What happens in Romeo & Juliet

For this month’s installment of What Happens in Shakespeare, I wanted to do Romeo and Juliet. If you listen to pretty much any English ballad, or any song Shakespeare wrote for a play, you’d know that May is the real month for lovers (not February, although there’s a character inspired by St. Valentine who is crucial to the plot).

The Reduced Shakespeare Company tweeted: “ ‘A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life’ (Prologue). Teen marriages never last.”

What happens in Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet are teenagers whose families are feuding. Romeo has been brawling when we meet him. He crashes a party thrown by the enemy family.

Juliet goes to the party to get a look at her future husband: not Romeo, but Paris, the man her parents have arranged for her to marry.

Romeo and Juliet meet and fall in love instantly. This is before they realize they are technically enemies.

They can’t get married in the light of day (there’s a family feud, plus Juliet is engaged), so Juliet’s nurse and Romeo’s friend Friar Laurence (the St. Valentine stand-in) conspire to help them elope.

They spend one night together as Mr. and Mrs. One night, you guys.

Romeo would like us to think he is a lover, not a fighter, by this time. But he still gets in a fight with Juliet’s cousin and kills him. The law finds out. Now Romeo has to leave town.

Juliet’s parents try to speed up her wedding to Paris. She can’t tell them she’s married to Romeo, because family feud. Also he killed her cousin.

But Juliet can’t commit polyandry either, so she runs away to Friar Laurence, who has a plan. Juliet will take a sleeping potion that will make her appear to be dead just long enough to be buried in the family crypt. Romeo will come to the crypt when she wakes up. Then she and Romeo can sneak away and start their life together.

Juliet takes the potion and appears to be dead, just like it promised on the label.

Friar Laurence sends a message to Romeo (remember he’s in another town now), but the message gets bungled. Romeo believes Juliet is actually dead. He comes back to town, buys himself some poison, and goes to her tomb, where she still seems very dead.

Paris is at Juliet’s tomb, mourning. Romeo kills him.

Romeo drinks the poison he bought and kills himself.

Juliet wakes up and sees that Romeo is dead. She kisses him to try to kill herself with the rest of the poison. She stabs herself with his dagger for good measure and dies.

Their families come together to mourn and make peace with each other.


For actual scholarship and analysis, visit the Shakespeare Resource Center’s page on Romeo & Juliet.


My schedule at BayCon 2017

BayCon 2017 is Friday, May 26 through Monday, May 29 at the San Mateo Marriott. I’ll be on some very cool panels this year:

Saturday, May 27

Social Justice Dystopia
1:00 – 2:30 p.m.
Tyranny, censorship, loss of rights, and how to fight back
Anne Killpack (M), Jennifer Nestojko, Skye Allen, Eric “In the Elevator” Zuckerman

Sunday, May 28

Women’s utopias or queer utopias
Sunday 10:00 – 11:30 a.m.
There are a goodly handful of these in the canon.
Meg Elison (M), Heather Rose Jones, Skye Allen

“Do the thing, every day.”
Sunday 11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Writer, musician, artist type panel discussing tips on practicing your craft every day: how to motivate yourself, how to pace yourself, and how to realize waiting for a muse is a bad career choice.
Amy-Elyse Neer (M), Daniel Dociu, Jay Hartlove, Skye Allen

The Care and Feeding of Your Creative Muse
Sunday 2:30 – 4:00 p.m.
Deborah J. Ross (M), Skye Allen, Jennifer Nestojko, Mark Gelineau

What happens in All’s Well That Ends Well

I’m launching a brand-new feature on the blog, What happens in Shakespeare — short summaries of Shakespeare plays for readers who just want the facts. I’ll kick things off with the surprisingly cynical and misleadlingly named All’s Well That Ends Well.

The Reduced Shakespeare Company tweeted: “All Is NOT Well That Ends Well, and this play doesn’t. MORAL: Do it with the lights on.”

All’s Well That Ends Well

Helena is a medical professional with terrible taste in men. She is in love with a wealthy scumbag named Bertram. He does not love her back.

The King gets sick. Helena cures him. He gives her a favor: she can have the hand of any man she wants in marriage. Apparently the King has enough time on his hands to interfere in these matters. She chooses Bertram.

They do get married, but Bertram says the only way his marriage to this woman he despises for no good reason will be a non-sham is if A) she can get the ring off his finger and B) she can get pregnant by him. To make sure neither blessed event happens, he joins the war effort in Italy (she’s in France).

Helena secretly follows Bertram to Italy, where he puts the moves on another woman, Diana. Being a scumbag, he gives Diana his ring (yes, the same one he refused to give Helena, his actual wife). Here we have the famous bed trick. Bertram is about to get sexy with Diana when she and Helena trade places. Now we start to suspect both our heroes may be the tiniest bit self-serving.

A false rumor gets around that Helena is dead. Bertram goes back to France and asks permission from the King to marry yet another woman, him being a widower now. Helena shows up to announce that she is pregnant with Bertram’s child. Diana appears with Bertram’s ring. Now that Bertram is trapped, he says he loves Helena and will be faithful to her. Self-serving trickery is its own reward. These two have to live with each other.


For actual scholarship by experts, visit The Shakespeare Resource Center’s much better page on All’s Well That Ends Well.

What happens in Shakespeare

To celebrate my favorite author’s birthday, I’m launching a new feature on the blog: What happens in Shakespeare. 

I got the idea while my wife and I were watching the TV series Slings and Arrows (which is brilliant and hilarious and you need to go watch it now. NOW! GO!). The first season centers around a production of Hamlet. Nadja asked me what happens in Hamlet. I tried to recount the story, but realized right away that while it’s all clear in my head, it’s a pretty complicated plot once you start trying to explain it.

So I decided to write short summaries of Shakespeare plays. Just the action, just the main characters, and for the sake of keeping it brief, just the big plots in most cases — not the subplots. And just the plays I’ve actually read. I needed a motivator to finish reading all the plays, a project I started a few years ago and let drop. Can’t call myself a fangirl if I haven’t read all the plays.

There are some terrific summaries out there written by real Shakespeare scholars. I’m definitely not one of those. For actual scholarship, I can recommend The Shakespeare Resource Center. SparkNotes has a context feature that helps you understand the author’s influences and what was happening in his world at the time of writing each play, plus a very good scene-by-scene breakdown. I’ve gained tons of insight from reading the Folger Shakespeare Library editions, mainly for the footnotes on every page that help translate Shakespearean English, since that’s basically a foreign language. And for the ultimate TLDR experience, you can’t beat the Reduced Shakespeare Company; they summarized the plays in 140 characters each on Twitter.

I’ll kick things off in the next post with All’s Well That Ends Well (for no special reason except that it’s the latest one I’ve read).

A mute swan in England. Ben Jonson called Shakespeare “the Swan of Avon.”

Perfectly Queer 3/22

I got all overeager and announced that I would be reading at an event I am not, in fact, reading at. Oh, my errant enthusiasms.

So I am NOT reading on Monday, March 13 at Dog Eared Books in San Francisco on the Perfectly Queer event, but I will be there to listen because Ellen Klages! And the other readers, M. Christian and Vylar Kaftan, look splendid.

And I AM reading on Wednesday, March 22 at Nomadic Press Uptown in Oakland. I adore Nomadic Press and I could not be more excited to meet Kwan Booth and Na’amen Tilahun. What should I wear?