Last month, I ruffled some feathers by writing in this space that I was not exceptionally fond of William Shakespeare’s most widely read play, Romeo and Juliet. If Romeo and Juliet were an anti-hero drama, I’d argue that it’s a show that fails to create enough space between how the characters see themselves and the way we’re supposed to see them.
But precisely because of that, I’m totally delighted to hear the news that a riff on the Bard is in production. Rosaline, written by (500) Days of Summer’s screenwriting team of Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, will be focused on the woman for whom Romeo Montague is pining for before setting eyes on Juliet Capulet at a party, thereby forgetting about his former inamorata entirely. Girls star Allison Williams has apparently been floated as the lead.
So what will this classic story look like through Rosaline’s eyes? Was she hurt when Romeo moved on, or given what seems to be his tendency for excessive passion, did she actually dodge a bullet? What does she think about the blood feud between the Capulets and the Montagues? Are there friends she can see now that Romeo’s done with her? (I’m picturing Rosaline and Mercutio meeting up for drinks.) And once it’s all over and Romeo and Juliet are dead, what’s it like for people such as Rosaline to live in the world reshaped by their suicides?
I’m all for creative restagings of Shakespeare’s original texts. Ralph Fiennes’ film adaptation of Coriolanus made that story of a Roman general who alienates the ordinary citizens of his city a powerful commentary on the deference we extend to military leaders. And the Shakespeare Theater Company’s staging of the same play brought out the undercurrent of economic discontent that plays a role in the general’s downfall, while its production of The Winter’s Tale found new resonance in an antiquated scenario by illustrating what happens when women’s voices are ignored in public life.
If we’re going to revisit the same plays again and again, it’s exciting to shift perspectives, shade relationships, and use Shakespeare’s stories as jumping-off points. Tom Stoppard’s script for Shakespeare in Love made a running joke of the idea that Shakespeare had started out writing about Romeo and Ethel, the pirate’s daughter, and ended up with an immortal love story. We all know too well what happens next as Romeo and Juliet saw it—which is exactly why it could be so much fun to see those events through Rosaline’s eyes.