Brevity=Wit Entry #8

December 28th, 2009 by Wordsman

Do you know what I miss?  I miss big opening speeches.  Nowadays it seems like everyone prefers to start off a story by just throwing you into the middle of it and letting you figure out what’s going on as things transpire.  Whatever happened to the storyteller, the almighty omniscient narrator, the unquestionable figure who appears in the beginning and definitively sets the stage for us all?

William Shakespeare knew how to do it.  Now there was a man who could open his plays with a great starting speech.  Let’s take a look at one of his most famous, the starting monologue from Romeo and Juliet:

“Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny.
Where civil blood makes”

Huh.  Wow.  Yeah, that opening speech was a lot longer than I remembered.  Setting the scene is all well and good, but come on, let’s see a little concision here!  If you’re going to begin with talking rather than action, you’ve got to make sure you wrap it up before you lose everyone’s attention.  We’re told about the feuding families, which is important, but I always thought that Romeo and Juliet was about, you know, Romeo and Juliet.  Our famous star-crossed lovers don’t appear in this intro.  And Heaven help you if you want to know what civil blood makes.  I can’t tell if the last line sounds like it should be a proverb or a Zen riddle.  Civil blood makes . . . civil neighbors?  Waste?  A man healthy, wealthy, and wise?  The sound of one hand clapping?

This thing definitely needs saving.  Let’s see if we can cut it down:

“Two classy families in Verona hate each other.  Two of their kids don’t, but they’re doomed.  When they kill themselves it fixes everything.”

Tada!  All the vital information, quick and easy.  Sure, it gives away the ending, but you’ve got to remember that this play predates the spoiler warning by several centuries.  When they call it The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, nobody’s expecting them to have kids and live to a ripe old age.  Anyway, with this we are able to finish the opening quickly and move on to the real meat of the play: puns on the carrying coals/colliers/choler/collar theme and a veritable rash of thumb-biting.

Posted in Brevity=Wit | 1 Comment »

One Response

  1. A Fan Says:

    One of your best. By the way, as to what “Romeo and Juliet” is really about, remember the scene in “Shakespeare in Love” where the acting troupe is carousing in a brothel. The actor who plays the Nurse is talking to one of the girls, who asks him what the new play is about: “There’s this nurse . . .”

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