For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo
So begins one of the most tragic and most well-known stories of doomed lovers. Everyone’s heard of Romeo and Juliet. I always thought I was fairly understanding of the basic plot of the story, and truth be told, I ultimately was.
But, to be fair, the closest I’d come to the story was through the excellent Dire Straits (before Knopfler acquired his penchant for headbands and the band got really big and bloated and boring) song of the same name.
Juliet says, “Hey it’s Romeo, you nearly gave me a heart attack.”
He’s underneath the window
She’s singin’ “Hey-la, my boyfriend’s back.”
You shouldn’t come around here
Singin’ up to people like that
Yes, highly irreverent, but still, Knopfler managed to build in the feeling of the oncoming tragedy.
So, what was my understanding of the story? Boy meets girl, boy thinks he loses girl, girl loses boy.
I had the basics down, but I’d never experienced the story first hand. I’m sure part of the experience is the talent of the performers of Shakespeare’s play and, in this regard, the Arkangel audio collection does the story justice.
I’m not going to go in depth into the story, but I do want to say upfront, I’m not one for romances, tragic or otherwise. They bore me to tears.
And yet…and yet…
This one got to me. In the end, it has everything: dueling families, murder, unrequited love, intrigue…
And also, when you look at it, it’s a story that is still quite relevant. This is a story that could only be believable with two young lovers. This story is one of the heat of young, burning passion, not the measured maturity and contemplation of adults. Remember, Romeo and Juliet are only around fourteen.
In fact, having a daughter of seventeen myself, I got a little uneasy hearing Juliet’s mother basically giving her the “you’re not getting any younger, it’s time to find a husband” speech. Yeah, tack at least a decade on that, Mom, then let’s talk. But I digress…
The story also has some awkward tropes. There’s the prototypical Shakespeare romance…I know I’ve just met you, but baby, you’re the only one for me. That instant burning yearning love that can never be shaken. It occurs over and over in Shakespeare, so okay, I can buy that. You only had a few minutes to set this up on a stage, after all, so okay, it’s all good.
But then there’s the other plot point: Hey Julie, I know how we can get you out of this fix. Just drink this secret potion that makes you look dead for almost two days. Then, we’ll hook you back up with Romeo while you’re entire freaking family thinks you dead. Oh, okay, says Juliet. Sounds good to me.
And…of course, she wakes seconds after Romeo’s died.
But for all of this, what ultimately comes through as the final strength of the story, the element that sells it, is the raw emotion. The tragic circumstances of Romeo murdering Juliet’s cousin Tybalt hours after his marriage to Juliet, his subsequent banishment from Verona and his separation from Juliet.
Romeo’s reactions to this are heartbreaking enough. But I’ve got to admit, as I listened to the scene where Juliet learns of Romeo’s banishment, I got a lump in my throat and, yes, I’ll admit it, I teared up. That scene hurt. It was painful.
Imagine that. That, I think, is the triumph of the best plays of Shakespeare. Here I am, a 48-year-old man walking his dog in a suburb, listening to a play on his iPod, and I’m fully bought in, fully identifying with a fictional fourteen-year-old character from a play written 400 years ago.
Through the tragic end scenes of Romeo and Juliet, even though I knew what would happen, I couldn’t help but think, come on, Juliet, wake up, give him a sign, don’t let this happen.
And still it did. And again, I choked up. The line that got me?
Thus, with a kiss, I die.