"Romeo and Juliet" is a tragic play written early in the career of William Shakespeare about two teenage "star-cross'd lovers" whose untimely deaths ultimately unite their feuding households. It was among Shakespeare's most popular plays during his lifetime and, along with Hamlet, is one of his most frequently performed plays. Today, the title characters are regarded as archetypal "young lovers"
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 civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;
Whole misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents' strife.
The fearful passage of their death-mark'd love,
And the continuance of their parents' rage,
Which, but their children's end, nought could remove,
Is now the two hours' traffic of our stage;
The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.
Adults looking for a dramatically abridged version of Shakespeare's tragic love story with some lovely backdrops of Verona may find something to savor in Early's (Sleeping Beauty; William Tell) picture-book rendition. She gives a nod to several medieval fresco artists and to such Renaissance painters as Michelangelo and Botticelli, whose ornate patterns and borders may well be the inspiration for her paintings. A sharp attention to detail-- including the exquisite geometric designs of palace floors, elaborate period dress, authentic Verona streetscapes and the delicate strands of Juliet's golden tresses--distinguishes Early's art, but the lovers' faces are mask-like, and even the most dramatic of scenes appear to be static. Early's narrative paraphrases the action of this drama while showcasing some of the most legendary lines from the Bard's quill. But these clunky juxtapositions detract from Shakespeare's own words, as in this example: "Lord Capulet replied that Juliet was too young . Why not wait a little longer? `Let two more summers wither in their pride ere we may think her ripe to be a bride,' he entreated." Children will be better off waiting for the original--and adults better off returning to it. All ages.