This is one of the big ones, Brawlers: Romeo and Juliet.
Ah, good ol’ “R&J.”
You think you know this play because you read it in Mrs. MacDonald’s grade nine English class and had to write a 500 word essay on ‘why do we have to read Shakespeare.’ You wrote something like:
“We have to read Romeo and Juliet because it’s the greatest love story every written. […] It shows us how my parents are ruining my life with TJ/Cindi because they hate my boyfriend/girlfriend. They should just accept that we are in love and will spend the rest of our lives together living in their basement.”
After a week and a half of torturing (and being tortured by) the Shakespearean language about ‘Prince of Cats,’ ‘Queen Mab,’ ‘plagues on households’ and ‘purple fountains,” Mrs. MacDonald – because she just wants her suffering to end – gave you your ‘A’ and you moved on to Catcher in the Rye.
But admit it. Deep down, you feel ridiculous for writing those words. I mean, you were 14 or 15 years old. Of course you were naive and stupid. Just like a certain Juliet (almost 14 years old) or a certain Romeo (15 years old) everybody thinks they know. The only decision I could be trusted to make when I was that age was which Nintendo game to rent with my allowance money.
Try this synopsis instead, Mrs. MacDonald: two teenagers with more sexuality than sense are married in secret (and sacrificed on the altar) in order to try to put a stop to the constant feuds and vendettas of the Montagues and Capulets which have been tearing Verona apart for who knows how long. They die, feud ends, mission accomplished.
Don’t believe it? Too cynical? Well, let’s have a look.
Romeo and Juliet opens with a Prologue which tells us that isn’t going to end well. Two kids born from feuding families are going to need to die on order to put the feud to rest. Additional information provided: this play will last approximately 2 hours.
In scene one, Sampson and Gregory, two Capulets, are wandering the streets looking to pick a fight. They spot Abraham and Balthazar, two Montagues, and decide to start swapping insults. Eventually they draw swords but Benvolio (a Montague and Romeo’s friend) shows up and tells them to sheath their sword. Moments later, Tybalt (a Capulet and Juliet’s cousin) arrives. Benvolio asks him to help break up the fight but Tybalt attacks Benvolio and they fight. Soon Lord Capulet and Lord Montague show up and all hell breaks loose until the Prince shows up threatens to kill anybody who doesn’t immediately stop fighting. He asks for the Capulets to follow him and asks the Montagues to come see him later about this brawl. (ding!)
Benvolio fills the lord in on what’s going on and then Lady Montague asks about Romeo. Seems he’s been locking himself up in his room and crying a whole bunch, which we all know never happens with teenagers so something must be up. Eventually Romeo comes on stage. Seems he’s in love with a girl who doesn’t love him back, whatever that feels like. Benvolio, like a good friend, tell him that what he needs to do is to forget about Rosaline. (That’s the name of his one true love, the type of love that there’s no way he will ever have for anyone else, ever, in his lifetime!)
How to forget about Rosaline? Easy. Chase after other girls to
sleep with love.
After his meeting with the Prince, Lord Capulet meets up with Paris in scene 2, a young man who’s really interested in marrying Juliet. Dad thinks she’s a little too young and that marrying to early is not a good thing. But, he’s willing to give his blessing is Paris can win her over. Lord Capulet is throwing a big party tonight and he thinks that would be a good opportunity for Juliet and Paris to meet. He gives a list of guests to his illiterate servant and asks him to go invite his other guests.
Coincidentally, Romeo and Benvolio are walking by and the servant asks them to help him read the letter. After the servant leaves, Benvolio gets a great idea: why not crash the party at the house of their mortal enemy?
We finally get to see Juliet in scene 3. She’s with her nurse who is still responsible for helping her get dressed and otherwise taking care of her while mom and dad get plastered with their friends. Lady Capulet comes and asks her daughter about Paris. She seems to like him so she hopes that Juliet will too. Juliet doesn’t seem very interested in the prospect of getting married but mom insists that it’s happening sooner or later so she better get used to the idea.
Benvolio and Romeo have met up with their buddy Mercutio and are headed to the Capulet party in scene 4. Benvolio and Mercutio alternate making fun of their love-sick and depressed friend. Romeo then tells them of a dream he’s had which he thinks is prophetic. Of course, Mercutio mocks him to no end. Romeo insists that he’s got a bad feeling about tonight but on they go to the party.
The final scene of the act takes place in the Capulet mansion. Lord Capulet walks in a makes a bunch of bad jokes about ladies’ corns and dancing – which I am sure they are thought was totally hilarious and tasteful. Of course, Romeo’s here and this is where he first spots Juliet, without realising that she’s a Capulet. He babbles on about beauty and Tybalt over hears him and realises that he’s a Montague. He’s a bout to storm off after him but Lord Capulet stops him: “he’s not a bad kid and he’s not causing any trouble. I don’t want you starting a fight with him in my house.”
Romeo, who doesn’t seem to care one little bit that he came here to see Rosaline (Rosaline who?), starts sweet-talking Juliet and manages to score a couple of kisses from her before she is called away by her mother. Romeo then learns that Juliet is the daughter of Lord Capulet. Time for the Montagues to leave.
As soon as they disappear, Juliet is asking the nurse about Romeo and learns the bad news: he’s a Montague.
I’ll say this for R&J: that’s a hell of an opening act!
While I suspect that many of you Brawlers know this play already, here are some of the key characters who show up in this act:
- Benvolio: He’s one of Romeo’s buddies and, at least at first, is trying to keep the peace between the Capulets and Montagues.
- Tybalt: One of Juliet’s cousins, he’s only too happy to look for reasons to fight Montagues.
- Romeo Montague: Lovesick Romeo starts the play madly ‘in love’ with Rosaline and then, after spotting Juliet once, swears that he’s never loved anyone before. I’m sure he’ll make a great husband.
- Juliet Capulet: She seems like a level-headed young girl at first but that goes out the window when she meets Romeo. She just can’t get married quickly enough.
- Lord and Lady Capulet: The rulers of the Capulet family and Juliet’s parents.
- Lord and Lady Montague: The rulers of the Montague family and Romeo’s parents.
- Paris: A young, eligible bachelor looking to marry into the Capulet family. The parents like him but he didn’t stand a chance with Juliet.
- Mercutio: A friend of Romeo’s who has no patience for Romeo’s melancholic self-pity and who sees what Romeo calls love as lust.
Next week: more bad, life-altering decisions made by horny teenagers.
Oh, and happy valentine’s day.
Also, get ready for a big upcoming announcement about ‘Zounds!
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