A Transcendent Love: “Romeo and Juliet”

Our enduring fascination with Romeo and Juliet is ever-present but hard to define. For centuries, audiences have been drawn to the tale of two teenagers in love with each other in spite of the feud between their families, the Montagues and the Capulets. Is it Shakespeare’s intertwining of radiant young love with tragic twists of fate that we find so compelling? Or is it the poignancy of those moments of understanding between Romeo and Juliet themselves – the points at which their wisdom, even in their youth, transcends the barriers placed between them by cruel circumstance?

Think about Juliet’s famous words to Romeo (and listen to them above) in the balcony scene/Act II, Scene 2: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.” What this young girl knows – and what her family does not – is that what defines her loved one is his spirit, his very being. With the logic of love, Juliet goes on to point out, “So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d / Retain that dear perfection which he owes / Without that title.”

Just as Romeo and Juliet is a play about a transcendent love, so too does its appeal transcend media itself. There have been numerous versions of the work spanning painting, opera, film and ballet – and even musical theatre. For young performers who might be struggling with their lines, show a few parallel numbers from West Side Story to put the scenes “in other words” – showing, for example, Sondheim and Bernstein’s retelling of the balcony scene in the beautiful song “Tonight.”

Favorite Books: Bruce Coville’s Shakespeare Retellings

We have always found that when introducing young people to Shakespeare, the play really is the thing – more specifically, the story of the play! There is a grand tradition of writers recounting the stories of Shakespeare’s plays for wider – and younger – audiences: think of Charles and Mary Lamb, Marchette Chute, and E. Nesbitt.

Bruce Coville has carried on in that legacy with his beautiful Shakespeare retellings, which incorporate eloquent prose and stunning illustrations. As Coville notes, he seeks “to provide readers with an experience that will sharpen their appetite for Shakespeare and give them a hint of the treasures waiting to be found in the original plays.” From The Tempest to Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream to A Winter’s Tale, Coville’s texts offer an introduction to Shakespeare’s world. Again, as Coville writes, “Early exposure to Shakespeare’s stories is one way to build a natural interest in the plays themselves – an interest that can lead to a lifetime of reading and viewing enjoyment.” Find his books here.