CAUTION! MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!!
What’s not to love about Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream? It talks of love and fairies and dreams coming true. It seems fun and whimsical and even a little bit naughty. But have modern audiences made it a lot more light-hearted than it really is?
The play opens with a court scene, where Hermia is told that if she doesn’t marry the man her father has chosen for her she will either become a nun, isolated from her friends and family or DIE! Those are seriously her options?!??!!!! Then we meet Helena who is absolutely in love with Demetrius (who we find out is actually in love with her best friend Hermia). Oh, and guess what? Not only is Demetrius in love with Hermia but he’s the guy Hermia’s father is making her marry! Uhhh… No wonder Helena is upset. So far not so light and fluffy if you ask me.
The play lightens up a bit when we meet The Mechanicals, but even then the stakes are high. If they upset the Duke with their play they could get hanged!!!!! Hanged…Seriously… What the actual……. !!!!!
We are introduced to the third world of the play, the Fairy world, through the character Puck *cue dramatic instrumental music*. I bet you’re thinking ‘Oh the fairies how cute and sweet and beautiful right?’ WRONG. If there is anything that Harry Potter has taught me, it’s that things that sweet, cute and beautiful may not be what they seem!
While I was reading up on Puck, I was surprised to find the character’s origins in Fae, a type of mythical being or legendary creature in European folklore. A form of spirit, Fae is often described as metaphysical, supernatural or preternatural. Quite dark in reality and not like the fairies we have come to associate the term with at all! Hobgoblins are a another type of spirit I’ve looked at. According to folklore around different parts of England, hobgoblins were consider to be helpful spirits around the house. If annoyed thought, they could turn quite mischievous! In Irish folklore, the hobgoblin was actually considered a demon with head of an ass! In Wales, spirits like Puck were malignant, queer, little figures; long and grotesque with the look of something like a chicken. Gross.
Okay. So Puck has some dark origins but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he has to be played as dark character, right? Well I don’t know. It was almost as if Shakespeare anticipated our confusion with the character, so (being the helpful playwright he was) he wrote a pretty clear character description of Puck using monologues and soliloquy. While Puck is generally regarded as mischievous at worst, he also seems to get pleasure out of the pain of other characters – borderline cruel if you ask me! And speaking of cruel, Oberon and Titania’s relationship, whats going on there? Oberon is so mean to her!
A Midsummer Night’s Dream has all these dark undertones yet in this modern age we have turned it in to something whimsical, sweet and light-hearted. I guess its all down to interpretation, isn’t it? Our own view on fairies and magic has shifted from Shakespeare’s time. Throw a love story in with the story of normal, every day people like you and I and, well, it’s not hard to see the light-heartedness of the play.
The best thing about Shakespeare is that none of his plays are written in black and white. He leaves questions unanswered and writes flawed protagonists. Why? Well, he was writing about the world around him and frankly, life isn’t black and white. Life can be great but it can also be cruel. A lot of questions will never be answered. What is love really? Is there another world out there, other than our own? Is the supernatural real? Can we make our dreams come true through hard work or does luck have a lot to do with it ? One thing I think the story of A Midsummer Night’s Dream does give us is the opportunity to look at ourselves and laugh, because there’s one thing that life is definitely not, and that’s boring.
— Abbie x
We often get asked by students (and teachers) how we keep 3 shows, and so much Shakespeare in our heads! It has had me thinking, how did I learn so much Shakespeare in such a short time? And more importantly, what do I do to demystify Shakespeare’s language and put it into my own voice?
When I was at school I studied Shakespeare in English. We read his plays out loud, all sitting down in the classroom swapping at every new dialogue line with the teacher reading out any stage directions. We would then maybe watch a movie or two, if they were available, and then toddle off to write our essays. At assessment time you could find the English students during individual study time all silently pouring over their texts as if they were still writing an essay on To Kill a Mocking Bird or some other piece of literature.
Through this process I wrote good essays about themes and the dichotomy of the human spirit, but I never felt close to Shakespeare’s text and words. I loved Shakespeare’s language but never truly felt like it was my language. It was something to be enjoyed from afar, to be written about, something to discuss over tea and biscuits; not something I wanted to really investigate, get lost in a black hole of googling, or something that I could be physically and mentally challenging. Shakespeare was never something that I thought could be mine.
To essay, or not to essay?
There is nothing wrong with knowing the themes of the plays, nor spending time reading the text, or indeed writing essays… But that is not why Shakespeare wrote what he wrote. He wrote these words to be read out loud, to be performed, to inspire and excite people. This is something that I had always known from an academic point of view, but it wasn’t until I was at university studying acting that I really understood the impact of this and how we are usually taught to approach Shakespeare at school.
The thing that I really wanted to know was how could I still sound like me when performing Shakespeare? How could these people that I relate to on so many levels also sound relatable?
The best advice I was given when tackling Shakespeare was “make it your own”, but what did that mean? In my experience, I think that it means something slightly different to everyone so all I can do is give a few pointers and talk through a few of the things that I do when I first pick up a piece of Shakespeare.
What does that even mean?
One of the first ways that I make the language my own is to go to find a dictionary. I know that this might seem a little tedious, but believe me it has helped me more times that I can count! I always go through my text reading it aloud. Whenever I come across a word or a phrase that I don’t understand I look it up in a dictionary. From the simple to the obscure a dictionary can help to demystify what the characters are talking about. A great example of this is one of Hamlet’s famous lines:
“Now might I do it pat, now ‘a is a-praying.”
‘Pat’ often trips me up, and is great because depending on the dictionary/footnotes it can mean a variety of things. Such as: neatly, opportunely, aptly, simple, slick, smooth, but, precisely… The list goes on! If you have lots of time and really want to nerd out have a look at different dictionaries for different interpretations of the same word. Footnotes in your texts are also a massive help: someone else has already had a go at looking through resources and figuring out what characters are going on about! When unlocking Shakespeare it is really about having as many tools at your disposal as possible so get defining those words and phrases.
She said what?
Great, so now I know what the words mean, I know what the characters are talking about and I guess I know what is going on generally… What next, Eleanor? So glad you asked! The next thing I do is get up out of my chair, that is all the “book work” I do. As I mentioned before, Shakespeare is meant to be performed! I would highly recommend finding a buddy (or a small group) and tacking the text scene by scene, speech by speech, reading it aloud. Get up and improvise some blocking. Move where you think you might need to move and be a bit silly with it. If you are studying a comedy I find that this is 100% the best way to uncover the majority of the jokes. If you think it is a little bit naughty, chances are you are on the right track! Jokes in Shakespeare are often full of innuendoes, making fun of how words sound, or simply repeating sounds in an amusing pattern. A great example of a character that does all three of these things is Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet:
“Why, is not this better now than groaning for love?
now art thou sociable, now art thou Romeo; now art
thou what thou art, by art as well as by nature:
for this drivelling love is like a great natural,
that runs lolling up and down to hide his bauble in a hole.”
Once you have read aloud you might want to go back to the dictionary and clarify a few words that still remain illusive.
In other words…
So now you know what the words mean, you have had a bash at speaking the language, and you’ve moved around a bit. Now it is time to literally put the text into your own words. This is also referred to as paraphrasing the language. I find that this is a really important step in making Shakespeare sound like me, so that it fits my body rather than a performer over 400 years ago. There are some online resources around that have already done this, but I think it is always good to do it yourself first and if you get really lost to then check them out. In fact, I think that this is a thing I would recommend for life. You don’t need to spend too long paraphrasing, and it definitely doesn’t need to be word for word. This should be a tool to use to help deepen your understanding of the text. If you still have your buddies around you can discuss (in your own words) what the characters are saying, where they are, and what is happening to them. Often brainstorming aloud can inspire further discussion and really unlock the more subtle layers of the language.
If you have time, and are really enjoying the discovery of Shakespeare and want to explore a little further check out any performances you can, interviews of actors or find a different text with different footnotes. The beauty of Shakespeare’s language is that there is room for everyone to have a slightly different interpretation, it might mean something slightly different to each person. Share your ideas, have fun with the language, see if you can be silly and throw caution to the wind. I love this language so much. I truly believe that you can too. Take Shakespeare’s plays off of their pedestals and throw them around a bit, give them a run for their money and see how much you can pull them apart. This is how I unlock Shakespeare. This is how I perform Shakespeare in my own voice.
Now I could write so much more on my process, but I wanted to give you a taste and to excite you to give it a go and discover how you might make Shakespeare your own and not some piece of literature to be read in silence out of some form of respect. Go forth and enjoy!
— Eleanor – Team M
Some websites/resources that I keep coming back to:
- Shakespeare’s words http://www.shakespeareswords.com – This is my go to website to start off. It has the full texts, synopsis, character lists, word definitions etc. This is also available to buy as a book
- Shakespeare defined http://www.shakespearedefined.com – another great resource/tool for getting those definitions flowing
- Absolute Shakespeare http://absoluteshakespeare.com – the plays, some interesting resources, a bit of variety in this list
- Ian McKellen on acting Shakespeare http://youtu.be/25QcYpYCu4Q – mind the quality of the video but the man makes some fine points
- John Barton’s Playing Shakespeare http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLboSQWmG70j_S2nWkRlncZYW49nLeFKWj – a lot of information but well worth the watch
- Chilli Monologues http://youtu.be/KKn4WFG4Je8 – some chilli Shakespeare fun… Remember Treat Yo’ Self!
So, it’s 2016, 400 years after the death of William Shakespeare. It is a requirement in the Australian High School curriculum that one or more of his plays are studied. His plays have been translated and performed in almost every single language on Earth. There will be at least FIVE Shakespeare plays produced in Sydney alone in 2016.
So hang on a second-
This is an English guy who never even knew Australia existed, he wrote in words that are completely foreign to the majority of Australians, why are we still insisting that school students sit down and decipher his work?
Whilst in Brisbane, in the midst of our north coast NSW and QLD tour, I decided to ask myself this question. I searched through several documents and articles writen by literary scholars and professors, and the resounding reason was this:
“He is the greatest dramatist, the greatest poet and the greatest prose writer in the history of the language.”
Now, for me, if I place myself is the shoes of a year 9 student trying to read Macbeth for the first time, this statement isn’t going to mean a whole lot to me. If anything, it would probably turn me away even more, making his literature something reserved for only the scholars and intellectuals of our society. So I dug a little deeper. I came across a website debate of which the topic was ‘Should Shakespeare still be taught in schools?’ The votes were 51% no, 49% yes. I am aware that this is only one online poll with an unknown number of votes, but some of the written answers were quite profound.
“Shakespeare’s language is so old that it is almost the same as making them read Italian or Greek.”
“As a high school student, I personally find works of Shakespeare irrelevant to life today.”
“When in the world would we use his material any where else than a high school exam?”
The overarching response from the students on this poll were that, sure, he is the greatest writer the Western world has ever known- but what if I have little interest in literature? When will I use his work if I am pursuing a trade or one of the many career paths that have nothing to do with drama or art?
These questions arise time and time again in our Q&A sessions after our shows. I know for a fact that I experienced the same problems in high school looking at his work. I think the issue is that it was only after school finished, out in the world that I became aware of how what I had experienced of Shakespeare was relevant to me. When I was in school, obliged to study his work, in a time where the human experiences of the plays were unknown to me, how was it going to be possible for me to engage and enjoy reading his work?
I would encourage students feeling this way to think outside the box. Outside the confines of your English classroom and think deeper about the people Shakespeare is writing about.
He writes Juliet, the 13 year old girl, (A year 8 or 9 student today) obsessed with myths and fables about love, (not dissimilar to learning about love from Twilight) and we get to witness her experience of her first love. We learn the foolishness of Romeo’s haste, and the potential consequences of rashness. The characters in Hamlet explore grief to us, with Hamlet’s inability to grieve, Ophelia’s destruction by grief, and Laertes’ outward rage in dealing with his grief. The Friar and Nurse in Romeo And Juliet demonstrate that age and experience do not equal guaranteed success! Macbeth explores the dangers of ambition, Iago of Othello ironically teaches us to be aware of jealousy, for it ‘It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.’ I could go on all day, believe me.
Shakespeare’s plays weren’t written to be read. They weren’t written for the classroom. They are words writ to be spoken aloud, performed and observed. So try and engage with the characters as people, not just fiction, and trust that even if you don’t see value to these plays today, one day later in life you will experience circumstances or emotions not dissimilar to those Shakespeare explored. Just turn on the news and you will see the things he wrote about. The US presidential campaign could be compared with Richard the Third. Warring nations and religions are no different to ‘two households, both alike in dignity’. Everyone will experience grief. Perhaps Shakespeare is a reference- a comfort in dark times, an explanation for why people act the way they do, or simply an escape from the ‘slings and arrows’ of everyday life. Once you sift pass the confusing words, (which I assure you isn’t difficult or something to be embarrassed about, actors/ directors are constantly referring to dictionaries or footnotes to understand a scene or a phrase.) you are able to enjoy his plays as stories. He was a storyteller, and a masterful one at that. He wants to ignite our imaginations and present the follies and intricacies of humankind.
I think what I have spoken about here is presented well in this version of the Seven Ages of Man speech. Click the image for this version, by the late Billie Brown. It is a beautiful and emotional performance of a speech simply about human life.
When we’re touring, we often get questions from students about how to perform Shakespeare effectively – especially given that the language can be quite hard! Sometimes when we’re looking at a whole scene, or an entire play, it’s tough to know where to even begin! So that’s the topic of this blog: how to begin unlocking the text, and discovering clues about the scene.
Let’s look at an example of a short excerpt from Romeo and Juliet:
Give me a torch. I am not for this ambling.
Being but heavy, I will bear the light.
Nay, gentle Romeo, we must have you dance.
Not I, believe me. You have dancing shoes
With nimble soles. I have a soul of lead
So stakes me to the ground I cannot move.
So, right from the first line, we’re given a clue as to the nature of the scene. Romeo says “give me a torch.” This means it must be dark. It seems obvious, but little clues like this are often overlooked. Also, historically, the torch-bearers never danced (as they had to provide the light for everyone else) so Romeo is also trying to make sure he doesn’t have to dance, by carrying the torch. This idea of Romeo not wanting to dance is supported by the second half of the line, “I am not for this ambling.” Romeo is pretty clearly saying that he does not want to go.
In the next line, we get a clue as to how Romeo is feeling. “Being but heavy,” suggests he is feeling sad or depressed. Shakespeare often uses words that we recognise in modern language, but he uses them in a different way. Nowadays the word heavy usually means something with a lot of weight, but here, Romeo is describing himself as being weighed down by sadness.
The second half of the line shows Romeo’s wit, and Shakespeare’s clever wordplay – “I will bear the light.” Literally, Romeo is saying he will carry the torch. But there’s more to it than that! The heaviness that Romeo complains of, suggests a burden that he is carrying. Shakespeare continues this metaphor with the word “bear,” meaning to carry, and adds a clever pun with the antithetical word, “light.”
So we can see the opposites or antitheses in capital letters: “Being but HEAVY, I will bear the LIGHT.”
Mercutio answers him with some straightforward teasing. “Nay, gentle Romeo, we must have you dance!” But even here, the word “gentle” gives us a clue as to Romeo’s nature.
In the next lines, we get a little clue as to Mercutio’s physicality – the way he moves. Romeo says “you have dancing shoes with nimble soles.” He’s not telling us that Mercutio has come wearing ballet flats, he’s describing Mercutio’s agility and speed. This gives us some ideas about who the character of Mercutio is.
He then continues with another pun, or wordplay, this time using homophones. Having just referred to Mercutio’s “soles,” he then talks about his own “soul.” Two words that sound the same, but have different meanings. This use of wordplay and quick-wittedness that Shakespeare gives to Romeo throughout the play is one of the most important characteristics of who he is: he is a poet, intelligent, quick-witted and romantic; a gentle soul.
In the last line shown here, Romeo returns to the image of heaviness by referring to his soul being made of “lead.” Lead is one of the heaviest metals, but it is also a cheap and common metal, often associated with dullness. So we get a stronger sense of his depression and melancholy here. Romeo tells us that because his soul feels as if it were made of lead, and therefore very heavy, he is pinned to the ground by it, and can’t possibly dance.
As we start to unlock the language of Shakespeare, we can see just how many clues he has left for us as to who these characters are, and how we could play them. In just six lines of text, we have exposed all sorts of clues and ideas about Romeo and Mercutio, their relationship, and the time of day (or night).
Hopefully, this helps you guys who are learning scenes for English or Drama, and shows you that you don’t need to be intimidated by the language, but just go through it, line by line, word by word. Once you begin to dig below the surface, you will find that there is a wealth of clues and ideas just waiting to be unlocked! Good luck!
Felix – Team Capulet.
So, we’re slowly but surely approaching the final chapter of our year as the 2015 Bell Players. And boy has it been a great one. We’ve dusted dry red dirt from our clothes in Newman, swam with whale sharks in Exmouth, and participated in an intense drama class game of Duck Duck Goose with our bellies full of freshly baked Donald scones in Donald, all the while aiming to give you guys the best possible 50-minute Shakespearean performances we could, in whatever Aussie town called our names. So much laughter, so many tears (well, not that many tears. Actually Lucy and I did see Still Alice at a cinema in Wollongong during which we probably shed a year’s worth of tears for all four of us).
However, it has not always been smooth sailing for Team C, let me tell you. We may appear to be cool, calm and collected, but there have been incidents where a powerful and highly dangerous virus has infiltrated our otherwise unshakeable Team front, threatening the very foundations on which our Team was formed. Our will-power, professionalism and strength of character are thrown into jeopardy. It’s frightening.
Now many of you actors out there may be familiar with this virus, referred to by some as the ‘Corpsing’ virus, or quite simply, a dreaded and seemingly uncontrollable unwanted burst of laughter. It is said to have been originally labelled ‘corpsing’ from the times when there an actor must play a corpse, and there has been a tendency to make that actor laugh. You know the feeling – something very funny happens on stage, and the sensible half of your brain tells you ‘hey, that’s okay buddy, let’s just keep on keeping on, hold on to your focus, keep your head in the game, it’s gonna be okay.’ And then the other half is saying ‘HAHAHAHAHAHAH THIS IS THE FUNNIEST THING TO EVER HAVE HAPPENED WHY ISNT EVERYBODY PEEING THEMSELVES WITH LAUGHTER OH I DONT CARE HAHAHAHAH’. So which half do you listen to? It really is a trying test for the actor, not allowing yourself to fall victim to corpsing. Your face gets hot, your chest starts bubbling, nostrils flaring, the sides of your mouth are reluctantly quivering upwards. The struggle is real.
Shiv has a great tip (which personally has not worked on me): when something distractingly funny happens on stage, think of a chair. Only a chair. See now I don’t know about Shiv, but I have experienced some pretty humorous-looking chairs in my time, so I think that could be a very dangerous substitution. Nevertheless, you can read more about it in his latest acting book, ‘Think of a Chair: The Technique and the Way of Life.’
A wee example from our experiences: some of you may recall, in a performance of Midsummer Madness quite a while back, a notable funny happened. The mechanicals were doing their thang on stage – I was playing Snug as I do, and Quince had just handed out our scripts for Pyramus and Thisbe which we were instructed to read and rehearse. But as it goes, before we have a chance to do so, sneaky Puck comes along and freezes the Mechanicals mid-action so that he can enact some of his magic mischief. Now, back to the dreaded corpsing. Just at the point where Puck freezes us, I (as Snug) am sitting precariously on a road case to read my script. And just after Puck does his magic freeze-clap, I (Snug) slowly and ungracefully slip off the road case and fall heavily onto my bum, breaking the freeze and looking like a total doofus. And then I make a feeble attempt to pretend like Snug has fallen on purpose by throwing my arms into the air and saying ‘Woo!’ For the minutes following this clumsy incident, (at which many of you audience members were sniggering – oh yes, I heard you), it became rather difficult for us actors to stifle our giggles, as every time we would make eye contact we would replay it in our minds. Except for Shiv. Shiv was too busy thinking of a chair to share in our amusement.
They are pretty exciting though, those moments. They can be challenging, because you’re fighting so hard to get yourself and your fellow actors back on track, and it can seem like the more you try and fight the giggles, the more vengeful they will be when they creep back up into your throat. I guess what we’ve learnt is just to breathe, take a little moment to gather yourself and get back into the circumstances of the play, and importantly, not to beat yourself up for having a little giggle. After all, acting is supposed to be fun, otherwise why else would they call it a ‘play’?
And like in life, nothing on stage ever really goes exactly as you think it will. So if the virus finds it’s way into a performance you’re in, just relax and breathe, it happens to everybody! Or if you simply cannot relax, think of a chair I guess…
“… For never was a story of more woe, than this of Juliet, and her Romeo.”
Blackout… applause… the lights come up, and we take a bow for the last time as a cast. We file out to backstage where we all hug and congratulate each other for a great last show; a great season of this very unique production of Romeo And Juliet.
It’s been such a blast bringing this show to life for you all. From early in the rehearsal process – when we first explored the set, learnt our lines and discovered our characters – to sharing the show with all the wonderful audiences who have come to see us at the Opera House and the Arts Centre… the whole experience has been amazing. And every cast is like a little family that you live with for a time; but like everything, eventually it finishes. No matter how many shows you do, it’s always a bit sad when it comes to an end. It reminds me of one of Prospero’s great speeches in the Tempest (which Bell Shakespeare is currently performing at the Opera House!):
“Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.”
So what’s next?
We’re back on the road!!
Yep – after a little sleep, a few naps, we’re back in the rehearsal room with our in school shows: Macbeth Undone, Midsummer Madness, and Just Macbeth (abridged). Now we’ve been split back to Team Ariel and Team Caliban and the competition is on! Both teams are going to Melbourne, then Team A are hitting regional Victoria and Canberra while Team C visit Tasmania.
Re-rehearsing a show that you haven’t performed in a while is pretty strange. Your mind can play all kind of tricks on you – “Is this where I moved on this line? Where have the purple flowers gone? We definitely need new magic thumbs!” – but it’s also really fun. Because we know the shows so well, we can try all kinds of different things with the characters. As an actor you can make lots of creative choices, and coming back to a show gives you the opportunity to branch out a bit.
This is also the time of year to start thinking beyond The Players… scary! One of the most important parts of being a professional actor is auditioning. It’s like having to constantly go for a job interview, and if you’re lucky you have lots of them. Some of us are starting the think about what we want to do next, and luckily we’ve got a whole year’s worth of experience under our belt which means we’ll be show-fit and ready to take on the next challenge. So keep an eye out for us, you never know what we might be doing next…
See you back in school!
THE MIGHTY TEAM ARIEL
Alright, alright, alright…….so as we draw to a close of our season of Romeo And Juliet at the Opera House in Sydney and the Arts Centre in Melbourne, everybody wants to point the finger and blame someone or something for the tragic death of these two star crossed lovers. I’m sure this has been the topic of many heated debates in the classroom, at the dinner table, with the taxi driver (although be warned that the taxi driver is never wrong…even if you say so) and even the lovely canteen ladies that feed us players DELICIOUS treats on tour.
It is therefore the perfect time for us all to sit down and work this one out together with the grand old question…. (cue dramatic music)…..
WHO OR WHAT IS TO BLAME FOR THE DEATHS OF ROMEO AND JULIET???
Now it would be easy to get all Cluedo on this and make wild accusations and start blaming one person or thing….. like it was Romeo in the Capulet’s monument with the candle stick, or Friar Laurence in the cell with the poison, or Tybalt with his sword prepared in the town square…. However, whilst these are all possibilities and contributing factors (maybe not so much Romeo with the candlestick) we need to understand the circumstances in which this ill-fated tale starts.
The prologue tells us that the Capulet and Montague families have had a long standing hatred for one another and this has now been taken to a new level of violence where blood is being spilt on the streets of Verona. This feud between the families acts as a pressure cooker throughout the play and underpins the majority of the characters actions and events which take place. The family feud causes civil unrest in Verona and the city is consumed by it.
Throughout the play we see different characters respond to the feud in different ways. On one hand, the Prince tries to lay down the law, and, on the other hand, we see the Friar trying to find peace. At the same time, fiery Tybalt seems determined to drive the feud to bloody violence in the name of honour.
The Friar envisions the union of Romeo and Juliet as bringing peace to the two warring families and agrees to marry them:
“But come, young waverer, come, go with me,
In one respect I’ll thy assistant be;
For this alliance may so happy prove,
To turn your households’ rancour to pure love.”
Whilst the Friar hatches this plan hopeful of reconciliation, the deaths of both Mercutio and Tybalt act as catalysts to accelerate the chain of events that ultimately lead to the death of the lovers. As punishment for killing Tybalt, Romeo is banished from Verona. This, coupled with the pressure of Lord Capulet’s arranged marriage of Paris and Juliet, causes Juliet to seek further help from the Friar. Again the Friar, filled with goodwill for peace between the families, devises a plan for the lovers to be reunited.
Now this is not the most foolproof plan…. it’s the old classic you-pretend-you’re-dead-by- drinking-this-potion-and-everything-will-work-out-A ok-plan…..Call it bad timing, miscommunication, or just plain old dishonesty, this plan does not (not surprisingly) work out as it was intended.
Now it may seem that the Friar is taking most of the heat for the deaths of the lovers, but the finger should not only be pointed at him. Let’s not forget that the Nurse is also in on the secret marriage and Lord and Lady Capulet have no consideration as to what their daughter wants in their hasty plans to arrange her marriage to Paris.
We can’t forget that the lovers themselves are also somewhat responsible for their own downfall – both Romeo and Juliet are young adolescents and act in haste with their love and in secret with their marriage. Some may argue that they lacked maturity, acting on their lustful impulses without any consideration or forethought, and that this caused them to make rash (and risky) decisions which eventually led to both of their deaths.
Maybe the hatred of the families also forced the young lovers to take such drastic measures and if that hatred didn’t exist maybe their love could have blossomed, all misery would have been avoided and they would have lived happily ever after …… but then we wouldn’t have the Tragedy of Romeo And Juliet.
So in regards to the question who or what is to blame for the deaths of Romeo and Juliet … Well…….it’s complicated! There isn’t just one thing or one person that is to blame for the deaths. Ultimately, it is a combination of many factors that drive the play to this end – their young love knowing no boundaries, the hatred and anger carried by their families, and the individual characters who all respond to the feuding families in their differing and often misguided ways.