Wherefore art thou Juliet? bewails Romeo, towards the end of the inverted and reversed version of the Bard’s tale that the scriptwriter was determined would not end in a double suicide. Not because producers required it, but because he himself as a human being craved it. Because he believed all difficulties could be overcome, in life or in puzzles, whether crosswords or fiction told under constraint. Because too often sorrow, intolerance and prejudice won out. Or so he thought and felt.
But could feuding Capulets and Montagues be brought together without the death of the star-crossed pair? Could in truth a couple be termed star-crossed if the troubles both faced led to an end which was degrees less than death? How could it be deemed tragic if neither protagonist died? In the confines of his workroom, he sat and grappled with the problem for long hours before formatting the document which would be filled with his adaptation. He wondered whether his lovers might be kept apart, against their wishes, allowed to meet but once a decade. Or be unable to contact each other except through brief sentences pencilled on tissue-thin paper wrapped tight around the slender leg of a trusted carrier pigeon. Perhaps for his purposes, love thwarted and ground down via circumstance would be tragic enough.
He knew that since Shakespeare’s borrowing of it, the Italian tale had been the model for countless subsequent takes and versions. He thought of Jeannie in the song ‘Annachie Gordon’, forced to wed rich Lord Saltoun instead of braw Annachie; the pair succumb to the same fate as Juliet and Romeo. Perhaps he could take inspiration from Possession, in which Christabel LaMotte and Randolph Ash, having loved in secret, are forced into lifelong separation on account of the mores of their times. That was to take just two of the thousands of fictional pairs of star-crossed lovers that had followed in Juliet and Romeo’s wake. Tale tellers had imagined more of them than Shakespeare wrote scenes. (And if there have been thousands in fiction, how the real world must teem with halves of star-crossed pairs!) But would meeting once a decade or communing via pigeon be enough? Would it stop one or both of the lovers from taking their life, a life deprived of the free expression of their love? Or was it enough for the love to have existed; would remembering its moments, scant or otherwise, sustain a divided pair? He wasn’t sure it would be possible to live on such meagre pickings, in the hope that a better time might come.
It was past midnight when the idea came to him. The moon was full and shining with a brilliance that slanted between the gap in the curtain to add silver to the dim pool of golden light in his workroom. He would write the adaptation backwards! The love would be born from the catastrophic endgame; rescued from it. Problems and obstacles would then rise and drop from view, until all that remained were the moments in which the love struck – the near unbearable tenderness of that first look into each other’s irises.
Of course it had been done before – he thought now of the drama Pinter staged and its later adaptation – but not with Juliet and Romeo. He would age his protagonists, and put them through more, for longer, making of it an adult film rather than another movie for kids. And those final scenes, he would intercut them with the penning of a last letter which Juliet had thought to write before her approaching death, a letter which was both declaration and remembrance of her love, working back into the past, so explaining the chronological sleight of hand which allowed the tale to be told without death entering the picture, save as mere prologue. Juliet and Romeo would remain alive, in essence the opposite of tragic, and star-crossed love would be given the chance to mature, age, and conquer death.