Monday, February 5, 2007

Romeo and Juliet - Final Babblings

A few brief comments:

We saw a wonderful production of one of my favorite plays, Measure for Measure, put on by NYU's Drama Graduate School last Friday. Angelo dressed in a long white caftan and short round cap like an Islamic cleric; Isabella wore a full white nun's outfit covering everything but her face. It was played so that the relationship between Duke Vincentio and Isabella developed in ways that led to there being no big hesitation when he asks her to accept his proposal toward the play's end. In addition, Vincentio was played by an India Indian, which softened him to a certain extent—perhaps by adding a sense of somewhat easy-going eastern wisdom to his general carriage. I wonder if there is a current trend to back away from the simplification of some Shakespeare productions into the realm of sexual/racial politics. See, for example, today’s Times review of The Merchant of Venice currently on the boards (along with The Jew of Malta) in New York.

Of course, there is a “friar” running around in Romeo and Juliet as well, and I feel guilty for not adding more to the delightful Findlay duet regarding that play.

Despite Gilbert’s efforts to humanize characters like the friar, I still find myself wondering about the extent Shakespeare is following a story-line and conventional treatment of characters like the Friar, and to what extent he really IS developing them as richly introspective characters who fully emanate from the deeper parts of the play’s world.

It was just FDR’s birthday, and his grandson Christopher was on the radio, recalling FDR’s version of “Be plain, good son, and homely in thy drift”: “Be sincere; be brief, and be seated.”

I realize that Romeo is one of a number of Shakespearian “heroes” who come from the upper classes and are confronted with a number of choices as to how they live their lives, and also with a number of young people like them who have chosen how to order their lives. Orlando, for example, is surrounded by his brother Oliver, Jaques (whom I take to be youthful), Duke Senior’s courtiers (well, that’s a stretch), and a raft of different kinds of male lovers. Hamlet is such a character in spades—surrounded by Young Osric, Horatio, Laertes, Fortinbras and the phony and conventional “malcontent” disguise he puts on so he can spy without being noticed. (Can you imagine today’s teen-ager dressing as a Goth so he/she can find out what dirty business his/her step-father and mother are up to?) Young men facedwith such decisions (especially younger sons and law-students) apparently loved and flocked to Shakespeare's plays.

Randall talks considerably about threes and twos, among the latter: two girlfriends, two boyfriends, light and dark, etc. Then, with Gil’s help, the discussion moves on to Romeo’s seeming to vacillate between almost opposite ways of being, to which Gilbert adds a discussion of Romeo’s “return to himself,” including the suggestion that, were it not for the Nurse’s interruption, Romeo might forget his Juliet and take off in another direction. But perhaps the point is that Romeo has grown to a point where he can acknowledge and comprehend several selves, that that is the kind of growth we see here. Is this way of thinking about tragedy Renaissance-new in any way?

This sort of thing is most clearly set forth in Macbeth’s character, where we see both the Macbeth who can explain to himself why he should not do something and then proceeds to do it (much like the person who has to list all the reasons he should not buy that fancy little car before he goes on to buy it). Perhaps, in some way, the growth of a tragic character, especially a male one, has to do with his or her recognizing (along with William Blake, SØren Kierkegaard, and Roger Sale [On Writing]), that he/she has several “selves,” not the single self most people find handy to believe in. Once you are at ease with your several selves, you are ready to face the world—even though you may also be dead. In short, there may be no “notRomeo.”

(1) “Tradegy in Minnetonka” reminds me of the equally crude newspaper write-up of a “sad tragedy” about a boy losing his hand to a saw that prompted Frost’s “Out, Out…”
(2) Ah, Jim Agee—one of the several people who held me in his arms when I was a child. He was my father’s best friend in college. He never took care of his teeth…or anything else--except his words.
(3) Gilbert’s Paean, “Here we are, 425 years later, awed by their innocence,” may say it all. Now we see even more clearly why Keats, who kept trying to eternize youthful love (“Awake forever in a sweet unrest”) so loved Shakespeare.


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