Humanities

Till Death Do Us Part" -- wanting to die before growing old

Transposing Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" to the age of "Bonnie and Clyde"

The Renaissance today is often thought of as a decorous time of high art and great thinkers. However, the Renaissance in Italy was actually a bloody, often violent era and location, filled with entrench clan rivalries as well as attempts by great thinkers to lift the spirit of humanity to a higher level of consciousness. The supremacy of the individual and personal desire came to the forefront of the era's philosophy partly because old allegiances to church and nation were disturbed, and Italy in particular was filled with numerous city-states and families, all jockeying for power in a fractious nation. "Italian cities were infamous for their long-lasting, deadly feuds between prominent families" (Brians, 2000).

To shatter this decorous image and bring new meaning to one of William Shakespeare's most famous plays, transposing the bloody environment filled with hatred and passion that characterizes the play of "Romeo and Juliet" seems like an ideal match for the atmosphere and setting of the 1930s Depression-era Texas locale of "Bonnie and Clyde." During this period of American history, because of the desperate economic circumstances of the United States, lawlessness reigned. People lived for the moment, like "Romeo and Juliet" rather than planned for a future. Distrust in received wisdom and government, institutional authority was common, because no one seemed able to fix the problems of the America, just like the Prince of "Romeo and Juliet" is an ineffectual leader of his nation when he tries to contain the hatreds of the Montagues and the Capulets. In both eras, people romanticized outlaws, like Bonnie and Clyde romanticized themselves and boys like Mercutio and Tybalt settled scores amongst themselves in the common streets in Verona.

It is interesting to note that Shakespeare's play itself was an interpolation, of place and time that was designed to heighten certain themes of a play about "star-crossed lovers." After all, the play was written by an Englishman, but set in foreign Italy: "I think it's very interesting that so many of Shakespeare's plays are set in Italy...They [English playwrights] found something very liberating and very un-English I suppose, about the grand passions, the degree of emotion, the sensuality" (Bell, 2004). "Romeo and Juliet" is not just a play about passionate love; it is also a play about a passion for violence and how a violent society can destroy and generate love, as it also does for "Bonnie and Clyde."

Shakespeare chose to emphasize the youth of his loving protagonists, to make it convincing that they would feel that all that mattered was living for love and living for the moment: "Shakespeare altered the story in a way [from the original source] which is shocking to modern audiences: he lowered Juliet's age from sixteen to just under fourteen...Shakespeare emphasizes the over-hastiness and premature nature of this love affair and probably felt he was underlining this theme at a time when marriage at fifteen was considered by no means shocking, though marriage at eighteen or twenty was in fact much more common" (Brians, 2000).

Bonnie and Clyde met when they were eighteen and twenty-one, respectively. Despite the bloody wave of robberies and murders they left in their wake, a Depression-era nation was captivated by their spree, for it was a display of the power of two individuals to evade the hated federal authorities that were doing nothing to aid economically deprived Americans. The couple romanticized themselves in print with poetry, as "Romeo…