The Very Truth and Nature of Ambivalance: My Thoughts on Romeo and Juliet

On an earlier post commemorating the birthday (really the day of his baptism) of Shakespeare, I commented that “I hate Romeo and Juliet just as much as the next person.” A commenter asked me, “How you can you hate Romeo and Juliet?” I promised to answer this question at a later date. Well, I saw Romeo and Juliet at the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival on Friday night. It seems as good a time as any. (BTW, I will review The Cleveland Shakespeare Festival’s production of Romeo and Juliet in a later post.)

First of all, the play is overrated. Don’t misunderstand, average Shakespeare is still better than nearly every other writer on the earth. However, Romeo and Juliet is still early Shakespeare. The quality of the poetry is simply inferior to his later plays. This would not be enough to make me hate the play, I simply will never prefer Romeo and Juliet to The Winter’s Tale, Hamlet, or his superlative comedies and tragedies.

Zefferelli R&J

I also can’t stand the character of Romeo. He is an overly emotional whiner. (Perhaps he reminds me too much of myself.) His character contrasts, to some extent, with Juliet. As my 9th grade English teacher pointed out, Juliet proposes to Romeo. (Juliet also, in a sense, initiates their sexual relationship, though in reality, it’s the nurse. Eww.) At 15, I loved this, in a way. Juliet is a rebel. She rebels against not only her parents, but against society’s expectations for her. The essay at the beginning of Folger’s Romeo and Juliet points this out. Lord Capulet encourages young Paris to compare Juliet’s beauty to the other ladies at their family solemnity, but Lady Capulet does not offer the same encouragement to Juliet.

None of this, however, would make me hate the play.

I think part of the reason I said “I hate Romeo and Juliet as much as the next person” was because of its perceived status. In the film Shakespeare in Love, Queen Elizabeth I judges R&J to demonstrate “the very truth and nature of love.” Really? My 9th grade class didn’t think so. When we examined the play in depth with actors from Great Lakes Theater Festival, they asked us whether or not Romeo and Juliet’s relationship (at their first meeting) was “lust, love at first sight, or true love.” The vast majority voted for lust. We were not alone. Confused Matthews, who reviews film, remembers a high school paper he wrote, in which he calls Romeo “the greatest stooge of all time,” and pointed out that the two of them probably would have divorced, had they not died.

Francesco Hayez (1791–1882) The Marriage of Romeo and Juliet (1830)

Confused Matthew’s teacher stood up for the two lovers, and in retrospect, I think that my class was rather harsh on them as well. Despite that, I still think that it is worth considering how we responded to the story, ESPECIALLY considering that, for most American students, Romeo and Juliet is the first time they will encounter Shakespeare. I was fortunate. My second grade teacher passed out (edited!) copies of “Double Double” from Macbeth. My seventh grade teacher also included Much Ado About Nothing in our syllabus, and our eighth grade teacher included A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Most American students are not so fortunate. Most American students probably read Romeo and Juliet as their very first Shakespeare play. For girls, this may not be so terrible. I respected Juliet’s willingness to buck the system, to rebel against her society and assert her own free will and autonomy, even though Shakespeare deals harshly with her. (She pays with her life. Shakespeare is far kinder to Rosalind in As You Like It.)

Balcony_scene

But what do teenage boys make of Romeo? I thought Romeo was whiny and effeminate, sentiments shared by Friar Lawrence.

Art thou a man? Thy form cries out thou art.
Thy tears are womanish. Thy wild acts denote
The unreasonable fury of a beast.
Unseemly woman in a seeming man,
And ill-beseeming beast in seeming both!

I shared his evaluation. If this is how girls view Romeo, how must teenage boys view him?

Many people have pointed out that American conception of masculinity is incredibly unhealthy. Someone once said, “We don’t raise our boys to be men. We raise them not to be women and not to be gay.” Indeed, I heard a gay non-American man paraphrase Voltaire. “If gay men did not exist, it would be necessary for straight men in America to invent them.” American conception of masculinity is very reactionary and often confuses bluster and posturing for strength and courage. It would be great if we could reform this into something far healthier and more well rounded. Unfortunately, this laudable goal is beyond the scope of a ninth grade English class. I also think that inspiring young people to love Shakespeare, or at a bare minimum to not reject him out of hand, is an equally laudable goal, and fully in keeping with a ninth grade English class. (In other words, students should read Macbeth first.)

Romeo-and-Juliet

I suppose it’s also frustrating because I’ve often been disappointed in its interpretations. I have written before that Shakespeare is superior to all of its possible interpretations. At the same time, I rarely see a production of Romeo and Juliet where I believe that the two lovers are really in love. It rarely seems as though the lead actors are experiencing the giddy, overwhelming experience that is young love. The play is often missing that visceral energy.

Queen Elizabeth definitely overstates when she argues that Romeo and Juliet exemplifies “the very truth and nature of love.” Of course, this is impossible for any work because there are a myriad of types of love. R&J is about a very specific type of love, the youthful, impetuous, infatuated, first love. I do not ask that a production of R&J be as good as the script, that is not possible, but it should contain some of the euphoric energy and giddiness of that experience. The audience does not need an intellectual understanding of all aspects of the play but the visceral experience of young love. That’s what I want from a Romeo and Juliet production. Sadly, I have yet to obtain it.

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A Day In the Life (of a ballerina)

I found this online from the Royal Opera House, which also house the Royal Ballet, apparently.

This woman works so hard. Her name is Yuhui Choe.

I’m also impressed by how ballet dancers, even at the height of their profession, still start the day at the barre, just as though they were beginners. They always seem to go back to the basics and build up from the foundation. I’m sure there’s a lesson there.

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Flight of Night Paul Manship

Paul Manship Flight of Night\

I just think this is cool. It has a sense of movement and grace.

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Obligatory LeBron James Post part 2

So, as I said in my previous post, I didn’t fully discover hating LeBron until the following season, LeBron’s first in the NBA. As it became time for the finals, and Miami was approaching the final, I found myself hoping that he would lose. I didn’t want him to get a championship that first year. I was rooting against him. As I rooted against him, something strange happened. The NBA finals became, almost, slightly, fun. I won’t say fun. That would be a stretch. But still, it was far more fun to root against LeBron than it was to root for him. It was like rooting against the Yankees.

For the first time, the NBA season was not a wasteland. There was something to do. I could root against LeBron. :)

I would like to point out that I never went psychotic about it. I have heard people on the radio say that they hoped that LeBron would not only lose, they hoped he would break his ankle, tear his ACL and Achilles, and would never play again. I’m not that crazy. I have never wished physical injury or personal tragedy on him. I only wanted him to lose. With one notable exception: the 2012 London Olympics, because the Olympics are the Olympics and Team USA is Team USA.

Well, that’s all gone now. I can’t root against LeBron now, because that would be a tremendous socially unacceptable.

So, am I happy about LeBron coming back?

No, but I am not unhappy about it.

I plan to pay as much attention to LeBron and the Cavs that I did last time LeBron was here. The last time he was here, I never watched a single game. I plan to repeat this pattern.

I do feel a certain degree of disdain for people who rushed out to burn their LeBron jerseys last time, and are now rushing out to buy LeBron jerseys. Does this make me supercilious? Undoubtedly.

I’m not surprised though. This is nothing new.

Wherefore rejoice? What conquest brings he home?
What tributaries follow him to Rome,
To grace in captive bonds his chariot-wheels?
You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things!
O you hard hearts, you cruel men of Rome,
Knew you not Pompey? Many a time and oft
Have you climb’d up to walls and battlements,
To towers and windows, yea, to chimney-tops,
Your infants in your arms, and there have sat
The livelong day, with patient expectation,
To see great Pompey pass the streets of Rome:
And when you saw his chariot but appear,
Have you not made an universal shout,
That Tiber trembled underneath her banks,
To hear the replication of your sounds
Made in her concave shores?
And do you now put on your best attire?
And do you now cull out a holiday?
And do you now strew flowers in his way
That comes in triumph over Pompey’s blood? Be gone!
Run to your houses, fall upon your knees,
Pray to the gods to intermit the plague
That needs must light on this ingratitude.
Julius Caesar, Act I Scene 1

As fate would have it, a friend and I were at the Indians game on Friday. At the end of the game, people were standing on the street corner with Forgiveness shirts, proclaiming, “The kingdom has been restored!”

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Obligatory LeBron James Post part 1

I suppose that some people might be interested in my views of LeBron James returning to Cleveland, considering that I am from Cleveland, and considering that I have insulted LeBron at various times on my blog. (I regret nothing!)

First of all, let me start with this. I never watched an entire Cavs game when LeBron was here the first time. I don’t like basketball. It’s boring. It has the opposite problem of soccer. In soccer, teams never score. Well, almost never. (See the Germany Brazil semifinal game for a notable exception.) In basketball, they always score, so it seems a little boring to me. Don’t get me wrong, I have tremendous respect for them as athletes, I just don’t think that the basketball is boring.

I also want to state that I was not angry BECAUSE he decided to leave Cleveland. I can’t blame him for that. Everyone wants to leave Cleveland. Everyone. Can I blame him for doing what we all secretly dream of doing? (Don’t get me wrong, I actually love Cleveland, and Cleveland gets a bad rap in many ways. There are many advantages to living, working, and playing here. But still, everyone thinks about leaving. Everyone.)

However, it was the cockiness, the self absorption demonstrated in the the TV show that I found distasteful. Very distasteful. Before he announced, many people on the radio were saying, “I have to believe he’s going to stay. To announce that he’s leaving on national TV would be such a horrific, dick move, I can’t believe he would do it.” Then, there it was, a horrific dick move.

Of course, I had reasons to suspect that he was a douche before he left. In 2008, a local free magazine reported that LeBron James and his friends had kept a restaurant open until 2:30 am, well after closing, ordered $800 worth of food, and left a $10 tip. Was that true? My mom heard that it was confirmed when the restaurant manager quit, but of course, I can’t vouch for its veracity. However, that story seemed much more believable after the decision. A man who would do that would be the kind of man to stiff waiters like that, plus Clevelanders began hearing other, terrible stories about LeBron around the same time. I heard that, at the Olympics, he complained that his fries were too cold, and threw them at the staff screaming. Those were the stories I remember. Of course, I don’t know if any of them were true, but they seemed to jive with the kind of person who would do The Decision.

I also didn’t like it because of what it said about basketball as a sport. It showed that all you really needed to win, or have a winning team, was a superstar. In football (American football) it is not that easy. There have been plenty of great teams that do not have a large number of superstars. It seems basketball is not so much a team sport, but a Superhero and Sidekicks sport.

But even at that moment, I didn’t completely hate LeBron James, though I shared in the disgust of my fellow Clevelanders at LeBron’s unbelievable gall, hubris, and vainglory.

It was through the next year that I began to discover Hating Lebron…

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Films About Women Part 13

1 Jane Eyre 2011
I was actually torn about putting this film on the list at first. I should give some background. In 2006, the BBC released a miniseries of Jane Eyre. It was excellent, except for a few hiccups, great, but not perfect. In 2011, the BBC released a motion picture of Jane Eyre. My first thought was, “Again?”

I mean, there have been a lot of versions of Jane Eyre. A lot. It seems that every ten years or so there is a version of Jane Eyre, whether or movies or a miniseries. There is even a musical of Jane Eyre!

So why is this version in the list?

Well, it’s quite simple. I like it. It’s a good version. It captures the mood of Jane Eyre fairly well (though I think the miniseries of 2006 captures it better) but it also is an example of a good adaptation. It cannot tell everything in Jane Eyre, but I agree with what it chooses to keep in and what it chooses to leave out. Also, I think that there are some things that the film does far, far better than the 2006 miniseries. The best example for this is when Mr. Rochester begs Jane Eyre to stay. The miniseries sexed it up in a way that did not happen in the book, where the movie plays on the sympathy for Mr. Rochester. I find myself feeling for him and his position and I feel conflicted, just as Jane does in the scene.

It also features a young director Cary Fukunaga and two up and coming actors, Mia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre and Michael Fassbender as Mr. Rochester. Mia was also roughly the same age as Jane Eyre is in the book, which was lovely to see.

Is it the definitive version of Jane Eyre? No. There is a definitive version of Jane Eyre and it is the book written by Charlotte Bronte. I also disapprove of the ending of the 2011 film, and have since I saw it for the first time. Still, it is a good version and I like it. I actually just bought a copy of it, so that must say something.

2 Three Faces of Eve
We turn now to a movie from 1957 about the (much debated) phenomenon of multiple personality disorder. It follows Eve and her therapist as they begin to uncover her alternate personalities.

Joanne Woodward is wonderful in this role. She plays each of her three identities marvelously. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress, and it was very well deserved in my opinion. She essentially had three roles in one film, which is incredibly difficult as an actor. I also liked how she handled the “transitions” between one persona and another.

Three Faces of Eve

I was also delighted to see that, in 1957, the film rejects Eve’s Stepford wife persona. Her therapist laments that this persona is simply an inadequate one for the demands of every day life and inadequate for a woman. Sometimes I think that both conservatives and liberals have harmful stereotypes of women at different points in history. Liberals sometimes talk about the “bad old days” and slander the women of the past or dismiss their voices. Their voices are valid. I think conservatives praise a false stereotype of women in the 50’s which never really existed. They then try to make women be something that women never were.

The film also features Lee J Cobb as the psychiatrist. Lee J Cobb’s main claim to fame, in my book came in 1949, when he was cast as the lead role in a new play. The role was Willy Loman and the play was Death of a Salesman.

3 Maria, Full of Grace

Maria, Full of Grace is a film about desperation and hope. This film tells the story of a pregnant teenager in Columbia. She is desperately poor, working in a sweatshop. In desperate need of money, she decides to become a drug mule. The film follows her as she swallows packets of heroin and flies to the United States to deliver them to waiting dealers.

The film does not shy from the way that drug mules are prepared and the danger that this practice poses to them. It shows Maria practicing swallowing whole grapes and talks about how the packets can sometimes burst, leading to mules to die from drug overdoses. This film also ends with a ray of hope, though it is not exactly a happy ending.

The world’s drug trade is massive and affects so many people on so many different levels. At times, we can glorify the drug trade and the people involved. (Yes, I love Breaking Bad as well, so I am a hypocrite.) My brother also loves Breaking Bad, but he has criticized it for glorifying crystal meth and glossing over the destruction that it causes to both individuals and societies as a whole. However, it is good to learn more about what some people call “the other economy” and to think about how people end up involved in it.

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Pandora by Chauncey Bradley Ives

This is a great statue. It looks Classical or Renaissance, and yet it’s a relatively modern American statue.

Pandora Chauncey Bradley Ives

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