I enjoyed working on my last Shakespeare book cover so much, I decided to keep on with another cover idea that I've been kicking around for a long time, but never completed: Romeo and Juliet.
I saw the play again this past summer in the park with my friend and fellow illustrator, Julia Sverchuk. She is a big supporter of the New York Classical Theatre, and always does a beautiful job drawing their performances on location. They put on the play outside in the park with characteristic verve. What struck me about the play was for all Romeo and Juliet talked about love, they BARELY KNEW EACH OTHER! And when I came home rolling my eyes about hormonal teenagers, Greg reminded me that it didn't matter. They were fated to fall in love, and fated to die (I hope I'm not spoiling it for you guys).
And when I read back into one of my medieval art books that in the setting of the play, I found that in 14th century Verona (and even in 16th century England, when it was written), the prevailing belief was that your destiny really was written in the stars (hence "star-crossed"). Nothing happened that wasn't fated already. So that's why Romeo and Juliet are tiny, tiny figures in my book cover, whose lives are lived out under the spinning, cosmic arbiters of their fates. They're also small to bring home how their lives are determined by the enmity of their families, who have divided Verona into two factions, and can only see in a limited palette of black and white. If Romeo and Juliet is not as much about the power of romantic love as much as fate, I think Shakespeare is making a case for civic unity as the foundation of any personal joy. The fomenters of disunity endanger their own loved ones in their feud, as the Capulets and Montagues learn to their heartbreak.
Thinking about the type, I found this beautiful book of prints from woodcuts and engraved plates first published in 1601 in Nuremberg by Paul Franck. There are several alphabets in the book, each more swirly and mind-blowing than the last!
Their whorls and swirls reminded me of the witty wordplay (and perhaps swordplay) of Mercutio and even Romeo himself. I thought I could take these elaborate letterforms and soften them for a more hand drawn (and romantic) feeling, while keeping a (loose) reference to the Renaissance timeframe of the play's creation. The type allowed me to introduce some of that romance back into the cover since I suppose, against all reason, that we will continue to think (and market) Romeo and Juliet as "romantic!"