Gary Taylor, John Jowett, Terri Bourus, and Gabriel Egan (eds), The New Oxford Shakespeare: Modern Critical Edition

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In an era ravaged by plague, the image [of Cupid and Death together] pondered the lottery of life: the untimely death of youth, the sometimes confounding vitality of age. These issues are of significance to Romeo and Juliet, which offers more than its share of untimely death and which concludes, like no other Shakespearean tragedy, with an elderly generation lamenting the loss of its youth.

Clayton G. MacKenzie, 2007

The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet no more depends on happenstance than it does on providence: it depends on the self-perpetuating quality of violence.

Simon Trussler, 1989

I consider Romeo designed to represent the character of an unlucky man—a man who, with the best views and fairest intentions, is perpetually so unfortunate as to fail in every aspiration and, while exerting himself to the utmost in their behalf, to involve all whom he holds dearest in misery and ruin. Had any other passion or pursuit occupied Romeo, he would have been equally unlucky as in his love.

William Maginn, 1860

In the city of Verona, Romeo and Juliet are caught between the weight of their family's history and personal longings … However, the greatest enemy of Romeo and Juliet is time, whose merciless progress intrudes on the moments of bliss they spent together, and contributes to a chain of unfortunate events.

Aagje Swinnen, 2012

1 Leonard Whiting (Romeo) and Olivia Hussey (Juliet) in the controversial nude scene of Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 movie, the first film version that cast teenagers in the title roles, and a touchstone for later youth-oriented Shakespeare adaptations

1 Leonard Whiting (Romeo) and Olivia Hussey (Juliet) in the controversial nude scene of Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 movie, the first film version that cast teenagers in the title roles, and a touchstone for later youth-oriented Shakespeare adaptations

Although Romeo believes he is 'fortune's fool,' it is not, finally, either the gods or human action that is responsible for his death, but his own hand … Romeo behaves in a consistently egotistical way, dramatizing himself as the heroic victim of a malicious destiny, and attempt[s] suicide in Act III, Scene 3, without any thought of how Juliet will cope with his death.

Robin Headlam Wells, 1998

How admirably also does Shakespeare provide every improbable circumstance, and not only take away their improbability, but renders them highly consistent and natural; thus when Juliet drinks the potion which is to consign her, a living woman, to a loathsome tomb, she is made to work upon her own imagination by a vivid picture of horrors of her incarceration in the vault where the festering remains of all her 'buried ancestors are packed', and at length swallows the potion in a paroxysm of terror.

Anonymous, 1854

The feud in a realistic social sense is the primary tragic force in the play … Instead of providing social channels and moral guidance by which the energies of youth can be rendered beneficial to themselves and society, the Montagues and the Capulets make weak gestures toward civil peace while participating emotionally in the feud as much as their children do … [B]oth the structure and the texture of the play suggest a critique of the patriarchal attitudes expressed through the feud, which makes 'tragic scapegoats' of Romeo and Juliet.

Coppélia Kahn, 1977

Romeo and Juliet's unsettling questions about the efficacy of authority figures arise from the very specific historical circumstances of the Crisis of the 1590s, the period of significant unrest caused by the disastrous crop failures of that decade … Shakespeare created a tragedy in which he questions the major forms of conventional authority—secular, religious, parental, patriarchal—and all are found wanting.

Peter C. Herman, 2008

What Hamlet is for the actor, Juliet is for the actress, a role which offers the fullest scope for the display of female histrionics.

John E. Hankins, 1960

[Juliet] is a real heroine, in the best sense of the term; her womanhood being developed through her heroism, not eclipsed or obscured by it. Wherein she differs from the general run of tragic heroines, who act as if they knew not how to be heroic, without unsexing themselves, and becoming something mannish.

Henry Norman Hudson, 1912

If he [the Prologue] was not there to warn us otherwise, the first two Acts of Romeo and Juliet are light-hearted enough to hold out the possibility of a happy ending. Not until the pg 998deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt, with the consequent banishment of Romeo, does the play take a decisive turn towards tragedy.

D. J. Palmer, 1982

In the eighteenth century, audiences occasionally were presented with Romeo and Juliet in comedic form. The only change adaptors needed to turn this 'tragedy' into a romantic comedy was to have Juliet wake up in time to stop Romeo from taking the poison.

James Forse, 1995

[As] a pattern of the idea of tragedy, it is a failure … the achievement [of the play] is due to the magic of Shakespeare's poetic genius and to the intermittent force of his dramatic power rather than to his grasp of the foundations of tragedy.

H. B. Charlton, 1948

Romantic tragedy—'an excellent conceited Tragedie of Romeo and Juliet', to cite the title-page of the First Quarto—was one of those contradictions in terms which Shakespeare seems to have delighted in resolving.

Harry Levin, 1960

In the Nurse's speech and laughter life-affirming joyousness subsumes the regenerative cycle of organic being –—the essence of carnival.

Ronald Knowles, 1998

Of all Shakespeare's plays, Romeo and Juliet is the one that correlates particularly well with the experiences of many Irish youths. Ireland has always consisted of divided societies: divisions have defined historical eras. Historically, these divisions have been political and religious: schisms include those between landlord and tenant, Catholic and Protestant, pro-Treaty and anti-Treaty.

Kevin De Ornellas, Review of the Abbey Theatre, Dublin production directed by Jason Byrne, 2008

The stage history of Romeo and Juliet in communist Bulgaria shows how 'the eternal love story' questioned the official values of Bulgarian society and the pretense that a new, better form of life had emerged … They evaded the casting of Romeo and Juliet as fighters for a revolutionary cause … Ultimately they turned to the society that surrounded them to unveil the tragic consequences of their encroachment of power on the intimate spiritual spheres of life.

Alexander Shurbanov and Boika Sokolova, 2001

2 Daria Klimentová and Vadim Muntagirov as the young lovers in Prokofiev's ballet (1935), choreographed by Rudolf Nureyev (1977), in the English National Ballet production at the Coliseum (2011). Photo by Annabel Moeller.

2 Daria Klimentová and Vadim Muntagirov as the young lovers in Prokofiev's ballet (1935), choreographed by Rudolf Nureyev (1977), in the English National Ballet production at the Coliseum (2011). Photo by Annabel Moeller.

The play combined the look of an idealized and elaborately illustrated nineteenth-century picture book with … vigorous fight scenes expertly choreographed by Robin H. McFarquhar. There were vibrant and energetic swordfights, accompanied by realistic punching, pushing, yelling, grunting, and thumb-biting: spitting anger, noise, confusion, chaos, hurled insults, and the heated quickness so natural to male adolescents.

Terri Bourus (reviewing the Chicago Shakespeare production, dir. Mark Lamos), 2005

The word 'death' itself shows up more often here than in any other work in the canon.

Kirby Farrell, 1989

Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet reveals the cultural significance of a subordinate and even insubordinate civility … [it] is filled with defiance of authority and hierarchy in act and image.

Glenn Clark, 2011

[The] rivalry between the Capulets and the Montagues is also, for the men, the impetus for an inward rivalry, an inward pressure to masculine self-assertion that cannot be appeased or concluded.

Robert Appelbaum, 1997

pg 999Throughout the balcony scene, Juliet endeavors to train and discipline Romeo and turn him into a 'manned' falcon the way Petruchio, the falconer in The Taming of the Shrew, trains and disciplines Katherine, his figurative bird.

Wisam Mansour, 2008

The mutual idealization that two adolescents share is experienced as a rejection of parental authority: Romeo and Juliet's love for one another is all the more fueled by the fact that they defy the Montague and Capulet clans who hate one another and engage in a merciless feud. This young couple's ideal is defiant and secret as all adolescent acts aspire to be. Moreover, the reciprocal idealization of the two lovers is perceived by all as a fatality.

Julia Kristeva, 2007

Shakespeare showed the best of his skill in his Mercutio, and he said himself, that he was forced to kill him in the third act, to prevent being killed by him. But, for my part, I cannot find he was so dangerous a person; I see nothing in him but what was so exceeding harmless, that he might have lived to the end of the Play and died in his bed without any offence to any man.

John Dryden, 1672

[Mercutio] is the unfortunate victim of forces outside his control. This is typical of the play—though the characters are seen acting passionately and often wrongly, they are not held up by the dramatist for censure. The final impression of the tragedy is that those who have suffered death have been the victims of vast and powerful forces which have operated for their destruction as well as for peace in Verona.

Raymond V. Utterback, 1973

To the Opera, and there saw Romeo and Juliet, the first time it was ever acted [after the Restoration], but it is a play of itself the worst that ever I heard in my life, and the worst acted that I ever saw these people do.

Samuel Pepys (on the March 1662 Lincoln's Inn Fields production)

Read Romeo and Juliet: all is youth and spring—youth with its follies, its virtues, its precipitancies; spring with its odours, its flowers, and its transiency. It is one and the same feeling that commences, goes through, and ends the play.

S. T. Coleridge, 1811

First love is an intense experience. But it is not our only experience. I adored Romeo and Juliet when I was a teenager. But it's been a while since I was a teenager.

Gary Taylor, 2006

Here is one of the few attempts of Shakespeare to exhibit the conversation of gentlemen, to represent the airy sprightliness of juvenile elegance … The Nurse is one of the characters in which the author delighted: he has, with great subtlety of distinction, drawn her at once loquacious and secret, obsequious and insolent, trusty and dishonest.

Samuel Johnson, 1765

In style and method the play readily falls among the earliest love-dramas. Rhymed lines, quips, alliteration, and word-play abound. The tone is lyrical and gives hint of the sonnets which belong to the poet's first period.

John Churton Collins, 1906

The history of critical and theatrical reactions to the play demonstrates the fact that Shakespeare worked in a far more literary mode than has been fashionable in the theatre of later ages, and that its literariness has often been regarded as a theatrical handicap.

Stanley Wells, 1996

When [Romeo] first appears onstage in the ballet, he is a very different character than the lovesick young romantic of Shakespeare. The first rendition of his theme portrays him as foolish, gauche, even bawdy, and it is contact with Juliet and with the Courtly Theme associated with Paris that causes it to mutate and evolve, until it eventually blossoms into the graceful Love Theme. Thus, we have a kind of Ugly Duckling story superimposed onto Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.

Karen Bennett, of Prokofiev's ballet Romeo and Juliet, 2008

Berlioz' Roméo et Juliette functions in many ways as a mirror reflecting attitudes characteristic of the entire Romantic period. The sustained emotionality of the subject matter, the continual willingness on the part of the composer to allow digressions to interfere with the basic dramatic structure, the emphasis on the bizarre or supernatural, the unselfconscious manner in which elements from Berlioz' biography intervene.

Philip Friedheim, 1983

pg 1000To bring the curtain down on Juliet's death, an ending dear to the Victorians, borders on the melodramatic and sacrifices Shakespeare's finely held balance between the personal tragedy of the lovers and the larger social implications of the feud.

G. Blakemore Evans, 1984

It is the simultaneous reality and impossibility of bringing together fantasy and carnality—mind and body—that destroys Romeo and Juliet.

Matthew Spellberg, 2013

Saying that Romeo and Juliet is 'so Romantic', or 'so heart-breaking', or that it is about 'true love' has become a cultural commonplace used over and over by teenagers—but also by adults—who usually only have a vague idea of who Shakespeare, Romeo, and Juliet are … Most people actually discover the play not by watching a performance or reading Shakespeare's text, but through popular culture.

Ronan Ludot-Vlasak, 2014

The iconic 'starcrossed lovers' have been simplified and commodified, emptied of threat and tragedy, welcomed into the collective iconography of popular culture, and now … reappear in the form of a sanitized teen clean fantasy.

Glennis Byron, 2008

Famously, Arthur Laurents re-invented Juliet as a beautiful Puerto Rican girl, Maria, in West Side Story … In doing so, he certainly can be credited with bringing some version of ethnic otherness into America's collective imagining of the possibilities of heterosexual romance.

Nicholas F. Radel, 2009

[Zeffirelli's] admiration of Leonard Bernstein's Broadway musical, West Side Story (1961), shows up in his resolve to make the movie palatable to the rebellious university students of the late sixties, who never doubted for a moment that the guilt was all on the parents.

Kenneth S. Rothwell, 2004, on Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 film Romeo and Juliet

With my films, I've tried to return Shakespeare to the popular audience he originally wrote for. Juliet Capulet and Romeo Montague in Verona expressed themselves more nobly, more fully, than young people do today.

Franco Zeffirelli, 1998

[T]he dance numbers in this musical film are characterized by a constant tension between leaping, which signifies escapism, and landing, which reflects the gravitational pull of reality … as the characters inevitably sink back down into a life of poverty, racism, familial neglect, and urban decline … In so doing, West Side Story radicalizes Shakespeare's play for the purpose of social commentary

Courtney Lehmann, 2010, on the film West Side Story (1961)

Among the last words we hear at the end of Romeo + Juliet, 'we hope your rules and wisdom choke you', come not from Shakespeare but from Radiohead, and they affirm a generational conflict that, in truth, we have not experienced, except intermittently, in the course of the film itself … This is, no doubt, what countless viewers and audiences have wanted Romeo and Juliet to be about. But it is not, except very superficially, what Shakespeare seems most concerned with. To understand the play as primarily centering on the 'generation gap' (or, alternately, with the dangers of teen suicide) is to misrepresent its essence.

Michael Anderegg, 2003, on Baz Luhrmann's 1996 Romeo + Juliet

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