My original outline for Still Star-Crossed (the book)
Still Star-Crossed (the show) ended last night. I enjoyed it so much! It looked beautiful. The cast were all fantastic. And it was more faithful to the book than I expected, but still had a lot of twists and turns. If you ever have a chance to see a world-class group of writers and actors take your characters (OK, some of them were Shakespeare’s) out for a spin, I recommend it.
It was also lovely to see how many fans loved the show as much as I did. I’m as frustrated as you guys are that the show ended on a cliffhanger (I’m just another fan! I don’t know what would have happened next season), so here’s a weird little easter egg you might enjoy: This is my original outline for Still Star-Crossed (then called Verona). Back then I envisioned it as a trilogy. Weirdly, Book 2 ended more or less where the show did last night. A LOT of other stuff also changed. (Livia was gonna turn evil? I had no memory of that till I dug this out.)
Enjoy! (Or keep scrolling. It’s long.)
Verona, Book 1
It’s the summer after Romeo and Juliet’s deaths and the city of Verona is a powder keg of fury and grief. Though their families have vowed peace, not every Montague and Capulet forgives so easily. They are obeying the truce – for now. But sooner or later one of the angry young nobles stalking the streets looking for trouble is going to find it.
Lady Rosaline of House Capulet is determined to leave such squabbles behind her for good. Her father was killed eight years ago in one of the endless duels between the families, and ever since, Rosaline, now seventeen, has planned to go into a convent where her family’s infighting can’t touch her. She and her younger sister Livia are admired beauties of Verona, but hold little social standing as their parents’ deaths left them relatively poor. The death of her cousins Juliet and Tybalt only cements Rosaline’s resolve to take the veil as soon as she can provide for Livia. That’s the only way she can escape her family – and besides, she’s secretly sure that there’s only one man she could ever love, and he could never be hers.
But two weeks after her cousin’s death, Rosaline is summoned to the great house of the Capulets. Before she can get there, she’s accosted by a gang of young Montagues at her cousin’s tomb. Before she can escape, she’s caught between warring groups of Montague and Capulet men. Her rescue comes from an unexpected quarter: Benvolio of House Montague.
Benvolio is lost. With his two best friends, he knew who he was: his cousin Romeo was the leader, Mercutio the clown, and Benvolio was the quiet one, the sensible one, the best with a sword but the slowest to use it. Now that they’re dead he’s completely unmoored. He spends his days stalking the streets of the city, hand on his sword, not sure if he wants to prevent fights or start one. When he hears a scream and finds his own kinsmen attacking a young Capulet woman, he has no choice but to rescue her – but he isn’t pleased when he finds out who she is: Rosaline, Romeo’s first love, someone who could have prevented all the strife that followed if only she’d accepted his advances.
The two part, not much pleased with each other, only to find they share a destination: the house of Lord Capulet. Because of the bloodbath, Rosaline and Benvolio are suddenly the highest-ranking young members of their respective houses, and Lord Capulet and Montague have decided that the best way to prove that they mean to make peace is to marry another Montague and Capulet together.
Benvolio, struggling to live up to his sudden new responsibilities in the family, obeys his uncle and agrees to the match. But Rosaline refuses, though the prince himself orders her to do it. She and Benvolio have a blistering fight and she leaves.
Meanwhile, strange things are happening in Verona. The great families continue to profess peace, but mysterious insults begin cropping up. The statue of Juliet at her tomb is scrawled with WHORE. A hanged effigy appears in the town square saying DEATH TO ALL MONTAGUES. No one seems to know who is sending the messages, but tempers on both sides begin once more to boil.
Rosaline refuses to leave her house. She won’t see her uncle, or any other Montague or Capulet. She does admit Juliet’s former nurse, who minded all the girls when they were small, out of sympathy, but won’t go with her to the Capulets’ house. When summoned, she sends her sister Livia to her uncle’s house to claim she’s sick. While Livia is there, she stumbles on a surprise: her aunt, Lady Capulet, supposedly bedridden with grief, has actually been very busy. It seems Juliet’s erstwile fiance Paris, supposedly killed by Romeo, was actually only wounded. Lady Capulet spirited him away before anyone could learn the truth and she’s now nursing him back to health in a secret chamber. Lady Capulet swears Livia to secrecy, telling her that if the Montagues knew Paris was alive, they’d kill him. Flighty, romantic Livia is already half in love with Paris, and she agrees to keep the secret if she can come and help nurse him. But Paris is under the thrall of Lady Capulet, whom he calls his angel.
Rosaline goes to Father Lawrence and asks him to bring her to a convent. Lawrence, who is out of favor because of his role in the Romeo affair, goes to the Prince and tells him her plans.
The Prince’s response is to hold a ball. It’s in his sister’s honor, and he knows Rosaline can’t ignore the invitation without giving offense, because years ago when Rosaline’s mother was the Prince’s mother’s lady-in-waiting, they were all playmates. All of Verona’s high society turns up at the ball, so they all witness Rosaline leaving with the Prince when he calls her away for a private audience. That would not be a problem, except that they don’t come back. The Prince proceeds to get Rosaline drunk in his private chambers so she won’t notice he’s kept her away from the party for a scandalously long time. But it backfires in an unexpected way.
Once she has half a bottle of wine in her, icy, obstinate Rosaline is gone, replaced by a playful passionate girl who blindsides the prince by admitting she’s adored him for years and kissing him. As he forgets himself and begins to kiss her back, she gets woozy and he puts her chastely to bed.
The next day, he coldly reveals his plan: She, an unmarried girl, has just spent the night in his house. If she goes along with his demand that she marry Benvolio, he will let it be known that she spent the night quite properly with his sister. If she doesn’t, he will say nothing. Her honor will be ruined and neither she nor her sister will ever make a decent match.
The prince forces himself to go through with this, even though he’s beginning to feel something for her. Rosaline agrees, of course – she has no choice – but he can see her feelings for him die.
Rosaline outwardly agrees to the match, but in truth she’s more determined than ever to escape the vipers’ nest of Verona nobility. She goes to her “fiance” and strikes a deal: Neither of them truly want this match, so they will get to the bottom of who’s making trouble between the families and make it stop. If they can make real, lasting peace between the two families, there will be no need for their marriage, and they can both be on their way.
What they don’t know is that it’s Lady Capulet who’s behind the troubles. It’s she who defaced her own daughter’s statue. Rosaline and Benvolio arrive just after the statues have been defaced a second time, and Rosaline recognizes a mark left behind in the paint: it’s from the beaded train of a dress. The saboteur is a woman.
Livia and Paris, meanwhile, are being drawn deeper and deeper into Lady Capulet’s plans. Paris has begun leaving her house in disguise, picking fights with Montagues, including Benvolio. Livia, angry over the way the Montagues “attacked” him, goes to the Prince and tells him that Benvolio and the Montagues are behind the attacks.
Benvolio denies this. He believes, because of a note that he’s intercepted from Livia (though he doesn’t know it’s her who lost it), that someone in the Capulet household is behind what’s been happening, but because he’s been accused himself, no one believes him.
Things really take a turn for the worse when the nurse turns up dead. Of course it was Lady Capulet, but since the nurse has a note thrown on her body saying “thus to all Capulets” scrawled on a Montague crest, it looks bad for the Montagues. In fact, the crest was stolen by Livia, who didn’t know what it would be used for.
The families withdraw within their respective walls. Livia and Rosaline are sequestered within the Capulets’ house with the other women of the family. Rosaline’s engagement, of course, is no more, but she uncovered enough evidence with Benvolio – and she’s grown to trust him enough – not to quite believe the charges against him.
Rosaline is sleeping in her cousin’s former chamber when a desperate Benvolio climbs the balcony (yep) to tell her he’s innocent and to beg her to help him clear his name. She leaves with him, not before being seen by a sleepy Livia.
Rosaline and Benvolio flee the city and go to Father Lawrence to beg him for help. He’s withdrawn to a monastery some miles away, but Benvolio is convinced that he knows something about the true culprit. He admits he does, but can’t say what it is (Livia confessed her theft of the crest to him, so he knows it was Lady Capulet). His discomfiture is evidence enough to raise their suspicions.
On their way back to the city, a storm forces them to stop for the night, and they’re accosted by brigands. The “bandits” are actually led by the Capulets’ former servant Peter, who decided to seek his own fortune on the road. An exhilarating escape from their clutches leads to a kiss for Benvolio and Rosaline.
Afterward, they return to the city to find it in an even worse uproar than when they left. Livia has raised the alarm that her sister was abducted by a Montague, and the two families are now in open war.
Paris finally reveals himself, and challenges Benvolio. Rosaline reunites with Livia and finds out about the crest that she stole. After telling Livia how it was used, Livia admits that it was Lady Capulet who took it from her. Rosaline and Livia bring the evidence before the prince, who orders Lady Capulet exiled.
Though badly wounded, both Paris and Benvolio survive the duel. The two families once more establish an uneasy peace, but they agree that the forced marriage isn’t a good idea. Rosaline and Benvolio’s engagement is dissolved, and they both discover they’re not quite as relieved about that as they expected to be.
The prince apologizes to Rosaline, and reveals that he persuaded the two families not to press the issue of the marriage. She forgives him for what he did to her before, but still isn’t sure she trusts him. He promises to win her trust back – and, privately, decides he’s going to court her.
With Lady Capulet gone, Rosaline is now the mistress of the extended Capulet family. She decides a nunnery isn’t for her, and that she will stick around. Paris, angry and confused, leaves town to follow Lady Capulet, despite Livia’s pleadings that he stay.
Benvolio realizes that he’s in love with Rosaline, but when he goes to see her, the prince is already there. Knowing it’s suicide to compete with the city’s ruler for her hand, he decides not to tell her how he feels.
Rosaline has come farther than she could have dreamed possible. She is the toast of Verona society, she is the de facto head of the Capulet household, and she’s practically engaged to the prince. But she’s not as happy as she ought to be.
For one thing, her friend Benvolio has entirely turned his back on her. She doesn’t understand why he refuses to see her, or why he seems so angry when they do meet.
For another, her adored sister Livia has been acting strangely. Rosaline tends to think of Livia as a child, and never realized that she was in love with the exiled Paris. Livia blames Rosaline and Benvolio for Paris’s exile, and she wants revenge. She forges some documents to make it appear that Rosaline has been conspiring against the Prince. Rosaline is forced into exile herself (so much exile! But, you know, Shakespeare), and flees the city.
No sooner has Rosaline left than Verona comes under attack. A mysterious army surrounds the city and lays seige. Rosaline is presumed killed in the opening battle. Ever-loyal Benvolio is made general of the prince’s armies, but assumes the position somewhat reluctantly, since he blames the Prince for Rosaline’s death. A brutal, desperate war begins.
Rosaline, meanwhile, is not dead. When she finds herself in the midst of a war, she disguises herself as a boy and joins the enemy army, hoping to learn something that will help her city. She finds that it’s a ragtag group of mercenaries hired with the promise of plundering wealthy Verona. No one seems to know who the leadership is. Rosaline falls in with Peter, the Capulets’ former servant turned bandit turned mercenary, as she tries to get closer to the army’s leadership.
Eventually she finds that the army is being led by a trio of angry traitors: Paris, Lady Capulet, and Iago of Venice. Paris and Lady Capulet are motivated by revenge, Iago by plunder. Rosaline follows them when the army feints a retreat to Padua. When she’s wounded, she takes refuge with a relative who lives there, Beatrice of Messina, whose husband (Benedick) visits Iago with Rosaline as his “page” so that she can steal Paris’s battle plans.
Rosaline takes Paris’s battle plans and races back to the city with them. She and Benvolio, having each thought the other dead, have an emotional reunion in an army tent. They admit they’re in love with each other and decide to get married if they survive.
Rosaline and Benvolio deliver the battle plans to the prince, but they don’t realize they’re only a ruse: Paris’s true secret weapon is Livia, who opens the gates of the city sewers so Paris’s army can pour in and overwhelm the city. The prince is captured, and most of Verona’s army is cut off outside. Dun dun DUN!
Verona is under occupation. Those of its nobles who kowtow to “Governor” Iago are left more or less alone, but those who maintain loyalty to the prince are exiled or killed, their lands and houses seized. The mercenaries run roughshod over Verona.
To give a semblance of legitimacy to the occupation, Livia and Paris are married and put in as rulers. Livia is deliriously happy at first - Paris is all she’s ever wanted. But he’s still under Lady Capulet’s thrall.
Rosaline has, to all appearances, become an empty-headed young noblewoman, content to go to balls and be Verona’s social queen as though the city isn’t burning around them. In fact, she and Benvolio are secretly working to free the prince and rout the enemy from the city. They, along with Friar Lawrence, are leading the resistance.
As Iago’s rule grows more brutal, even the mercenaries become discontented. Rosaline uses her friendship with Peter to start to sow division in the ranks.
When Livia realizes that Paris has been sleeping with Lady Capulet all along, she decides to help Rosaline. Together they manage to free the Prince. Paris and Benvolio fight again; this time Paris is killed.
Verona’s army returns to the city. The mercenaries, most of whom have no interest in trying to hold the city, flee. The prince captures Iago. Lady Capulet runs; Livia tries to stop her, and Lady Capulet stabs her. She dies in Rosaline’s arms. Trapped, Lady Capulet commits suicide at her daughter’s grave.
Order is restored in the city, and the Prince, back in his place and assured of Rosaline’s loyalty, assumes they’ll be getting married as they planned. Rosaline is torn - she loves Benvolio, but she cares for the prince too, and since House Montague’s fortunes suffered so badly during the war, Benvolio’s been pushing her away because he doesn’t think she deserves a poverty-stricken husband.
But the prince is also refusing to give Livia burial in her family’s vault - despite Rosaline’s pleadings, he insists her body be buried by the road outside the city with the other dead from Iago’s army. She finally gets her way by threatening to kill herself if he doesn’t allow her to bury her only family properly. When Benvolio, unaware of all this controversy, comes to lay a rose on Livia’s grave, Rosaline bursts into tears, throws herself at him, and insists on going to find Friar Lawrence right then so she can drag him home and seal the deal. Happy ending!