- Levenson, Jill L. Shakespeare in Performance: Romeo and Juliet.
- Manchester: Manchester UP, 1987.
Thesis: In her first chapter, "Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet: The Elizabethan Version," Levenson provides a preview of the general plan of her book:
In short, for three centuries Romeo and Juliet on the stage, and frequently on the page as well, has differed in tone and effect from the Elizabethan version. Before re-creating several decisive moments in the play's performance history -- the interpretations of David Garrick, Charlotte Cushman, John Gielgud, Peter Brook, and Franco Zeffirelli -- the following pages will briefly survey their mutual point of departure: the original Romeo and Juliet, its composition and production. (2)The general effect of the book is to emphasize the richness of Shakespeare's work, because all of the subsequent productions (except perhaps for Gielgud's) subtracted a great deal.
- From Chapter II, "Early Revivals: David Garrick versus Charlotte Cushman":
Although Cushman nowhere explains her interpretation of Romeo and Juliet, or relates it to the Shakespearean script she used, her acting text itself suggests what she found in the original play: the character study of a passionate young man. Altogether, this production reduced or eliminated most passages which failed to connect in some way with the evolution of Romeo. In the process, of course, it changed the structure of Shakespeare's play as radically as the eighteenth century had. Whereas Garrick made both lovers central and uniformly pathetic, however, Cushman elicited from Shakespeare's contrarieties the vision of one protagonist who experiences passion so intensely that he finally dies of it. With her performance, refinements of that concept -- characters who deflate it with their bawdy, events that undercut it with irony -- disappear from the script. The remaining verse projects a Romeo either approaching or reaching emotional heights or depths; the remaining plot and characters frame his rising fall. By presenting Shakespeare's text in this way, Cushman both isolated and heightened those features which she could enact for the pleasure of nineteenth-century audiences -- emotional extremes as these are revealed in the modulations of Romeo's poetry. She may have unbalanced the tragedy as a whole, but she drew from it the full-scale portrayal of Romeo that Shakespeare created: the temperamental adolescent whose brief and extreme vicissitudes as a lover make him a pattern of tragic experience. (34-35)
- From Chapter III, "Recovery, 1935: John Gielgud":
While Gielgud's audience recognised Shakespeare's word-play and poetry in this production, they also responded to the full complement of humour: 'The first-nighters were not least surprised by the amount of comedy injected into the performance, largely due to the usually omitted scenes and the broader outspoken lines' (The New York Times, 18 October 1935). This script gave Mercutio and the Nurse the complete measures of their lines, thus reintroducing the entire 'hare/hoar' episode in II.4. It restored the bawdy exchanges not only among the young men, but also among the servants. Moreover, Gielgud allowed Old Capulet all of his lines, enhancing the character's pantaloon qualities and giving him some complexity: 'Shakespeare, in Capulet, combined the character of a gentleman with that of an upper-class bourgeois', the director explained. 'It quite often happens in Shakespeare's plays that characters which set out in conformity wih one convention pass, before the end, to another. Capulet is a character of this kind' (quoted in The Manchester Evening News, 24 March 1936). (50)
- From Chapter IV, "Paraphrase, 1947: Peter Brook":
From all accounts, this production did reach 'the essential living heart of the play -- the poet's inner dream. . .' ('Style in Shakespearean Production', in The Modern Theatre, p. 254). Shakespeare's text reveals -- through its changing diction and verse -- how everyday existence can drown out a lyrical note; Brook's version made the point visually. On the Festival stage, elaborate public scenes -- with many supernumeraries, high colour, and careful orchestration -- crowded the lovers' episodes. Again and again commentators noticed this effect but did not understand it. The Times critic, 7 April 1947, saw only 'a recklessly spectacular version' sacrificing poetry and narrative to 'pictorial splendour': Brook 'appear[ed] to lose interest in humanity when he [wasn't] treating it in the mass. . .' According to The Irish Times, 7 April 1947, the multitudes looked as if they could 'swamp the principals', and gave the impression of 'too much production and too little play'. The Manchester Guardian, 7 April 1947, reported that 'the warmth and colour [were] in the brawling and crowd scenes, while the balcony and Juliet's bed-chamber [were] hardly less gaunt and unsoftened than the Capulet tomb'. Yet by these means Brook emphasised the tragedy's counterpoint of public and private worlds as he understood it. (74)
- From Chapter V, "Translation, 1960-1968: Franco Zeffirelli":
When Zeffirelli and his screen-writers had finished with Shakespeare's lines, only a third of them remained, and that third differs noticeably from the original. For instance, speeches reappear with new contexts and durations. In his opening exchanges with Benvolio, then, Romeo's seven brief lines occur without their literary conventions. Solitary and temperamental, the character takes shape as a moody adolescent rather than a composite of poetic qualities. Later, Juliet responds to Romeo's killing of Tybalt in a dozen scattered lines immediately after the fatal duel. With Shakespeare's montage, the scenes had shifted from Tybalt's death to the Prince's sentence to Juliet's anticipation of her wedding night -- a sequence which accumulated ironies as it led to her misunderstanding of the Nurse. With Zeffirelli's, irony no longer provides the setting for Juliet's enlightenment. She quickly blames Romeo for the deed:
Oh, serpent heart, hid with a flow'ring face!Then she quickly changes her mind, castigating the Nurse and praising Romeo:
Was ever book containing such vile matter
So fairly bound?
moans and sobs (off)
Blistered be thy tongueAs this passage ends with Juliet asking three rhetorical questions about the nature of Romeo, the next begins with the Prince's judgement, Zeffirelli has surrounded her lines with action that emphasizes her isolation, helplessness, and pathos. (110-111)
For such a wish. He was not born to shame.
Upon his brow shame is ashamed to sit.
Bottom Line: Balanced, informative.