Today we celebrate Shakespeare’s 450th birthday and also World Book Night, which is always on his birthday. What better way to celebrate than with a fresh take on one of Shakespeare’s most iconic plays?
Romeo and Juliet has been subject to dozens of adaptations and retellings – so many that it might be difficult to believe that one published just last year could have something new to say. Yet Melissa Taub manages it deftly in a painstakingly researched and imaginative young adult tale of what might have happened after the play’s conclusion.
Days after the events of the play, the truce reached by the houses of Capulet and Montague has fallen upon deaf ears among the young members of each family. Each house blames the other for the death toll; brawls and swordfights abound, and the city’s peace is at increasing risk. Prince Escalus is desperate to find a way to ensure that the pact between the lords of the houses is upheld. But he can’t think of anything other than ensuring a blood tie between them – a marriage between two living members of the families.
Not only is seventeen-year-old Rosaline Capulet mourning her cousin Juliet, she feels responsible for the deaths that occurred in Verona just days ago. After all, if she had accepted Romeo’s romantic advances, maybe he wouldn’t have tumbled into his doomed romance. Maybe she could have spared their city all this heartache. Benvolio hasn’t forgiven her, either. Romeo and Mercutio were his cousins and closest friends – he feels isolated at the loss of his Montague friends and wants revenge. Imagine the surprise and indignation of both youths when Escalus decides that the two of them are the best candidates to unite the houses, ending the feud once and for all. Now they just have to agree to the plan…
The genius of Taub’s story is all in the use of characters given little stage time in the play. She’s wonderful at taking the little we know about them and fleshing them out into full characters. Rosaline’s independence and family loyalty (hinted at in the original play) are admirable traits and help keep the tension going throughout the story, while Benvolio’s stubborn streak creates ongoing conflict. Taub uses Shakespearean dialect in dialogue, but modern language in description, helping immerse readers in the world of Shakespeare without making the book seem unapproachable. If you’re a big fan of Shakespeare (or love a good historical romance), this might be just the ticket!