Romeo and Juliet, the Beginning
I wonder if this was how our good friend Will Shakespeare got his idea for the play of this name. For all of you 16th century Elizabethan playwright fans, the 'other' great playwright is in here too. If you don't know him, then I suggest reading him this summer, Chris has some better poetry than Will... And now onto the story!
The ale in the cup swirled beguiling, offering to ease the troubles of a man. It smelled sweet, not hinting at the interest he would have to pay the day after. Some knew the hidden clause and did not take up the offer of the alcohol. Romeo was not one of them.
Soon he had made the pact with the small devil. Then whirling around the crowded room he limped over to the nearest table. Unfortunately, mobility was also taken away.
Two young men sat there. Both were dressed in the way of people who wish to be important but can not manage it entirely. There were some blank papers scattered in front of one man. Romeo lay his mug of ale on one of the papers. The two men stared at him, calculating whether it would be worth their time to stay.
Romeo took a swig of the drink and let it grease his mouth and his inhibitions. Then he coughed. One of the men started to look annoyed.
"Good lord, you're drunk man." He commented, in a tone of voice marking his appreciation for Romeo.
"I have a reason." Romeo looked at the man and gave his wolfish grin.
"We all do, I suppose." The tone took an even more dangerous chord.
"My reason is named Juliet." Romeo took another gulp.
"Just like my paper is named Maria." The man stood up. Romeo looked up and felt his blood boil. It was not his fault that he must drink tonight; the man must understand that.
"I challenge you to a duel!" He pulled the nearest straight object. It might have been a sword for Romeo, but for the Innkeeper's wife, it was one of her braids. This created a problem over ownership.
The Innkeeper slapped him. However, this was not as hurtful to Romeo as the sly grin on the man's face.
"Fine. I shall not challenge you to a duel, blackguard!" He took a long draught of liquor to bolster him.
"If you're not going to engage me in any active then leave my company alone." The man arched an eyebrow.
Romeo snarled, "Oh if you want engagement I'll engage you alright! I'll give you the king of engagement. My life story. It sounds like something out of a play. It's better than anything a playwright could write." Beneath the drunkenness was a tone of desperation. The man waved it away.
"Try me." He replied.
However, his friend was of a different mind. "Christopher, calm down. You're as bad as the drunk is. Let us see whether it is truth or the alcohol speaking." He said in a softer voice.
Romeo doffed his cap to the man. "Aye, I'm speaking the truth, so help me god!"
"I'm waiting." Was the sulky reply from Christopher. The other man motioned for Romeo to start.
"Well gentlemen." He began haltingly. It was a daunting task before him, and it would take energy. "I am Romeo Montague of Verona. One of the noble warring factions. Actually the Montagues are the only noble faction in the war. Our rival families, the Capulets...it would make your blood curdle to hear of them! All devils walking the earth in guise of men. But, yet, devils are tempting, for they were once angels. And there remains a portion of celestial loveliness around them. Such was their young daughter Juliet. I saw her and thought to see the heavens. In her I found the nether-region instead." He was shaking now. "For her I was foolish enough to allow Mercutio to be slaughtered. I killed her cousin, and I'd fain kill her, yet...I cannot."
"Ditch the mistress. They're highly replaceable." Christopher turned to the window, but the other man was busy writing down lines.
"Juliet is not my mistress! I thought that she was too honorable for that. Juliet is my wife." Christopher began to laugh but Romeo ignored him. "My prince banished me for kill her cousin. Yet before I left, I married her. Her parents, ignorant of their daughter's actions, chose another man for her. She should have followed their wishes."
"What next!" said the writer fairly screaming. Christopher started laughing again.
"Will, don't get your corsets in a twist! It's a poor story!" He giggled.
Will ignored him. "Romeo, you must tell me what next?"
"She came after me. We have some kids and I travel as a soldier. She's such a yenta. I hate her."
Will deflated. "That's not romantic at all! Can't you find a better ending?"
Romeo felt stung. "Like what? How about she pretends to kill herself, I think she's really dead so I go to her grave and kill myself and then she finds my corpse and really kills herself?"
Will looked up from his notes. "Interesting... can I see Juliet?"
Romeo looked earnestly at Will. "For another mug of ale, you can have her."
Will jumped up. "Well, then come on! You can drink it on the run! Marlowe, see you tomorrow! Good luck on Faust! I'm off to make my Faust."
Marlowe looked up dourly at his friend. "Yeah, whatever." He then looked down.
Will grabbed Romeo. "Okay Romeo. The name's William Shakespeare, call me Will. All my friends do. I'm a playwright. I'm going to write about you! Aren't you excited?"
"Only if there's an extra mug of something to warm me up to it."
"Fine, so there will be! Onto Juliet!" Shakespeare dragged Romeo, still holding his cup, out of the inn. The two walked at the brisk pace William set. Finally they got to the hovel that never saw the money that Romeo drank.
A matronly woman stepped out of the doorway. Behind her the door crashed down. She barely winced. "Why Romeo, you've brought a slacker friend home. How nice. Watered him at the bar or shall I steal some food from the children for him?"
William ran up to her and grabbed her hand, and with a flourish, kissed it. "Gentle lady, my name is William Shakespeare. I am a playwright at your service."
Juliet said in a quiet tone. "It's been a long time since someone called me gentle lady. And then it wasn't playwrights." But she stepped into the shack, allowing them to come in.
Romeo went straight for the pitcher. William, however, stood in the corner looking at Juliet. There was an occasionally glimpse of gracefulness in her, but mostly she was a slightly pretty, slightly chubby mother of many children. Not hard on the eyes, but it would be hard to write sonnets about her. He sighed.
"Oh Sir Shakespeare something wrong? I'm not quite Ethel the Pirate's daughter am I? Ethel never had twins. Otherwise, she'd look like me too." She pouted. Two children began tugging at William's pants. A third picked his nose and wiped it on the nearest piece of cloth, which happened to be William's pants.
"Well, you're not exactly the stuff of poetics. I mean, it would be hard to imagine a man rescuing you..."
Juliet cut him off. She dragged him to the meager backyard. Then she slapped him. Her fingernails cut almost as deep as her words. "So I'm not exquisite anymore. If I were hung like a tapestry I'd still be. But instead I was lain like a rug. That means that the threads get worn mister."
"Why stay with Romeo? Go home to your family."
"Romeo's an ass, but my family... At least I love this ass." She narrowed her eyes. "You don't believe I still love him. Well, I do. He's only rescued me once. But that one time would win any person's gratitude. He rescued me from passiveness. I can't ask for more. I would still follow him to the ends of the earth. Because Romeo has always made me be active to get what I want. I'll never die near him because he forces me to be alive." Her tone took on hysteria among other things. "I don't care how many other women he sleeps with. Or how much he drinks. Or how he leaves me for stretches at a time. I love him you hear? I love him. I do, I do, I do!" With each ‘I do' her voice became louder. "I do love him! I love him still! I do!" Finally a neighbor threw a shoe at them.
Juliet stopped, panting. She looked at William, daring him to say anything. "I don't think that even you Shakespeare, could ever write nor understand that. Poetics hides strong emotion. I'll never be played on stage." She turned to the wall, so that he could not see her cry. But he did not even try to. Instead he ran as fast as he could away.
Yet still, something in her tone dared him to try. Goaded him to take on this woman's love and meld it with the chivalry of the stage. Night after night he wrote endless lines of love. But they were empty.
Finally a knock came on the door. He opened it; half dressed, not even half-caring. Behind the door was Juliet.
"I brought cookies to make up for last night."
"I won't take them."
"I'm already trying to take other things of yours. I'm not going to take your food as well."
"What are you taking? Are you feverish? You look it."
"Juliet. Don't interrupt me while I say this. I am trying to take your soul and smash it on to this paper."
Juliet lifted an eyebrow. "Really. What shapes has my soul made on the paper?"
William looked at her. He tried to see everything of her at once. The young lover, the innocent child, the warm matron, the future widow, the future corpse. He dropped the papers.
"Something like this: Two households, both alike in dignity
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes,
A pair of star-crossed lovers takes their life.
"I haven't died."
"It doesn't matter." Romeo shut the door. "It's a compromise with poetics."
© 2000 Copyright held by the author.
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