Festival

Romeo and Juliet

Synopsis

A long-standing feud between two powerful rival clans, the Capulets and the Montagues, erupts into fresh violence on the city streets. The Prince arrives, furious, and declares if either of these families ever disturbs the peace again, the crime will be punishable by death.
As the streets clear, Romeo, the melancholy son and heir of the Montagues, arrives. His good friend Benvolio asks him what the cause of his sadness is. Romeo admits he is suffering from unrequited love for a girl named Rosaline.

Meanwhile, the noble Count Paris asks Lord Capulet for the hand of his only daughter, Juliet. Capulet hesitates, but invites Paris to a grand party at his house that very night, where he will introduce Paris to Juliet. Romeo and Benvolio learn of the party from a servant. Benvolio, hoping to cheer up his friend, convinces Romeo to crash the party with him. Later, Lady Capulet broaches the subject of marriage with her daughter, Juliet, and their beloved Nurse. The three women look forward to that night's festivities when Juliet will meet Count Paris, the man who hopes to make Juliet his wife.

Disguised in masks, Romeo, Benvolio, and their impulsive friend Mercutio do crash the Capulets' party. There, Romeo sees Juliet and is overwhelmed by her beauty. He summons the courage to approach her, and as they meet, they are both instantly love-struck. In the process, Romeo is spotted by Juliet's cousin, Tybalt, who is furious at the intrusion and vows revenge.

On the way home, Romeo eludes his friends and sneaks into the Capulets' orchard. He happens upon Juliet standing at her balcony and calls to her. Heedless of their families' hatred, they confess their love for each other and vow to be married. Romeo runs to tell his friend and spiritual mentor, Laurence, the news. Shocked that Romeo would fall for the daughter of his foe, Laurence nonetheless agrees to help his young friend, hoping the union will unite the warring families.

The next day, Juliet sends her Nurse to find Romeo. Through the Nurse, the two arrange to meet and are married.

On the way back from this secret marriage, Romeo and his friends are confronted by the angry Tybalt, who challenges Romeo to a duel. Unwilling to fight his new cousin-in-law, Romeo backs down without explaining why. Confused and humiliated, Mercutio challenges Tybalt on Romeo's behalf. Romeo tries to come between them, but in the confusion, Mercutio is killed. Overcome with emotion, Romeo rushes at Tybalt, killing him. Horrified, Romeo flees. The Prince arrives and, as punishment, banishes Romeo forever.

The Nurse takes the news to Juliet while Laurence tells Romeo. The two are utterly heartbroken, but arrange to spend their wedding night together before Romeo is exiled. Unaware of Juliet's marriage, Capulet agrees to marry her to Paris in two days' time. When Juliet objects, Capulet becomes enraged, threatening to expel her from his house forever.

Desperate to the point of suicide, Juliet begs Laurence's help. He agrees and offers a desperate plan. Juliet will take a sleeping potion that mimics death. Her family, thinking her dead, will entomb her. In two days, she will awaken. Laurence will come to the tomb, free her, and take her to Romeo, who will know of the plot via a letter. Juliet agrees, and everything goes according to plan.

Except the letter never reaches Romeo. Instead, he hears that Juliet has died. Suicidal with grief, he obtains a deadly poison and goes to Juliet's tomb. Seeing her motionless form and not realizing she only sleeps, he drinks the poison and collapses, dead.

Juliet awakens, sees her dead husband, and stricken with grief, kills herself with a dagger. Laurence, the Montagues, Capulets, and the Prince arrive at the tomb too late and can only gaze in horror at the fallen children. Laurence reveals the couple's secret love. The families finally agree to end their blood feud.

Director's Notes

This summer, Romeo and Juliet are doing some traveling. From Shakespeare's Renaissance Italy, they're headed a thousand miles southwest and a hundred years into the past, as we relocate the beloved tragedy to 15th century Spain. The year is 1492 and the place, the city of Granada, jewel of the medieval Muslim world. Just months before Columbus set sail on his history-changing voyage to the New World, he stood on the plain outside Granada and watched its last Moorish King surrender the city to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Thus ended more than seven centuries of Muslim rule in southern Iberia.

It was the end of the Reconquista, and the Catholic Monarchs had completed the unification of Spain under Christian rule with a bloodless conquest of Granada. In exchange for a peaceful transfer of power, the Treaty of Granada, signed by both parties, granted the city's Muslims a range of personal and religious freedoms – very generous terms by ancient standards. By law, Muslims would be free to practice their faith openly and without harassment. They would retain their houses of worship, style of dress, and personal property. They could even keep and bear arms. The two communities that had glowered at each other across the frontier for centuries were now entering a new era of cooperation – at least on paper. The reality in the streets was not so sanguine. Just a few months after the signing of the Treaty, the Catholic Monarchs expelled all the Jews from the Iberian Peninsula. Within a decade, the Inquisition would come to Granada, Muslims, too, would be forced to convert or be expelled, and the freedom and tolerance promised by the treaty would seem like a distant memory.

It is in the heart of this uneasy and precarious truce of 1492, on the borderlands of Christendom and Islam, that our young Romeo and his love Juliet "take their lives." Romeo's family, the Montagues, are Muslims, Juliet's Capulets are Catholics. Here, Shakespeare's "ancient grudge" between the two families becomes the troubled coexistence of these two great world religions, whose conflict predated Shakespeare by nearly a thousand years and whose challenges remain very much with us half a millennium after his death.

It was a fascinating historical singularity – one whose possibilities and perils, dreams and disillusions, live in wonderful synergy with the crests and valleys of Shakespeare's story: the uncomplicated rapture of new love, the seductive evil of prejudice, and the ability of each new generation either to rehash or to transcend the sins of their elders. I hope this production will offer audiences a window through which to view the nuances of this classic with fresh eyes and fresh minds. May it for you, as it has for me, be an opportunity to consider with fresh insight our own bloody history, this most precarious present, and the as-yet-unwritten future.

Brett Elliott, Director for Romeo and Juliet