By Laura Wallace, Megan Coote and Juliette Tulloch
This week, in celebration of National Shakespeare Day on 23 April, the Cover Evaluation team are taking a look at several designs for William Shakespeare’s classic tragedy Romeo and Juliet. This play is still one of Shakespeare’s most popular pieces of work, and it can be particularly interesting to see designers’ varied interpretations of classic pieces of literature. Here are some of our favourites…
Manuja Waldia’s cover design for Romeo and Juliet is refreshingly unique. Waldia has designed a series of covers for Shakespeare titles, including Macbeth, Othello and Hamlet, which were commissioned by Penguin Books. The colours of the covers represent whether the play is a tragedy, comedy or history; the tragedies have a black background, comedies have a light blue background and histories have a maroon background. And of course, with Romeo and Juliet being one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies, the background colour of this cover is black. Waldia’s geometric design is distinctive and eye-catching.
Waldia has included two coffins side by side on the front cover, one for Romeo and the other for Juliet, the bottle of poison and the dagger indicating the lovers’ fate. The images of the heart and the coffins represent two main themes of the play: love and death. This is an interesting and novel design for the cover, modernising the book for our bookshelves.
The 2022 Wordsworth Collector’s Edition of Romeo and Juliet is beautiful, with a rich colour palette and multiple references to the content of Shakespeare’s well-known tragedy. A clear vase surrounded by fallen petals sits in the centre, holding two deep-red roses. This is a clear reference to the famous quote in Act II, Scene II: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” This is a quote which even those who haven’t read Romeo and Juliet would likely recognise, making this the perfect focal point for the design. Two masks, one in midnight blue and the other in gold, reference the masquerade ball, a pivotal scene in which Romeo wears a mask to go undetected to the Capulet ball, where he meets Juliet. This is the place their tale of love and tragedy commences.
The blue mask is scattered with golden stars, containing multiple associations to the play’s content, with Juliet and Romeo being described as “star-crossed lovers”, a term coined by Shakespeare. A second reference comes in Act II, Scene II when Romeo compares Juliet’s eyes to “bright stars”, offering an additional symbolic interpretation. The background is minimalist, with a spotlight shining on the central vase (an association to theatre), and the touches of gold give this edition a feeling of luxury. The simplicity of the cover design, alongside references to crucial plot moments, makes this the perfect edition for long-time lovers of Shakespeare's classic.
This 2016 Norton Critical Edition of Romeo and Juliet takes a more symbolic approach to its design. In many editions of the play, designers sought to focus on one key theme, e.g. a historical painting, a dagger, duplicate coffins or faces filled with anguish. This edition, however, takes a modern approach. Unlike other Norton Critical Editions, which tend to use stills from stage adaptations, this edition pictures two love notes on a graffitied background.
The Arden Shakespeare’s cover design of Shakespeare’s popular tragedy is striking to the eye. Bloomsbury’s 2012 edition of Romeo and Juliet strikes the balance between sensuality and danger with the colour palette and depiction of the two star-crossed lovers. The play, being rich in symbolism and character development, leaves designers with almost too many angles to choose from when creating their designs. The 2012 edition captures the lovers in an embrace, but chooses to cut off the top half of their faces, emphasising the theme of secrecy and anonymity in the play. Furthermore, it strips the protagonists of any recognisable features of their houses, demonstrating that at its core, this play is about two young people destined to love one another. The warm colour palette symbolises an intense love, as well as the haze of blood that follows them, from the death of Tybalt to the lovers’ suicides.