In the final episode of Shakespeare Uncovered – Series II, Joseph Fiennes takes a look at Shakespeare’s most often performed play, Romeo and Juliet, and the relevance it has in our world today. It is the story of two teenagers whose deep, profound love heals a deeply pathetic hatred between warring families and leaves the audience with a puzzling redemption. Love and death, conflict and pride; this play has it all.
Fiennes played Shakespeare playing Romeo in Tom Stoppard’s Shakespeare in Love in 1998. He loves the play, especially the scene in which Romeo and Juliet first meet, calling it “a dangerous cocktail of religion and sex. She plays a virgin saint; he’s a pilgrim worshipping her.”
Oxford Professor, Jonathan Bate, talks about that first meeting, which Shakespeare has written as a sonnet shared by the lovers. Bate says the sonnet is the archetypal love poem. Its rhymes are like kisses and what Shakespeare does so beautifully is bring it to three-dimensional life.
Condola Rashad and Orlando Bloom, who starred in the 2013 Broadway revival, offer their thoughts about the characters and there are beautiful images and clips of Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting (1968), Sir John Gielgud and Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies (1924), and Laurence Olivier and Peggy Ashcroft (1935). We even see a young Alan Rickman as Tybalt in the 1979 BBC production of Romeo and Juliet.
Stephen Sondheim reveals that when Arthur Laurents and Leonard Bernstein wrote West Side Story, one of many adaptations based on the play, what excited them was the analogy of gang warfare and prejudice to the Montagues and Capulets. They were far less interested in the romance of the two lovers, and yet he says it is the balcony scene that most people remember when you ask them about Romeo and Juliet.
Dominic Dromgoole and Fiennes discuss the strange comedy of Mercutio and how Dromgoole directed the role in his production, and Gail Kern Paster also talks about the point where the play changes from comedy to tragedy. Actors from the Globe rehearse a scene as it would have been seen in Shakespeare’s day, with Juliet played by a boy, as director Bill Buckhurst explores whether it can still be convincing today.
Fiennes also considers rewrites of the play through the ages, including David Garrick’s 1753 Romeo and Julian Fellows’ new adaptation. There are comments by Michael Witmore from the Folger Shakespeare Library, Harvard Professor Marjorie Garber, and Oxford Professor Laurie Maguire. And noted author & playwright Bonnie Greer discusses the famous death scene and how, in her view, the play might better have been called Juliet and Romeo, since it’s really about Juliet and what happens to her.
A timeless tale in which star-crossed lovers have no hope of a happy ending speaks to teenagers even today. Is it any wonder that in our troubled times Shakespeare’s tale is more popular than ever?
Shakespeare Uncovered: Romeo and Juliet with Joseph Fiennes airs at 10:00 pm on Friday, February 13th following Antony and Cleopatra with Kim Cattrall at 9:00 pm.
Friday, February 13, 2015
9:00 pm: Antony & Cleopatra with Kim Cattrall
10:00 pm: Romeo and Juliet with Joseph Fiennes
Produced by Blakeway Productions, 116 Films and THIRTEEN Productions LLC for WNET in association with PBS, Sky Arts and Shakespeare’s Globe. For more information and to view previews of upcoming episodes of Shakespeare Uncovered, visit www.pbs.org/wnet/shakespeare-uncovered.
Pictured above: Joseph Fiennes at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre: Photo credit: Andrea Southam.
Joseph Fiennes and Bonnie Greer. Photo credit: Mike Garner