Tuesday, February 6, 2007

RE: Romeo and Juliet - Final Babblings


Ernst's comments make a fine concluding summary to our Romeo and Juliet discussion. So I will forbear (loud huzzahs ensue), some. I really had little else to say, except ... that I think Romeo never escapes his Petrarchan roots, such that he's still dividing love's corporeal form into adored parts as he prepares for death:

"Eyes, look your last!
Arms, take your last embrace! and, lips, O you
The doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss
A dateless bargain to engrossing death!" (5.3)

What does this suggest? It would be hyperbole to say that Romeo never truly loved Juliet, that Shakespeare's young lover is incapable of seeing Juliet as she is because he is so engrossed in the dialectic of love. Unfair? Perhaps.

In Twelfth Night, Orsino tells Viola (disguised as the boyish Cesario) that men,

"…however we do praise ourselves,
Our fancies are more giddy and unfirm,
More longing, wavering, sooner lost and worn,
Than women's are." (Twelfth Night, 2.4)

Romeo is in this same passionate mode, more giddy and unfirm than Juliet. His death seems to me a narcissistic act (a product of his upper class entitlement, Ernst?), as he sacrifices himself not because he cannot have Juliet but because it is what is expected of the deprived lover. Luhrmann, in his Romeo and Juliet film adaptation, William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet, emphasizes this, moving a key line in the final scene so that Juliet awakes before Romeo dies. My students groan as Romeo plows through his final speech unaware while Juliet's fingers move, her eyelids flicker, her lips part, her eyes open, and she reaches up and touches his cheek, just as he downs the poison. Doh!

What the students are reacting to is the intense melodrama of it all. Happily ever after is so, so close. But I think his obtuseness, in this production, is also remarkable. If he were just a bit more aware of Juliet, as a partner in this relationship, as not the object of his Love, but the subject of it, then perhaps he would not have been so quick to take the apothecary's quick drugs.


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