Staging Shakespearean Theatre: The Essential Guide to Selecting, Interpreting, Producing and Directing Shakespeare

By Elaine Adams Novak | Go to book overview
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Part Four
Preparing and Directing
Romeo and Juliet

Part Four involves the preparation and direction of Romeo and Juliet for performance: the needed research, analysis and interpretation of the play and a complete script with suggested cuts, blocking, sound and light cues and notes on definitions of unusual words and other aspects of the script. (For help with auditions, casting, rehearsals and performances, please refer to Part Three.)


Research

Scholars have traced the story line used in Romeo and Juliet back to a Greek medieval romance of the fifth century. Later authors wrote similar tragic stories of young lovers, but Shakespeare’s source was probably an English poem of 1562 by Arthur Brooke entitled The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet. Brooke wrote in his preface that he had seen “the same argument lately set forth on stage,” so it is possible Shakespeare also saw a stage version for which the script is lost.

It is thought that Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was first performed in London in 1595 or 1596 with Richard Burbage playing the role of Romeo and Will Kempe the part of Peter. The first quarto of this play was printed in 1597. (The word quarto describes the size of a book. If each sheet of paper was folded twice, making eight pages printed on the front and back, the bound book containing these sheets was called a quarto. If each sheet was folded once, making four pages, it was termed a folio.) The 1597 quarto of Romeo and Juliet is a bad pirated version, so a second quarto, presumably supervised by actors in Shakespeare’s company or by Shakespeare himself, was published in 1599. This was the basis for later quartos as well as the First Folio (see page 7).

In many respects Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is like other Elizabethan tragedies in that it shows the influence of the Roman playwright Seneca: the use of a chorus, the passionate scenes, the foreboding of evil, the sense that fate is motivating the tragedy, the bloodshed and the horrors of the graveyard.

Although Shakespeare wrote this play in the late sixteenth century, it is often done with costumes and sets of the fifteenth century, which may suggest that the story is from an earlier period. The places are the Italian towns of Verona and, for one scene (Act V, Scene 1), Mantua. The action begins on a Sunday morning and ends with the dawn of Friday.


Analysis and Interpretation

To analyze this play, examine the plot, characters, thought, diction, music and sound and spectacle; then think about the best way you can interpret your ideas for the stage (see also Part Two). In addition, we shall consider cutting and editing the text, taking an intermission and blocking the curtain call.

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