Romeo & Juliet, Prologue
Over the winter holidays schools are closed which affords members of the School Resideny Program, our Actor-Teachers, the opportunity to go back into rehearsal and dig deep into new lesson plans or to revisit familiar ones.
In late December, that means we read Shakespeare! All eight actor-teachers (and we their supervisors) sit around a big table, surrounded by texts -- fascimiles of the folios and quartos, lexicons, dictionaries and varies editions of the plays -- and read one entire Shakespeare a day! The entire play!
Today, we read Romeo and Juliet from beginning to end, pausing after every scene to make sure everything is clear, that we all understand decisions that were made, and by whom, and that it all makes sense. Often an actor will want to take a little more time to get everyone’s feedback into a certain issue.
For example, Brian really, really wanted to understand why the duel between Mercutio and Tybalt even happened, and we broke it down, step-by-step. The general assumption is that Tybalt wants to kill Romeo, and Mercutio comes to his defense. However, that is not the whole story and it was worth taking the time to make it clear.
We know that Tybalt sent a letter to Lord Montague, challenging Romeo to a duel, presumably because Romeo crashed their party the night before. Tybalt is ignorant of what transpired between Romeo and Juliet at that party, that’s not the issue for him. Romeo never goes home that night, and never receives this challenge. His challenge ignored, Tybalt and his second hunt down Romeo, and encounter Mercutio. Mercutio is in a mood, and commences ridiculing Tybalt. However, when Romeo arrives, Tybalt entirely drops this line of conversation with Mercutio, Mercutio is not worth his time.
Now, there are various rules regarding duels, but it should be understood that the point of a duel is to fight, but not necessarily to kill. And by turning down his challenge, twice (three times, by simply ignoring the invitation) Romeo has lost his “honor,” and Tybalt may well have let it go after that, having proved his point about Romeo being a dishonorable. Mercutio steps in, outraged by Romeo’s behavior, and Tybalt accepts that challenge. And tragedy ensues.
Why is it necessary to get all this straight? Because on Day 4 of the Romeo and Juliet lesson plan, which we teach to high school freshman all across Northern Ohio, we teach a stage combat workshop and then coach students to read these lines, and perform this pivotal fight. If our actor-teachers do not ask themselves these kinds of questions, we may be stuck when a student asks us the same questions.