for many other artists in all arts and it is still played with the greatest success we can imagine, and this production by the BBC is quite in line with this fame and power, though maybe slightly too slow, but they preferred that to shortening some sections as many have done in the cinema particularly.
FDr Jacques COULARDEAU
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