Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 1, No. 3. Thursday, 26 Jul 1990.
Date: Thu, 26 Jul 90 16:55:45 EDT
Subject: Romeo & Juliette
Rather than generating *heated* discussion by persecuting
any Baconians who might be in our midst, I'll try to initiate an
*illuminating* dialogue through recourse to my usual approach,
describing a recent Shakespearean production I've seen.
"Romeo & Juliette" [sic] played at the DuMaurier World
Stage Festival on Toronto's Harbourfront last month. Nightcap
Productions (Saskatchewan) set the play on the Canadian prairie,
transforming the Montague/Capulet feud into a clash of English
and French cultures. A la *West Side Story*, the drunken
masquers attend the Capulet (pron. "Capulay") barbeque, where
Paris in his business suit stands out from the rest of the country
"hicks." Rapier duels are fought with baseball bats and tire
irons, the balcony scenes take place over the tailgate of an
ancient Fargo pickup truck, Romeo turns a pitchfork on himself
in desperation, and the "Apothecary" is a drug pusher. This sort
of modernization is familiar to everyone, I'm sure, but to what
extent does it enhance the experience of Shakespeare's play and
to what extent bury it?
The bilingual feud was strikingly appropriate in the midst
of Canada's Meech Lake crisis, and will be still more so this
summer at the Stratford (Ontario) Festival now that Meech Lake
has failed. The juxtaposition of French and English lines was
fascinating for the audience, from the French soliloquies of
Juliette to the closing lines,
"For never was story of more woe,
Que celle de Juliette et son Romeo."
Romeo's wooing of Juliette is the more touching because he
attempts to use her language, swearing "par la lune," and his
attempts to communicate with Tybalt are all the more vain when
he tries to express himself in halting French. Mercutio's lines
about the French, "Signior Romeo, / <bon jour!> there's a
French salutation to your French / slop" (2.4.43) suddenly gain
new relevance, too.
Shakespeare uses snatches of French in many of his plays,
so the technique of combining languages is perhaps not totally
alien to its conception. To some extent every production is a
"translation," of course, but has anyone seen similar things done
with Shakespeare's language in other productions? How does
this compare with the experience of seeing a foreign production
which is completely in translation? Does anyone feel it unjust
to foist modern (or Canadian) political implications on a
Renaissance play? Or can it *be* a Renaissance play when
performed in 1990?