Saturday, August 18, 2012

Remixing Romeo & Juliet

Came across this graphic-novel adaptation of Shakespeare’s famous play.

Romeo & Juliet (No Fear Shakespeare Graphic Novels), by Matt Wiegle.
ISBN: 9781411498747

I’ve never read Romeo & Juliet because it was not one of my literature text in school. Well... how many of us would voluntarily read Shakespeare?

What I knew about Romeo and Juliet (other than them being the most famous couple in human lore) was that both lovers killed themselves in the end. One tends to get bits and pieces -- most likely the death scene -- from movie adaptions and mentions.

This adaption was a fun read. Part of the fun was discovering different interpretative layers to this Shakespearean play. This play seem ripe for re-makes, remixes and adaptions (as Shakespeare no doubt did the same).

The popular mental model of Romeo and Juliet is that they are star-crossed lovers, innocent in their affections and simply caught up in a family feud.

However, a 'dark' version might go like this:
Romeo could have been a fickle knave and not that innocent a guy. He was simply fooling around with Juliet. His suicide was more of a self-inflicted accident, due to misinformation and bad timing. In a similar vein, Juliet might could have been a manipulative girl who hooked up with Romeo as a way to get back at her father, for forcing her on whom she could marry. Let's not forget Friar Lawrence, who are the lover's go-between in the play. Maybe he was being blackmailed into helping them. Romeo has a hold on him because of a certain scandalous matter, perhaps.

Here's my slightly unorthodox look at the Romeo and Juliet story, with possible variations of a possible 'dark' backstory thrown in:


The Montagues (Romeo’s family) and the Capulets (Juliet’s) were two rich and powerful families in the city of Verona in Renaissance Italy. Basically, the two households cannot stand each other and fights would be started in the streets.

The first hint of Romeo possessing that wishy-washy fickleness was his pandering over an unrequited love -- a Rosaline, who never quite appeared in person. Romeo professed how his life was a misery since he wasn't able to obtain Rosaline's favour. But he dropped Rosalind like she never existed, after he saw Juliet.

Romeo and his friends had disguised themselves and gate-crashed a Capulet dinner party. That was how he met Juliet and she instantly became The One for him. Lust at first sight, or so it seemed to me.

Romeo then started to woo Juliet by sneaking into the Capulet family home grounds at night, making his way to under Juliet’s balcony.

What a charmer, that Romeo! Or perhaps Juliet was bored and sought a way to amuse herself. Just stringing Romeo along.

Oh yes, there seemed to be a lot of sneaking around thereafter.

Romeo and Juliet then got themselves married secretly, with the help of Romeo’s friend Friar Lawrence.

But on that same day when they got married in secret, Tybalt (Juliet’s cousin) ends up being killed by Romeo in a revenge-fight. All because Tybalt picked a fight and sneakily killed Mercuto (Romeo’s friend).

That very day, Romeo was banished by the Prince of Verona. Punishment for the clan duel and murder. Juliet was heartbroken to learn of the death of her cousin and the banishment of her still-secret husband.

Prior to Romeo’s leaving his city, he managed to sneak into Juliet’s room and spent the night there. All with the help of Juliet’s nurse. After that, Romeo leaves for his place of banishment.

The plot thickens when Juliet’s father made hasty plans to marry his only daughter to a nobleman, Count Paris. The father does not know of Romeo (or one could imagine he'd heard rumours of his daughter's indiscretions and was trying to control further damage).

When he told Juliet about the marriage decision, Juliet gave him a seemingly smarmy response about non-marriage. She did not tell him about Romeo or of her secret marriage.

Her father launched into a rage furious (Juliet came across as rather snarky). He issued an ultimatum: marry Count Paris or be disowned.

That forced Juliet's hand. She sought Friar Lawrence’s help. The friar gave Juliet a concoction that would allow her to fake death. The dosage was timed such that by the time her corpse was interred into the family crypt, she would be revived. The friar would pass a message to Romeo, so that he could sneak Juliet away.

As Romeo was out of town (banished, remember?) the friar got someone to deliver Romeo a letter.

So, Juliet drank the mix (talk about guts) and appeared dead on her wedding day to Count Paris (poor man, the count). Her father spared no expense preparing for her wedding ceremony, only to find her dead (her poor parents!)

Up till that point, the plan seemed a solid one.

But then the first sign of a SNAFU -- the letter never made it to Romeo. Due to a quarantine from a suspected plague outbreak, the delivery person didn't pass the secret message to Romeo.

What Romeo received was news from his family servant that Juliet was dead. He rushed off to see his beloved, not knowing what Juliet and the friar had planned. He bought poison, planning to die at her side.

Unexpectedly Count Paris showed up at the tomb that night. He caught Romeo attempting a tomb break-in.

They dueled.

Romeo killed the Count. Wow, for a supposedly naive romantic dude, Romeo was quite the fighter!

He then carried the Count’s body into the tomb, said his final words to Juliet, and drank the poison.

“Thus with a kiss I die.”

And so he died, that Romeo.

The friar arrived and discovered the carnage. Juliet woke at that time as well (amazingly no ill-effects from drinking the pseudo-poison). The friar was unable to persuade Juliet to leave. He fled instead.

Juliet famously plunged the dagger into herself: “Oh happy knife, this is your sheath! Rust there and let me die.”

The friar didn't get very far. He was caught fleeing the scene. He spilled everything and revealed all in front of the Prince of Verona and both fathers of the two dead lovers.

The two heartbroken old men, rebuked by the prince, made up on the spot. They swore their families would never fight again.

A seemingly happy ending to a tragic sequence of events.

Though, in the 'dark' version, I think there wouldn't really be a real reconciliation. Before the Prince of Verona intervened, there would be an all-out war between the Montagues and the Capulets (ala Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather). Total blood bath.


Might as well be consistent with a 'dark' theme, right? Oh, Hollywood what have you done to me? Heh.