“From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life,
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife.”
—the Chorus from the Prologue to Romeo and Juliet
Today, April 23, 2016 marks the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare (1564–1616). Some scholars also believe it to be the date he was born. No records of his birth exist; but he was baptized on the 26th of April, and the custom at the time was to baptize a child three days after birth. To celebrate the occasion Walk About New York highlights a Shakespeare-related sight.
“But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief
That thou, her maid, art far more fair than she. . . .
The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars
As daylight doth a lamp; her eye in heaven
Would through the airy region stream so bright
That birds would sing and think it were not night.”
Standing guard outside Central Park’s Delacorte Theatre are two larger-than-life-size bronze sculptures. One is Prospero and Miranda, from The Tempest; the other is the ill-fated lovers, Romeo and Juliet. Romeo is shown bending over Juliet, who has thrown back her head and arched her back to receive a kiss from her true love. The simple lines of the sculpture emphasize their youthful innocence. The characters are, after all, mere teenagers.
“O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name,
Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.”
The Delacorte Theater, which opened in 1962, is the summer venue for the Public Theater’s Free Shakespeare in the Park Festival, founded by Joseph Papp (1921–1991). The Delacorte’s opening performance was The Merchant of Venice, directed by Mr. Papp, and starring George C. Scott, James Earl Jones, and William Devane. The Romeo and Juliet sculpture was conserved in 1985 by the Central Park Conservancy, which maintains and manages Central Park, through an endowment established by Mr. Delacorte’s heirs.
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose,
By any other word would smell as sweet.”
The sculptor Milton Hebald (1917–2015) created each of the bronzes in front of the Delacorte Theater, both of which stand on simple granite pedestals. A casting from the same mold that produced Central Park’s Romeo and Juliet can be found in the rose garden at the Hollenbeck Palms Retirement Community in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles. The Central Park version was cast in 1978 by the Spartaco Dionesi Foundry in Rome. It was donated by magazine publisher, turned philanthropist George T. Delacorte, who was very generous to Central Park. The Tempest is also a gift from him; and he donated the funds to build the theater that is named for him. He also gave the Alice in Wonderland bronze in 1959, and the Delacorte Clock at the Central Park Zoo in 1965. Mr. Hebald also sculpted the 1979 bust of Richard Tucker that is in the small park named for the opera singer across from Lincoln Center’s Juilliard School.
“For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”
— Escalus, Prince of Verona, speaks the closing lines of the tragedy
Our Central Park Walking Tour includes this bronze of Romeo and Juliet and the Delacorte Theater. Take our tour; know more! Click the title of last year’s tribute to Shakespeare, Finding Shakespeare in Surprising Places to read it.
ALL PHOTOS AND TEXT, EXCEPT NOTED QUOTES, © THE AUTHOR 2016
Thanks to your repetition of this image, I now feel well-acquainted with it. It is a little short of my own mental image of the lovers of so long ago. So modern! But the information about Papp’s achievement is most welcome. It is a grand tradition.