Much mystery surrounds the legend that is Shakespeare. We don’t know much about his early life, how he began his career in the theatre, or even whether some of his most iconic creations are really his work at all.
The shadow of his status makes him more myth than man. But maybe that’s part of his appeal. That shroud of secrecy lends itself well to his legacy.
William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is over four hundred years old and we are still captivated by its story of “star-cross’d” love. The passion, the fury, the frenzied swordfighting, the rivalries and the play’s ultimate tragedy have been examined worldwide by scholars of literature for many centuries, but the tale of the two young lovers will never grow old.
Despite being one of Shakespeare’s earliest tragic works, Romeo and Juliet is packed with humour, dramatic tension and iconic characters. It is truly a universal play, defying all barriers and boundaries, and appealing to audiences of all ages. At fifteen – about to start my third year of second level education and my first state examinations – I had very little experience of plays, and was not looking forward to diving headfirst into the scrutinisation of the renowned Bard and his writing…
…but something changed.
The naive Romeo and the young Juliet exploded off the pages, overcoming the hatred and bitterness between their Montague and Capulet families with their sincere and genuine adoration for each other. Shakespeare showcased the ultimate power of love in this tragedy. The sacrifices and challenges that the protagonists suffered for their betrothed made their devotion to each other all the stronger.
“These violent delights have violent ends,
And in their triumph die, like fire and powder,
Which, as they kiss, consume.”
Their names have become synonymous with love. Thousands visit Juliet’s balcony in Verona, Italy, with their own hopes, dreams and desires. Opera, dance, musical, stage and movie adaptations (particularly Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film, starring Leonardo di Caprio and Claire Danes) have modernised the story and helped a whole new generation to become enamoured with the tale. The opening of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London, in 1997, only served to highlight the playwright’s achievements.
“Give me my Romeo; and, when he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night,
And pay no worship to the garish sun.”
Not only can I recite it because of constant revision and study sessions, but the magnificent beauty of the language and the wonderful, engaging story make this play a true classic.