Romeo and Juliet: Two Questions

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.415  Friday, 9 December 2016


From:        Brian Bixley <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         December 8, 2016 at 4:24:37 PM EST

Subject:    R&J Time Travels


There is a relaxed confusion in the commentaries on R&J about the timing of the events in the play. For Park Honan (Shakespeare: A Life) the events unfold over four days but, insofar as the commentators actually commit themselves, five days, from Sunday through to Thursday early morning, is more frequent. I have come to believe that is not quite right.


The final scene outside the tomb in which Tybalt’s body has been laid and where Juliet is ‘sleeping’ is so exciting - the darkness penetrated here and there by flaming torches, figures moving silently, a silence broken only by whispered instructions, the sudden outburst and clash of swords between Romeo and Paris, the opening of the tomb - that only the most pedestrian of spectators or readers, an economist perhaps, would be counting the hours.


When Fr. Lawrence gives Juliet the ‘distilling liquor’ that is to plunge her into the ‘borrowed likeness of shrunk death’, he is specific about the length of time that the effects of the liquor will last. He needs to be, because he and Romeo must be in the tomb when Juliet wakes. The liquor,  he tells Juliet, ‘shalt continue two and forty hours’ (4.1.105, NCS). She is to take the liquor ‘being then in bed’ on Wednesday evening, and she will ‘sleep’ through Thursday, during which time she will be laid in the tomb next to Tybalt and where Romeo and Fr. Lawrence will find her on Friday.


Those datelines change dramatically when Capulet suddenly changes the wedding day from Thursday to Wednesday. Juliet is unable to inform Fr. Lawrence of this change unless we assume she is able to send a messenger, but Fr. Lawrence is presumably able to work out what has happened when he is called to officiate at the wedding on Wednesday. When he hears of Juliet’s ‘death’, he will guess that she took the liquor on Tuesday evening, a day earlier than planned, and he will understand that he and Romeo need to go to the tomb a day early.


So Juliet drank the liquor on Tuesday night. When did she do this? I presume a 13 year-old girl, even a marriageable 13 year-old girl, would not be allowed to stay up for the Late Night Talk shows, nor would she fall into bed until she had watched Jeopardy. Suppose she goes to bed and drinks the liquor at 10p.m. If it works as hoped, she will wake up 42 hours later, i.e., at 4p.m. on Thursday. It is improbable that darkness prevails in midsummer Verona at 4p.m. Perhaps only an economist would be unwilling to suspend her disbelief. Juliet’s bedtime hour can be changed to 8p.m. or midnight, and the conclusion is unchanged. When she wakes in the darkness of the tomb, it is broad daylight in Verona. Flaming torches would be otiose.


Two other points. I have no way, really, of knowing whether WS had the story of Adam and Eve in mind when he was thinking of Romeo and Juliet. It seems a brilliant bit of a stretch, but a bit of a stretch just the same; almost all of us have it somewhere in mind. What I do not accept is that Juliet is being sarcastic when she says to Romeo, ‘you kiss by th’book.’ The OED definition of sarcasm is, ‘A bitter or wounding expression or remark, a taunt,’ and I cannot see that that is in any way applicable to Juliet’s words.


The second point relates to Mercutio’s ‘accidental’ death (= Tybalt’s ‘accidental’ stabbing). No one has really addressed the question of whether the accidental nature, if that is what it is, of Mercutio’s death is relevant to Romeo’s response.


Brian Bixley

Lilactree Farm




Plays and Festivals Update

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.414  Friday, 9 December 2016


From:        Michael Luskin <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         December 6, 2016 at 5:10:19 PM EST

Subject:    Festivals...


It is great that there is a compendium of festivals, BUT it would be useful to see where specific plays are being presented.  For instance, I would love to be able to figure out where the three Henry VI plays are being presented.  




An HD Screening of the Current RSC King Lear at the Folger

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.413  Friday, 9 December 2016


From:        Ellen Moody <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         December 6, 2016 at 10:22:34 PM EST

Subject:    An HD Screening of the Current RSC King Lear at the Folger


[Editor’s Note: Many photographs at blog site. –Hardy]


An HD screening of the current RSC King Lear

December 6, 2016


Dear friends and readers,


Last night I was privileged to watch an HD screening of a production of King Lear from Stratford-upon-Avon at the Folger Shakespeare library. It’s the fifth HD-screening of a Shakespeare play for me, and I take the occasion to praise the Folger for this program and hope aloud to others the library continues to participate in these screenings. Each one of the five has provided me and those in the audience with a renewed contemporary dramatic realization of Shakespeare: particularly alive and deeply instructive have been the Love Labor’s Lost and Merchant of Venice. I did learn that Lily James is a great actress from Branagh’s Romeo and Juliet (“a few good experiences” — scroll down, just a bit). I still lament I had to miss Kenneth Branagh’s Winter’s Tale with Judy Dench as Paulina. The Folger itself on average is staging at most two plays by Shakespeare a year (the others are often modern adaptations of Shakespeare or some other supposedly related contemporary play). So by screening say three productions from the UK Shakespeare himself is kept before us.


It’s an occasion because Gregory Doran’s Lear (he was the director) is getting more attention than many RSC productions. These occur regularly and why this one is singled out I don’t know. One review from TLS will do, partly because Abell does not say much about the production except that it has to cope with the bombast of the play. There was magnificence in the way the play’s hieratic and crazed excruciating lunatic scenes were done, the scenes as a whole as living emblems before us, a dignity was maintained even in the most intimate moments.


But the experience was not as deeply moving for me in the way it has been before. I usually weep, occasionally almost uncontrollably, and didn’t at all this time. They were too controlled, too aware of themselves as enacting the super-respected Tragedy. The actors all seemed so delighted to have been given their part. A case in point was the opening scene: it is hieratic, and the truth (let us drop adulation even for Shakespeare) and admit it resembles the static hieratic scenes in other of Shakespeare’s dramas, e.g., Merchant of Venice (the casket), the one in Pericles (where the suitor is in danger of his life). Two reviews of an Old Vic production with an 80 year old Glenda Jackson making another astonishingly effective performance (recalling her first appearances as Charlotte Corday in Marat/Sade so many years ago) as Lear suggest the route taken was Samuel Beckett stripped down modernity (Fintan O’Toole in the NYRB; Matt Wolf in the NYTimes; Susannah Clapp in The Guardian).


The problem (as I see it) might be a lack of courage (or originality of interpretation), a fear of the audience, a reverence for the place they were playing in, too much self- and audience regard. Simpson played Cordelia so blandly: if she is not given some anger or resentment in the opening scene (as she was not), there is no psychological sense to what has happened. I’ve seen this reluctance before. Shakespeare means to show us the mean pathologies of family life taken to a frightening ferocity, with each “child” a step along that road. Simpson is even worse: she hardly breaks her serenity across the play. She never not loves the old man. Then why did she refuse him at the opening? They reinforced the play’s artificiality as a kind of compensation, a guarded wall of costume. I felt Turner was going through the motions of the fool’s speeches, not meaning them, careful lest we not get all the words. The wicked sisters were wholly unoriginal. Most of all there was nothing abandoned about Oliver Johnstone as the broken, abandoned, utterly distrusted betrayed child in Edgar; he was too studied.


Some intriguing moments: It was interesting to see Edmund so underplayed, understated by Paapa Essieddu, almost semi-comic, but it didn’t fit in at all. Nia Gwynne as Goneril needed to be in another melodramatically emotional production: she was effective, but, except for a moment where Lear seems to hug her so tightly he is trying to destroy her uterus or chest, she had no match anywhere. It’s a testament to the vivid thereness of a long career that Sher managed to give Lear a feel of a real individual looking out of his eyes. The best moments were where he was permitted to react naturally in an intimate or direct way to another presence on stage (with Gloucester, with Goneril).


Very effective Shakespeare’s drive down to utter degradation, misery, writhing madness in the scenes on the heath and in the hovel — not so much the individual (which is all I have promotional photos of) but the scene as a whole, the larger stage conceptions. I felt also that the age of the two men, aging itself, its vulnerability, its needs were central to what was moving in the experience of this production. But then I am old myself and identified as an aging parent. I would have loved to be able to see Glenda Jackson as Lear (photo from NYRB):


Shakespeare often carries himself in less alive or good productions, and that happened here too. Who can deny the horror of plucking out Gloucester’s eyes. You just need to do it feelingly. The long passage spoken by Edgar recreating a frightening height when well-spoken is evocative poetry. About a quarter of the Folger audience missed these scenes because they occurred after the intermission. It is a curious phenomenon how audiences seek to or just automatically respond to something immediately contemporary. So the least reference to corrupt politicians or anything that smacked of moronic or mindless hypocrisy got a laugh. The play’s real themes about say the importance of one’s status and respect of others, as in the famous bellowing of Lear over the putting of Kent into the stocks seemed to fall on blankness.


As a lover of Shakespeare I enjoyed the production almost as a dramatic reading. Only once in all the 45 years or so I have been going to Shakespeare plays (I began at age 17 when I went to the Papp productions for free in Central Park, NYC) have I left a production. So, I encourage all who read this to go and have written this to bring out into the discussably open the danger that these “screening around the world” productions do not succumb to self-censorship or the self-puffery of praise they will get automatically from some reviewers.


A feature for the intermission of the HD-screening was about the super-expensive gilded costume made for Goneril in the opening scene. Much money was doubtless spent. You can glimpse the dress in this enlarged photo:


I am worried by the (in effect) advertisement for the coming HD-screened production of The Tempest with the great actor Simone Russell Beale as Prospero when we were shown the technological marvel of the blue mask that will be part of his costume. For this reason I have written this critical blog.


Ellen Moody




Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.412  Friday, 9 December 2016


From:        Michael Goodman <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         December 6, 2016 at 6:37:47 PM EST

Subject:    Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive


Dear SHAKSPER Subscribers,


I hope you are all well and that this may be of interest to you. Back in late August I launched my PhD project in English Literature at Cardiff University, The Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive ( It contains over 3000 illustrations from four of the most significant illustrated editions of Shakespeare’s works in the Victorian period. All images have been tagged bibliographically and iconographically and there are numerous pathways through the archive. 


The archive has a Creative Commons license – all images are free for the user to do whatever they like with. I’m very passionate that knowledge should be available to all. The archive has already had a tremendously positive reaction with Hyperallergic writing about it here: And Open Culture writing about it here:


All the very best,



Michael Goodman

RA on Cardiff University's Digital Humanities Network 

School of English, Communication and Philosophy

Cardiff University



MV Dialog

hatThe Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.411  Tuesday, 6 December 2016


From:        William Blanton <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         December 2, 2016 at 4:43:53 PM EST

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: MV Dialog



To Peter Holland


Re Jacob’s staff. You may well be right. I thought “Jacob’s staff” sounded odd when I first read it, so I googled it and found the reference I cited. Its cruciform shape fit in with my notion that Shylock was not really a Jew, so I included it as one of several possible textual indications of that fact. I will let my reference stand, but you and others are welcome to ignore it. I have never heard of anyone swearing by Jacob’s staff; have you?



To Michael Luskin


When I first started this thread, I provided an Overview in two parts so that readers could tell where I was generally going. Readers can check the SHAKSPER archive for the dates around 6/29/15 and 10/3/15. I am sending you pdfs of these two submissions. Anyone else desiring copies can email me.


I began this dialog because I needed feedback from knowledgeable people about my interpretation of the play. I had not wanted to tackle such a large project, but no one had taken me up on my invitation to do so in my article at >< I am attempting to provide a broad, multi-dimensional analysis of the play.


My article concerned mainly the trial scene, particularly my analysis concluding that Shakespeare purposefully made it ridiculous. Why would he do that? I wondered. Please read that article.



To Julia Griffin


I am fully aware that almost everyone will have a hard time seeing Shylock as the actual Devil disguised as a Jew. I am presently engaged in an effort to list the many textual indications that Shakespeare provided to that point. These are far more than a single offhand reference or two. I hope you will stick with me, keeping an open mind. I know that’s hard to do. I had a difficult time myself when I first started out. Please read my article at >< so that you can understand what prompted this ambitious attempt.


You raise an excellent point: so, why did Shakespeare make his supposed Jew actually be the Devil? 


I believe the answer lies in the multi-dimensional story Shakespeare wanted to tell. I am also sending you pdfs on the two Overviews.


Quick answer. On the Political/Religious/Current Events dimension, Shylock as a Jew represented Catholics in England, who had been persecuted for a number of decades under Elizabeth’s administration. Including torture and being compelled to convert to the Church of England.


There is also at least one theological dimension. I suspect that Shakespeare was addressing the question of how, exactly, the Church of England came to supplant Catholicism. The Devil is a metaphor for this evil (from the Catholic point of view). Antonio represents the Catholics of England, and he is the one who insists that the Devil (Protestantism) become Christian (Catholic). The Duke (Henry VIII) changes his mind (as he changed from being a Catholic) and likewise insists that this Devil become Christian.


I am a retired attorney and am more than a little out of my depth here. But I am sure t I am onto something.


Thank all of you for your attention and for your observations.







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