Romeo & Juliet
Starring: Patrick Ryecart, Rebecca Saire
Written by: William Shakespeare
Directed by: Alvin Rakoff
How good is this movie?
Not a great adaptation of not a great Shakespeare play. As a love story, it’s pretty awful, using and to some extent codifying some of the worst tropes in romantic fiction. However, as a cautionary tale about the dangers of hatred, it tells a genuinely compelling story. If you ignore the stupidity of Romeo and Juliet’s initial courtship, then their trials in the second half of the play are actually rather touching, and their end truly tragic. The play even has some rather beautiful things to say about the potential for love to bring about peace. Romeo’s love for Juliet inspires him towards pacifism (at least temporarily) and forgiveness (albeit belatedly) towards his enemies. Meanwhile, Juliet’s love for Romeo drives her to rebel against her father’s unreasonable expectations. And it’s the parents’ love for and grief over their children that ultimately inspires them to reconcile with one another. There’s a good story in here. Unfortunately, the movie shares the play’s weaknesses as well as its strengths.
How ace is this movie?
This is, of course, a romance, and a particularly sexualised romance at that. Far from being ace or even demi, Romeo and Juliet fall in love at first sight and consummate their relationship within a couple of days. The conversations between Romeo’s friends also make it clear that they see love as primarily a matter of looks, i.e. sexual attractiveness, rather than personality or emotional connection. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the play goes on to celebrate primary sexual attraction as the highest form of love, trumping familial ties, overcoming generations of enmity, and worth dying over. In fairness, Friar Laurence is critical of Romeo’s shallowness, and there are hints that we should not take the romance as seriously as the lovers do. Still, I can’t help wishing that Shakespeare had chosen to focus more on friendship and the non-sexual elements of the relationship.
How ace is Alan Rickman?
Character: Tybalt (nephew to Lady Capulet)
Modern sexual categories like “straight”, “gay”, etc. would have little meaning for Shakespeare. Nonetheless, it is possible to divide his characters into sexual types. Romeo and Juliet embody the normative, opposite-sex love that leads to marriage. Mercutio, who revels in sexual energy and is played as ambiguously bi, is more of a libertine. His dissipated sexuality serves as one kind of foil to Romeo’s. Tybalt, who shows no interest in sex or romance, serves as another. While Mercutio and Benvolio are seen exchanging bawdy jokes, Tybalt is not. His reputation is as a brawler, not a lover. Juliet and her Nurse both speak lovingly of him, indicating that he had close familial relationships, but there are no signs of any romantic ones. While we cannot necessarily assign him a sexual “orientation”, we can say that sex does not factor into his character’s motivation or behaviour. If Romeo is the lover and Mercutio the lecher, Tybalt is, at least as far as we know, celibate. Or, to put modern labels on them, if Romeo embodies heteronormativity, Mercutio can be associated with queerness and Tybalt with aceness.
What if he is?
Although Tybalt does not know of Romeo and Juliet’s love affair, he acts as one of its major opponents. Asexuality would add one more layer to this antagonism. His antipathy towards the Montagues makes him hostile towards Romeo; being asexual would only make him more so. Just as licentious Mercutio mocks Romeo’s fixation on a single woman, an asexual Tybalt would have no way of understanding why Juliet would abandon her famiglia for a boy she only just met. A sexual person might conceivably remember their own youthful passions and be able to empathise with the couple, but an asexual person – especially one without language to identify his own asexuality – would be at a loss.
3 Stars; 2 Aces