25 November 2015

Review: Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

A Play

Depending on which conspiracy theory you follow, William Shakespeare is either the most brilliant and influential playwright England has ever seen, or William Shakespeare never existed (or was an actor with little talent) and the plays were penned by Christopher Marlowe, Francis Bacon, the Earl of Oxford, or any one of a number of other possible candidates (although no women, as far as I could tell).

The whole debate probably isn’t important: what’s important is that we have the plays, they are considered culturally and historically significant, and they have been used as instruments of torture for generations of schoolchildren the world over (and it's all Blackadder's fault).

I can remember studying Othello, and I know I studied at least one other, but I can’t remember which. I do remember thinking Shakespeare wasn’t as bad as people made out.

Then I attended excellent outdoor Shakespeare performances in Greenwich Park in London, and watched Clare Danes and Leonardo diCaprio fall in love in Romeo and Juliet on film. Shakespeare was great—good plots, great characters, plenty of pace and action, and even some humour.

Then I read Romeo and Juliet. Well, the play hasn’t changed in the almost-twenty years since the movie came out . . . but it’s almost unreadable. Yes, there are flashes of humour, but there is also too much time devoted to minor characters, and all the characters are far too prone to unnecessary unintelligible speechifying. It reminds me why I don’t read the 1611 version of the King James Bible (actually, almost no one does. They might think they’re reading the ‘original’ KJV, but most of them are reading the 1769 version).

Overall, I think plays were made to be watched, not read.

This counts towards my 2105 Reading Challenge as a play. Yes, it’s a little predictable and I should have chosen something more contemporary.

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