‘Yet Tell of the Manner of the Wrestling’: Shakespeare as Professional Wrestling Angle

The work of Shakespeare is unique in that four hundred years after being written, his plays still resonate with audiences and are adapted into new artforms as they appear. Ballet, opera, cinema, television, comic books. Every artistic medium as its fair lot of Shakespeare adaptations. Except professional wrestling. For that reason I have hastily cobbled together a little script presenting Act 3 Scene 1 of Romeo and Juliet as a professional wrestling angle to see to what extent it would be satisfactory to present Shakespeare as sports-entertainment. The script if followed by a commentary explaining the means of adaptation utilised.

Black screen. A caption box at the bottom of the screen changes from ‘Chanel 222: 9:00pm The Jeremy Friar Show’ to ‘Channel 223: 9:00pm Made in Verona’ to ‘Channel 224: 8:30pm VWF Showdown’ as a viewer changes channels. The black screen changes to the Verona Wrestling Federation logo. The logo changes to the VWF presenter, Good Ol’ RJ.


Hi, wrestling fans, Good Old RJ here. We’ve got some breaking news just in. (He is handed a sheet of paper with the news on it) It seems Macho Man Mercutio has had to announce his retirement as a result of the injuries he sustained last night at Summer Strife just after his matchup with the Ultybalt Warrior when other members of Team Capulet came to the ring and administered a three on one beat down on the Macho Man. He was taken immediately to a hospital facility in the area where he’s been ever since and he’s just had to announce his retirement from our industry; professional wrestling.

Now of course this feud between Team Montague and Team Capulet goes back a long time; they’ve never liked each other. They’ve traded world championships between them, they’re both two of the most dominant and honoured stables in professional wrestling. And last night at Summer Strife this feud began again in earnest in a brutal way.

We’re now going to go to our General Manager, Jerry ‘The Prince’ Escalus he has this announcement to make.

Jerry Escalus appears, a caption at the bottom of the screen showing his name.

Jerry ‘The Prince’ Escalus.

I’m Jerry ‘The Prince’ Escalus the General Manager of the Verona Wrestling Federation and part of my job, the main part of my job in fact, is to ensure that business runs smoothly and we make money dammit and that doesn’t happen when I have one of my best talents having to retire through injury and so this is why I am putting an end to this feud once and for all we can’t carry on like this. So at Wrestleapoxolypse 30 I am announcing a steel cage match between the Ultybalt Warrior and Ravishing Rick Romeo to end this feud once and for all.

RJ reappears on the screen.


And now I am told we’ve got Ravishing Rick Romeo waiting in the back to give us his reaction to the news both of his stable mate, fellow Team Montague member Macho Man Mercutio’s early retirement from wrestling, and also to the huge matchup just announced at Wrestleapoxolypse 30.

A wrestler in a lucha libre mask appears on the screen. A caption below him says ‘Ravishing Rick Romeo’.

Ravishing Rick Romeo.

The Ultybalt Warrior triumphant while Macho Man Mercutio lies in a hospital bed in retirement. You have awoken a fire eyed fury in me and at Wrestleapoxolypse you will feel that fury. I have asked for the fight to be made a career vs career match so one of us will be joining Mercutio soon in the old wrestler’s retirement home. He, Mercutio, that taught the spotlights to burn bright. So whatchagonna do, brother, when Montagueamania runs wild on you?

Rick Romeo cups his ears to the crowd in his trademark style before tearing his shirt in half.

Black screen again, caption changes to ‘Channel 225: 9:00pm Jo Frost Super Nurse’ and then to ‘Channel 226: 9:15pm Stephen Fry’s Paris’ as the viewer continues flicking through television channels.

The adaptation of Romeo and Juliet was intended to move the hypertext far from the hypotext but to retain at its core a palimpsestuous relationship between Romeo and Mercutio. The hypertext adapts Act Three Scene One of Romeo and Juliet; with lines 84 – 110 being recounted by RJ, a character whose name is a play on the WWE character JR and the initials of the base text’s title; and Ravishing Rick Romeo’s promo being an adaptation of lines 124 – 131. The script represented part of a televised professional wrestling show, along the lines of WWE Raw (1993). This was established through the use of peritextual information in the form of changing information boxes showing television channel’s details to demonstrate a person changing channel. Everything the audience sees is being filtered through this extra diagetic character’s eyes. The adaptation consists of interviews with two characters, each introduced by a presenter. In the generic convention, these interviews are used to move a storyline along, showing reactions to previous fights and anticipation of upcoming fights. There is no actual wrestling involved in the adaptation. This again adheres to the generic conventions of televised wrestling, in which actual wrestling is kept to a minimum and instead the importance of character motivation is emphasised.

Further generic conventions recognised are in the actions and names of the wrestlers. Rick Romeo’s actions at the end of his promo are a reference to Hulk Hogan and his trademark mannerisms (Fritz & Murray, 2006, p. 295). The alliterative names of Macho Man Mercutio and Ravishing Rick Romeo were utilised because of the ubiquity of such names in professional wrestling (TV Tropes, 2014); Macho Man Randy Savage, Ravishing Rick Romeo being the two adapted examples. Professional wrestling has made use of authority figures, sometimes called commissioners or general managers. These characters exist to create matches and to help storylines evolve. In order to explore the importance of Prince Escalus to the base text and the adaptation I developed the character of Jerry ‘The Prince’ Escalus as a combination of real life wrestler Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler and Prince Escalus, with the royal title becoming a wrestling gimmick. In both texts the characters exist to try to control the destructive aspects of the feud. In Romeo and Juliet these elements are of the deaths of Tybalt and Mercutio in Act 3 Scene 1, while in the adaptation it is the retirements of wrestlers. It is debatable how much authority the character has in either text as in the hypotext he is listened to and treated with respect, although his threats of reprimands could not prevent the deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt (Madison, 1995, p. 156.), and in the hypertext Jerry Escalus is able to create matches which the wrestlers have to participate in, however, Rick Romeo modifies the match to a career vs career match, another generic convention, going against the express intentions of Jerry Escalus in creating the match.

Because of the focus on males and male to male relationships in wrestling (Hackett, 2010), I excised Juliet entirely. Instead the relationship between Romeo and Mercutio became the main driving emotion for Romeo. In a similar way to Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet (1968), the homoerotic nature of the relationship between Romeo and Mercutio (Schalkwyk, 2011, p. 126) was explored. Through misprision the text was reinterpreted, as language Romeo uses for Juliet, ‘Oh, she doth teach the torches to burn bright’ (Act 1, Scene 5, line 43) was instead appropriated for use by Rick Romeo when talking about Macho Man Mercutio. Further tools of adaptation were utilised in this section as the change from torches to spotlights was a movement of proximation. The height of emotion displayed by Romeo for Mercutio in the base text is commonplace in the world of professional wrestling as Roland Barthes (Barthes, 2009) recognised. It is common in wrestling for revenge to be sought, and for sacrifices to be made in the name of honouring male relationships. By focusing on Ravishing Rick Romeo’s desire for revenge in the male exclusive arena of professional wrestling, the motives of the Romeo character of the base text are examined. He initially refused to fight Tybalt out of honour towards his wife and her family (Act 3, Scene 1, line 70) but soon after ignored this aspect of his relationship towards Juliet. Juliet became absent in Romeo’s motivation in the base text and so could be quite comfortably removed from the adapted text and still retain the desire for revenge.

Further language that was adapted includes ‘strife’ (Prol 8) and ‘a plague on both your houses’ (Act 3, Scene 1, line 92). These became the basis of names for wrestling events and were combined with the specific and generic words used in professional wrestling. Strife was combined with the specific event Summerslam(1988) to create Summerstrife, while the often misquoted pox was used in place of plague to create Wrestleapoxolypse. Intended as a pun on wrestle-apocolypse, this is not an actual event but a name which adheres to the naming conventions of professional wrestling events, emphasising the destructive nature of the art form. By utilising the misquoted word pox, a further level of discourse was inserted to the adaptation which hints at its constructed nature in a metafictional manner. The transgeneric nature of these event names cements the work in both the language of the hypotext and also the schematic language of the genre of professional wrestling.

Issues over the sanctity of the base text became clear during the exercise. Romeo and Juliet is a highly labile work as Shakespeare’s themes are universal (Thompson, 2011, p. 21) and can become successful in disparate mediums. Any narrative form can reshape Shakespeare to work in its own medium and rather than violate the base text, it celebrates it.

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