Reflection on 1.1

Some thoughts on 1.1. It’s long – by a very rough line count, around 8% of the play. And it’s really good. The tonal shifts dazzle: the coiled spring of the Prologue. The increasing pace and driving rhythm of the servants (and the way in which this moves so naturally into first, verse, and then the rhythm of a fight – if they’re fighting with blades, then it has a beat; it’s percussion). The sense of generational distance and distinctiveness when the dialogue shifts to couplets. Benvolio’s ability to code-switch. The particular quality of Romeo’s lyricism, which sometimes breaks out of its self-imposed Petrarchan constraints, promising more. The teasing delay of Romeo’s entrance, the possibility that he’s pining for Juliet rather than the never-named Rosaline – both of these create considerable anticipation about Juliet (who won’t appear for a while yet).

Like Gregory (smart, laconic, not after a fight) and Sampson (crude, out of his depth, spoiling for one), the parents are differentiated with extraordinary economy, the older men both initially ridiculous, but Montague thereafter more sophisticated and even lyrical. It’s striking that Romeo – a part which, in comparison to Juliet and Mercutio, can appear under-written, and who can sometimes be a bit annoying – is carefully introduced via relationships where he is loved and humoured, and Benvolio in particular is a lovely character, much more than a foil – an early version of Hamlet’s Horatio?

The canny crowd-control is notable – entrances 2-by-2 carefully paced until the eventual free-for-all – and then the quieter more expository episodes with Benvolio and the Montagues, and with Romeo – back to 2. It’s a shapely scene. (And, as a series of duets, mostly, with the odd trio and short ensemble, plus an aria for the prince, efficient in its demands on rehearsal time.)

The bawdy prose of Gregory and Sampson gives the play’s opening an intense physicality, as well as a particular energy (young, male, capable of sexual aggression; nervous) and that energy remains, albeit below the surface; it re-emerges in the hit/mark conceit towards the end of the scene. The ‘body language’ of the opening will find other, more beautiful expressions, but the easy traffic between words and blows, the different things that lips can do, that hands can do, will remain.

This is an amazing play.

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