Internet Shakespeare Editions

Paper prepared for the Shakespeare Association of America, 1999.
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2: Selecting materials for posting

The sheer quantity of data that could potentially become available if performance materials were collected from productions staged each year by festivals and theater departments worldwide is daunting. There are two kinds of responses to this challenge:

Peer review

One initial method of selection for posting on the site will be peer review, equivalent to the kinds of peer reviews that are required for material to be posted in the academic sections of the ISE. Materials will be submitted to a consultant in the theatrical profession, who will ensure that they meet the following criteria:

"Snapshots": selecting representative materials

The Performance Guidelines for the Internet Shakespeare Editions establish a further key method of selecting materials for posting: by choosing snapshots of the plays that illustrate characteristic moments in it, or -- more interestingly perhaps -- performance cruxes that each production must solve. The Guidelines give the example of The Taming of the Shrew, where such issues as the treatment of the "frame" of Sly, the Hostess, and the Lord, and the manner of delivering Katherine's final speech must be addressed. A recent very active thread on SHAKSPER about how the witches in Macbeth were performed illustrates the potential usefulness of snapshots of this kind.

In Romeo and Juliet, the cruxes are perhaps less urgent, but there are some traditionally awkward moments that a modern production will have to deal with, and there are some scenes of perennial interest that a student or scholar would be curious about. The discussion that follows focusses on one general question of characterization, and on one specific action that is difficult to render convincing; it is illustrated by materials made available from the 1998 performance at the Phoenix Theatre of the University of Victoria, and directed by Linda Hardy.


Capulet's mood swings

How, in a modern, generally naturalistic production, can Capulet's violent oscillations of mood be seen as consistent? Capulet begins the play as a figure of generosity and understanding, as he cautions Paris about moving too quickly to gain Juliet's heart, and he restrains the excesses of Tybalt in the masque scene. After Mercutio's death, however, he seems to change to a figure of excessive haste and near-violence, as he suddenly changes his mind and agrees to the immediate marriage of Juliet and Paris, and becomes furious when she resists.

The plot, of course, requires the marriage, and the drama of the scene where Juliet resists is acutely heightened by Capulet's violent language (and perhaps action). But a modern director will want to find a degree of consistency in Capulet's character. Varying production materials can illuminate alternative ways of approaching this seeming difficulty: in the recent UVic production, Linda Hardy explains Capulet's character in terms of a European male tradition of family and patriarchy, creating an age difference between Capulet and a much younger wife [note 1]


Friar Lawrence's desertion

A more focussed moment of potential disjunction occurs in the scene where Juliet awakens to find Romeo dead. The "comfortable" friar is there to assist her, but flees as he hears a noise and deserts Juliet at a crucial moment. Again the plot can be said to drive the action, since it requires his presence -- because he knows that she is to awaken and has promised to be there -- and his absence -- so that she can commit suicide. The selective visual rhetoric of the camera permits the incident to be passed over without significant question: the recent Luhrmann film solves the problem nicely by omitting the Friar from the scene completely; the earlier Zeffirelli film allows the friar to run in an apparent panic, unprepared by any earlier characterization. In each case the long dénouememt of the final scene is radically cut; in film where the camera focusses on individuals it is less clear that only the audience has been fully informed of the events that have lead to the catastrophe, and that much explanation is needed for onstage characters to understand.

A student, or potential director of the play, browsing through an Internet edition of the play, could check on the variant versions of this scene as offered by the First and Second Quartos. The received text, derived from the Second Quarto (1599), reads thus:

Frier. I heare some noyse Lady, come from that nest

[End Signature L3v; Catchword: Of]

Of death, contagion, and vnnaturall sleepe,
A greater power then we can contradict
Hath thwarted our intents, come, come away,
Thy husband in thy bosome there lies dead:
And Paris too, come ile dispose of thee,
Among a Sisterhood of holy Nunnes: [3020]
Stay not to question, for the watch is comming,
Come go good Iuliet, I dare no longer stay.


Iuli. Go get thee hence, for I will not away.
(5.3, TLN 3014-3023)

Friar Lawrence stresses the role of the "greater powers" in bringing about the catastrope, but offers no reason for his exit. To be sure, he is later described as "a Frier that trembles, sighes, and weepes," so it might reasonably be inferred that he is simply afraid.

The Friar of Quarto 1 (1597) is less reticent about his motivation, and more urgent in trying to persuade Juliet to leave with him:

Fr:Lady come foorth. I heare some noise at hand,
We shall be taken, Paris, he is slaine,
And Romeo dead: and if we heere be tane
We shall be thought to be as accessarie.
I will prouide for you in some close Nunery.   [3020]
Iul:Ah leaue me, leaue me, I will not from hence.
Fr:I heare some noise, I dare not stay, come, come.
Iul:Goe get thee gone.
(5.3, TLN 3014-3023)

This text provides a clear indication that the Friar is specifically afraid that if they are caught they will be held responsible, as "accessories," for the deaths that have already occurred. His response of panic may be ignoble, but fear is potentially a credible motivation. The additional information in Q1 is teasing, since there is some agreement that this is an "acting" quarto (a.k.a "bad"); either someone in the team of author / actor / scribe / compositor that put together Q1 decided to provide more specific motivation, or someone on the equivalent team that created Q2 decided to cut it, perhaps as unnecessarily distracting at a moment of high drama.

The problem for a modern production with its expectation of consistency in characterization is that there are no indications earlier in the plot that the Friar is timid -- indeed he takes a major risk in marrying Romeo and Juliet, and in the machinations that follow. Linda Hardy's production at UVic solved this crux by the unusual casting of Friar Lawrence as a young, inexperienced counselor (very much the opposite of both film Friars, in their different worldly-wise ways). A witty extension of his role as peer councelor is the adaptation of the famous passage where he speaks of the virtues of herbs; in this production the "herb" is marijuana, and he is giving a lecture on its dangers.

Hardy's choice, of course, is partly conditioned by the restrictions she faced in casting the play in a Theater Department where the actors are young. Nonetheless, there is arguably some justification of her choice if we look at the early stage history of the play [note 1].

Romeo and Juliet was probably written in about 1595. Information about the actors who performed Shakespeare's plays is scarce, but it it likely that the troupe that first performed the play included actors who, though experienced were still quite young. The Chamberlain's Men [note 2] was just forming at the time, made up of a number of actors who had left traces in the records from Elsinor (c. 1586), and later in a performance of Lord Strange's men (early 1590s). Richard Burbage would have been a vigorous young 27, Shakespeare himself just 31, and he seems to have been older than most others in the group -- a fact which may explain the tradition and the findings of Don Foster [note 3] that he acted older men. There were, of course, actors who could imitate the old and infirm (as Jonson's poem to Salathiel Pavy attests), but it is fair to say that the general age of the company was young, not unlike the ensemble provided by the theater students of today. A young Friar makes historical sense as well as providing a solution to the crux for a modern audience.

My point is not to argue for a specific age for the Friar -- old, young, or old as acted by young -- but to illustrate the usefulness of the interaction between text and illustrative performance; as performers attempt to interpret the text, they face textual problems that may be illuminated by reference to the original, unedited versions, and as they find solutions to the cruxes they encounter, they may in the process illuminate the context in which the texts were generated. The addition of extensive performance materials to the text will be a further step towards what Ray Siemens has called the "dynamic text" [note 4].

Next: organizing the maze of data.



  1. A recent interchange on SHAKSPER discussed the question of Lady Capulet's age, pointing out that the text provides an indication that she is "around 28" (SHK 10.0357 Tuesday 2 March 1999 [Marilyn Bonomi] and SHK 10.0358 Wednesday 3 March 1999 [Christine Mack Gordon], at time of writing).

    A serendipitous corollary of my lateness in constructing this paper is the arrival this morning (4 March) of a posting from John Velz on SHAKSPER:

    From: John Velz <>
    Date: Wednesday, 03 Mar 1999 23:57:41 -0600
    Subject: Lady Capulet in Love

    Tonya Tilbeck asks about Lady Capulet's possible erotic interest in Paris.

    I don't know of any production that played up this motif. But a long time ago, prob. in 1980s I saw a RSC production done in Northern Italian Mafia style in which Lady C .is carrying on a love affair with Tybalt. She gets hysterical over his death, and that may have inspired this tangent to the main action. The ball scene was done as a cocktail party at which Tybalt gave Lady C. an abdominal massage through her dress. It got the audience's attention. This production has been called "The Alfa Romeo Giulietta" production, because Tybalt owned one in firey red which was driven onto the stage to awe the audience. This for the deaths in 3.1. Tybalt attacks Mercutio with a chain and the latter nimbly skips up onto the hood of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta so that T will risk damaging his beloved car if he attacks Mercutio with a paint threatening chain while he is on it. A temporary lull in the fighting while Mercutio takes another position and then the deaths occur. As the Alfa Romeo G. and the Mafia element will make clear, this was a flashy and imaginative production. But the poetry kind of went down the drain.

    SHK 10.0367 Thursday 4 March 1999. [Back]

  2. More information about Shakespeare's actors will be found on the section of the site that deals with Shakespeare's Life and Times. [Back]
  3. Foster, Donald W. "Reconstructing Shakespeare 1: The Roles that Shakespeare Performed." The Shakespeare Newsletter 41.1-2 (1991): 16-17. [Back]
  4. See his article "Disparate Structures, Electronic and Otherwise: Conceptions of Textual Organisation in the Electronic Medium, with Reference to Electronic Editions of Shakespeare and the Internet. EMLS 3.3, Special Issue 2 (January 1998). [Back]