Shakespeare Quarterly 54.4 (2004) 453-455
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Shakespeare in Production: Romeo and Juliet. Edited by James N. Loehlin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Illus. Pp. xvi + 270. $70.00 cloth, $25.00 paper.
James N. Loehlin's edition of Romeo and Juliet represents the sixth volume in Cambridge University Press's Shakespeare in Production series. Loehlin's edition, like others in the series, exhibits a strange dichotomy in its intended audience; the exclusive use of performance-oriented notes in the playtext itself renders this volume inappropriate for students unfamiliar with the play, yet the introduction is written for the general reader. Experienced scholars and teachers of the play should find much of interest in the copious performance notes. From his first page, Loehlin emphasizes the transformations the play has undergone. "In spite, or perhaps because, of its enduring appeal as the definitive love story" argues Loehlin, "Romeo and Juliet has been a dynamic and unstable performance text, endlessly reinvented to suit differing cultural needs" (1). Through all such reinventions, Romeo and Juliet "has remained a vivid index of cultural attitudes about romantic love and social crisis" (2). Loehlin's goal is to trace the broad cultural trends whereby performance has embodied this endless reinvention.
After a brief look at differences between the first and second quartos of the play (1597 and 1599, respectively), Loehlin examines Restoration and eighteenth-century adaptations, especially Thomas Otway's Caius Marius (1679) and David Garrick's version (1748). Loehlin notes that Otway's concerns in adapting Romeo and Juliet were [End Page 453] directly related to "a contemporary political crisis" having to do with the succession of the Catholic duke of York (10). Similarly, he notes that many of the cuts and adaptations Garrick made to Shakespeare's text were concessions to eighteenth-century sensibilities and decorum.
There follow sections dealing with nineteenth-century portrayals of Romeo (most of them failures) and Juliet (most of them successes). Indeed, one of the highlights of Loehlin's introduction is the attention paid to nineteenth-century actresses. Here we find not only the expected coverage of Charlotte Cushman's performance as Romeo but also accounts of six actresses playing Juliet in performances dating from 1814 to 1881: Eliza O'Neill, Fanny Kemble, Helena Faucit, Adelaide Neilson, Stella Colas, and Helena Modjeska. Loehlin notes that the three earlier actresses were successful partly because they offered idealized portraits of Victorian womanhood. His comments on Helena Faucit are typical: "Faucit's reminiscences [of playing Juliet] embody the same combination of innocent fragility and unbidden, passive sexuality that made O'Neill and Kemble so successful in the role" (25). Then, Loehlin carefully traces "a new conception of Juliet" which emerged toward the end of the century, one "that went beyond the fragile, unconscious sexuality of O'Neill and her followers" (35). Arguing that Neilson, Colas, and Modjeska capitalized "on the Imperial fascination with the exotic and foreign, and the licence associated with other cultures" (35), Loehlin observes how these later actresses contributed elements of dark passion or even open sexuality. What Loehlin writes of Adelaide Neilson is equally true of Colas (of French descent) and Modjeska (Polish): "Her supposed otherness enabled her to stretch the role of Juliet beyond the conventional Victorian expectations for the part" (36). Loehlin offers a fascinating exploration of the cultural evolution concerning what was, and what was not, acceptable in the portrayal of this character. These successes stand in contrast to the failures of actors in the part of Romeo (William Charles Macready, Edmund Kean, Henry Irving) because the indecorous passion of the character, "as understood in the nineteenth century, was incompatible with Victorian notions of masculinity" (31).
Upon reaching the end of the nineteenth century, Loehlin pauses to review the pre-twentieth-century history of the play's productions and adaptations in Europe and America before returning to England for William Poel and the Elizabethan Revival. Loehlin hits all the expected landmark twentieth-century shows—Gielgud and Olivier (1935-36), Brook (1947), Zeffirelli (1960), and Bogdanov (1986)—as well as reviewing a series of Royal Shakespeare Company productions staged between 1960 and 2000...