Some time ago, my wife and I went to see a ballet, a performance of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” at the Detroit Opera House.
Don’t laugh now.
After we settled into our seats, I started looking at the program, while all around us people were drinking their drinks and talking, raising their voices incrementally in order to be heard. With the acoustics being as good as they are at the Opera House, the noise level gradually increased from a happy babble until it was high enough to be uncomfortable. I was beginning to wonder just how well this was going to turn out when the lights went down.
The place got so quiet that it was scary and stayed that way throughout the performance. People, including myself, were enthralled with the skill of the performers and the timeless story of the “star-crossed lovers”. Even after another round of drinks at intermission, the audience sat silent and spellbound while these graceful dancers portrayed Shakespeare’s tragedy.
Every note of the orchestra was as clear as an Arizona night sky. When there was no music, you could hear the rustle of the costumes, the feet thumping and sliding on the floor. Later, I was pondering the longevity of that simple story, thinking about how it still moved people enough to sit quietly and just absorb it.
It’s a story that’s based on a story, a story that’s been done and redone and overdone, the story of a boy and girl in love, kept apart by the feuding of their families, fighting against circumstance in order to be together. The ending, with the lovers dead by their own hand, the grieving families vowing to end the feud, is so utterly tragic that it’s comical… but still a tear-jerker.
The play itself has been analyzed by more people with letters after their name than you can imagine, been called everything from genius to inanity. For centuries the work has been taken apart and put back together, revered and ridiculed, and whether Shakespeare actually wrote it has been seriously questioned.
But through it all, the love story of Romeo and Juliet endures, still brings an audience to reverent silence, makes women sniffle and men act like they’re yawning to cover up the shine in their eyes.
How’d that happen?