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Let’s Play: Juliet’s family discover her ‘death’ (6 players)

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Let’s play A4S5 of Romeo and Juliet in which Juliet’s family discover Juliet ‘dead’ after she has taken the drugs Friar Laurence prescribed her. This scene offers a challenge for the actors. Usually, when Shakespeare is portraying characters under great stress, as in this scene, he doesn’t give them fine language to speak, instead the stress makes them speak very simply with lots of emotion and lots of repetition. In this scene, the Nurse, and Juliet’s parents all speak like this. Only Paris, who though he wants to marry Juliet, hasn’t shown much sign of really being in love with her, speaks in high-flown language.


The danger is that if this is played ‘over the top’ it becomes comic, as Bottom does when playing Pyramus discovering the death of Thisbe (see A5S1 of Let’s play Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. So the actors have to bring out the drama and upset of the family members, but avoid going over the top.


By the way, Shakespeare sometimes does give characters under great stress fine language to speak. A good example is Macbeth in A2S1 just after he’s murdered Duncan:

Methought I heard a voice cry, Sleep no more:
Macbeth does murder Sleep, the innocent Sleep,
Sleep that knits up the ravel’d Sleave of Care,
The death of each day’s Life, sore Labour’s Bath,
Balm of hurt Minds, great Nature’s second Course,
Chief nourisher in Life’s Feast.

But let’s get back to A4S5 of Romeo and Juliet. This extract is set up for 6 players so that, hopefully, young people can get together and play it. All parts are in highlit text format. The casting for 6 of Romeo and Juliet has been used, with players in order of appearance in the scene. Each player should click on one of the following Players, and a script will appear with their lines highlit.

Some of the parts are much smaller than others (e.g. Paris and Musician 1), so once you’ve played the scene, it might be a good idea to re-allocate the parts and play it again (and again, and again).

I particularly like the last part of the scene where the musicians arrive to play at Juliet’s wedding. Juliet may be dead but they’re still free to moan about the lost money, and willing to discuss Peter’s favourite song with him.

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3 Responses to "Let’s Play: Juliet’s family discover her ‘death’ (6 players)"

  • Richard Forsyth
    September 24, 2017 - 10:46 am Reply

    Kim H. Carrell made an interesting comment on Shakespeare Friends about this post. Here it is:

    I always insist that the way to crack a scene like this is to try to use the “early modern approach” to the greatest degree possible today. I firmly believe the key to this scene lies first of all in NOT using a modern edition (the specific reason will be clear below) and in trying to think in terms of using not a full play script, but individual parts.
    Note that after Friar Laurence enters with Paris and Capulet has his short speech to Paris – Lady Capulet, the Nurse, Paris, and Capulet all have speeches of six lines of verse. (Paris’ two lines at the beginning of the sequence plus four set between the Nurse and Capulet make six.) This is true in both Q2 and FF.
    Friar Laurence’s line stopping the chaos is set quite differently in Q2 and FF:

    Q2:Peace ho for shame, confusions care liues not,
    In these confusions heauen and your selfe
    Had part in this faire maide, now heauen hath all,
    And all the better is it for the maid:

    FF: Peace ho for shame, confusions: Care liues not
    In these confusions, heauen and your selfe
    Had part in this faire Maid, now heauen hath all,
    And all the better is it for the Maid:

    I believe that the key lies in the FF setting, with Friar Laurence stopping the noise with “Peace ho for shame, confusions….Care lives not in these confusions, heaven and earth etc.” In terms of meaning alone, this makes far more sense than “confusions care.” This, however, raises the question: WHAT confusions? If Lady C, Nurse, Paris, and Capulet each speak in sequence as written down, it’s flowery and over-the-top, but it’s not confusing. BUT…if each of those six line speeches are spoken at the same time by Lady C, Nurse, Paris, and Capulet (meaning there is no break for Paris – everyone is cued by Capulet’s “…all is deaths” and Capulet would go straight on into his “Despis’d, distressed, hated…” speech), the four characters speaking simultaneously, THEN we have actual “confusions” occurring onstage, and Friar Laurence’s “Peace ho for shame, confusions: care lives not in these confusions” makes far more sense. The scene doesn’t suffer if Lady C, Nurse, Paris, and Capulet’s lines become unintelligible in the chaos, because none of them are saying anything essential to moving the plot forward. (My guess is that Friar Laurence listens to the Nurse for his cue, as her speech full of “O’s” would stand out among the others like a soprano descant above three-part chords.) It’s worth noting that the lines in Q1 differ quite a bit (Capulet has more lines and the Nurse none) but that text also includes this stage direction:
    All at once cry out and wring their hands

    Full disclosure: I have played Capulet in professional productions three times, and this scene always threatens to derail the show and produce giggles from the audience. Dramatically, this scene is bloody near impossible as written. When played with these four six line passages spoken simultaneously, the scene is far less effort to play, immediately makes sense, and doesn’t give the audience the giggles.
    Can I prove that this approach is correct? No, of course I can’t. But given the practical work that Tucker has done using individual parts, and the research by Palfrey and Stern to support that work (and my own experience performing it) – neither do I think it can be discounted.

  • Richard Forsyth
    September 24, 2017 - 10:48 am Reply

    Joe Falocco also made a comment on Shakespeare Friends as follows:

    I firmly believe that this scene is supposed to be comic. The audience knows Juliet is not dead. They also observe the questionable level of affection her parents display for her in the rest of the play. I think we are supposed to see their exaggerated mourning as ridiculous and self-centered.

    Kim H. Carrell responded as follows:

    Joe, even though I advocate for the simultaneous delivery of the lines as I explained, I agree that you are on to something as well. I have seen it played for comedy with WAY over-the-top wailing on the parts of the “mourners” and it worked far better than trying to play it “straight”.

  • Richard Forsyth
    September 24, 2017 - 10:51 am Reply

    I put in my own penny-worth as follows:

    Seeing I raised the question, I thought I should make my view clear. First, I have never directed R&J, so my view might all change in rehearsal.

    My guess is that the author’s intentions were that the reactions of the characters were heartfelt. At moments of deep distress, most people speak simple thoughts. Afterwards they may demonstrate finer feelings. It is interesting that Paris, who does not seem to me to be deeply involved with Juliet, speaks the most high-flown language.

    So in rehearsal, I’d try to get the cast to speak the lines simply and movingly, admittedly a tough challenge. If, in rehearsal, the comedy became impossible to suppress, I’d rather like to try Kim’s idea of running the 4 speeches of 6 lines on top of each other, to minimise the time for the audience to be overcome with giggles. Any more ideas, anyone?

    David Blixt responded as follows:

    I actually disagree. I have directed this, several times. I’ve tried it straight, and it doesn’t work as well. Shakespeare knew how to write grief and there is no “Good night, sweet prince” line here. The lamenting in this scene is deliberately comical, because the friar’s plan is working. To play the reality of the death here undercuts her very real death in the next act. Which is why Shakespeare wrote the musicians into the scene – to show it was comedic. Just like Mercutio’s death (and the play as a whole), he misdirects with comedy to lift the audience up before bringing them low.

    The scene works best with all of their lines overlapping, wailing in exaggerated grief, while the Friar frets and recovers the potion bottle. Juliet might even move, but they’re all too busy gnashing their teeth and pulling their hair to notice.

    To sum up: this is not heartfelt despair. This is Italian opera.

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