More Capulet-ish, Really

I have been waiting a long time to have conversations about the text with my daughter, and I couldn’t be more excited now that it’s happening. Every day she brings me a question that makes me say, “I don’t know, I’ll research it.”

Today’s question?

Rosaline is a Capulet, isn’t she? She’s invited to the party, and on the list she is referenced as “my fair niece”.

So why, then, is it ok for Romeo to be head over heels madly in love with her, but when he finds out that Juliet is a Capulet, he says, “My life is my foe’s debt”?

The best answer that I could give my daughter – who was the messenger for other kids in her class – was that we’re talking about really extended families here, and “cousin” or “niece” didn’t necessarily mean like we mean it, you are the child of my mother’s brother or something.  Instead it meant something more along the lines of “kinsmen,” as in, “We are related by some combination, but you are not my child or my sibling. Therefore if you are of my generation I will call you cousin, if you are younger than me I will call you niece or nephew.”  By extension, Romeo’s problem with Juliet isn’t so much that she’s a Capulet at all, but that she’s the daughter of the head of the family (just like he is son of the head of the Montague family).

Which then led to the question (man, sometimes these kids are quick!), “Then what the heck is Tybalt?  He’s a cousin, right?  Why is Rosaline no big deal, but Tybalt is right in the middle of everything?”

Good question!  My best answer was that he was very close to the Lord and Lady Capulet, and grew up with Juliet, almost as if they were brother and sister.  Which is later explained after Tybalt’s death, so I think that there’s some textual evidence to back that up.

How’d I do?  Is there an easier or more accurate way to explain that?

Romeo and Juliet Homework Help Here!

Bardfilm and I were joking this afternoon that my daughter, who is now studying Romeo and Juliet, is in the enviable (?) position of knowing more about the entire play than most of her classmates, setting her up to be the one they turn to for answers to all their questions.  So of course we started considering how she might abuse that power…

Romeo and Juliet Helpful (Not Really) Homework Answers

There’s a lost scene from the Quarto version of Romeo and Juliet where the Nurse tries to resuscitate Tybalt, which explains why she is called Nurse.

Mercutio is supposed to be on drugs during the “Queen Mab” speech. The 1996 Leonardo DiCaprio interpretation is one of the few that gets that correct. It’s not supposed to make any sense.

Friar Laurence was arrested for illegally trading in herbs.  That’s why the young lovers have to visit him in his cell.
Audiences so completely misunderstood the ending, assuming Friar Laurence was executed for his role in the deaths of Romeo and Juliet, that Shakespeare inserted a cameo for him in Two Gentlemen of Verona, the play he’d written by popular demand to show off Valentine, Mercutio’s brother.
The Rolling Stones made the play relevant by turning Romeo’s  response to Juliet’s “What satisfaction canst thou have tonight?” into one of their biggest hits:  “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”
A “thumb” is an Italian dessert on a stick—something like a popsicle gelato.  Eating one while pointing the stick at someone was considered very rude.
The planet Mercury was discovered in 1599, the same year Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet. That’s where he got the name Mercutio.
“Wherefore” actually does mean “where”. Your English teacher is just messing with you.
Perhaps the most famous speech in the play comes near the end of Act V.  Romeo says, “Juliet, the dice was loaded from the start / And I bet and you exploded in my heart / And I forget, I forget.”
The “ancient grudge,” as explained in the original source material, refers to a time two generations prior when the patriarchs of both the Capulet and Montague families were wrestlers who battled frequently at fairs an exhibitions around Italy.
“Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon” is a not-so-subtle jab at the actor who played Moon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, who was known backstage to have a serious attitude problem.
Mercutio and Valentine were supposed to be twin brothers, and the play a traditional farce. When the actors all got together and told Shakespeare, “No more twins!” he killed Mercutio out of spite and rewrote the second half.
This above all: you must have fun with it. Shakespeare doesn’t make life better by being stodgy and stuffy and difficult, a chore to approach with fear and trepidation. Don’t ever be afraid to get silly with it. Laugh at the parts you think are funny. Make up weird back stories for the minor characters. Rewrite your favorite song lyrics to fit the play. Drop a reference here and there and see who picks it up. When you read and understand and remember Shakespeare you have a special bond with millions of other people, across the world and throughout history, who read and understood and remember it, too. We do this for fun, and there’s always room for more to join the game.

Alas, Poor Donald (Another Geeklet Story)

“Daddy!” said my middle daughter, “I have a Shakespeare reference! Can I tell you?”

“Silly question!”

“Ok, so, we’re in art class, and we’re making these puppets.  And this other girl is making this one that looks like a skeleton. It’s supposed to be Donald Trump, but whatever. Anyway she holds it up and says, “To be or not to be, what is the question!”

“Is this one of the girls I would know, from when I came into your classes and taught Shakespeare?”

“No, you don’t know her.”

Ok, cool, so a completely random Shakespeare reference.  I like her already.

But … can we get back to the “skeleton that’s supposed to be Donald Trump” thing???

Only My Geeklets Could Spoil A 400 Year Old Play

“Oh my god, I feel so bad!”

My daughters were at the school this fine Saturday morning working on a garden project with other middle schoolers.  I assumed she felt bad that I was picking them up early and leaving their friends to continue the work.  “Why?” I asked.

“I just totally spoiled Romeo and Juliet for my friends,” said my oldest.

“How do you spoil a 400 year old play? How does anybody not know how it ends?”

“They didn’t know that Mercutio and Tybalt both die!”


“Ok, Elizabeth and I were play fighting, so she said, “I’m Mercutio, you be Tybalt!”

Ok, pause…   *beam with pride* … Ok, continue.

So then my oldest continues, “So then I say, Mercutio drew first! Ha! You die!  But then I remembered Tybalt dies too and said Oh wait no so do I.  And my friends who are reading the play in class with me now looked at us like, “WHAT?””

Only my kids!  But you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way 🙂

Of Quartos, Folios and Wherefores

I love it when my coworkers want to talk Shakespeare.  Glad that I’m there to answer their question (because, if I hadn’t been there, would they have found someone else? Or just never asked it?) and also glad that here’s another person who wants to learn more about my favorite subject.

I’m especially pleased when they ask me questions I don’t know the answer to, because I get to post about it and we all get to learn something.

Today’s questions are about the publication of the First Folio, and the Quartos before that.

I consider my copy a work of art.

Q1:  Why was there a market for quartos at all?  We all seem to be in agreement that there was really no market for “casually read the play as literature” like we might do today.  The market for them seems to have been purely Shakespeare’s competitors who were looking for new ideas, to put it generously (to steal his, to put it more realistically).  But how is that a valid model, to go through all the trouble?  If 100 people visit a bookseller but the market for a certain book is only 2 or 3 of those people, wouldn’t it be easier to shop your work around directly to the other theatres?  Why print N copies if only a fraction of N will ever be purchased?

Q2: Before the First Folio, was “collected works” even a thing?  This is an extension of the former question, because if there was no real market for “read the plays as literature”, and the only people who wanted the quartos were competing playwrights and theatre owners, then what in the world would have been the point of making an official, authorized version of the playwright’s entire work and making that available?  Wouldn’t that just enable the problem all the more?

Was the whole idea new?  Did Marlowe or Jonson or Fletcher or anybody else get their complete works published like this?  Or was this the first milestone that said, “Shakespeare was different, Shakespeare’s contribution to the art deserves a memorial effort that has never been done before.”

Could You Double Mercutio and Juliet?

This came up in conversation awhile back but I never posted it.  I’m pretty sure that Mercutio and Juliet never actually share the stage, right?

A new Midsummer was thinking about (not sure if they went through with it) having Helena played as a gay man.  I think that’s a horrid idea myself, but that’s just my opinion.  The point is that we’re getting pretty bold in our creative re-imaginings for the purpose of making certain statements.

People often want to argue whether Mercutio is gay.  That’s nothing new for the internet, of course – any popular male character can find fan fiction that portrays him as gay.  But what if we ran with that idea, and put the suggestion out there that what Romeo sees in Juliet is, in fact, his best friend?

Which Movie Versions Best Adhere To The Text?

When my daughter was having trouble with the opening scene of Romeo and Juliet, I fired up the 1968 Zeffirelli movie version so she could follow along … and promptly discovered that, at least for the beginning, they’re not on book at all.  It’s entirely new language.  Maybe it gets better later? I forget.

So I swapped out for the 1996 Romeo+Juliet version which, although it cuts out the collier/choler/collar stuff, seems to say true to the text for the rest of the scene.  Then somebody told me that this version only retains about 40% of the original. I don’t know if that’s true, or if I even understand it — does that mean they flat out cut 60% of the play?  Or that they wrote new dialog? Because I haven’t really paid close attention to either of those possibilities, I’m usually too distracted by the direction and over acting.

I have the 1930something Norma Shearer / Lesley Howard version on DVD, but I haven’t watched it. I’m guessing that it’s probably pretty close, since back then they seemed more interested in sticking to the original intent, setting, costume and language than we do today. But I’d also suspect it’s edited way down, it doesn’t seem long enough to be even close.

So that’s my question.  Let’s say that a student wants to sit down with text in lap and watch a movie version, much like Amazon would have us do with our books by letting the audio version read it to us while we follow along on paper.

Which play, and which movie, would give the best results?  Obviously, Branagh’s full text Hamlet is the gold standard, and not eligible as an answer to this question.  I’m wondering about all the others.

You See? This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

Meet the IRL Romeo and Juliet who met via Snapchat Story,” the headline promised. Now, you know I’m going to click on that.

I dare anybody to find a single shred of anything having to do with Romeo and Juliet in that story.  It’s pretty much just a standard “missed connection” playing out via Snapchat on some college campus somewhere.  No ancient grudge, nothing star crossed, no unhappy ending.  We’ve now reduced “Romeo and Juliet” to meaning “Oh, I hope those two get together.”  
He hasn’t even been to a party at her house yet.  I’m not sure when he’s even planning to kill her cousin, if at all!
I think the only thing we can take away from this story is that kids are making it to UW these days without understanding what Romeo and Juliet is about.

Geeklet Starts Romeo and Juliet. I Think.

My daughter was told that they’re starting Shakespeare something like three weeks ago. They did a week on Shakespeare’s life, a week on the sonnets, and almost a week on the prologue to Romeo and Juliet.

So at long last my daughter comes home from school today and flies directly at me.  “Daddy!” she yells excitedly, “We finally started Romeo and Juliet!”

“Great!” I say, “How did he end up approaching all that collier/choler/collar stuff?”

“We didn’t get that far.”

“As in, literally the first line. You didn’t get that far.”

“Well, we didn’t really start it.”

Turns out they started watching the movie.  The 1968 Zeffirelli version that everybody watches.

“Oh, so how far did you get in the movie?” I asked.

“The scene where Juliet’s mom is asking whether she wants to get married, and the nurse says a bunch of inappropriate stuff which we mostly didn’t understand.”

“And how did your teacher handle that?”

“He explained one of them, kind of, in a very roundabout way. I don’t even remember which one it is.”

“Here’s the thing about Romeo and Juliet,” I told her (for not the first time).  “If you start out by assuming that everything either Mercutio or the Nurse says is a dirty joke?  You’re probably right.  There’s a really good one in the beginning where, I think the Nurse is actually saying it was her husband that says this to a 13yr old girl, but it’s something about how she’s so klutzy she falls on her face, but when she’s older and knows better she’ll learn how to fall on her back.”

“THAT’S THE ONE!” my daughter said.

I tell you, this teacher and I are on the same wavelength. 🙂

The Jungle Hamlet

I have just returned from Disney’s latest live action adaptation, The Jungle Book.

Rejoice, oh followers of the Lion-King-is-Hamlet cult!

It turns out that the Jungle Book is ALSO HAMLET!

Check it.

There’s this dude, right? And then his dad gets killed. So he goes off on adventure with his friends, but has to return to avenge his father.

Boom.  Frickin Hamlet, right there. QED.

I mean, sure, there’s bits of Hamlet that aren’t there, too.  Like a Polonius or an Iago or Fortinbras or Horatio, but they’re not in Lion King either. I thought that was the rules, that we just pick an arbitrary number of similarities, ignore the differences, and call it a day?


Sorry, had to be done. There’s a scene where the tiger literally sits on a “pride rock” and says, “Once the man cub learns what’s happened he’ll have no choice to but to return and take his vengeance,” or something like that, and I thought, “Pretty much the essence of Hamlet right there, if you want to split hairs about it.”

Every “Hero’s Journey” is not Hamlet, people.