Wednesday, May 02, 2012

How The Feud Started (Guest Post)

David Blixt has got so many Shakespearean irons in the fire that I don't even know how to start summarizing him, so I'll just let his press bio do it: Author and actor, director and playwright, David Blixt's work is consistently described as "intricate," "taut," and "breathtaking." As an actor, he is devoted to Shakespeare. As a writer of Historical Fiction, his Shakespeare-related novels span the early Roman Empire (the COLOSSUS series, his play EVE OF IDES) to early Renaissance Italy (the STAR-CROSS'D series, including THE MASTER OF VERONA, VOICE OF THE FALCONER, and FORTUNE'S FOOL) up through the Elizabethan era (his delightful espionage comedy HER MAJESTY'S WILL, starring Will Shakespeare and Kit Marlowe as inept spies). His novels combine a love of the theatre with a deep respect for the quirks and passions of history. As the Historical Novel Society said, "Be prepared to burn the midnight oil. It's well worth it."

Living in Chicago with his wife and two children, David describes himself as "actor, author, father, husband. In reverse order."

What long time readers may also realize is that David's been one of the earliest contributors to Shakespeare Geek, for instance in this August 2008 post about how Romeo and Juliet is actually "a comedy where people die."

David has a literary (but not literal!) avalanche of new content coming out this week, and he's offered some it here for a sneak peek.  I've chosen something from a piece that I'm somewhat familiar with, as it is integral to the plot of The Master of Verona,  David's earlier novel, which I reviewed:

I clearly didn’t need Lady Montague for the final scene – her husband just told us she’s dead. I flipped back to find her last scene. She’s listed as entering in Act Three, Scene Four, when Mercutio and Tybalt both buy it – but she’s strangely quiet in that scene. Lord Capulet, too, but at least people talk to him. No one addresses Romeo’s mom, even when her son is banished. In fact, looking at it harder, Lady Montague hasn’t been heard from since Act One, Scene One, in which she uttered a mere two lines! 
So this was my quandary – do I cut Montague’s lines at the end of the show? Why not? Here we are, the play is basically over. We’ve just watched the two romantic leads die pitiably, and young, kind, noble Paris croak it as well. Why do we care if some woman we barely remember is dead? 
But it continued to bother me. There had to be a reason she was dead. 
Of course, in Shakespeare’s day, there was a very good reason. The actor who played Lady Montague was probably needed in another role - the exigencies of the stage. Even realizing this, though, I couldn’t let go of the line. My wife is dead tonight. The rules of dramatic structure nagged at me. A death like that is supposed to be symbolic. But of what? Clueless, I shrugged and finished the cuts. I left the line in, hoping my actors could figure it out. 
In the event, they didn’t have to. I was going about my business later that week when it hit me – the Feud! The thing that gets closure at the end of the show is the feud. Montague and Capulet bury the hatchet. They’re even going to build statues to honor their dead kids.
Could Lady Montague’s death be symbolic of the end of the feud? The only way that could work would be – If she were the cause of the feud. I remember stopping dead in my tracks as the idea took form – a love triangle a generation earlier, between the parents! Romeo’s mother, engaged to a young Capulet, runs off with a young Montague instead. That’s certainly cause for a feud, especially if young Capulet and Montague were friends. Best friends, childhood friends, torn apart by their love for a woman. A feud, born of love, dies with love. 
What do you think of that idea?  David's told me that he'll be around, so leave some comments and see if you can't get some discussion going!  If you like this sort of interaction with the author we can do it with more excerpts from his other works as well.  Maybe next time some Macbeth?

For more information on these and all of David's other works, please visit his Amazon author page.


David Blixt said...

Crickets. They're all too polite to tell me I'm crazy.

Anonymous said...

It think it makes sense and is actually pretty brilliant, but didn't the prologue say "From ancient grudge break to new mutiny"? I don't really think what happened in the previous generation would be considered "ancient". Just a thought, but I still love the idea.

David Blixt said...

Yup, that one is bothersome. I deal with it in the novel, of course. But here it's all in how you define ancient. To the leads, their parents' generation is pretty ancient...

Let me say, this is pretty unplayable in performance. It may be fun for the actors to think about, but there's not nearly enough Lady Montague in the show to have it make any sense. It was just an idea I couldn't shake - hence the novels. But Shakespeare stands, as he always has, on his text - and in the text, the cause for the feud is entirely irrelevant.

JM said...

You may be closer than you think David. Unlike our notion of ancient as merely having to do with antiquity, as I'm sure you know, the Elizabethan sense can indicate many things. Shakespeare *could have* merely been indicating the parents as the progenitors of the feud.
To whit:
--Crystal defines 'ancient' as long established, long standing,, former, earlier, renowned, past, time-worn, aged, very old, venerable.
--Onions defines 'ancientry' as old fashioned, traditional style, as well as 'Old people'.

"But Shakespeare stands, as he always has, on his text - and in the text, the cause for the feud is entirely irrelevant."

A man after my own heart. :-)

Ophelia said...

Wow! That's a neat idea about how the feud started, and is entirely plausible, but is there any sort of textual evidence for this?

Dana Huff said...

There are indications, too, that he isn't happy with Lady Capulet. He argues with Paris that "too soon marr'd are those so early made" when Paris tries to tell Capulet that "younger than she are happy mothers made." Then we learn that Lady Capulet was Juliet's mother "much upon these years that [she is] now a maid." I think you have something here. Students always, always ask why they are fighting, and I have always said we don't know because Shakespeare didn't think the reasons for the feud were as important as the fact that it wreaked such havoc on the lives of both families and the citizens of Verona.

David Blixt said...

Dana - Exactly! And Capulet is such a doting father - "She is the hopeful lady of my earth" - UNTIL she suddenly and unexpectedly refuses to marry the man he's chosen for her. Then he explodes in an utterly unreasonable wrath. If he was jilted by his betrothed, it makes a lot of sense.

Again, this is retrofitting, and entirely unnecessary. But a lot of fun to think about.

Ophelia - I got the idea from just a single line of text - "My liege, my wife is dead. Grief from our son's exile hath stopped her breath." (I'm quoting from memory here). From her death, I worked outward, using Aristotle's rules for dramatic structure. Flimsy, but fun to think about.

JM - Thanks!!

catkins said...

The back story may be interesting to consider, but I think it is too complicated. Montague says of his wife ""Grief of my son's exile hath stopt her breath.
What further woe conspires against mine age?"
The dramatic reason for her death is the piling on of woes; in this, the First Quarto overdoes it, perhaps, replacing the first line with "And young Benvolio is deceased too."
Lady Montague's death adds to the power of the Prince's proclamation: "Capulet, Montague,
See what a scourge is laid upon your hate,
That heaven finds means to kill your joys with Love;
And I, for winking at your discords too,
Have lost a brace of kinsman: all are punish'd."
I think you are right that the reason for the feud is irrelevant. I think the piling on of woes is enough motivation for Lady Montague's death.