Saturday, 18 April 2020

Pestilence and Shakespeare


Michael Lista recalls the last thing he attended before the lockdown—a Romeo and Juilet ballet at the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto—and wonders if society is cracking along Shakespearean fault lines:
Pestilence bookended Shakespeare’s life. The plague ravaged his town when he was born, on Henley Street, in Stratford-upon-Avon, snatching up the lives of other children but sparing him. In the last decade of his life, he likely wrote his greatest masterpiece, King Lear, while locked down during another wave of infection. In between—at a time when theatres in England were one of the major vectors of transmission—he romanced huge crowds of people into coming together, cheek to jowl. Plagues also stalk his plots. An outbreak, after all, is what kills Romeo and Juliet. Yes, they commit suicide because they can’t be together, but the plague is what truly does them in. More specifically, the postal supply chain breaks down, and the “star-cross’d lovers” are fatally undone by a misapprehension.

You’ll recall what happens: Romeo and Juliet are married in secret by Friar Laurence, then Romeo is banished for killing Juliet’s cousin. Later, Friar Laurence and Juliet make a plan: he’ll give her a potion that will make her sleep for many days, and she’ll appear dead while she waits in her tomb for Romeo. Friar Lawrence will send a messenger, Friar John, to deliver a letter to Romeo explaining the plan. But the letter never shows up because Friar John is suddenly quarantined.
Image by Sergio Cupido

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