June, 2012: I caught the train from Sydney to Melbourne, and to vary my diet of Vanity Fair, I decided the slender volume of Romeo And Juliet (1597) would be worth squeezing into my pack. I haven't read a lot of Shakespeare, just as I don't own a Beatles album. I know the work is good without even looking into it; moreover, I know the work - picking it up on the ether - without even reading it. But this is lazy and ignorant. Shakespeare is really easy to read - it took only a few days to read Romeo And Juliet - so there are no excuses to pass him over.
What did I discover? He's good. He tells his story in brisk, powerful strokes. The only time the plot isn't being advanced is when he'll have a few characters standing around making ribald jokes; then the reader doesn't resent the slowing down, because it's funny and sexy. And despite the minimal characterisation, and the somewhat rushed pace, he manages to throw in enough human-content to make you feel sad when a character dies. Other surprises: I didn't realise that Romeo starts the play in love with Rosaline, and I like the depiction of a hungry-for-love young man. Also, I liked Juliet being so desperate to have sex with him.
Finally, it is amazing how much of this play has been incorporated into our language; numerous times, I came across commonly-uttered phrases, such as "A rose by any other name", or "A plague on both your houses". It was like hearing Johnny Cash sing I Walk The Line at the Entertainment Centre, or getting out of the tour bus and seeing Uluru in all its might. These icons are perfectly comfortable in their own skins, and as well as evoking a thrill of awe, the beholder also shrugs her shoulders and thinks, "But of course!" Once again, it is proven that the literature we retain, century after century, is the good stuff - plot, poetry, human truths, humour.