Misunderstood Shakespeare: “Star-cross’d Lovers”

Just like ‘Wherefore art thou Romeo?”, this commonly misunderstood famous line comes ‘Romeo and Juliet’

I have witnessed so many people talking about Romeo and Juliet as “star-cross’d lovers” in the sense of their meeting and relationship being their destiny, and that the two were somehow fated to be together. 

This couldn’t be more wrong. 

The actual meaning of the term becomes clearer if one thinks of it in terms of the stars actually crossing them. 

Romeo and Juliet were never meant to be together. The fates were against them, right from the start, and it was never going to work out well. 

It’s important to remember that ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is a tragedy, not a comedy or romance. In Shakespeare’s tragedies, the main characters always die. There are no happy endings. That’s a convention of the genre, and it is pointless to expect anything else. 

Not only that, but Shakespeare gives us the spoilers right there in the prologue, the opening speech of the play, which is where the phrase comes from. They’re going to die, and as they are laid to rest, so too will be buried the feud between their families, which is what made their love forbidden in the first place. 

The prologue to Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare.

If, as some believe they do, the stars were to control one’s fortunes in life, the last thing you’d wish for is to be “star-crossed” in any way. 

Advertisements

Misunderstood Shakespeare: “Wherefore art thou Romeo?”

Of all the lines written by Shakespeare, this is possibly the single most misunderstood by a 21st century audience.

While it might be a romantic notion for a lovesick teenager to look out her window— not a balcony, by the way— and wonder where her beloved might be, that’s all it is. That is not what is happening in this scene. 

In early modern English, “wherefore” meant “why”.

Juliet is not asking where Romeo is.  She is asking why, of all the families in Italy, did her new boyfriend have to belong to the family with which hers had been feuding? Why did he have to carry a name that would be an immovable obstacle to them both? 

She goes on to insist “that which we call a rose by any other name would be as sweet”— in other words, it’s not the name that makes someone what they are.  If Romeo were to change his identity, he would still be the same person. What his name is should not matter — what sort of person he is, and the fact that she loves him, is what should determine their compatibility. 

That’s why when you’re waiting for a friend or looking for your dog, it’s incorrect to ask “Wherefore art thou, Buddy?”
It may sound cute, but it will make your Shakespeare-loving friends cringe, at least on the inside. 

New Release: ‘A Rose By Any Other Name’

It’s live! 
My new Shakespeare/fantasy novella launched today at 3pm Sydney/Melbourne time. 

I am really proud of this book, and very excited to be able to introduce it to people as a new release. 

I hope that readers will enjoy the story. I certainly had fun writing it, and still laughed again reading it over while formatting the ebook and paperback. It was a most enjoyable challenge to take two old stories and weave them into something new and fresh. 

‘A Rose By Any Other Name’ is widely available in both paperback and ebook.

***

Excerpt from Chapter 1

Gnarled fingers gripped the doorframe tightly as she watched him riding slowly, as though searching for something.

What does his lordship want now? By the stars, I have precious little left.  Is it not enough that he has built his mansion on my father’s land? And his walls around the trees between which my poor mother is buried? I’ll give him something… although it may not be what he wants.

She grinned cynically, a glimpse of yellowed teeth between thin, hateful lips.

Wait. He’s dismounting… Fool. There are no raspberries yet; it’s still too warm. What kind of moron… picks raspberry leaves? Oh, now… that is interesting. Very interesting.

Straightening her thin body to her full height, she stepped out into the field, heading straight for the thicket of barren raspberry bushes.

“And what are you going to do with those?” she demanded.

Nico jumped at the sudden intrusion. His thoughts scattered at the sight of Malevolenza.

Wizened and ghastly, she had become even thinner and more gaunt since he had last laid eyes on her over twenty years ago. She had watched in angry silence as the walls of the estate were built by his father’s workmen. Her wailing curses had risen like a fortress of sound outside the completed estate walls continuing for what had seemed an eternity on the night they were finished and the gates locked – the night his father had died. Whether it was fear or black magic that had driven the soul from his body, Nicolas would never know. When his father was cold, his grey eyes staring sightlessly at the ceiling as though he had been interrupted mid-thought, the old crone had fallen silent and disappeared. Or so he had thought.

“Well? Gatto got your tongue? Or are you… bewitched?” she cackled.

Nico opened his mouth, but he could not speak.

“Raspberry leaves… what on earth would a man want those for? Unless… there is a child on the way?”

The fear in Nicolas’ eyes was like a drug to her.

Malevolenza pointed her bony finger at him, her dirty, ragged nail giving emphasis to her intent. She muttered the words of her spell under her breath: “Doppio, doppio, lavoro e disordine, Ora sono io il tuo maestro!”

Nico remained mute, entirely under her control.

“You will take these leaves to your wife. Grind them into a powder, and make a tea. She will drink it, and her pains will begin. And then, when the child is born, you shall give the baby to me. You will tell your wife the child is dead. Go now. It shall be done.”

Nico’s senses returned to him only when she had disappeared. Shaking his head, and unable to recall what had crossed his mind just now, he resumed picking the leaves and placing them carefully in the pouch he had brought for his special harvest.

As he returned home late that afternoon, the sun dropped low in the sky and a distinct chill fell over the air.

***

My Least Favourite Shakespeare Play

The reference to Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in the title of ‘A Rose By Any Other Name’ is blatantly obvious. 

The irony is that ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is probably my least favourite play from among Shakespeare’s works. As I often explain to my students who think it’s romantic and all about love, it’s really not. It’s a tragedy that demonstrates what happens when people do stupid things on impulse and don’t stop to think about the consequences of their actions.

They’re teenagers. They met on Sunday, and by Thursday, they’re dead.

And, as Shakespeare points out in the epilogue, they end up that way because their families both prioritise their stupid feud over the happiness and the future of their children.  How much more like a badly plotted teenage soap opera could it be?

It’s more of an anti-Romance, if you ask me. They’re not in love, they’re infatuated. Romeo really is quite an idiot, and as for fickle… how quickly did he forget his passion for Rosaline the moment he met Juliet? If you ask me, Rosaline dodged a bullet – or a dagger, or a vial of poison, there. 

To be fair, the fault isn’t Shakespeare’s. He based his play on an old story that was very popular back in the day, which was a brilliant marketing move. The other factor that made his play such a hit was the beauty of the language with which it is written. There’s nothing at all wrong with the writing: it’s magnificent. Nothing can convince me otherwise.  If anyone could give a story about two silly teenagers from equally silly families another 600 years plus in terms of longevity, he was the man for the job.

So, is it odd that I’ve used ‘Romeo and Juliet’ as one of the starting points of my story? Not really, because I wanted my story to be something of an anti-Romance, too. 

‘A Rose By Any Other Name’ draws on ‘Romeo and Juliet’, and on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale of ‘Rapunzel’ as starting points, then twists and tangles them together to create a mashup of the two stories with a very different ending. Romeo is still an idiot, it still ends in tragedy… but it’s a completely new story. It’s medieval fantasy, laced with faint traces of my subversive sense of humour. 

I like to think of it as the story that Shakespeare and the Brothers Grimm never told. 
But I bet if they’d thought of it, they would have. 

***

A Rose By Any Other Name is available for preorder.

Cover Reveal: A Rose By Any Other Name

I mentioned in a post last week that I was anticipating the release of a new book, about which I am very excited.

The book is a medieval fantasy story called ‘A Rose By Any Other Name’ which draws on both ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘Rapunzel’ as the starting points for this story before taking those narratives in a very different direction. 

And so, without any further delay, let me reveal the beautiful cover, created for me by Renee Gauthier of RM Designs in Toronto, Canada. 

The back cover is gorgeous, too.

It’s fair to say I am thrilled by the beauty of this cover art, and incredibly thankful to Renee for her fabulous work. 

This story grew out of the inspiration from my author posse, the Indie Fabs. When one of them suggested that we write a fairy tale retelling anthology as a group, I was very nervous at first. I had never written anything like that. I didn’t know where to start, or how I might ever achieve that goal. I honestly thought I was going to let them down. 
Then one of them said, “Write what you know.”  Well, I knew all the old fairy tales that I had grown up with. And I knew and loved Shakespeare. 
And in that moment, this story concept was born. 

‘A Rose By Any Other Name’ took its place in that anthology, titled ‘Once Upon A Fabulous Time’ and published in 2017. It truly is an anthology unlike any other – far more than just a collection of our reinvented and often significantly transformed fairy tale stories, those stories were linked with one another by another separate, magical story that wove them all into one continuous narrative. Because it is such a very special book, it is still available in paperback, but no longer as an ebook. As a result, my story is back in my hands and free to be released as an individual title.

It is available for preorder, and will be released at 12.01am EST on June 14. 

Make sure you’re following me on Twitter or Facebook so that you are able to reserve your copy.