Sunday, March 12, 2017

If Judith Shakespeare Had Written "Romeo and Juliet"

In Virginia Woolf's "A Room of One's Own," she creates the character of Judith Shakespeare, sister of William, and equally talented, whose condition as a woman forbids her the literary success of her brother. Fascinating as a thought experiment and damning as a device of feminist argument, Judith Shakespeare has acquired a spectral quality in feminist discourse: she is the ghost of every talented woman throughout history and today who couldn't and cannot have the opportunities, the time, the freedom, to write, paint, compose, sing, dance, study, etc. So, here is a summary of "Romeo and Juliet," if written by Judith, rather than William.

Act I:
Bullied by her father to agree to marry Paris, Juliet rebels, complaining that they have nothing in common and she finds him unattractive. After her father leaves in a huff, threatening to truss her up and carry her to the altar, Juliet, her mother, and her nurse hatch a plan for her escape that night. Lady Capulet sets to work, sewing a warm traveling cloak, and Nurse weaves a ladder, before retiring to hire horses.

Later that night, at a ball, planned by Capulet and Paris as the perfect scene for romantic seduction, Juliet spies Romeo and is immediately smitten. She invites him to dance with her and they are enraptured, discovering they have a million things in common, but Tybalt recognizes that Romeo is a Montague and attempts to murder him. Juliet throws herself in front of Romeo and tells Tybalt to stuff it. Tybalt reddens and vows revenge, but Juliet holds her ground and, snatching Tybalt's sword, snaps it in two across her knee. Capulet and Paris, who have hidden under a chair and behind a curtain, respectively, emerge and praise Juliet's womanly non-violence. Romeo replaces his mask and takes his leave.

Act II:
Lady Capulet urges Juliet to escape that night and avoid the miserable matrimonial fate of her mother, but Juliet hopes to see Romeo again. Romeo arrives below the balcony and climbs up when Juliet tosses him her ladder. He is in despair that Juliet will be forced to marry Paris, but Juliet has a plan and in a long soliloquy, she laments that most women are not permitted to choose their husbands and finally asks Romeo if he will marry her. Romeo dries his eyes and sets off to find a priest. Friar Lawrence agrees to marry the two, in hopes that the marriage will force Capulet to bow to his daughter's desires to end the family feud; Lady Capulet and Nurse act as witnesses to the marriage.

Act III:
The next day, Tybalt tracks down Romeo, who has gone out to do some shopping for Juliet. Tybalt threatens him, but Romeo refuses to fight. When Mercutio charges him with cowardice, Romeo tells him he's being an ass and points out that the whole feud started when Montague and Capulet couldn't decided who should get to ride the only black horse at the last Verona picnic. Mercutio and Tybalt are embarrassed when they remember this. They part good friends and Romeo hints that soon they will be invited to a celebration.

Meanwhile, Capulet is having a tantrum because Juliet refuses to marry Paris. Juliet, Lady Capulet, and Nurse make three speeches, listing all the many reasons Juliet should not have to do so. Capulet insists that he is incapable of making mistakes, so Paris must be the perfect husband, despite acknowledging that Paris has all the faults the ladies say that he has. Juliet then reveals that she has married Romeo. Capulet pretends to have a heart attack and Friar Lawrence is summoned ironically by the ladies to administer the last rites. Romeo arrives at this moment and expresses concern for his father-in-law's health. Capulet recovers and begrudgingly accepts his son-in-law, eventually being persuaded that his daughter is perfectly capable of making her own choices.

Act IV:
The wedding is celebrated with both Montagues and Capulets in attendance. Though occasional quarrels arise between the men, Juliet has taught her girlfriends how to snap swords in two and by the end of the evening, there isn't an intact weapon in the palace. Paris gets very drunk and falls into a wine barrel, but he is hoisted back up by Mercutio and Tybalt, who have finally admitted that they are in love. Friar Lawrence is somewhat nonplussed, but being in his cups agrees to marry them too, as long as nobody tells the Pope.

Act V:
Romeo and Juliet wake up in their bedroom and rejoice in their happiness. A tumult in the courtyard below piques their curiosity and looking down from the balcony, they see that the Prince of Verona has arrived with two black horses, one for Montague and one for Capulet, who promise never to feud again. Romeo and Juliet climb down their home-made ladder and join the fun.

For never was a woman so dead set
As she who loved Romeo, Juliet!!!!

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