Romeo and Juliet ranks with Hamlet as one of Shakespeare's most-performed plays. Its many adaptations have made it one of his most enduring and famous stories. Even in Shakespeare's lifetime it was extremely popular. Scholar Gary Taylor measures it as the sixth most popular of Shakespeare's plays, in the period after the death of Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Kyd but before the ascendancy of Ben Jonson during which Shakespeare was London's dominant playwright. The date of the first performance is unknown. The First Quarto, printed in 1597, says that "it hath been often (and with great applause) plaid publiquely", setting the first performance prior to that date. The Lord Chamberlain's Men were certainly the first to perform it. Besides their strong connections with Shakespeare, the Second Quarto actually names one of its actors, Will Kemp, instead of Peter in a line in Act five. Richard Burbage was probably the first Romeo, being the company's leading actor, and Master Robert Goffe (a male) the first Juliet. The premiere is likely to have been at "The Theatre", with other early productions at "The Curtain". Romeo and Juliet is one of the first Shakespearean plays to have been performed outside England: a shortened and simplified version was performed in Nördlingen in 1604.
Restoration and 18th-century theatre
All theatres were closed down by the puritan government on 6 September 1642. Upon the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, two patent companies (the King's Company and the Duke's Company) were established, and the existing theatrical repertoire divided between them.
Sir William Davenant of the Duke's Company staged a 1662 adaptation in which Henry Harris played Romeo, Thomas Betterton Mercutio, and Betterton's wife Mary Saunderson Juliet: she was probably the first woman to play the role professionally. Another version closely followed Davenant's adaptation and was also regularly performed by the Duke's Company. This was a tragicomedy by James Howard, in which the two lovers survive.
Thomas Otway's The History and Fall of Caius Marius, one of the more extreme of the Restoration adaptations of Shakespeare, debuted in 1680. The scene is shifted from Renaissance Verona to ancient Rome; Romeo is Marius, Juliet is Lavinia, the feud is between patricians and plebeians; Juliet/Lavinia wakes from her potion before Romeo/Marius dies. Otway's version was a hit, and was acted for the next seventy years. His innovation in the closing scene was even more enduring, and was used in adaptations throughout the next 200 years: Theophilus Cibber's adaptation of 1744, and David Garrick's of 1748 both used variations on it. These versions also eliminated elements deemed inappropriate at the time. For example, Garrick's version transferred all language describing Rosaline to Juliet, in order to heighten the idea of faithfulness and downplay the love-at-first-sight theme.In 1750 a "Battle of the Romeos" began, with Spranger Barry and Susannah Maria Arne (Mrs. Theophilus Cibber) at Covent Garden versus David Garrick and George Anne Bellamy at Drury Lane.
The earliest known production in North America was an amateur one: on 23 March 1730, a physician named Joachimus Bertrand placed an advertisement in the Gazette newspaper in New York, promoting a production in which he would play the apothecary. The first professional performances of the play in North America were those of the Hallam Company.
Garrick's altered version of the play was very popular, and ran for nearly a century. Not until 1845 did Shakespeare's original return to the stage in the United States with the sisters Susan and Charlotte Cushman as Juliet and Romeo, respectively, and then in 1847 in Britain with Samuel Phelps at Sadler's Wells Theatre. Cushman adhered to Shakespeare's version, beginning a string of eighty-four performances. Her portrayal of Romeo was considered genius by many. The Times wrote: "For a long time Romeo has been a convention. Miss Cushman's Romeo is a creative, a living, breathing, animated, ardent human being." Queen Victoria wrote in her journal that "no-one would ever have imagined she was a woman". Cushman's success broke the Garrick tradition and paved the way for later performances to return to the original storyline.
Professional performances of Shakespeare in the mid-nineteenth century had two particular features: firstly, they were generally star vehicles, with supporting roles cut or marginalised to give greater prominence to the central characters. Secondly, they were "pictorial", placing the action on spectacular and elaborate sets (requiring lengthy pauses for scene changes) and with the frequent use of tableaux. Henry Irving's 1882 production at the Lyceum Theatre (with himself as Romeo and Ellen Terry as Juliet) is considered an archetype of the pictorial style. In 1895, Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson took over from Irving, and laid the groundwork for a more natural portrayal of Shakespeare that remains popular today. Forbes-Robertson avoided the showiness of Irving and instead portrayed a down-to-earth Romeo, expressing the poetic dialogue as realistic prose and avoiding melodramatic flourish.
American actors began to rival their British counterparts. Edwin Booth (brother to John Wilkes Booth) and Mary McVicker (soon to be Edwin's wife) opened as Romeo and Juliet at the sumptuous Booth's Theatre (with its European-style stage machinery, and an air conditioning system unique in New York) on 3 February 1869. Some reports said it was one of the most elaborate productions of Romeo and Juliet ever seen in America; it was certainly the most popular, running for over six weeks and earning over $60,000. The programme noted that: "The tragedy will be produced in strict accordance with historical propriety, in every respect, following closely the text of Shakespeare."
The first professional performance of the play in Japan may have been George Crichton Miln's company's production which toured to Yokohama in 1890. Throughout the nineteenth century, Romeo and Juliet had been Shakespeare's most popular play, measured by the number of professional performances. In the twentieth century it would become the second most popular, behind Hamlet.
John Gielgud's New Theatre production in 1935 featured Gielgud and Laurence Olivier as Romeo and Mercutio, exchanging roles six weeks into the run, with Peggy Ashcroft as Juliet. Gielgud used a scholarly combination of Q1 and Q2 texts, and organised the set and costumes to match as closely as possible to the Elizabethan period. His efforts were a huge success at the box office, and set the stage for increased historical realism in later productions.Olivier later compared his performance and Gielgud's: "John, all spiritual, all spirituality, all beauty, all abstract things; and myself as all earth, blood, humanity ... I've always felt that John missed the lower half and that made me go for the other ... But whatever it was, when I was playing Romeo I was carrying a torch, I was trying to sell realism in Shakespeare."
Peter Brook's 1947 version was the beginning of a different style of Romeo and Juliet performances. Brook was less concerned with realism, and more concerned with translating the play into a form that could communicate with the modern world. He argued, "A production is only correct at the moment of its correctness, and only good at the moment of its success."Brook excluded the final reconciliation of the families from his performance text.
Throughout the century, audiences, influenced by the cinema, became less willing to accept actors distinctly older than the teenage characters they were playing. A significant example of more youthful casting was in Franco Zeffirelli's Old Vic production in 1960, with John Stride and Judi Dench, which would serve as the basis for his 1968 film. Zeffirelli borrowed from Brook's ideas, altogether removing around a third of the play's text in order to make it more accessible. In an interview with The Times, he stated that the play's "twin themes of love and the total breakdown of understanding between two generations" had contemporary relevance.
Recent performances often set the play in the contemporary world. For example, in 1986 the Royal Shakespeare Company set the play in modern Verona. Switchblades replaced swords, feasts and balls became drug-laden rock parties, and Romeo committed suicide by hypodermic needle. In 1997, the Folger Shakespeare Theatre produced a version set in a typical suburban world. Romeo sneaks into the Capulet barbecue to meet Juliet, and Juliet discovers Tybalt's death while in class at school.
The play is sometimes given a historical setting, enabling audiences to reflect on the underlying conflicts. For example, adaptations have been set in the midst of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in the apartheid era in South Africa, and in the aftermath of the Pueblo Revolt. Similarly, Peter Ustinov's 1956 comic adaptation, Romanoff and Juliet, is set in a fictional mid-European country in the depths of the Cold War. A mock-Victorian revisionist version of Romeo and Juliet's final scene (with a happy ending, Romeo, Juliet, Mercutio and Paris restored to life, and Benvolio revealing that he is Paris's love, Benvolia, in disguise) forms part of the 1980 stage-play The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby. Shakespeare’s R&J, by Joe Calarco, spins the classic in a modern tale of gay teenage awakening. A recent comedic musical adaptation was The Second City's The Second City's Romeo and Juliet Musical: The People vs. Friar Laurence, the Man Who Killed Romeo and Juliet, set in modern times.
In the 19th and 20th century, Romeo and Juliet has often been the choice of Shakespeare plays to open a classical theatre company, beginning with Edwin Booth's inaugural production of that play in his theatre in 1869, the newly reformed company of the Old Vic in 1929 with John Gielgud, Martita Hunt and Margaret Webster, as well as the Riverside Shakespeare Company in its founding production in New York City in 1977, which used the 1968 film of Franco Zeffirelli's production as its inspiration.
|"Romeo loved Juliet |
Juliet felt the same
When he put his arms around her
He said Julie, baby, you're my flame
Thou givest fever..."
|—Peggy Lee's rendition of "Fever".|
At least 24 operas have been based on Romeo and Juliet. The earliest, Romeo und Julie in 1776, a Singspiel by Georg Benda, omits much of the action of the play and most of its characters, and has a happy ending. It is occasionally revived. The best-known is Gounod's 1867 Roméo et Juliette (libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré), a critical triumph when first performed and frequently revived today.Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi is also revived from time to time, but has sometimes been judged unfavourably because of its perceived liberties with Shakespeare; however, Bellini and his librettist, Felice Romani, worked from Italian sources—principally Romani's libretto for an opera by Nicola Vaccai—rather than directly adapting Shakespeare's play.
Roméo et Juliette by Berlioz is a "symphonie dramatique", a large scale work in three parts for mixed voices, chorus and orchestra, which premiered in 1839. Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture (1869, revised 1870 and 1880) is a long symphonic poem, containing the famous melody known as the "love theme".Tchaikovsky's device of repeating the same musical theme at the ball, in the balcony scene, in Juliet's bedroom and in the tomb has been used by subsequent directors: for example Nino Rota's love theme is used in a similar way in the 1968 film of the play, as is Des'ree's Kissing You in the 1996 film. Other classical composers influenced by the play include Svendsen (Romeo og Julie, 1876), Delius (A Village Romeo and Juliet, 1899–1901) and Stenhammar (Romeo och Julia, 1922).
The best-known ballet version is Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet.Originally commissioned by the Kirov Ballet, it was rejected by them when Prokofiev attempted a happy ending, and was rejected again for the experimental nature of its music. It has subsequently attained an "immense" reputation, and has been choreographed by John Cranko (1962) and Kenneth MacMillan (1965) among others.
The play influenced several jazz works, including Peggy Lee's Fever. Duke Ellington's Such Sweet Thunder contains a piece entitled "The Star-Crossed Lovers" in which the pair are represented by tenor and alto saxophones: critics noted that Juliet's sax dominates the piece, rather than offering an image of equality. The play has frequently influenced popular music, including works by The Supremes, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits and Lou Reed. The most famous such track is Dire Straits' Romeo and Juliet.
The most famous musical theatre adaptation is West Side Story with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. It débuted on Broadway in 1957 and in the West End in 1958, and became a popular film in 1961. This version updated the setting to mid-20th century New York City, and the warring families to ethnic gangs. Other musical adaptations include Terrence Mann's 1999 rock musical William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, co-written with Jerome Korman, Gérard Presgurvic's 2001 Roméo et Juliette, de la Haine à l'Amour and Riccardo Cocciante's 2007 Giulietta & Romeo.
Literature and art
Romeo and Juliet had a profound influence on subsequent literature. Previously, romance had not even been viewed as a worthy topic for tragedy.In Harold Bloom's words, Shakespeare "invented the formula that the sexual becomes the erotic when crossed by the shadow of death." Of Shakespeare's works, Romeo and Juliet has generated the most—and the most varied—adaptations, including prose and verse narratives, drama, opera, orchestral and choral music, ballet, film, television and painting. The word "Romeo" has even become synonymous with "male lover" in English.
Romeo and Juliet was parodied in Shakespeare's own lifetime: Henry Porter's Two Angry Women of Abingdon (1598) and Thomas Dekker's Blurt, Master Constable (1607) both contain balcony scenes in which a virginal heroine engages in bawdy wordplay. The play directly influenced later literary works. For example the preparations for a performance form a major plot arc in Charles Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby.
Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare's most-illustrated works.first known illustration was a woodcut of the tomb scene, thought to be by Elisha Kirkall, which appeared in Nicholas Rowe's 1709 edition of Shakespeare's plays. Five paintings of the play were commissioned for the Boydell Shakespeare Gallery in the late 18th century, one representing each of the five acts of the play. The nineteenth century fashion for "pictorial" performances led to directors drawing on paintings for their inspiration, which in turn influenced painters to depict actors and scenes from the theatre. In the twentieth century, the play's most iconic visual images have derived from its popular film versions.
Romeo and Juliet may be the most-filmed play of all time. The most notable theatrical releases were George Cukor's multi-Oscar-nominated 1936 production, Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 version, and Baz Luhrmann's 1996 MTV-inspired Romeo + Juliet. The latter two were both, in their time, the highest-grossing Shakespeare film ever. Romeo and Juliet was first filmed in the silent era, by Georges Méliès, although his film is now lost. The play was first heard on film in The Hollywood Revue of 1929, in which John Gilbert recited the balcony scene opposite Norma Shearer.
Shearer and Leslie Howard, with a combined age over 75, played the teenage lovers in George Cukor's MGM 1936 film version. Neither critics nor the public responded enthusiastically. Cinemagoers considered the film too "arty", staying away as they had from Warner's A Midsummer Night Dream a year before: leading to Hollywood abandoning the Bard for over a decade. Renato Castellani won the Grand Prix at the Venice Film Festival for his 1954 film of Romeo and Juliet. his Romeo, Laurence Harvey, was already an experienced screen actor. By contrast, Susan Shentall, as Juliet, was a secretarial student who was discovered by the director in a London pub, and was cast for her "pale sweet skin and honey-blonde hair".
Stephen Orgel describes Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 Romeo and Juliet as being "full of beautiful young people, and the camera, and the lush technicolour, make the most of their sexual energy and good looks." Zeffirelli's teenage leads, Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey, had virtually no previous acting experience, but performed capably and with great maturity. Zeffirelli has been particularly praised, for his presentation of the duel scene as bravado getting out-of-control.The film courted controversy by including a nude wedding-night scene while Olivia Hussey was only fifteen.
Baz Luhrmann's 1996 Romeo + Juliet and its accompanying soundtrack successfully targeted the "MTV Generation": a young audience of similar age to the story's characters. Far darker than Zeffirelli's version, the film is set in the "crass, violent and superficial society" of Verona Beach and Sycamore Grove. Leonardo DiCaprio was Romeo and Claire Danes was Juliet.
The play has been widely adapted for TV and film. In 1960, Peter Ustinov's cold-war stage parody, Romanoff and Juliet was filmed. The 1961 film of West Side Story—set among New York gangs–featured the Jets as white youths, equivalent to Shakespeare's Montagues, while the Sharks, equivalent to the Capulets, are Puerto Rican. In 2006, Disney's High School Musical made use of Romeo and Juliet's plot, placing the two young lovers in rival high school cliques instead of feuding families. Film-makers have frequently featured characters performing scenes from Romeo and Juliet. The conceit of dramatising Shakespeare writing Romeo and Juliet has been used several times, including John Madden's 1998 Shakespeare in Love, in which Shakespeare writes the play against the backdrop of his own doomed love affair.References