The Tragedy of Romeo & Juliet is not a Tragedy at all.
Each time I’ve seen it done, I’ve thought the various directors (with all due respect) missed the boat. Why? Because the show isn’t a Tragedy. A Tragedy, in the classical sense, revolves around a single central character, usually male, who is a paragon of virtues – a great lover, poet, warrior, philosopher, politician – with a single flaw that invariably leads to ultimate destruction of the lead and all they stand for. With Othello it’s jealousy, with Mac it’s ambition, and so on.
That doesn’t fit Romeo. He’s much more of an Orlando, a Claudio. He’s the lovesick youth from Shakespeare’s Comedies. Juliet, for her part, isn’t an Ophelia or a Desdemona. She’s Rosalind, she’s – well, not Hero, she’s smarter and more active. She’s a Viola. Young and in love, she remains the smartest, most charming and grounded person in the show. Her only flaw, if it is a flaw, is falling in love.
R&J doesn’t follow the format of a Tragedy, either. You can tell just by the opening. Look at the first scene of most any other great Shakespearean Tragedy and you’ll find Witches, or Storms, or Battles, or Ghosts, or all of the above.
Not in R&J! Setting aside the Prologue, which I’ll get to, the show begins with jokes about sex and violence. “I’ll push Montague’s men from the wall and thrust his maids to the wall!” Imagine a teenage pelvic thrust on the last part of the line and you’ve got the idea.
So it starts like a Comedy, its leads are comedic leads. I wondered where that notion could lead me.