Shakespeare Uncovered

S2 E6 | FULL EPISODE

Romeo and Juliet with Joseph Fiennes

Fiennes has a unique perspective on Romeo and Juliet. He played Shakespeare – both writing and performing as Romeo – in the film Shakespeare in Love. Now he wants to examine why it remains the most-performed of all Shakespeare plays.

AIRED: February 13, 2015 | 0:53:05
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TRANSCRIPT

Coming up on "Shakespeare Uncovered..."

Romeo.

Romeo!

Wherefore art thou Romeo?

Joseph Fiennes and the most famous couple

in all of romance.

Teenagers falling in love.

I don't think much has changed when it comes to that.

MAN: Their love is so innocent and pure

and genuine and real.

WOMAN: The relationship of Romeo and Juliet

changes from one of comic possibility

to one of tragic inevitability.

No!

Do you think there's any chance

of Romeo and Juliet ever being happy?

[Gunshot]

The answer has to be no.

"Romeo and Juliet" with Joseph Fiennes,

on "Shakespeare Uncovered."

JOSEPH FIENNES: I'm on the streets

of Shoreditch in London,

searching for the world's most famous lovers.

[Siren]

MAN: Police now believe the drowning may have been

a Romeo and Juliet-style double suicide.

WOMAN: Two young teens possibly in danger.

The star-crossed students...

MAN: In a modern-day Romeo and Juliet story,

Gloria picked up the gun her husband had used

and shot herself next to him on the bed.

FIENNES: The couple as we know them

were born 400 years ago

at a theater that once stood

on this street.

It's where Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet first kissed.

Changed a bit since then.

Shakespeare's star-crossed lovers

are icons of popular culture.

The way her mind works is just so delicious.

He's in love with the idea of love,

but it's not until he meets Juliet

that he understands what real love is, I don't think.

Romeo and Juliet has spellbindingly beautiful poetry,

profound love,

and a pointless tragedy.

But that was written over 400 years ago,

so it begs the question,

does it really have any relevance for us today?

I think it does.

Two households,

both alike in dignity,

in fair Verona, where we lay our scene.

From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,

where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.

From forth the fateful loins of these two foes...

A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life.

Shakespeare's Globe, London.

It's a copy of the original 17th-century theater

which once stood close by.

It was on a stage not unlike this

that I myself once played Shakespeare, playing Romeo.

Come.

Bitter conduct, come,

unsavoury guide.

But I want to know what makes this

one of the most performed and adapted

of all Shakespeare's plays...

Parting is such sweet sorrow.

A play whose lines we know by heart.

O Romeo.

Romeo.

Romeo!

Wherefore art thou Romeo?

A play about love

and a play about death.

[Gunshot]

[Orchestra playing]

Inspired by Shakespeare, Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet"

screams out two of the play's greatest themes--

conflict and pride.

Early on, the Capulet family host a masked ball

celebrating the engagement brokered between

daughter Juliet and nice, but dull, Paris.

This is really extraordinary piece of music.

It's full of absolute restraint and dignity and control.

The Capulets' biggest rivals in Verona are the Montagues.

The two families have been enemies

for as long as anyone can remember.

That darkness, that depth,

that fear, that anger, aggression--

the aggression that sits beneath the parental authority.

In Shakespeare's play of "Romeo and Juliet,"

it's the family feud which ultimately triggers tragedy.

In a quiet corner of the house,

Juliet de Capulet, almost 14 years old,

and Romeo, a Montague, just a few years her elder,

are about to fall in love.

I never tire of this first meeting.

Shakespeare gives them 14 lines of rhyming perfection--

an Elizabethan sonnet.

If I profane with my unworthiest hand

this holy shrine,

the gentle sin is this:

my lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand

to smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.

Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much.

It's a dangerous cocktail of religion and sex.

She plays a virgin saint.

He's a pilgrim worshiping her.

The sonnet is the archetypal love poem.

The rhymes are like kisses,

and what Shakespeare does in that sequence

is bring a sonnet into three-dimensional life.

What's lovely about the shared sonnet

is that it is shared, which does not happen in sonnets.

It's playful. It's flirtatious.

It predicts the whole story of martyrdom, if you like,

the whole story of a tragic ending.

That's what love does to you-- it changes your language.

I mean, that's the inspirational thing about this play.

You meet someone, and you start speaking sonnets.

Wow!

Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?

Ay, pilgrim,

lips that they must use in prayer.

O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do.

They pray.

She comes at him, and instead of

being caught off guard, he comes right back at her,

and so it becomes this... this play of control.

He's in love with the idea of love,

but it's not until he meets Juliet

that he understands what real love is, I don't think.

Grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.

Saints do not move,

though grant for prayers' sake.

Then move not, while my prayer's effect I take.

That is why it's such a sexy scene,

because I think they've met their match.

GARBER: They touch. They kiss.

It's a wonderful theatrical moment.

They inhabit a love sonnet, and they experience

what you might call love at first sonnet.

The language is so beautiful,

the poetry, that first sonnet.

It's almost acting by numbers

because it's all done for you.

It's beautiful, in a way, because they don't really know

what they're rushing into, and that's part of the point.

FIENNES: Remember when you first fell in love?

I think that's what this feels like,

but this first love is 400 years old,

and Romeo and Juliet spoke in sonnet.

Does that mean anything to us anymore?

Teenagers falling in love.

You know, whether it's the romantic cobbled streets

of Verona 400 years ago or here in London,

I don't think much has changed when it comes to that.

I think that each generation finds

their own version of Romeo and Juliet,

and that's maybe why it speaks to them.

Or maybe not. Let's find out.

I feel like I'm going into detention.

You look to him, nothing but discourse.

FIENNES: I've come to rehearse "Romeo and Juliet"

with some teenagers at this South London school.

Can we push the chairs back?

A commitment to the words, so...

Thou hast most--

[Loudly] Thou what?

[Louder] Thou hast most kindly hit it.

Hit what?

Hit it.

Hit what? Hit it!

Good! Pass it on.

I think it's so important

that the text isn't read or just listened to.

I think it's a text which has been written

for everyone to speak out loud.

Thus from my lips, by yours...

Come on, kiss her, kiss her, kiss her!

FIENNES, VOICEOVER: But when these teenagers

speak it out loud, do they connect with it?

Don't stop!

Mannerly devotion shows in this.

That's it. We're going to throw you off the line.

FIENNES, VOICEOVER: Using a few exercises,

I wanted to help them unpack the meaning

of that first sonnet scene.

Great. OK. Straight away.

Don't even think about it. Straight in.

If I profane with my unworthiest hand, the--

But mean it! I don't know if you're meaning it.

I feel like you're just...

But mean it. This person is

the best thing that's ever happened to you.

You can take your time.

I think the best thing is to take your time.

Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,

which mannerly devotion shows in this.

Have you--

For saints have hands

which pilgrims' hands do touch,

and palm to palm is holy--

OK, go back, because that's about listening.

The other thing is, you're going to be

finishing each other's lines,

so when you come to the end of the line, serve it up.

So go!

FIENNES, VOICEOVER: Now, I'm making them work,

but the closer these two are to the words,

the better connected the performance will be.

Great. Now, straight away, without thinking,

do the scene again; just don't even think.

If I profane with my unworthiest hand

this holy shrine, the gentle sin is this:

my lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand

to smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.

Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,

which mannerly devotion shows in this,

for saints have hands

which pilgrims' hands do touch.

Anyone? Yeah. make an observation.

I thought their atmosphere was

a lot more intimate this time

because they took time on what they were saying.

It seems like more on the spot,

like the characters are actually coming out with lines,

rather than it's like the actors have learnt those lines.

That is bang on. That is bang on.

I felt there was a real ownership.

Well, listen, give yourselves a round of applause.

That was really good. Really, really good.

Really, really impressed.

FIENNES, VOICEOVER: Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet"

belongs here, and it belongs not only here

as a sort of geographical location,

but also here within the spirits of these young people,

that I felt, after a couple of exercises,

began to connect to the language.

Famously, Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" is set

in the Italian city of Verona,

and it still prides itself on being the city of love.

[Speaking Italian]

Visit the place today

and you'll find a Romeo and Juliet theme park.

with international thespians restaging the famous scenes

and more balconies than you'd know what to do with.

Interestingly, Shakespeare gets all the credit,

though in fact, the story wasn't his.

BATE: Nearly all Shakespeare's plays

are based on stories that were already out there.

Either he's reworking an old play

or reading a history book

or reading a novel or a poem.

In the case of "Romeo and Juliet," it's a poem.

FIENNES: That poem, Shakespeare's own source,

was first adapted from the original Italian

by an Englishman, Arthur Brooke,

and printed in London just before Shakespeare was born.

Hands up, anyone who's ever heard of

the English poet Arthur Brooke.

Maybe you've got an image of him in your mind's eye,

or perhaps as a student,

you wrote countless essays on his work.

Arthur Brooke.

No?

Stop, stop!

Just calm down.

On stage at the Globe, actors are performing

not Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet,"

but Arthur Brooke's.

Now, this is "Romeo and Juliet"

as you've never seen it before.

O blessed be the time of thy arrival here.

FIENNES: Here, the poem has been specially adapted

to be performed on the stage.

What chance and where to meet, o lady mine,

is hapt, that gives you worthy cause,

my coming here to bliss?

Marvel no whit, my heart's delight,

my only knight and fere,

Mercutio's icy hand had all-to frozen mine.

But thou again hast warmed it...

FIENNES, VOICEOVER: Once again, this is

the lover's first meeting.

Imagine Shakespeare reading this and thinking,

"I could do that better."

GARBER: It's a wonderful reading.

It's a narrative in which the characters do speak,

but they don't have fully rounded stage presence.

FIENNES: Ultimately, Brooke's jaunty couplets

were discarded by Shakespeare,

but that's not all he changed.

They pray, grant thou...

BATE: The outlines of the plot are all there.

Shakespeare takes them and dramatizes them.

But Arthur Brooke, the poet,

surrounds it with a lot of finger wagging,

a moral narrative in which he says,

this shows you the terrible things that will happen

if you don't do what your father says.

This tragical matter is written to describe unto thee

a couple of unfortunate lovers...

O Romeo.

thralling themselves to unhonest desire,

neglecting the authority and advice

of parents and friends,

attempting all adventures of peril

for the attainment of their wished lust...

abusing the honorable name of lawful marriage,

and by all means of unhonest life,

hasting towards most unhappy death.

FIENNES: Four decades after Brooke,

Shakespeare's rewrite,

the first ever full-length stage version of the story,

doesn't blame the lovers; it celebrates them.

[Laughter]

And though, like Brooke, it still ends in unhappy death,

you'd never guess it from the first two acts.

Even though the prologue tells us

everything to expect,

and so we have no doubt about the outcome,

there is a sense of real comic possibility

at the beginning of the play.

FIENNES: So, there's a bunch of bit-part comics.

"My fair niece, Rosaline."

Oh!

A couple of Romeo's drinking buddies.

Passions.

There's a well-meaning Friar.

Come! Come with me.

[Laughter]

Juliet's mum...

The valiant Paris seeks you for his wife.

and dad, both pushing hard for the arranged marriage.

But woo her, gentle...

And Juliet's nurse,

the only one in the house who knows about Romeo.

And for a hand and a foot...

ohh, and a body.

Give me my sin again!

So what's going on?

Is this play a tragedy,

or should I be asking for my money back?

It's a big social world that he describes.

It's not just a narrow love story.

Like with all Shakespeare plays,

you open with a very broad landscape,

and then you slowly narrow and narrow and narrow in,

into what is, you know, eventually a very human

or almost a domestic tragedy.

So you open on the streets of Verona.

You've got a lot of people who are coming on

with sort of macho brio,

and there's, you know, a very rich range of characters.

O Romeo that she were!

Mercutio is a firework.

He just loves some rhythms, and he just flies with them,

and I think he learns a lot in the process.

FIENNES: Mercutio is Romeo's best friend.

Neither Montague nor Capulet,

he's a maverick and a comedian

who constantly mocks romantic love.

I talk of dreams,

which are the children of an idle brain!

Begot of nothing but vain fantasy,

which is as thin of substance as the air.

It's a comedy, but there's a strange kind of...

maybe an anger to his comedy.

Yeah. You're right. There is an anger there,

and there's something wrong with him.

I don't mean that in a sort of very judgmental sense,

but I think when we did it, we pitched him

just about 8, 9 years older than the boys,

and you just think if someone is 28

and he's hanging out with a couple of 18-year-olds,

they really open the world up to you.

But you do occasionally think, why are you with me?

If love be rough with you, be rough with love.

Prick love for pricking, and you beat love down.

And there's a lot of humor there,

but I mean the humor/tragedy dichotomy, I think,

is a very false one with Shakespeare at all times.

You know? He's always moving like quicksilver

between the one and the other

because laughter frees up a lot of emotions

that you wouldn't have access to otherwise,

and simultaneously, intense emotion can flip

very quickly into giggles.

FIENNES: As the curtain opens on act two,

the dial remains firmly set to romantic comedy.

Cue the famous balcony scene.

But, soft, what light through yonder window breaks?

Oh, it is the east,

and Juliet is the sun.

He's in love with the idea of being in love,

and that makes him a Petrarchan lover,

and this is a very scripted way of falling in love.

Shakespeare's audience would have known that script.

Certainly for a young boy of that age madly in love,

I think that that scene is full of excitement,

and the blood is racing to all parts of the body.

O Romeo, Romeo!

Wherefore art thou Romeo?

Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?

It's funny how a lot of people feel that

the sentiment of that line is,

"Romeo, Romeo, where are you?" and it's not.

I think she's really, really angry and perplexed

that this person that she's fallen in love with

is of a name which is mud to her family,

so it's a, "Why are you called Romeo?"

What's in a name?

That which we call a rose

by any other name would smell as sweet.

So Romeo would, were he not Romeo called.

I know that speech is clich\d and done to death,

but it is a very important argument

that's going on in the 1590s

about where identity and meaning reside,

both in words and in people.

And what she says is,

"Deny thy father and refuse thy name."

In other words, turn your back

on all that inherited stuff.

You know? You are Romeo, just as a rose

would be a rose, you know, by any other name.

By yonder blessed moon, I swear

that tips with silver

all these fruit-tree tops.

O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon,

lest that thy love...

She takes over. She shuts him up in the balcony scene

because he can only speak in tropes.

"Swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon."

Shut up, Romeo.

By whose direction...

RASHAD: The playfulness-- I mean, you can't beat it.

He says he's going to swear, and he swears on the moon,

and she says, no, no, don't swear on the moon

because is ever changing-- you can't do that.

So the way her mind works is just so delicious, you know?

O, wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?

What satisfaction canst thou have tonight?

FIENNES: Romeo is full of bravado,

but it's Juliet who's in control,

even to the point of planning the wedding.

If that thy bent of love be honorable,

thy purpose marriage,

send me word tomorrow by one that...

BATE: She's discovering her sexuality.

Traditionally in love stories,

the man does the wooing, and the woman is wooed.

The woman, the girl,

is the passive partner, the responsive one,

but Juliet is the opposite.

She's out there at her window, willing on the night,

willing Romeo to come to her,

and she's ready to give her body to him.

O parting is such sweet sorrow

that I shall say good night till it be morrow.

FIENNES: This Elizabethan love tease

is all the more painful because we know it ends badly.

But it also gives writers a kit of parts

to rehash anytime, anyplace.

[Music playing]

In the late 1950s,

Arthur Laurents and later Bernstein and Sondheim

reimagined it as the musical "West Side Story."

The plotting of the play is pretty good,

but the thing that excited Arthur Laurents

and Leonard Bernstein was not the romance.

It was the analogy

of gang warfare and prejudice

to the Montagues and the Capulets.

they were much less interested in the Romeo and the Juliet

than they were in the families.

♪ Tonight, tonight♪

FIENNES: The musical may have led with the gangs,

but the writers weren't stupid.

They knew a good balcony scene when they saw one.

♪ Where they are♪

♪ Today, the minutes seems like hours♪

The balcony scene is probably the only thing of,

if you ask general audiences what they know

about Romeo and Juliet, it's the balcony scene.

"Tonight" was not written for the balcony scene.

We actually had "One Hand, One Heart."

That was the balcony scene.

"One Hand, One Heart"

just turned out to be too pristine,

and we wanted something more romantic,

and that then expanded that into the balcony scene.

♪ Tonight♪

FIENNES: The balcony scene wasn't just a runaway success

for musical theater.

Shakespeare's sublime language

has also inspired the medium of dance.

One of my favorite moments in the balcony pas de deux,

the girl runs up to the guy and spins,

and then her leg, in ecstasy, expands,

and then in a circular motion, it fans out,

and she ends up in a deep position.

MAN: It's the language of the bodies,

language of the emotions.

I guess like an actor works in diction,

we have to work on our diction,

how are we getting across that feeling.

The choreography is always the same,

but it can be interpreted in so many different ways.

FIENNES: The language of classical ballet

is just as precise as Shakespeare's.

Using a system called Benesh Notation,

it can be written down.

This is from "Romeo and Juliet."

As a result, the "Romeo and Juliet" balcony scene

is today danced almost exactly as it was in 1965

when Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn premiered it.

MOVIE NARRATOR: This is no ordinary love story.

FIENNES: Back in Shakespeare's version,

destiny now awaits the lovers.

Within 24 hours of meeting, Romeo arranges their wedding.

He's persuaded the Friar to marry them

though their families aren't told,

even though Juliet's barely 14.

And sweeten with thy breath this neighbour air.

They are but beggars that can count their worth.

But my true love is grown.

The Zeffirelli film, which is beautiful

and very, very romantic,

but there's that lovely moment

when the Friar is just about to marry Romeo and Juliet,

but they just can't keep their hands off each other.

Come. We will make short work

for, by your leaves, you shall not stay alone

till holy church incorporate two in one.

BATE: It was quite bold, in that if you actually look

at marriage in Shakespeare's time,

typically, people didn't get married

until they were in their 20s.

The idea of a sexual passion and a marriage

at that very young age, that's not something

that would have looked familiar to Shakespeare's audience.

For, by your leave,

you shall not stay alone till...

FIENNES: Convinced the secret marriage

will end Verona's civil war,

the Friar, a one-man peace process,

is happy to tie the knot.

[Speaking Latin]

The trouble is, someone forgot to tell Juliet's cousin,

Verona's Prince of Cats, Tybalt.

Boy!

This shall not excuse the injuries that thou hast done me.

Therefore turn and draw.

Tybalt, here played by a young Alan Rickman

in a 1979 BBC production,

is about to shatter the comic mood.

Good Mercutio!

In a messy street brawl

which Romeo probably should have stayed out of,

Tybalt mortally wounds Romeo's best friend, Mercutio.

I'm hurt.

A plague o' both your houses!

PASTER: There are really two time schemes in the play.

With the death of Mercutio, everything changes.

A plague o' both your houses!

The relationship of Romeo and Juliet changes

from one of comic possibility

to one of tragic inevitability.

When I say to my sixth formers,

do you think there's any chance

of Romeo and Juliet ever being happy,

the answer has to be no.

Romeo is a dog and he behaves stupidly,

and he actually causes the death of Mercutio.

BATE: There's something about youth,

male youth in particular,

in which sex and violence are driving forces,

and that's why the play still feels so modern

and why it works so well in modern interpretations,

such as Baz Luhrmann's movie.

I was hurt under your arm.

I thought all for the best!

A plague...

o' both your houses.

No!

FIENNES: In his rage at Mercutio's death,

Romeo, a Montague, now kills Tybalt, a Capulet.

From here on in, there is no going back.

Aah!

BLOOM: It's violent.

There's blood and death,

and I think that's very important

to the story as a whole.

And if you aren't terrified that somebody is going to die,

then you're missing the point.

It's peppered with death.

I think like a lot of Shakespeare's plays,

once one death happens,

there's going to be a domino effect.

There's going to be a load of others.

Already I've seen how today's generation

can embrace the language of love in the play,

but how will they relate to the language of tragic doom?

I've come to listen in on a Shakespeare session

at this South London evening class.

I want to see your jaw.

I want to see your jaw.

That's it! That's it.

Bruce Wall has taught Shakespeare across the world.

His students include city bankers, Broadway actors,

and several thousand prisoners.

"He jests at scars that never felt a wound."

STUDENTS: He jests at scars that never felt a wound.

FIENNES, VOICEOVER: Tonight, he's teaching the group

how to think and write in iambic pentameter,

the classic five-stress rhythm of Shakespearean text.

The five-stress line is the best one for us.

STUDENTS: The five-stress line is the best one for us.

"Thou canst not speak of that thou dost not feel."

STUDENTS: Thou canst not speak

of that thou dost not feel.

FIENNES: Bruce wants them to work on

Shakespeare's description of the killing of Mercutio.

To me, a great thing, and I want you

to take a line and write around it in iambic.

Although he's good, a target he has become.

What?

Although he's good, a target he has become.

James has had firsthand experience

of the divisions and violence caused by gangs.

When you have a knife and you stab somebody,

what kinds of thing, what kinds of--

those emotions, what would you call them?

Forget the rhyme now, for the moment.

Just, so you have-- what can you do with a knife?

A slant would be to jook someone.

Jook?

Jook. J-O-O-K.

They jooked. What else did they do?

Um...sliced.

Sliced?

They tore apart his joints.

They tore.

Great. It's great work.

Fantastic, absolutely.

I mean, when you came up with that second line,

that was absolutely brilliant.

So I think this is very close.

Do you want to get up, James...

This, then, is James' spin on the death of Mercutio.

He held a phone up against his ear.

The piercing ring creates a sense of fear.

Although he's good, a target he's become.

To stand and fight or lose his pride and run?

His agile arm beats down their fatal points.

He jooked, they sliced.

They tore apart his joints.

His life was...

FIENNES: This was incredible.

This really kind of pushed all the buttons for me

because it's about what has attracted me

to acting and its language.

The iambic form, it's sort of musical

and fancy and classical, and not of our age,

but we just proved here that actually we all speak

in a fairly iambic fashion as English speakers,

and I felt incredibly moved by that.

It's powerful. I feel really excited by what I've witnessed.

Thank you very, very much.

[Applause]

Back in the play, and with the bodies piling up in Verona,

Juliet now discovers that the boy she married

just a few hours earlier

has murdered her cousin Tybalt

and has been banished from the city.

O God, did Romeo's hand

shed Tybalt's blood?

It did, it did.

Alas the day, it did.

O serpent heart hid

with a flowering face!

Did ever dragon keep so fair a cave?

Beautiful tyrant!

Fiend angelical!

Well, the poetry, it's kind of schizophrenic--

"beautiful tyrant, fiend angelic."

"Was ever book containing such vile matter

so fairly bound?"

She's desperately in love with Romeo,

but he's also the murderer of her cousin Tybalt.

What's she to do? She's just 14.

She's betrothing herself to a murderer.

It's...it's kind of beautiful, but terrifying.

Was ever book containing such vile matter

so fairly bound?

O that deceit should dwell in such a gorgeous palace!

What does she do?

What would you do?

What Juliet does is pledge her allegiance

to the man she loves.

Behind her father's back, she smuggles the banished Romeo

into her bedroom to consummate their marriage.

GREER: The one thing Shakespeare tells you,

not once, not twice, but eight or nine times

is that Juliet is 14.

She doesn't know about her own sexuality,

but she certainly has a feeling that

it's hers to dispose of and not anybody else's.

And to me, that is so extraordinary, that this--

only a nobody from Warwick could have done this.

I mean, anybody from the courtier class

just wouldn't have had the imaginative freedom

to give this child this passion and power.

FIENNES: Juliet is a bold and precocious character

for any Elizabethan playwright to have created.

Today, actors at the Globe are rehearsing the scene

that follows that night of passion.

They're doing it, more or less,

exactly as Shakespeare would have done.

So thou wilt have it so...

Which means...

I'll say yon grey is not the morning's eye.

Juliet's a bloke.

It is the lark that sings so out of tune,

straining harsh discords and unpleasing sharps.

Some say the lark makes sweet division.

This doth not so.

BATE: It's an extraordinary thing that Shakespeare does,

writing a big part for a female character,

but Shakespeare trusted the boy actors.

FIENNES: In the 1590s, it was unthinkable for women to act.

All female roles were played by boys or very young men.

It would be another 70 years

before England saw its first female Juliet.

Today, Director Bill Buckhurst and the cast

want to know if, using the men-only rule,

"Romeo and Juliet" can still be convincing.

Great. It's amazing just that...

the structure means

you have to move in a certain way,

literally have space between you

which we hadn't figured in.

Yeah. Also, it just makes my performance--

it makes me want to be more theatrical.

It makes me want to kind of

swing my hips and...

PASTER: The boys who are playing the women's roles

are adolescents and probably past the change of their voice,

but nevertheless, it's not about their voice.

It's about the capacity that they're being asked to show us,

to embody the young woman, speaking her desire

in the most beautiful, but also candid terms.

Some say the lark make sweet division.

This doth not so, for she divideth us.

O, now be gone.

More light and light it grows.

More light and light, more dark and dark our woes!

Farewell, one kiss and I'll...

FIENNES: After spending the night together,

Romeo sneaks out of the Capulet mansion

and flees the city.

Art thou gone so?

RASHAD: She doesn't leave with him.

I've always said, why? Why is that?

It's obviously not for lack of courage.

He leaves her balcony, and he goes to Mantua,

and she could just go.

But she doesn't, and I think it's because, you know,

she hasn't had a falling-out with her parents yet,

and so there is something, actually,

still strong enough to keep her here.

JULIET: Tybalt is dead...

and Romeo banished.

FIENNES: And now it's the story of Juliet's clash

with both her parents

that drives the inevitable tragedy of the play.

This now becomes a story of a young girl resisting

what is effectively a forced marriage,

as her father attempts to forge a union between her

and the kind but slightly forgettable Paris.

Hang thee, young baggage!

Disobedient wretch!

Any hope Juliet might have had

of talking her father round now vanishes.

Tybalt!

I tell thee what: get thee to church on Thursday,

or never after look me in the face.

No! No!

A huge amount of menace.

MAGUIRE: There's this play about money

and how corrupting money is.

I mean, why is Capulet so keen

for Juliet to marry Paris?

Because he's the merchant who's made the money,

and Paris is the one with the rank.

It's a classic trade-off

between new money and old title.

FIENNES: Juliet, though, never does marry Paris.

Egged on by the Friar,

she gets out of it by faking her own death.

Shall I be married then, tomorrow morning?

No, no.

When we made the movie "Shakespeare in Love,"

we imagined how the Bard might have revealed

the complex and tragic denouement of the plot

to his fellow actors.

The friar who married them

gives Juliet a potion to drink.

It is a secret potion. It makes her seeming dead.

She is placed in the tomb with the Capulets.

She will awake to life and love

when Romeo comes to her side again.

By maligned fate, the message goes astray

which would tell Romeo of the friar's plan.

He hears only that Juliet is dead.

And thus he goes to the apothecary

and buys a deadly poison.

MAGUIRE: "Romeo and Juliet" is absolutely full of

"if only" moments, probably more "if only" moments

than any other Shakespeare tragedy.

Now things go wrong not because of any tragic catastrophe,

but something as mundane as the postal service.

The mail doesn't get through letting Romeo know

that Juliet's death is a fake death.

Tragedies often are about public life,

about people in positions of power and the conflicts

between their personal lives and their public duties.

"Romeo and Juliet" is not like that at all.

It is a very domestic tragedy.

The emotions are huge,

but the actual context is quite small.

That doesn't make it a lesser tragedy,

but it does make it a much more intimate one

than many of Shakespeare's plays.

Well, Romeo's language in the tomb

achieves new heights.

Death, that hath sucked the honey of thy breath,

hath had no power yet upon thy beauty.

Thou art not conquered.

WITMORE: I feel a rock in my stomach because

you want to see all the promise of that relationship

play out, and they come so close.

Eyes...

look your last.

Arms, take your last embrace.

Their love is so innocent and pure

and genuine and real,

and you want it so desperately to be.

It's what we all want and dream of.

He believes whole-heartedly

that they will meet in death,

that they will unite in death.

You can feel the audience hoping that,

you know, she'll wake up.

You feel the anticipation of that.

BLOOM: What I found was the joy

in the moment of death when he goes to her,

that I thought was so heartbreaking and beautiful.

With a kiss...

I...die.

FIENNES: Seconds after Romeo dies,

the friar arrives just as Juliet wakes.

O comfortable Friar!

Where is my lord?

Thy husband in thy bosom there lies dead.

FIENNES: The man Juliet loves is dead.

The lovers' entire plan is shattered.

Now she has a terrifying decision to make.

I've come to meet

playwright and author Bonnie Greer to discuss it.

I would call the play "Juliet and Romeo" because it's about her.

She's got to make the big decision,

do you just dust yourself down and go back out in the light,

or does she push this button,

this nuclear button,

which is take herself out.

O happy dagger.

This is thy sheath.

There rust and let me die.

FIENNES: Compounding the tragedy,

both Romeo and Juliet have died alone,

denied one last moment together.

She stands up and says,

No. If you don't let me live my life,

I'm leaving this life,

but I'm not living what you create.

It's a hard call

and it's a hard thing to teach

because we're in a very fragile time,

with the internet and everything

and girls so fragile.

It's a blow-up play.

It's a really dangerous piece of work.

It's as dangerous as...

as anything you can possibly see.

[People gasp]

Aah!

There rust...

and let me die.

FIENNES: Perhaps the danger is infectious.

Certainly Hollywood keeps on returning to it.

Many believe Shakespeare's story

and his words as he wrote them to be untouchable.

but tonight, at this 2014 movie premiere,

there's someone who begs to differ.

Julian Fellowes' new adaptation of "Romeo and Juliet"

seems at first to be using the original text,

but is it?

I would thou hadst my bones.

Take, for example, the moment in the play

when the nurse teases the excited Juliet

about her choice of Romeo to fall for.

She says...

You know not how to choose a man.

Romeo? No, not he.

Though his face be better than any man's.

Fellowes replaces those lines

with the rather simpler tease,

"I must say you have good taste in men."

BATE: What we think of as the Hollywood rewrite

is actually something that has happened to Shakespeare

on the stage all down the centuries.

O Marius, Marius!

Wherefore art thou Marius?

She speaks!

Take this, for example,

the first major rewrite...in 1679,

Thomas Otway's "The History and Fall of Caius Marius."

In what can only be described as a Shakespeare rip-off,

Otway plays fast and loose with the original text,

setting the play in ancient Rome.

She lives, and we shall be...

He also gives the lovers an extra 30-line conversation

after Romeo has swallowed the poison,

but before he dies.

What have they done with me?

I'll not be used thus.

I'll not wed Sylla.

Marius is my husband,

is he not, Sir?

Methinks you're very like him.

Otway's Roman version of the play

dominated the English stage for 70 years.

And he wasn't alone

in his desire to rewrite the death scene.

BATE: In the mid 1700s,

the leading Shakespearian actor was David Garrick.

He kind of saw himself

as Shakespeare's representative on earth.

His version of "Romeo and Juliet"

is pretty authentically close to the original,

but the problem for Garrick

is that he wanted the star part at the end.

Hang on, says Garrick; there's an opportunity here.

FIENNES: So decades after Otway,

Garrick writes 61 imitation Shakespeare lines

into the tomb scene.

She speaks, she lives,

and we shall still be blessed.

My kind propitious stars o'erpay me now

for all my sorrows past.

Rise, rise, my Juliet.

I am that Romeo, nor all the opposing powers

of earth or man shall break our bonds

or tear thee from my heart.

Garrick's "Romeo" was hugely popular.

Between 1750 and 1800,

it was staged more than 400 times.

Oh, my breaking heart!

But was it, and is it, right

to give the lovers one last moment together?

Capulet, forbear;

Paris, loose your hold;

pull not our heartstrings thus.

GARBER: I completely understand the desire

to make a happy ending out of a tragic one.

So they have a moment of recognition

before their tragic deaths.

Now, Shakespeare doesn't give you that solace.

There is the missed moment--

the one dies and then the other dies, just too late--

and that powerful refusal to create a happy ending here,

I think, is one of the most extraordinary things

about the play.

FIENNES: But in this appalling moment,

the Montagues and the Capulets do agree

to put aside their ancient grudge.

Go hence, to have more talk

of these sad things.

Some shall be pardoned,

and some punisèd.

For never was a story of more woe

than this of Juliet

and her Romeo.

MAN: An inquest today heard how a British couple

watched a film version of "Romeo and Juliet" on TV

before signing a note as the star-crossed lovers

and killing themselves.

The tragedy of Juliet and her Romeo

is, tragically, not over.

Turn on the news, and you can still occasionally hear

the story adapted for real life.

But you know, strangely,

I think Shakespeare's message has more hope than despair.

RASHAD: I think the message of the play is captured

in one of Juliet's lines--

"The more I give to thee, the more I have,

for both are infinite.”

The fact that she says that

means when you really love someone,

it doesn't matter how much they give back.

It doesn't matter-- none of it matters.

It's infinite. Love is infinite.

To me, that's the message of "Romeo and Juliet."

Being here, I can't help but think of a young girl

buried all those centuries ago in Verona

in a dark, dank tomb.

But her legacy lives on,

and lives on predominantly through Shakespeare,

who illustrates, I think, so movingly,

with wit and emotion,

a deep profound love between two teenagers,

and it's that love which heals

this other deep and almost pathetic hatred

and leaves us, the audience,

with this puzzling redemption.

But I think if I were in Verona

trying to uncover and gather clues to Juliet and this story,

I think, as strange as it might sound,

I'd hear her voice saying, "I'm not here.

"You can't uncover me here. I'm out there.

"I'm anywhere in the world

"where my text is being intoned.

Intone me, and I'll come alive again."

It's our legacy.

I think she'd say, claim it.

Unlock it with those keys.

And champion my spirit.

To uncover more about Shakespeare Funding for "Shakespeare Uncovered"

and watch full episodes online,

visit pbs.org/ShakespeareUncovered.

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