Choosing to explore a play like Romeo and Juliet famous for its original recasting of an age-old love-and-death theme in ways that have survived the centuries, superseding in the collective memory all other competing stories (its narrative progenitors included), suggests an urge to look at it with an awareness of its irreducibility to mono-dimensional issues. It means claiming that the play exceeds its romanticized readings and its own intrinsic potential for sentimentality; it also means vindicating textual, conceptual, and performative complexity while acknowledging the play’s capacity to stretch beyond the boundaries of all hypertrophies of subjectivity to relocate the play within a wider context of social, political, and cultural dynamics, underscoring dialectics as the unavoidable core of its signifying power. This introduction tackles the notion of ‘civic Shakespeare’ through Romeo and Juliet as a more specific category than political, popular, historical, and cultural Shakespeare, while at the same time showing that it shares some of those features. By discussing the relation between theatre, performance and city space, and offering an overview of recent criticsim on the play, it lays the ground for a thorough discussion of civic theatre.
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