Delighted to host a stop on the blog tour for Juliet & Romeo by David Hewson today. My thanks to the publisher for the invitation to join and my wonderful review copy!
Author David Hewson joins me on the blog today with a fantastic guest post on why he feels it’s perfectly acceptable to faff around with all things Shakespeare and I’ll also be sharing my thoughts on this novel retelling.
Author : David Hewson
Title : Juliet & Romeo
Pages : 256
Publisher : Dome Press
Publication date : May 17, 2018
Shakespeare’s most well-known and well-loved play has been turned into a gripping romantic thriller with a modern twist. Rich with the sights and smells of medieval Verona, peopled with a vibrant cast of characters who spring from the page, this is Shakespeare as you’ve never read it before – and with a killer twist at the end.
Ten Reasons to Mess with Shakespeare By David Hewson
People sometimes wave their red, white and blue flags in the air and demand, ‘How dare you faff around with Shakespeare? He is England’s finest, his words as holy as the Bible. He must always appear untouched as nature intended.’
Here are ten reasons why such statements are balderdash.
There’s no such thing as ‘the Bible’. Just lots of versions of a Hebrew original of uncertain provenance, sometimes in questionable translations that may have strayed some way from the original meaning. Oh, and arguments rage continually about what should and shouldn’t be included. It’s much the same with Shakespeare. See the ‘bad folio’ of Hamlet which is shorter and a lot less wordy than the accepted version we get in schools. Shakespeare didn’t leave behind any Word docx files or even an original manuscript. What we have tends to come from folios that are remembered scripts written down by performers. In fact…
What you think is Shakespeare may not be Shakespeare at all. I’m not going to step into any of the ‘he was really someone else’ controversies here. But the plain fact is that the plays do contain material that we know comes from other quarters and other hands. Take the three witches summoning Hecate in Macbeth Act III, Scene Five. Spooky stuff, often left out in performance because it’s a bit over the top. And most academics think Shakespeare never wrote it. And then there are the occasions when…
Shakespeare just nicked stuff. Plagiarism wasn’t a big deal in the sixteenth century. People ‘borrowed’ themes, story ideas, plots and even actual prose from time to time. Shakespeare certainly did the first two. The vast majority of his dramas – Romeo and Juliet included – used a variety of plays, novels and history books as their inspiration, and freely adapted them using his own imagination. What’s good for the goose…
The Shakespeare you think you know may not be ‘real’ at all. Most of has have grown up with his tales from school and his phrases – from ‘milk of human kindness’ to ‘all our yesterdays’ (both from Macbeth) – are scattered throughout the English language. But often what we believe to be the stories are simplified versions passed on almost by tradition and reinforced by stagings, moviies and TV versions that have followed. Take Lady Macbeth, an infamous figure who’s inspired everything from opera to the name of a science fiction spaceship. The archetypal evil woman or so most people think.
Now she’s no saint. But if you read the text carefully it’s only certain she participates in the murder of King Duncan, not the later slaughters of Banquo and Macduff’s family. She may be innocent of them. And how did she die? Suicide most people say, though the text is quite unclear on that point. There’s a lot unsaid in Shakespeare which is one reason why…
Theatre messes round with old Will all the time. The originals are too open to interpretation, almost demanding they be changed, to allow for that. Take Patrick Stewart’s wonderful Macbeth a few years back. This was very much of the devilish Macbeth variety. In it he takes part in the slaughter of the Macduffs in person which is not in the play. Take the recent film version with Michael Fassbender. It opens with the funeral of their infant son – a scene which isn’t in the play at all. Though Lady M has a throwaway line in which she reveals she lost a baby – something any modern dramatist will naturally seize upon.
The idea of a definitive version of Shakespeare is plain nonsense.
There’s a reason why my version is called Juliet and Romeo and not the other way round. With Shakespeare you all too often get just half the woman’s side of the story at most. Many of his female characters are either weak victims (Ophelia in Hamlet, Lady Anne Neville in Richard III who, cough, cough, is wooed by Richard at the funeral of her husband Richard just murdered). Or else they’re harpies (Lady Macbeth and Queen Margaret in Richard III).
There’s a reason why Shakespeare must have struggled with female characters – he couldn’t work with them on stage. It was illegal for women to act in public until sixty years or so after Shakespeare died. So all the female parts were taken by men or boys. This is a hell of a handicap to be working under especially when you consider that…
In Romeo and Juliet, it’s Juliet who’s really in jeopardy. Romeo is a lovestruck youth who’s desperate for a girlfriend and some poetry. Juliet is an intelligent young woman facing a fate that she regards as a death sentence – forced marriage to a man, Count Paris, she doesn’t know, primarily because her father thinks it will be good for business and in any case that’s his decision to make.
The more I read the play and the Italian versions Shakespeare pillaged and changed for his plot, the more I became convinced this was much more Juliet’s story than Romeo’s. If he loses his girlfriend he can always find another. If she married Paris… that’s it. If Shakespeare had been working with a woman editor like most writers today someone somewhere along the line would surely have gripped him by the shoulder and said, ‘Oi, mate. What about the girl?’
I like history which didn’t much matter at all to old Will. We know the story takes place in Verona but there’s not a clue when. Is that important? Not necessarily but it can be made important which is what adaptation is all about. So I place this tale in the real Verona where I spent a happy two weeks researching it, and at a pivotal time in history, 1499, when the shift in human perspective we now call the Renaissance was just beginning across Italy. Juliet is a smart young woman who wants to choose her life for herself. There’s no better time.
Different media demand different endings. When I adapted The Killing stories from TV to novel I found I had to come up with new endings because the dramatic ones didn’t work on the page. With plays the stage is the boss and tells you when a story’s over. With a book you can’t just say, ‘Curtain falls, go home.’ Novels mustn’t just end, they need to resolve. And that is why the closing scene of Juliet and Romeo may not be the one you expect.
And this most important of all… because you can. Stories are living things, always capable of change. I wanted to see the tale of Juliet and Romeo through the prism of a modern perspective and ask the question… how much has really changed?
From recent history you’d have to say… not as much as perhaps we thought.
[Thank you so much, David Hewson, for this incredibly insightful and interesting piece!]
I’ve never actually read Romeo and Juliet. I’ve tried but Shakespeare tends to go right over my head. I am of course familiar with their story, as I’m sure most of you are as well. Two rivalling families in the city of Verona, Italy. The son of the one family falls in love with the daughter of the other. Chaos ensues. Everybody dies. Something like that anyway. 😉
Admittedly, I was a little unsure about picking this one up. Proof of how shallow I am, lies in me confessing to you that I pretty much only opted to read this book as it was endorsed by Richard Armitage. Incidentally, he also apparently did the audio version which, even though I’m not a fan of audio books, I’ve been eying for a while now because Richard’s voice does funny things to me. He could read a good old fashioned phone guide to me and I’d be a puddle of goo. I’m sure you didn’t really need to know that so let’s quickly move on. (Note that the audio version has been nominated for this year’s Audies)
Seeing as I don’t have any previous experience with this story, I was pleasantly surprised by this retelling. Sixteen year old Juliet is a fierce and fabulous young lady. However, her father is trying to arrange a marriage for her and this doesn’t sit well with Juliet at all. There’s more to life than getting married, after all. During a banquet, Juliet meets Romeo. Aw, young love. But then Romeo is banished from the city and everything goes to pot.
The atmosphere and the setting in Verona drew me in from the start. I could almost see myself wandering around the market stalls, smelling meats and whatnot, hear the horses and the chiming of the bell tower. The characters were really well written. Romeo, the quiet kind, the dreamer, the wanna-be poet. Although quite frankly I didn’t think he was very good with words at all. His family wants to send him off to study to become a lawyer.
But the one who stole the scene every single time was most definitely Juliet. She’s intelligent, wants to be independent and questions everything. I adored her spirit, her determination, her sheer belief that in that particular era, she could be whomever she wants to be. And let’s not forget Nurse, who made me chuckle numerous times with her endless and sometimes rather embarrassing ramblings.
This modern retelling works really well. Sure, there’s a lot of drama and I was actually stunned to see how many things happen in a really short period of time. But I was utterly enthralled and captivated. Even the author’s notes held my interest and if you grab yourself a copy of this, you should definitely read them.
For those, like me, who wanted and have tried to read Shakespeare, this is a fabulous way of being introduced to his stories without suffering a major headache and thinking your knowledge of the English language is non-existent all of a sudden. Although it does bear pointing out that David Hewson did make changes from the original Romeo and Juliet and based his interpretation more so on previous versions than the one we all know.
Intrigue, murder, sword fights, a dash of romance and a few chuckles … what more could you possibly want? I found this to be thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable!
Juliet & Romeo is available for purchase!
David Hewson is the author of more than 20 published novels including the Pieter Vos series set in Amsterdam and the Nic Costa books set in Rome.
His acclaimed book adaptations of The Killing television series were published around the world. His audio adaptations of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Hamlet with A.J. Hartley, narrated by Alan Cumming and Richard Armitage respectively, were both shortlisted for Audie Awards.
A former journalist with the Sunday Times, Independent and The Times he lives in Kent. His first book with The Dome Press, Juliet and Romeo, will be published in May 2018.