The Timeless Themes (and New Twists) of ROMEO AND JULIET
by Alan Stanford, PICT’s Artistic and Executive Director, and Director of the 2017-2018 Season opener ROMEO AND JULIET.
Romeo and Juliet are both very modern teenagers. They have been very modern for the four hundred or so years since Shakespeare first put them down on paper. And from the way he wrote them, we can be fairly certain that Shakespeare was himself a love-sick teenager in his time.
We can see in our own time that Montague’s description of his son Romeo’s melancholy fits exactly matching contemporary ideas of lovesickness. In fact, most modern teenagers can probably see such behavior in their friends, if not in themselves. Many a modern teenager ‘pens’ him or herself up privately in their bedrooms with the blinds drawn and the music loud and won’t talk to their parents about their problems. Shakespeare himself had teenage kids.
Juliet is a very modern girl. She might seem willing to offer herself as obedient to her parent’s wishes when it comes to choosing a husband; but once she sees the boy she wants, obedience goes out the window. And being a girl, she gets what she wants from Romeo. Love and marriage.
Of all the plays of Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet is the most Italian. Not only for the romance but for the feud that blights it. This is not just a story of love, this is a story of vendetta. Of a feud between families that is so old that no-one can even remember its cause. A feud that has caused death in the past and will cause death even now. And this is not just a piece of history. Even today, such interfamily hatred can destroy the lives of the young and innocent.
We have set this play in the early part of the twentieth century. We have set it in America, in the melting pot of New York. But it can be anywhere and anytime in our history, where people brought not just themselves to America but all their history and their prejudices with them. And Shakespeare teaches us that if we allow these hatreds, those prejudices to rule our lives, it is our children we are condemning to suffer for that.
ROMEO AND JULIET opens October 20th at WQED’s Fred Rogers Studio.
- – Alan Stanford