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Shakespeare & Beyond

Drawing Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet. Paul Glenshaw.
Romeo and Juliet. Paul Glenshaw.

Romeo and Juliet. Paul Glenshaw.

This is the third post in a series by artist Paul Glenshaw about drawing the bas-reliefs by sculptor John Gregory on the front of the Folger Shakespeare Library building. The series examines the bas-reliefs one by one; each sculpture depicts a scene from a different Shakespeare play. Today’s post is about the bas-relief of a scene from Romeo and Juliet.

Henry Folger originally wanted this scene to show Romeo wooing Juliet at her window. After he died, John Gregory wrote to Paul Cret, the building’s architect, that the six-by-six-foot format of the reliefs could not accommodate the two full-size figures; he was pleased that Mrs. Folger had agreed to this scene instead. He later wrote to Mrs. Folger, “I was delighted to hear that Juliet makes a good impression, she was a hard girl to bring up.”

After I finished all the intricacies and fussy details of drawing Midsummer, I looked over to my next target, Romeo and Juliet, with a sense of relief. How much easier it looked. I wouldn’t have to draw any leaves. Just three figures in a row, boom, boom, boom. How wrong I was. By drawing this sculpture, I learned with humility how nuanced John Gregory’s storytelling is—and how much I had to learn about the story itself.

The scene Gregory depicts is from Act III, Sc. 5. It’s the last moment Romeo and Juliet share together alive, an excruciating, beautiful, terrible moment of letting go. The romantic timeline is so compressed in Romeo and Juliet—they meet on a Sunday evening, get married on Monday afternoon, and then die that Thursday—that each moment the two doomed lovers connect is profound and fleeting. Gregory gives us arguably the most potent moment of all: just after their one and only night together, and just before or just after their last kiss. As the night gives way to dawn, they linger before they part forever.


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