Friday, May 1, 2009

Play of the Week: Romeo and Juliet

Today we conclude Shakespeare week with a look at one of his most famous plays Romeo and Juliet. We all know the story of the star-crossed lovers so we are going to look at this play through a different lens: Mercutio.

Mercutio is one of those great characters in all the cannon infused with bravado, great poetry, and infallible charisma. English Poet John Dryden once wrote:

"Shakespeare show'd the best of his skill in his Mercutio, and he said himself, that he was forc'd to kill him in the third Act, to prevent being killed by him."

Indeed in Mercutio's final moments, he is no less defiant to his fate yelling "a curse on both your houses."

But Mercutio at his best is perhaps his discussion of dreams in his Queen Mab speech. This is without doubt one of the crown jewel speeches of Shakespeare's work and one of the most daunting. The mercurial language and imagery rolls so trippingly off the tongue that the actor and audience alike cannot help but get caught up in the work. It leaves Romeo screaming at him to stop and return to reality. Mercutio sobers up and utters some of the most beautiful eight lines in all of Shakespeare:

True, I talk of dreams,
Which are the children of an idle brain,
Begot of nothing but vain fantasy,
Which is as thin of substance as the air
And more inconstant than the wind, who wooes
Even now the frozen bosom of the north,
And, being anger'd, puffs away from thence,
Turning his face to the dew-dropping south.

It is this magic and ephemerally that allows Mercutio to live on in our hearts even after his heart is pierced. Dryden is right, Shakespeare was best to kill him off. But in doing so, Mercutio's spirit became all the more powerful.

Happy Birthday: Yazmina Reza
May 2: William Hutt (1920-2007), Jerome K. Jerome (1859-1927) & Lorenz Hart (1895-1943)
May 3: William Inge (1913-1973) & Machiavelli (1469-1527)

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