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Globe’s ‘Romeo And Juliet’ Is Not Just About Star-Crossed Lovers

Director Barry Edelstein finds new shadings to Shakespeare’s play

Photo credit: Jim Cox

Aaron Clifton Moten appears as Romeo and Louisa Jacobson as Juliet in "Romeo and Juliet" by William Shakespeare and directed by Barry Edelstein. It runs Aug. 11 through Sept. 15 at the Globe's outdoor Lowell Davies Festival Stage.

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The Globe's artistic director Barry Edelstein has decided to tackle Shakespeare's ever-popular "Romeo and Juliet" for the first time and he has found some new shadings.

Aired: August 7, 2019 | Transcript

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The Globe's artistic director Barry Edelstein has decided to tackle Shakespeare's ever-popular "Romeo and Juliet" for the first time and he has found some new shadings.

Edelstein assumed the artistic directorship of the Old Globe at the end of 2012 and two years later the first play he chose to direct for The Globe was one of Shakespeare’s lesser known works, "'The Winter’s Tale."

"I've had an abiding interest in the minor Shakespeares," Edelstein said earlier this summer. "I've done a lot of them because I thought I know the ones that I know. I know 'A Midsummer Night's Dream,' I know 'Hamlet,' I know 'King Lear' and I want to do the ones that I don't know anything about and so I kind of gravitated to 'Timon of Athens' and 'The Winter's Tale' and 'Cymbeline' and some of the really sort of strange outliers that people haven't even necessarily heard of."

But Edelstein later turned to some of Shakespeare's most popular plays, directing both "Othello" and "Hamlet." But he said he can't direct one of these plays until he finds a personal connection.

"Otherwise it's just a job," he said. "When my father passed away a few years ago, may he rest in peace, 'Hamlet' was very much on my mind as the sort of great statement in Western literature about what happens to a son when his father dies and the play just rushed into my mind when my father passed away. And it kind of told me I need to work on this play."

Deciding to direct "Romeo and Juliet," the Bard's play about the famously star-crossed lovers required a similar personal connection.

"I've been thinking an enormous amount about the thing that the chorus says at the very beginning of ['Romeo and Juliet'], this guy comes out or a person or woman... This speech happens that says there's these two great households and they're having a feud. And the only thing that's going to end this feud is the deaths of their own children. And that's the first thing that you learn is... Oh my God, there's going to be children who die because of this family feud. And it made me think about the whole question of the legacy that we grown ups leave for our children in terms of the politics of our world, in terms of the climate of our world, in terms of the culture that we build that gets transmitted to our children. Shakespeare is actively asking the question how do the choices that grownups make come home to roost a generation later in the lives of their children and it's been much on my mind as I've watched my own young children grow up. And I thought Romeo and Juliet is a great opportunity for me to think about that and explore that a little bit."

Tackling a play that has been filmed for every generation and performed constantly is a challenge. Edelstein said there is the trap of trying to do something new and different just to be different as well as the trap of doing something that's been done before but without really thinking about why. But for "Romeo and Juliet," which opens this weekend at the outdoor Lowell Davies Festival Stage, Edelstein looks to a scene that is often cut from most films and productions to find some new shadings to the play's themes. It is Act IV, scene 5 and involves the character of Friar Laurence, who has tried to help the young lovers circumvent their parents' hate. Part of his plan involves giving Juliet a potion to fake her death.

"It comes back to this idea of the choices that parents make settling in the lives of their offspring in sometimes toxic ways," Edelstein said. "That's what I think Shakespeare's trying to tease out. What I've often found in my work in Shakespeare is that there's some crazy little corner of the play that's not celebrated and not famous at all that reveals itself to me and and reveals a kind of central concern of the piece and... there's a great scene in the play where the family of Juliet discovers her dead in her bed. They think she's dead. They don't know that it's a secret sleeping potion from which she's going to wake up. The Friar comes to the house and the family is screaming over the loss of their daughter. The Friar knows she's not dead because it's his secret sleeping potion that is responsible for it and he begins to berate them for the way that they raised their daughter. Screams at them. All they wanted was for her to marry a rich guy, all they cared about was her reputation, all they cared about was her promotion. This is an amazing speech and you think, I don't know how a pastor does that to a family who's in mourning. And it's such an odd detail that this angry friar who has been responsible for the whole situation that we're watching takes advantage of the opportunity to make a political point to these parents even when he knows that he's the one responsible for the situation. And actually that's one of those moments where you go, oh that's what the play is about, this strange little detail, why is this guy doing this reveals the entire kind of inner structure and life of the piece."

Uncovering a new detail in a play I thought I knew so well is exciting. You can see how this all plays out when "Romeo and Juliet" opens at the Globe this weekend.

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