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Parallel Plot Adaptations Seen In "Romeo And Juliet"

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William Shakespeare (1564-1616), is highly praised to be the most renowned playwright of all time. Between 1590 to 1613, he had written about 37 plays in different genres namely: histories, tragedies, comedies and tragic comedies. Although his writings were conventional, he was at the same time innovative and made few changes in his writing style. Instead of following his peers in writing in high style, he humbled himself to connect with the common people of England, which enabled him to be the greatest playwright of all time.

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Shakespeare innovative style also includes the imitation of reality, myths, and legends. With this incorporation of known elements in his play, he was able to appeal to the public, who were aware of such stories and were entertained to the fullest. Owing to this influence of embedding the old within the new, almost all his plays contain a parallel dimension, either in subplots or by emphasizing the premonition of a particular play by giving a small reference through the character’s dialogue. For instance, in his play Romeo and Juliet, the feudal system that existed between the Capulets, and the Montagues foreshadows the impossibility of love between the two houses, as Romeo is a Montague and Juliet as a Capulet are prohibited to be together till the end of the play.

Parallel plots refers to plots within the story acted by characters who are in no way in acquaintance with the main characters in the play. Although the literal meaning of parallel plots is found within the play, it must be noted that Shakespeare who uses a lot of imitations draws his inspiration from history, issues that were prevalent during his times and imitated works of his predecessors. So, in accordance with this, Shakespeare’s adaptation of his popular work Romeo and Juliet is to be further analyzed on the basis of parallel dimensions.

Various critics have pondered upon Shakespeare’s influence in writing Romeo and Juliet. And the most received criticism is that Shakespeare plagiarized the story from Arthur Brooke’s poem “The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet” written in 1562, long before Shakespeare was born. This version by Brooke himself was modelled upon a French translation of the Italian Matteo Bandell’s Novelle (1554-73; French trans. , 1564-82). Eventhough Arthur borrowed the story, he made several changes in terms of introducing the character of the nurse, as well as changes in plot at the last scene. Matteo’s version too is borrowed from Luigi da Porto’s work titled “Historia novellamente ritrovata di due nobili amanti”(1530) which means “Newly found story of two noble lovers. ” His characters were called “Romeus” and “Giuiletta” and followed the same plot of the feuding families. Despite having mentioned the various adaptations of the play, it still has one more version which is the original beginnings of the story of Romeo and Juliet. The first version was published by Masuccio Saleritano and this story was found in his work “II Novelino. ” Here, the characters were named “Marriotto and Gianozza”, and the plot is similar to Shakespeare’s version except the death scene. In this scene, Marriotto is executed as he murdered a member of the noble class, and Gianozzo dies in desolation. Saleritano also claims the story to be true and that it occured in the city of Siena, Tuscany, Italy.

With Saleritano’s claim that the incident took place, it can be proved with reference of the feuding families, the Capulets and the Monatgues presented in the play. The 13th century was the darkest period in Italian history with bloody rivalry between the political factions. In reference to the feuding families in the play, the Capulets were called “Capuleti” and the Montagues as the “Montecchi’ in Italian. This rivalry began as early as 1198 with the political parties – the Guelphs (Capuletis) and the Ghibellines (Montecchi), here the names were in German. This was because at that time the Germans also had rule in Italy.

As in history, the Guelphs were supporters of papal power and the Ghibellines supported monarchy. And this is evident in the fact that the Popes of the Holy Roman Empire originated from Central Italy. As years went by the Guelphs were further divided into two: the Blacks (the upper middle class of extreme Guelps) and the Whites (the lower middle class who were moderate in the beliefs). And by further divisions, the rivalry seemed to vanish but is believed to still exist in obscurity. This greatly proves Saleritano’s claim to be a true incident that took place two or three centuries before it was written down by him.

In addition to this historical account of Romeo and Juliet, the mythical story of “Pyramus and Thisbe” is another parallel source for the plot. The story of “Pyramus and Thisbe” is believed to have originated from Babylonian legends. It is found in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which narrates the tale of two lovers who are prohibited to marry by their parents and they elope. They conveyed their messages through a crack in a wall between the two houses, to meet under a mulberry tree. But like Romeo and Juliet, it too ends in tragedy when Pyramus mistook Thisbe to be dead on finding her blood stained veil, which was actually from the lioness’s bloody mouth that tore the veil to pieces. Pyramus then stabs himself and when Thisbe comes out from her hiding, she too kills herself on finding her lover dead. This is parallel to Romeo and Juliet, where on believing Juliet to be dead from poison, Romeo kills himself and when Juliet awakens she too kills herself. The misunderstanding that arises in both the stories is due to poor communication between the lovers which resulted in tragedy rather than a successful love story.

The general plot of “Romeo and Juliet” of a tragical love story shares its similarities with other cultural oral narrations found across the world. For instance, Ayyuki (1037-1171), a Persian poet also narrated a similar version entitled Warḳa u Gulshāh written in Farsi. Later, it was adapted by Nizami in his famous story of Layli and Majnun (1192). The story narrates the tale of two young lovers who fall in love as acquaintances at school. But due to a family feud they are prohibited to unite, and Layli is arranged to wed another man. In Nizami’s version, the role of “Nawfal” an Iranian Prince is changes to an Arab official. Like several other plays of Shakespeare that contain parallel plots and sub plots, Nizami too added another pair of lovers “Zayn and Zaynab”, through whom he foreshadows the successful love in paradise of Madjnun and Layli by a dream.

In yet another version of “Madjnun and Layli”, Qays (Madjnun) a poet falls in love with his cousin Layla (Layli). But their love is forbidden, and is forced to marry another man. Qays roams around in the desert naked, composing poems about Layla. The two meet regularly in secret but instead of indulging in a physical bond they exchange poetry. Layla protects her virginity till her husband dies, but the lovers do not unite; instead Qays obsessed with the ideal image of Layla, flees to the desert. Layla on hearing the news, dies in grief and when Qays hears of her death he rushes to her and dies instantly.

On looking at all these preceding versions of a tragic love story from oral narrations to the written form, it is evident that there exists numerous parallel dimensions to the story of Romeo and Juliet and that it keeps on evolving through time and space.

15 July 2020

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