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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: August ::
Re: Lust in Rom.
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0764  Friday, 14 August 1998.

[1]     From:   Mike Jensen <
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        Date:   Thursday, 13 Aug 1998 08:45:37 -0700
        Subj:   SHK 9.0758  Re: Lust in Rom.

[2]     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Thursday, 13 Aug 1998 11:55:59 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0758  Re: Lust in Rom.


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mike Jensen <
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Date:           Thursday, 13 Aug 1998 08:45:37 -0700
Subject: Re: Lust in Rom.
Comment:        SHK 9.0758  Re: Lust in Rom.

Was the problem of Romeo and Juliet lust or something else?  I don't
know, but in the words of one of this century's more noteworthy Romeos
on the flaw of that character, "It is difficult to sympathize with
someone who lets his erection do his thinking for him."

I don't have Laurence Olivier's book in my office, so that may be a
paraphrase.  I believe it is pretty close.

Mike Jensen

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Thursday, 13 Aug 1998 11:55:59 -0400
Subject: 9.0758  Re: Lust in Rom.
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0758  Re: Lust in Rom.

Let me join Ed Taft in admiring *Rom*.  If we accept the traditional
chronology, Shakespeare wrote it during or shortly after the hiatus in
his theatrical career caused by the closing of the theaters in on London
between June 1592 and June 1594, when he wrote the two long narrative
poems and many if not all the sonnets.  It makes sense to me that work
on the sonnets in particular sharpened his awareness and mastery of
structure, for *Rom* has a complexity and elegance of organization much
greater than any of the earlier plays.  And that organization displays
the exquisite balance of a great Petrarchan or Shakespearean sonnet,
Montague and Capulet, youthful passion against mature prudence, private
vengeance against public order, not just thematically but structurally.
As Susan Snyder taught us to see, the play acts like a comedy (spotted
with dark forebodings) until almost exactly halfway through the killings
of Mercutio and Tybalt and the consummation of the secret marriage swing
it toward tragedy (shot through with comic gleams), in a process so
carefully conducted that on either side of the catastrophe the
individual scenes manage both to repeat and reverse the sequence of the
other half.  The play lacks the metaphysical and political reach of the
"great" tragedies, but it is psychologically acute (not just in its
treatment of adolescent liebstod, but more generally-see Kirby Farrell's
brilliant analysis of the play's exploration of the psychopathology of
patriarchy).  And it's great fun to watch and read.

I share Ed's discomfort with Aristotelian approaches to this or any
Shakespearean tragedy.  If the lovers have faults, however, lust is not
one of them; nothing in the language of this play echoes Shakespeare's
treatment of that theme in *Lucrece*, the sonnets, or *Othello*, nor
does any of the characters except Mercutio give it more than a passing
glance, and his reductive assessment of Romeo's state is countered by
the spiritualizing imagery of both balcony scenes.  Shakespeare takes
care to get the youngsters to the altar before the bed; their lovemaking
is legal if not sensible, and from the point of view of the plot can be
viewed as fully authenticating the marriage and thus raising the status
of Capulet's obstinate insistence that Juliet marry Paris to a real
problem.  The text does repeatedly call attention to Romeo's (and
Capulet's) impulsiveness, through both speeches and actions, and to
Juliet's privileging of fancy over reason.  But these are characteristic
qualities of the young, which education tries to control but which are
also expected to be schooled by the responsibilities that follow
marriage.

The particular interest here, I believe, arises from the way the social
sickness of Verona, by distorting normal patterns of friendship and
courtship, deflects the lovers out of a path in which their love might
have developed productively  with the sanction of their parents and
rulers and into a destructive cul de sac.  At the base of this process
lies not just the self-interested patriarchal obtuseness of the parents,
especially Capulet (one of the brilliant inventions of the play is the
presentation of Paris, a little dull, perhaps, but a nice guy with more
than adequate social and personal advantages, by contrast with Thurio,
who occupies the analogous structural spot in *Two Gents*), but the
culture of chivalric violence, which rose to a peak in the
early-to-mid-1590s, with the publication of *The Faerie Queene* and
*Arcadia*, romantic hotheads like Raleigh and Essex in the ascendant at
Court, and the London streets full of "tall fellows" who had blooded
their swords in the Low Countries or Ireland.

What all this means is that, as usual, no single issue-Aristotelian
hamartia or Freudean death-wish or the craze for Petrarchan
sonnetry-will begin to account for the richness of the play as a whole,
or for its continuing popularity in classrooms and theaters.

Copiously,
Dave Evett
 

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