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by William H. Benson

March 11, 1999 

     On Thursday, March 11, 1302, Romeo married Juliet, according to the English playwright, William Shakespeare.  The newlyweds failed to celebrate even their first anniversary, for in the Prologue to the play, the chorus admits: “A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life.”

     Yale University’s authority on Shakespeare, Harold Bloom, wrote recently, “The permanent popularity, now of mythic intensity, of “Romeo and Juliet” is more than justified, since the play is the largest and most persuasive celebration of romantic love in Western literature.”

     Juliet, not yet fourteen years old, describes her feelings of love:

     “And yet I wish but for the thing I have.

      My bounty is as boundless as the sea,

      My love as deep: The more I give to thee

      The more I have, for both are infinite.”

     But because of the feuding of their families–the Montagues and the Capulets, the young lovers commit mutual suicide.  In the final scene as the Prince of Verona overlooks the carnage, he ends the play with these words:

      “Go hence to have more talk of these sad things;

        Some shall be pardon’d, and some punished;

        For never was a story of more woe

        Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”

     Harold Bloom argues in is his recent book that Shakespeare invented the “human” in literature.  Before him, characters in literature age and die, but they do not change.  “In Shakespeare, characters develop rather than unfold, and they develop because they reconceive themselves.  Sometimes this comes about because they overhear themselves talking. . . . The more one reads and ponders the plays of Shakespeare, the more one realizes that the accurate stance toward them is one of awe.”

     In Elizabethean English he wrote, and his power to enthral and charm audiences/readers has transcended the four centuries since.  His characters, the wordplay, the audacious ideas, comedy, tragedy, history–he could do it all, the best ever.  His fellow collegue, Ben Johnson, wrote: “He was not of an age, but for all time!”

     The Academy Award nominations are out, and on Sunday evening, March 21st, Whoopi Goldberg will host the presentations of the Oscars.  The favorite to win Best Picture that night is the World War II film “Saving Private Ryan”; however, I suspect that the Italian-produced film “Life is Beautiful” may steal that award.

     For Best Original Screenplay critics are betting on “Shakespeare in Love”, last year’s romantic comedy.  The film is about the young playwright William Shakespeare who is struggling with writer’s block (a fallacious idea for someone who actually wrote like a machine).  It feels like “trying to pick a lock with a wet herring,” he says.  He meets an aristocratic English lady, falls passionately in love, and then in the afterglow sits down and writes “Romeo and Juliet”.            

     It seems that Hollywood has discovered and even likes Shakespeare.  “After 400 years of being merely the greatest of all writers, Shakespeare is suddenly an adorable guy and a pop icon.”


     Until Oscar night, “Beware the Ides of March.”  Julius Caesar failed to heed the warning.  Will we make the same mistake?