Simon Godwin’s direction is tactile, obsessed with hands and the manner in which an open welcome, a caress with a finger, the strained hardness of a fist can mean romance or violence, or both.
The intimate meeting of the lovers in the battle of the bodies at the Capulet Shindig, the hesitant first touch of their fingers and later the urgent completion – none of this is surprising. It’s not risky either.
Yet it felt alarming to me – even pornographic – given that over the past year we have painfully known the threats proximity might create.
Last spring, NYC Health released a much derided guide on safe sex during the pandemic, promoting masturbation as the most covid-friendly alternative to sheathing the dagger in Shakespearean terms. No more sweaty entangling of limbs in a dark bar, no more kissing after the date on the sidewalk in front of a restaurant. Or at least not without risk.
Even if more of us get vaccinated, intimacy will likely feel like a new adventure, for better and for worse. Some singles emerge from their quarantine bubbles and expect a “hot Vax summer” full of horny connections and experimental exploits. Others are prudent, our social skills have stunted, and our inhibitions have increased in response to a terminal illness.
While we are recovering from some sort of PTSD with no intimacy over the next few months, Shakespeare’s sexiest play – a piece that blends lust with violence and even death – can be read as extremely or even subtly subversive.
That’s the bard’s magic, isn’t it? The work is classy enough for warping and raking or is read prigishly by an assembly of stately, stiff backs. It is spacious enough to meet any disposition. I may be too shy to subscribe to Romeo’s and Juliet’s steamy OnlyFans, but there are many who aren’t.