This weekend I saw the latest adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet by the Italian director Carlo Carlei. It was a well made film up until the end when he decided to go a little off script. The dialogue was not the original dialogue, but stayed true in some spots and was still quite poetic. Having already mentioned these things to my date as we were coming out of the theater I fought for something else to add to the discussion of the film. Suddenly it struck me that I knew the origin of the plot made so famous by Romeo and Juliet.
The plot is not originally Shakespeare’s idea even though when anyone thinks of forbidden love they immediately think of this play. The origin of this story is actually one of my favorite parts of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Pyramus and Thisbe, a myth that also appears in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is about a young man and a young woman who speak through a crack in the wall that their houses share. They come from feuding families and must keep their love for each other secret. One night they decided to sneak out of the house to meet and runaway together. Thisbe gets to the meeting point under the mulberry tree first, but seeing a lioness she hides nearby. Pyramus arrives next and sees the lioness with Thisbe’s veil and assumes that the lioness has eaten Thisbe. Pyramus kills himself and when Thisbe finds his body she kills herself with the same sword. That’s the short version. Ovid tells it better so read his, please.
The point is that the plots are the same and I am still waiting for the day when someone does a Romeo and Juliet adaptation that in some way acknowledges the origins of the plot. The metamorphosis in Ovid’s telling is the explanation of why mulberry trees have reddish/purple berries, because they were stained by the blood of the young lovers. I would love to see someone simply add the mulberry tree. With how much Carlo Carlei added to the ending of his film (a wild and crazy change that made me, I must say, believe at one point that he was going to allow Juliet to survive) I think he could have added a small acknowledgement of Ovid and his story.