One of my favorite things that has been going around the internet for some time is the EMO person who posted, “What if he’s your Romeo, but you’re not his Juliet?” The lightning-fast response was, “That means you’re his Rosaline and you survive the friggin’ play.”
Despite the reality of what happens to the “star cross’d lovers,” the persistence in thinking of them as the romantic ideal lives on.
Most people, even those who have never read or seen the play, are more likely to conjure up this image, or something close to it, than gruesome deaths:
I didn’t know, however, until I heard a story on NPR’s “Morning Edition” yesterday, that men (mostly, I guess) have been penning letters to Juliet for centuries. Initially, shortly after the play’s performances, people left notes at what was thought to be her tomb. The numbers of letters left became so great that the post office of Verona established a special office to handle the volume.
The remarkable thing about the letters left for Juliet is that she actually answers. Well, understudies for Juliet do. Dozens of volunteers in Verona, who call themselves “The Juliet Club” answer, by hand, each of the 6,000+ letters addressed to Shakespeare’s heroine each year. All of the letters are retained in a massive archive, to which more letters are regularly added.
The job must be tough but many of the volunteers have been at it for ten and twenty years, some even longer. What do they say to these heartbroken people? Here is one of their answers to someone who was driving herself crazy asking, “What if?”
“What” and “If” are two words as non-threatening as words can be. But put them together side-by-side and they have the power to haunt you for the rest of your life: What if? What if? What if? I don’t know how your story ended but if what you felt then was true love, then it’s never too late. If it was true then, why wouldn’t it be true now? You need only the courage to follow your heart. I don’t know what a love like Juliet’s feels like – love to leave loved ones for, love to cross oceans for but I’d like to believe if I ever were to feel it, that I will have the courage to seize it. And, Claire, if you didn’t, I hope one day that you will. All my love, Juliet”
You can read more about the long history of the Juliet Project in Lise Friedman’s study, Letters to Juliet: Celebrating Shakespeare’s Greatest Heroine, the Magical City of Verona, and the Power of Love
For twenty years now, the L.A. Women’s Shakespeare Company has been staging Shakespearean plays with an entirely female ensemble. Later this year (August 17-October 4), the company will take on Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy, Hamlet, with LAWSC founder and artistic director Lisa Wolpe in the title role.
In 1993, the LAWSC was completely funded by private donations and played in the very small Hollywood Actor’s Theater. However, the company soon won a grant and were able to expand beyond the fifty-seat capacity of their original home and played larger venues. Eventually, the company was able to offer their players and support personnel a “modest stipend” but to this day, the company continues to be “volunteer-base[d]” and a “grass-roots company” even as their audiences continue to grow.
Past productions have included Romeo and Juliet (1993); Othello (1994); Richard III (1995); Much Ado About Nothing (1996); Measure for Measure (1997); Twelfth Night (2000), The Tempest (2002); The Merchant of Venice (2005); and As You Like It (2007).
So the big question: why an all-female cast? Because an all-female troupe can cause a “transformation of the perceptions of women’s roles in our society by working to create a deeper, more powerful, unbounded view of women’s potential.” Furthermore, the “productions illuminate contemporary issues through a classical context, offering a unique political and social perspective.” The mission of LAWSC is “to provide a creative forum for the exploration of violence, victimization, power, love, race, and gender issues, and to provide positive role models for women and girls.”
The production met its $10,000 Kickstarter funding goal, but the company is hoping to raise a total of $40,000. If you would like to support this or future projects, click here. Check out the video below for a sample of Lisa Wolpe in action as Iago in Othello!
Might the actors who comprised Lord Chamberlain’s Men have sounded more like Americans from the East Coast? That is the conclusion that Sir Trevor Nunn, former director of the Royal Shakespeare Theater, has come to, after working closely with the actor Kevin Spacey.
However, the renowned Shakespeare scholar John Barton, contends that the speech was likely a blend of both English and Irish accents. And some historians complain that the accent isn’t as much of a problem as the pacing, which, they argue, is too slow in modern productions.
In the past, you would have to attend a play in which the actors were truly trying to offer a “real” rendition of Shakespearean speech. But now the British Library has taken the advice of those who have studied how to render authentic sixteenth century English dialect. Several audio versions have been released. Listen and judge for yourself:
Extract from Romeo and Juliet:
Or, perhaps you’re in the mood for a sonnet? Here’s Sonnet 116:
And here is another excerpt from Macbeth:
Ben Crystal, a British actor who has long advocated for making Shakespeare accessible, curated the ambitious project.
“For the first time in centuries,” he explains, “we have 75 recorded minutes of sonnets, speeches and scenes recorded as we hope Shakespeare heard them. It is, in short, Shakespeare as you’ve never heard him before.
“The modern presentation of Shakespeare’s plays and poems in period pronunciation has already attracted a wide following, despite the fact that hardly any recordings have been publicly available,” he said.
For more information on the project, click here.