Juliet Capulet is one of literature’s most enduring heroines. But what if she were transformed from the tragic victim of a star-crossed love affair into the dynamic, independent protagonist of her own story? That’s exactly what Conor McCreery, Anthony Del Col, Andy Belanger and Corin Howell have done in Kill Shakespeare, whose first trade is available now. I had the chance to catch up with Conor about his new and intriguing take on one of the Bard’s most famous ladies.
Sarah: I really love what you’re doing with Juliet. You’re showing us how she goes from a character who’s defined by her relationships with men (namely Romeo, of course) and grows into someone who’s far more independent. Can you talk a little about her character arc?
Conor: When we meet Juliet, she’s doing something I think a lot of teenage girls would recognize – having a screaming fight with her mother.
She SAYS she’s furious because she wants freedom, and a chance to go out in Verona on her own, without escort, and she accuses her Mother of not trusting her. The reality of what Juliet wants is much darker. She’s furious over what has happened to Romeo, and she wants someone to pay, but deep down she thinks SHE’S the one that needs to be punished. Into this increasingly self-destructive young woman’s life comes ANOTHER death, but this death is a murder, and unless Juliet can figure out what’s going on, she’s going to be the next victim.
The story is really about how Juliet takes all that passion she has, and finds a way to channel it outward, instead of focusing it at herself. Because by focusing it inward she is pushing herself towards the very fate she avoided in her play.
Sarah: I also really like the dynamic between Juliet and Othello. There’s some tension, but also a certain respect. I think they recognize one another as being cut from the same cloth — they’re both their own people, and they won’t settle for the roles society has laid out for them.
Conor: SPOILER ALERT, Sarah. Geez!
I’ve always thought of those two as very similar characters in the Kill Shakespeare universe. Both of them had a hand in their love’s death, but neither is totally, or even truly, responsible. Except, how do you tell yourself THAT when you go to sleep at night? So I think you have two characters that aren’t ready for forgiveness, and are consumed with either anger or self-loathing (or both). And, as you said, they’re both outside the center of society, as a Moor and a woman, neither is respected fully for what they can accomplish.
I like the idea that these two people, who both have a lot of love in them, are able to find each other, and to use that tenderness to take care of the other one, which ultimately allows them to start to move on themselves.
Plus, they’re both pretty badass.
Sarah: So you’re reimagining one of the most famous heroines in literature. What were the aspects of Shakespeare’s original Juliet that you wanted to hold on to, and what did you want to change or evolve?
Conor: I was interested in sort of “redeeming” Juliet. We’ve had a lot of fans reach out to us through the first four books of the Kill Shakespeare series and tell us how much they love what we’ve done with a lot of our characters — but Juliet has struck the deepest cords. People tell us how much they love this “new” Juliet, but also how much the Juliet of the play frustrates them. She seems, to modern eyes, like a weak woman in a lot of ways. She gets dragged into this romance with Romeo, who, besides looking fine, doesn’t do a lot to woo her. She is bullied by her father. She ends up killing herself over Romeo, a guy she just met…it all feels too dramatic, and not necessarily like a woman you’d want to aspire to be.
When you look at the context of the play, Juliet is a LOT cooler, and tougher than she gets credit for. In her time she wasn’t legally a person, she was her father’s property. Shakespeare makes a point of showing us that her dad has a violent personality. So when Juliet says no to the guy HE wants her to marry and then shacks up with his great enemy, that isn’t just teenage rebellion — that’s a life and death situation. Juliet’s father can LEGALLY kill her, and in that time honor killings in Christian households was common, so it’s not an idle threat. There are a lot of other examples of why Juliet is tougher than we give her credit for — not the least HOW she kills herself — but that’s a good one for why Juliet is more impressive than most people think.
Because of that gap between who she is, and how we see her, I wanted to give the KS Juliet an adventure that would showcase that this young woman was a force of nature. But, I didn’t want her to lose what we think of first when we think “Juliet” — that she’s a lover. It might not always be romantic, but Juliet DOES love the people around her. She’s able to make deep connections with them — and that love, or humanism, combined with her passion and determination, is ultimately what lets her carry the day.
Sarah: Without giving too much away, what can we look forward to in future issues?
Conor: Well, the plan is to get back into the main story arc of Kill Shakespeare. When we left our heroes last, Titus Andronicus’ armies are getting ready to sweep down and destroy everything Juliet and Hamlet built. Those two still need to fully deal with the child growing in Juliet’s belly, and the question of who is the Father. It’s definitely time for Lady Macbeth and Romeo to pop-up again, to make things even worse for everyone. Oh, and Othello is still mad, and Shakespeare might be dying… so we gotta deal with that too.
So, you know, nothing much…