In Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” Paris isn’t a place; it’s a he. He is handsome and wealthy and a member of the nobility - he’s Count Paris – and an eager suitor of Juliet. However, she prefers Romeo.
(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "D" is for "drama")
It would appear that Will Shakespeare never visited Europe.
A claim has been made that he actually did make the trip across the Channel as a soldier.
A book, “Sergeant Shakespeare,” was written to support this theory, in which the playwright was a feisty non-com in the army, involved in the filth of one of the many wars fought on the continent. But there is little – (none, actually) – evidence to support such a claim.
However, though he never visited such places, most of his plays are set in foreign locales. In some cases he lets us know right up front where the action will be taking place. You can be pretty sure “The Merchant of Venice,” for example, is not set in Barcelona, and you have the feeling, when you come across the play titled “Timon of Athens,” that you know just which town Timon used to hang out in.
Even back in Britain Will could be specific as to setting. “Merry Wives of Windsor,” anyone?
Surely the work titled “Romeo and Juliet,” set in Verona, Italy, is one of the best of the Shakespeare dramas. I traveled to Verona once, while I was wandering about Europe, and I got to see what was claimed to be the actual balcony where Romeo spotted the Capulet girl.
“It is the east and Juliet is the sun! See how she leans her cheek upon her hand. O that I were a glove upon that hand, that I might touch that cheek!”
The Veronese folks there tried to convince us addicted tourists that it was the real balcony of the play, and we pretended to believe them.
But of course it wasn’t.
There’s something kind of funny about Shakespeare’s handling of these overseas settings. He defiantly makes no effort to present dialects or accents.
In the plays, wherever we may be in Will’s foreign world, we have the feeling we’re back in his real world, Elizabethan England. And the foreigners, where’er they’re from, all talk pretty much the same.
Cyprus, for example, is an exotic locale for one of his plays. But a Cypriot gentleman speaks like a chap from Warwickshire, where Will was raised.
Which brings us to our question for this week: Though “Romeo and Juliet” is set in Verona, how is it that Paris is so important in the play?
(The answer will be posted Saturday.)