Written by Matthew
Today saw Romeo caught between his old identity and his new one.
After a warm-up, we read through Act II, scenes iii-iv. The women are becoming more confident and fluent in Shakespeare’s language every day, and few passages required explanation beyond what members of the group could immediately provide.
The scenes are short and mostly straightforward, so we read through them in full for the gist before going back to uncover hidden meaning.
In Act II, scene iii, Romeo goes straight from Juliet’s balcony to his confidant, the friar. The group seemed interests in the language of pain and death in the scene: the friar is gardening when Romeo arrives in the early morning light, and he muses on Earth’s ability to bring forth both beautiful flowers and harmful poisons from the same soil. Romeo speaks of being “wounded” by love. We noted that the friar seems appalled by Romeo’s too-quick transition from loving Rosaline to loving Juliet, at least until he realizes that there may be some greater good served by their union. Political affairs, one woman noted, have intruded on personal ones. Such intrusions are rarely for good.
In describing Romeo’s state of mind, one woman said that he “seems still to equate the physical with the emotional,” and that part of the tragedy is Romeo’s inability to differentiate these feelings.
When we put the scene on its feet, the woman who played Romeo paced with child-like ebullience, pestering the staid friar. The rest of the group applauded this decision: Romeo’s overflowing energy contrasted clearly with the friar’s restraint.
While reading through Act II, scene iv, the women saw Romeo’s lighter side. The group noticed that Shakespeare presents Mercutio and Romeo’s friendship as it was before Romeo started falling in love. They exchange bawdy puns, and Mercutio exclaims that this is the “real” Romeo. Who the “real” Romeo is, the group decided, is unclear. One member noticed that Romeo, when the nurse comes to find him, gets caught between his “old” self—Mercutio’s devil-may-care sidekick—and his “new” self as a lover and—soon—husband.
On stage, the readers were active, moving around the stage and acting out their dirty jokes and insults. The women who watched the scene praised them for making the meaning of the words clear through intonation and gesture.
Both scenes leapt off the page with surprising clarity when performed. One onlooker praised a moment of inspired subtlety, when Romeo’s body language changed completely when Mercutio left. He was no longer part of the gang, but a man in love.
Today there was some conflict that needed to be resolved regarding the reading/performance of certain characters at this stage. While some of the women are gravitating toward particular characters and are eager to read them often, others have not yet found their “favorites” and feel they haven’t had enough opportunities to read. While I feel that we’ve been working toward striking a balance between these two things, we discussed ways to even the playing field even more in the future. Some of this is encouraging those with certain characters in mind to experiment with others, and part is encouraging the women who feel they haven’t read enough to be more assertive about volunteering to do so.
Since attendance was light, we decided to review what we’ve worked on so far, sitting in a circle and reading in a “round robin” – each time a new character entered, the next person over would read him/her, and so on, so that it was completely random as far as who was reading what. This proved to be very valuable, as it shook things up and gave different opportunities to everyone in the circle.
One woman stopped us after the Queen Mab speech to share that she’d had an epiphany – that the woman reading Mercutio at that moment would actually play him very well because she is similarly dominant in conversation and articulate – a strong personality. We discussed that this is one reason why we need to give everyone more opportunities to experiment – she’s not the only one in the group to whom this applies.
It was a constructive day, even with the conflict and the decision to read rather than perform. The group has some great ideas for moving forward and trying some new things, which we will discuss at the next meeting when we hope more people will be present.