Production is well underway up here for this summer's Mountain Shakespeare Festival! As dramaturg, I collaborate with the festival organizers, help the actors understand some of the more difficult lines, and pen the synopses of the plays. This week I finished the write-up for Romeo and Juliet. The staging our director (Peter Kjeenas) has planned will emphasize the stark inevitability of the tragedy, so that's where I placed my focus. For more information, visit the Mountain Shakespeare Festival Website. Show dates and times can be found HERE.
Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is the quintessential tale of lovers valiantly fighting against the external forces trying to thwart their love. Not only do their families feud, but time and space seems to conspire against them. They are indeed star-crossed and no matter what they do or where they turn, their fates are sealed. Part of the tragic tug these two young characters exert on our hearts stems from that inevitability. We know from the first lines of the play that their fortunes, written in the stars, have been predetermined. Still, we can’t help but wish, each time through, that Romeo could indeed “Defy the stars” and foil the destiny decreed by parents, society and the universe.
Shakespeare here makes it clear that all of cosmology conspires against these two. In a world of darkness, they see each other as light. Juliet is Romeo’s “sun” and he to her is “day in night,” but together they are like the “lightening, which doth cease to be ere one can say it lightens.” They give each other light and heat, but like supernovas, they implode and the darkness, inevitably returns. Their struggle is like that of Sisyphus – and though at times it appears as though they can steer their own course, their struggle is mythical and they are ultimately unable to “shake the yoke of inauspicious stars.” We watch as they push their rock of love up a mountain of obstacles, hoping each time that the outcome will be different. But they’re trapped in their story and their story remains the same. Much as we’d like to redirect the outcome of their “death-mark’d love,” they are indeed “fortune’s fools.” Shakespeare here reminds us that perhaps we are too.