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To help you look at any scene in Romeo and Juliet and begin to analyse it, it’s important to ask questions about how it's written and why.
Shakespeare’s plays are driven by their characters and every choice that’s made about words, structure and rhythm tells you something about the person, their relationships or their mood in that moment. You should always try and ask yourself, like actors do, why is the character saying what they are saying or doing what they are doing? What is their motive?
Just like Detectives, we need to look for clues to help us answer those questions each time and below you can find some interrogation techniques we use to analyse text, introduced by the actors that use them.
Analysing Romeo’s Language
Romeo is a young man in love. This is something which is demonstrated in the choices he makes but more importantly in the language he uses. You can see this when he explains to Friar Laurence why death would be better than banishment and being apart from Juliet in Act 3 Scene 3. Here, Romeo uses antithesis to try and explain his feelings.
In this video Nia Lynn talks about how characters can use antithesis to make sense of their world. Nia and the actors use a speech of Juliet’s but see if you can use what you hear to understand Romeo.
What can you find by looking at the same things in Romeo's speech?
Shakespeare gives characters antithesis for lots of different reasons but characters are usually trying to work out something in their mind or resolve a confusing issue.
Questions to consider
- What type of opposites are mentioned? What do these tell us about Romeo’s state of mind?
- What do we learn about Romeo’s perception of being within Verona and being outside of it? Why would he think or feel this?
- How has Romeo used antithesis to make his argument? Does what he says make sense? Also, look at how Friar Laurence has used antithesis to counter Romeo’s arguments.
Using Nia’s strategies we’ve started to look at what the language Romeo uses tells us about him in Act 3 Scene 3. See if you can complete the grid and finish four points which explain what this speech reveals about Romeo's character at this point in the play.
Evidence Select an option
Explanation Click text to edit
Evidence Click text to edit
Point Click text to edit
What else can I do to explore Romeo’s language?
- Try applying these same strategies to all of Romeo’s speeches to look at any changes in his language and behaviour. In what other ways has he used antithesis? Has he used it positively?
- How does Romeo talk about love at the start of the play, when speaking about Rosaline? Is the way he talks to Juliet and about Juliet any different?
- What other techniques does Shakespeare use in Romeo’s language? How does this affect the way in which we understand his character and journey through the play?
- Keep a record of the images Romeo uses. Romeo uses nocturnal imagery a lot and you can find out more about this in the Analysing the Imagery section. Think about why this might be. Notice in the play when others also start to use the nocturnal imagery.
Analysing the Imagery
As with all Shakespeare’s plays, there are lots of types of imagery used in Romeo and Juliet. It’s a great idea to keep a list of key quotes and examples of these types of imagery in each act and who uses them as you explore the play.
Here are three types of imagery that occur a lot in Romeo and Juliet and are useful to look out for:
- Both Romeo and Juliet compare each other to the sun, moon or stars at various points in the text. In Act 2 Scene 2 Romeo says ‘It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.' In Act 3 Scene 2 Juliet says ‘Take him and cut him out in little stars, / And he will make the face of heaven so fine / That all the world will be in love with night / And pay no worship to the garish sun.’ What does this tell us about how they feel about each other?
- Romeo and Juliet are referred to as ‘Star crossed lovers’ in the opening prologue. Why do you think Shakespeare uses this image?
- How many examples of celestial imagery can you find in the play? Which characters use them and what do they reveal about those characters?
- The world of Verona is one in which the church and Christianity is integral to society. In Romeo and Juliet’s sonnet in Act 1 Scene 5 he refers to her as 'a holy shrine'. In fact, this sonnet uses several religious images including 'saints', 'pilgrims', and 'prayer'.
- Friar Laurence, a religious figure in the play, is given praise and veneration by several characters including Lord Capulet, who says 'this holy Friar, / All our whole city is much bound to him' (Capulet, 4:2), Prince Escalus and the Nurse, who praises his 'learning'. It is because of this that Juliet is so easily able to marry Romeo and plan her escape.
- When Juliet refuses to marry Paris in Act 3 Scene 5 she swears on Saint Peter, saying 'Now, by Saint Peter's Church and Peter too, / He shall not make me there a joyful bride.'
- In Act 2 Scene 2, Juliet wishes night (which has been personified as a ‘sober-suited matron’) to hurry up so she can see Romeo. Conversely, in Act 3 Scene 5 Romeo and Juliet wish night to stay so they can stay together.
- Which scenes take place at night? What do you notice about what happens in them?
- Apart from the wedding scene, all of Romeo and Juliet’s scenes together take place at night.
Take a look at the extract from Act 1 Scene 5. See if you can complete the grid and finish four points which explain what this language shows about their relationship at this point in the play.
Analysing Juliet's relationships
Other than her relationship with Romeo, Juliet has several other important relationships in the play, particularly with Lady Capulet and the Nurse. The dynamic between these three characters is explored in Act 1 Scene 3. Juliet has a different relationship with each of these two women and, in exploring the language they use with each other, there is a lot you can infer about Juliet’s childhood and situation before she meets Romeo.
What can we tell about the relationships between Juliet, Lady Capulet and the Nurse by looking at the language in their first scene together?
Look at the extract from Act 1 Scene 3 and think about the following:
- The differences in the language between the Nurse and Lady Capulet. What kind of images does the Nurse use, as opposed to Juliet’s Mother?
- The ways they address Juliet. Which of them seems more affectionate and how can you tell?
- Who do you think Juliet has a stronger relationship with? Why?
- Both older women like the idea of Juliet marrying Paris. What are their different reasons for being pleased at the match? What does this difference reveal?
- How do the relationships between these characters change throughout the play? What other scenes can you find to back this up?
Using Act 1 Scene 3 and Act 2 Scene 5, look at the way the language is used to let us know about Juliet and the Nurse’s relationship. In Act 2 Scene 5 Juliet waits for the Nurse's return and news from Romeo. See if you can complete the grid and finish four points which explain what these scenes show about their relationship.
What else can I do to explore Juliet’s language?
- Try looking at the way Juliet addresses the characters around her, such as her mother and father. When does she use different types of language with different people?
- What effect does this have?
Analysing the Themes
As with all Shakespeare’s plays, there are lots of themes that appear in Romeo and Juliet. It’s a great idea to keep a list of key quotes and examples of these themes in each act as you go through the play, looking at where they come up and whose language reflects the themes.
Here are three of the themes that can be seen a lot in Romeo and Juliet:
Theme of Love
- Romeo and Juliet explores ‘love’ in lots of different ways, looking at young love and ultimately love’s power to conquer hate. In the opening scene of the play, Romeo is pining for love of Rosaline saying to Benvolio he is ‘Out of her favour where I am in love’ (Romeo, 1:1). In the next scene Capulet tells Paris to ‘…woo her, gentle Paris, get her heart’ (Capulet, 1:2). Later we then see Romeo and Juliet fall in love at first sight and begin to analyse what love really is, particularly when they are forced to separate under difficult circumstances.
- See if you can find a scene in the play that does not refer to love at all. What does this tell you? What are the different ways in which characters talk about love? What does this tell us about each of them?
Theme of Fate
- The fate of the ‘star cross’d lovers’ Romeo and Juliet is described in the prologue, before the play even begins. The idea that the lovers have a pre-destined fate that they have no control over is constantly referred to throughout the play and invites us to think about how much of our choices are free will and how much we are controlled by destiny. This can also be seen in Romeo’s dream before the Capulet ball where he sees ‘some consequence yet hanging in the stars’ (Romeo, 1:4).
- See how many references to the play’s tragic ending and the death of the lovers can you find in Act 1. Why do you think Shakespeare would want to foreground this at the very start of the play? Can you identify any choices that Romeo and Juliet make where their decisions could have altered their fate? Why do you think they take the paths they do in those moments?
Theme of Generations
- The very first thing we learn about the world that Romeo and Juliet is set in is that there is ‘an ancient grudge’ and that ‘ancient’ disagreement between older generations of the Montagues and the Capulets will have an impact on two younger people who ‘mutiny’. This strained relationship between older and younger generations can be seen throughout the play, particularly in the interactions between Juliet and both of her parents as they try to arrange her marriage with Paris and, in the ending of the play, where the death of their children forces both families to change.
- Think of any modern examples, where adults have made decisions that have affected you and your generation. How does that make you feel towards those who have made the decisions? Can you find any evidence from the younger characters in the play, such as Tybalt and Mercutio for example, that suggests how they feel about it? Tybalt seems more angry than Lord Capulet to find Romeo has come to the Capulet ball in Act 1. Why do you think that might be? Why do we see the young people fighting at the start of the play, when the disagreement is an ‘ancient’ one?
Read the extract from Act 3 Scene 5 in which Romeo and Juliet see each other for the last time. See if you can complete the grid and finish four points which explore how Romeo and Juliet’s inevitable fates are referenced in this scene.
The following sheet provides further information on themes in the text.
Romeo and Juliet Themes
You can also print the PEE grids from each of the sections on this page to help students explore the language of central characters and some of the imagery used in more detail.
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Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet Shakescleare Translation
- Downloadable translations of all 37 Shakespeare plays (plus his sonnets).
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Romeo and Juliet Translation Table of Contents
The Shakescleare version of Romeo and Juliet contains the complete original play alongisde a line-by-line modern English translation. Now you can easily understand even the most complex and archaic words and phrases word spoken by Romeo, Juliet, Mercutio, Friar Laurence, the Nurse, Tybalt, and all the Capulets and Montagues, throughout the entire play, including famous quotes like "Wherefore art thou Romeo?" and "Parting is such sweet sorrow / That I shall say good night till it be morrow."
Act 1, Scene 1
Act 1, scene 2, act 1, scene 3, act 1, scene 4, act 1, scene 5, act 2, prologue, act 2, scene 1, act 2, scene 2, act 2, scene 3, act 2, scene 4, act 2, scene 5, act 2, scene 6, act 3, scene 1, act 3, scene 2, act 3, scene 3, act 3, scene 4, act 3, scene 5, act 4, scene 1, act 4, scene 2, act 4, scene 3, act 4, scene 4, act 4, scene 5, act 5, scene 1, act 5, scene 2, act 5, scene 3.
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Shakespeare - Romeo and Juliet - language
Shakespeare is renowned for the language he used and often invented new words. Explore the way he uses rhythm and rhyme, imagery and metaphor and oxymorons and opposites in Romeo and Juliet .
Imagery and metaphor
Imagery in Romeo and Juliet is vivid and often poetic. It adds to the feelings that the characters express and often makes the language of the play beautiful and romantic. For example, when Romeo spots Juliet on her balcony, instead of saying "Oh, she looks nice!" he says ' It is the east, and Juliet is the sun '. This image of Juliet as the sun shows us how bright she appears to him. The sun is necessary for life, so perhaps Romeo is suggesting that Juliet is essential for his life.
Analysis of imagery and metaphor in the play
What does Mercutio suggest in his monologue in Act 1 Scene 4 about the fairy, Queen Mab?
Mercutio’s monologue about the fairy, Queen Mab, is rich with fantastic and dreamlike imagery. He suggests it is foolish to believe in dreams because, like the characters in his speech, they are not real. He says:
MERCUTIO I see Queen Mab hath been with you
Act 2 Scene 4
Soon after Romeo and Juliet meet, Juliet invites him to kiss her. What kind of language do they use to express themselves?
Juliet and Romeo use language connected with religion when they first meet. Juliet says:
JULIET My lips. two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
Act 1 Scene 5
Her lips are ' pilgrims ' and the two teenagers seem to worship love. The ' blush ' suggests that she is nervous about kissing Romeo.
In Act 1 Scene 4, Mercutio describes the fairy, Queen Mab in his speech.
MERCUTIO O then I see Queen Mab hath been with you: She is the fairies' midwife, and she comes In shape no bigger than an agate-stone On the forefinger of an alderman, Drawn with a team of little atomi Over men's noses as they lie asleep. Her chariot is an empty hazel-nut, Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub, Time out a’mind the fairies’ coachmakers: Her wagon-spokes made of long spiders’ legs, The cover of the wings of grasshoppers, The traces of the smallest spider's web, Her collars of the moonshine's wat’ry beams, Her whip of cricket's bone, the lash of film, Her waggoner a small grey-coated gnat, Not half so big as a round little worm Pricked from the lazy finger of a maid. And in this state she gallops night by night Through lovers' brains, and then they dream of love
Which parts of creatures make up Queen Mab’s carriage?
Spider’s web and legs, grasshopper’s wings, and cricket’s bone.
What effect does Queen Mab have on the people she visits?
She makes them dream of love.
Opposites and oxymorons
In this play, two families are at war, the Capulets and Montagues. These two sides can be seen as opposites. Throughout the play, Shakespeare highlights other opposites that we find in life:
- life and death
- love and hate
- light and dark
This emphasises the hate and the love that exists between the two families.
When words with contradictory meanings are placed side by side, it is called an oxymoron. Again, they highlight the contradiction between Romeo and Juliet’s love against the backdrop of their warring families.
Analysis of opposites and oxymorons in the play
How does Shakespeare show the confusion Romeo is feeling about Rosaline?
Shakespeare uses oxymorons to convey Romeo’s emotions. Romeo says:
ROMEO Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health
Act 1 Scene 1
The oxymorons in this passage highlight Romeo’s conflicting feelings. He feels that love is soft and gentle and simultaneously heavy.
In Act 1 Scene 1, Romeo talks to Benvolio about his love for Rosaline and the effect that love is having on him. This speech by Romeo has lots of examples of oxymorons.
ROMEO Alas, that Love, whose view is muffled still, Should, without eyes, see pathways to his will! Where shall we dine? O me! What fray was here? Yet tell me not, for I have heard it all: Here's much to do with hate, but more with love: Why, then, O brawling love, O loving hate, O any thing, of nothing first create! O heavy lightness, serious vanity, Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms, Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health, Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is! This love feel I, that feel no love in this. Dost thou not laugh?
Pick out three examples of oxymorons from the speech.
- ' Brawling love '
- ' loving hate '
- ' heavy lightness '
- ' feather of lead '
- ' bright smoke '
- ' cold fire '
- ' sick health '
- ' waking sleep '
What do you think this section shows about Romeo’s state of mind?
It shows Romeo is confused.
Rhythm and rhyme
In this play Shakespeare uses a combination of rhyme and prose to tell us more about certain characters. The servants don’t speak in rhyme at all, and this shows us their lower social status. Romeo and Juliet, on the other hand, sometimes share rhymes which shows how emotionally in tune they are.
Analysis of rhythm and rhyme in the play
What do the young lovers show us by speaking in iambic pentameter ??
Romeo and Juliet show that their love is equal and shared. They say:
JULIET Saints do not move, though grant for prayers' sake. ROMEO Then move not, while my prayer's effect I take.
The couple not only speak in iambic pentameter, they also share rhyming couplets. This emphasises the fact that they are in tune and well-balanced in their love.
Romeo and Juliet opens with two servants from the house of Capulet, Sampson and Gregory. They speak in prose which shows their lower social status. In addition, their language is full of puns that would be amusing to a contemporary audience.
SAMPSON Gregory, on my word, we'll not carry coals.
GREGORY No, for then we should be colliers.
SAMPSON I mean, and we be in choler, we'll draw.
GREGORY Ay, while you live, draw your neck out of collar.
SAMPSON I strike quickly, being moved.
GREGORY But thou art not quickly moved to strike.
SAMPSON A dog of the house of Montague moves me.
How does Sampson refer to members of the Montague household?
As ' dogs '.
List any similar sounding words that the servants use.
They use ' coals ', ' colliers ', ' choler ', and ' collar '.
A Summary and Analysis of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet
By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)
Although it was first performed in the 1590s, the first documented performance of Romeo and Juliet is from 1662. The diarist Samuel Pepys was in the audience, and recorded that he ‘saw “Romeo and Juliet,” the first time it was ever acted; but it is a play of itself the worst that ever I heard in my life, and the worst acted that ever I saw these people do.’
Despite Pepys’ dislike, the play is one of Shakespeare’s best-loved and most famous, and the story of Romeo and Juliet is well known. However, the play has become so embedded in the popular psyche that Shakespeare’s considerably more complex play has been reduced to a few key aspects: ‘star-cross’d lovers’, a teenage love story, and the suicide of the two protagonists.
In the summary and analysis that follow, we realise that Romeo and Juliet is much more than a tragic love story.
Romeo and Juliet : brief summary
After the Prologue has set the scene – we have two feuding households, Montagues and Capulets, in the city-state of Verona; and young Romeo is a Montague while Juliet, with whom Romeo is destined to fall in love, is from the Capulet family, sworn enemies of the Montagues – the play proper begins with servants of the two feuding households taunting each other in the street.
When Benvolio, a member of house Montague, arrives and clashes with Tybalt of house Capulet, a scuffle breaks out, and it is only when Capulet himself and his wife, Lady Capulet, appear that the fighting stops. Old Montague and his wife then show up, and the Prince of Verona, Escalus, arrives and chastises the people for fighting. Everyone leaves except Old Montague, his wife, and Benvolio, Montague’s nephew. Benvolio tells them that Romeo has locked himself away, but he doesn’t know why.
Romeo appears and Benvolio asks his cousin what is wrong, and Romeo starts speaking in paradoxes, a sure sign that he’s in love. He claims he loves Rosaline, but will not return any man’s love. A servant appears with a note, and Romeo and Benvolio learn that the Capulets are holding a masked ball.
Benvolio tells Romeo he should attend, even though he is a Montague, as he will find more beautiful women than Rosaline to fall in love with. Meanwhile, Lady Capulet asks her daughter Juliet whether she has given any thought to marriage, and tells Juliet that a man named Paris would make an excellent husband for her.
Romeo attends the Capulets’ masked ball, with his friend Mercutio. Mercutio tells Romeo about a fairy named Queen Mab who enters young men’s minds as they dream, and makes them dream of love and romance. At the masked ball, Romeo spies Juliet and instantly falls in love with her; she also falls for him.
They kiss, but then Tybalt, Juliet’s kinsman, spots Romeo and recognising him as a Montague, plans to confront him. Old Capulet tells him not to do so, and Tybalt reluctantly agrees. When Juliet enquires after who Romeo is, she is distraught to learn that he is a Montague and thus a member of the family that is her family’s sworn enemies.
Romeo breaks into the gardens of Juliet’s parents’ house and speaks to her at her bedroom window. The two of them pledge their love for each other, and arrange to be secretly married the following night. Romeo goes to see a churchman, Friar Laurence, who agrees to marry Romeo and Juliet.
After the wedding, the feud between the two families becomes violent again: Tybalt kills Mercutio in a fight, and Romeo kills Tybalt in retaliation. The Prince banishes Romeo from Verona for his crime.
Juliet is told by her father that she will marry Paris, so Juliet goes to seek Friar Laurence’s help in getting out of it. He tells her to take a sleeping potion which will make her appear to be dead for two nights; she will be laid to rest in the family vault, and Romeo (who will be informed of the plan) can secretly come to her there.
However, although that part of the plan goes fine, the message to Romeo doesn’t arrive; instead, he hears that Juliet has actually died. He secretly visits her at the family vault, but his grieving is interrupted by the arrival of Paris, who is there to lay flowers. The two of them fight, and Romeo kills him.
Convinced that Juliet is really dead, Romeo drinks poison in order to join Juliet in death. Juliet wakes from her slumber induced by the sleeping draught to find Romeo dead at her side. She stabs herself.
The play ends with Friar Laurence telling the story to the two feuding families. The Prince tells them to put their rivalry behind them and live in peace.
Romeo and Juliet : analysis
How should we analyse Romeo and Juliet , one of Shakespeare’s most famous and frequently studied, performed, and adapted plays? Is Romeo and Juliet the great love story that it’s often interpreted as, and what does it say about the play – if it is a celebration of young love – that it ends with the deaths of both romantic leads?
It’s worth bearing in mind that Romeo and Juliet do not kill themselves specifically because they are forbidden to be together, but rather because a chain of events (of which their families’ ongoing feud with each other is but one) and a message that never arrives lead to a misunderstanding which results in their suicides.
Romeo and Juliet is often read as both a tragedy and a great celebration of romantic love, but it clearly throws out some difficult questions about the nature of love, questions which are rendered even more pressing when we consider the headlong nature of the play’s action and the fact that Romeo and Juliet meet, marry, and die all within the space of a few days.
Below, we offer some notes towards an analysis of this classic Shakespeare play and explore some of the play’s most salient themes.
It’s worth starting with a consideration of just what Shakespeare did with his source material. Interestingly, two families known as the Montagues and Capulets appear to have actually existed in medieval Italy: the first reference to ‘Montagues and Capulets’ is, curiously, in the poetry of Dante (1265-1321), not Shakespeare.
In Dante’s early fourteenth-century epic poem, the Divine Comedy , he makes reference to two warring Italian families: ‘Come and see, you who are negligent, / Montagues and Capulets, Monaldi and Filippeschi / One lot already grieving, the other in fear’ ( Purgatorio , canto VI). Precisely why the families are in a feud with one another is never revealed in Shakespeare’s play, so we are encouraged to take this at face value.
The play’s most famous line references the feud between the two families, which means Romeo and Juliet cannot be together. And the line, when we stop and consider it, is more than a little baffling. The line is spoken by Juliet: ‘Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?’ Of course, ‘wherefore’ doesn’t mean ‘where’ – it means ‘why’.
But that doesn’t exactly clear up the whys and the wherefores. The question still doesn’t appear to make any sense: Romeo’s problem isn’t his first name, but his family name, Montague. Surely, since she fancies him, Juliet is quite pleased with ‘Romeo’ as he is – it’s his family that are the problem. Solutions have been proposed to this conundrum , but none is completely satisfying.
There are a number of notable things Shakespeare did with his source material. The Italian story ‘Mariotto and Gianozza’, printed in 1476, contained many of the plot elements of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet . Shakespeare’s source for the play’s story was Arthur Brooke’s The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet (1562), an English verse translation of this Italian tale.
The moral of Brooke’s tale is that young love ends in disaster for their elders, and is best reined in; Shakespeare changed that. In Romeo and Juliet , the headlong passion and excitement of young love is celebrated, even though confusion leads to the deaths of the young lovers. But through their deaths, and the example their love set for their parents, the two families vow to be reconciled to each other.
Shakespeare also makes Juliet a thirteen-year-old girl in his play, which is odd for a number of reasons. We know that Romeo and Juliet is about young love – the ‘pair of star-cross’d lovers’, who belong to rival families in Verona – but what is odd about Shakespeare’s play is how young he makes Juliet.
In Brooke’s verse rendition of the story, Juliet is sixteen. But when Shakespeare dramatised the story, he made Juliet several years younger, with Romeo’s age unspecified. As Lady Capulet reveals, Juliet is ‘not [yet] fourteen’, and this point is made to us several times, as if Shakespeare wishes to draw attention to it and make sure we don’t forget it.
This makes sense in so far as Juliet represents young love, but what makes it unsettling – particularly for modern audiences – is the fact that this makes Juliet a girl of thirteen when she enjoys her night of wedded bliss with Romeo. As John Sutherland puts it in his (and Cedric Watts’) engaging Oxford World’s Classics: Henry V, War Criminal?: and Other Shakespeare Puzzles , ‘In a contemporary court of law [Romeo] would receive a longer sentence for what he does to Juliet than for what he does to Tybalt.’
There appears to be no satisfactory answer to this question, but one possible explanation lies in one of the play’s recurring themes: bawdiness and sexual familiarity. Perhaps surprisingly given the youthfulness of its tragic heroine, Romeo and Juliet is shot through with bawdy jokes, double entendres, and allusions to sex, made by a number of the characters.
These references to physical love serve to make Juliet’s innocence, and subsequent passionate romance with Romeo, even more noticeable: the journey both Romeo and Juliet undertake is one from innocence (Romeo pointlessly and naively pursuing Rosaline; Juliet unversed in the ways of love) to experience.
In the last analysis, Romeo and Juliet is a classic depiction of forbidden love, but it is also far more sexually aware, more ‘adult’, than many people realise.
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4 thoughts on “A Summary and Analysis of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet”
Modern reading of the play’s opening dialogue among the brawlers fails to parse the ribaldry. Sex scares the bejeepers out of us. Why? Confer “R&J.”
It’s all that damn padre’s fault!
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Romeo and Juliet Introduction (Book)
Romeo and Juliet Introduction
Shakespeare uses a large variety of poetic forms throughout the play. He begins with a 14-line prologue by a Chorus in the form of a Shakespearean sonnet. Like this sonnet much of Romeo and Juliet is written in iambic pentameter, with ten syllables of alternating stress in each line. However, the most common form used is blank verse, a more fluid, nonstructured approach, although Shakespeare uses this form less often in this play than in his later plays.
In choosing forms, Shakespeare matches the poetry to the character who uses it. Friar Laurence, for example, uses sermon and sententiae forms, and the Nurse uses a unique blank verse form that closely matches colloquial speech. Each of these forms is also moulded and matched to the emotion of the scene the character occupies. For example, when Romeo talks about Rosaline earlier in the play, he uses the Petrarchan sonnet form. Petrarchan sonnets were often used by men at the time to exaggerate the beauty of women who were impossible for them to attain, as in Romeo's situation with Rosaline. This sonnet form is also used by Lady Capulet to describe Count Paris to Juliet as a handsome man. When Romeo and Juliet meet, the poetic form changes from the Petrarchan (which was becoming archaic in Shakespeare's day) to a then more contemporary sonnet form, using "pilgrims" and "saints" as metaphors .Finally, when the two meet on the balcony, Romeo attempts to use the sonnet form to pledge his love, but Juliet breaks it by saying "Dost thou love me?" By doing this, she searches for true expression, rather than a poetic exaggeration of their love. Juliet uses monosyllabic words with Romeo, but uses formal language with Paris.
Other forms in the play include an epithalamium by Juliet, a rhapsody in Mercutio's Queen Mab speech, and an elegy by Paris. Shakespeare saves his prose style most often for the common people in the play, though at times for other characters, such as Mercutio.
A Modern Perspective: Romeo and Juliet
By Gail Kern Paster
Does Romeo and Juliet need an introduction? Of all Shakespeare’s plays, it has been the most continuously popular since its first performance in the mid-1590s. It would seem, then, the most direct of Shakespeare’s plays in its emotional impact. What could be easier to understand and what could be more moving than the story of two adolescents finding in their sudden love for each other a reason to defy their families’ mutual hatred by marrying secretly? The tragic outcome of their blameless love (their “misadventured piteous overthrows”) seems equally easy to understand: it results first from Tybalt’s hotheaded refusal to obey the Prince’s command and second from accidents of timing beyond any human ability to foresee or control. Simple in its story line, clear in its affirmation of the power of love over hate, Romeo and Juliet seems to provide both a timeless theme and universal appeal. Its immediacy stands in welcome contrast to the distance, even estrangement, evoked by other Shakespeare plays. No wonder it is often the first Shakespeare play taught in schools—on the grounds of its obvious relevance to the emotional and social concerns of young people.
Recent work by social historians on the history of private life in western European culture, however, offers a complicating perspective on the timelessness of Romeo and Juliet. At the core of the play’s evident accessibility is the importance and privilege modern Western culture grants to desire, regarding it as deeply expressive of individual identity and central to the personal fulfillment of women no less than men. But, as these historians have argued, such conceptions of desire reflect cultural changes in human consciousness—in ways of imagining and articulating the nature of desire. 1 In England until the late sixteenth century, individual identity had been imagined not so much as the result of autonomous, personal growth in consciousness but rather as a function of social station, an individual’s place in a network of social and kinship structures. Furthermore, traditional culture distinguished sharply between the nature of identity for men and women. A woman’s identity was conceived almost exclusively in relation to male authority and marital status. She was less an autonomous, desiring self than any male was; she was a daughter, wife, or widow expected to be chaste, silent, and, above all, obedient. It is a profound and necessary act of historical imagination, then, to recognize innovation in the moment when Juliet impatiently invokes the coming of night and the husband she has disobediently married: “Come, gentle night; come, loving black-browed night, / Give me my Romeo” ( 3.2.21 –23).
Recognizing that the nature of desire and identity is subject to historical change and cultural innovation can provide the basis for rereading Romeo and Juliet. Instead of an uncomplicated, if lyrically beautiful, contest between young love and “ancient grudge,” the play becomes a narrative that expresses an historical conflict between old forms of identity and new modes of desire, between authority and freedom, between parental will and romantic individualism. Furthermore, though the Chorus initially sets the lovers as a pair against the background of familial hatred, the reader attentive to social detail will be struck instead by Shakespeare’s care in distinguishing between the circumstances of male and female lovers: “she as much in love, her means much less / To meet her new belovèd anywhere” ( 2. Chorus. 11 –12, italics added). The story of “Juliet and her Romeo” may be a single narrative, but its clear internal division is drawn along the traditionally unequal lines of gender.
Because of such traditional notions of identity and gender, Elizabethan theatergoers might have recognized a paradox in the play’s lyrical celebration of the beauty of awakened sexual desire in the adolescent boy and girl. By causing us to identify with Romeo and Juliet’s desire for one another, the play affirms their love even while presenting it as a problem in social management. This is true not because Romeo and Juliet fall in love with forbidden or otherwise unavailable sexual partners; such is the usual state of affairs at the beginning of Shakespearean comedy, but those comedies end happily. Rather Romeo and Juliet’s love is a social problem, unresolvable except by their deaths, because they dare to marry secretly in an age when legal, consummated marriage was irreversible. Secret marriage is the narrative device by which Shakespeare brings into conflict the new privilege claimed by individual desire and the traditional authority granted fathers to arrange their daughters’ marriages. Secret marriage is the testing ground, in other words, of the new kind of importance being claimed by individual desire. Shakespeare’s representation of the narrative outcome of this desire as tragic—here, as later in the secret marriage that opens Othello —may suggest something of Elizabethan society’s anxiety about the social cost of romantic individualism.
The conflict between traditional authority and individual desire also provides the framework for Shakespeare’s presentation of the Capulet-Montague feud. The feud, like the lovers’ secret marriage, is another problem in social management, another form of socially problematic desire. We are never told what the families are fighting about or fighting for; in this sense the feud is both causeless and goal-less. The Chorus’s first words insist not on the differences between the two families but on their similarity: they are two households “both alike in dignity.” Later, after Prince Escalus has broken up the street brawl, they are “In penalty alike” ( 1.2.2 ). Ironically, then, they are not fighting over differences. Rather it is Shakespeare’s careful insistence on the lack of difference between Montague and Capulet that provides a key to understanding the underlying social dynamic of the feud. Just as desire brings Romeo and Juliet together as lovers, desire in another form brings the Montague and Capulet males out on the street as fighters. The feud perpetuates a close bond of rivalry between these men that even the Prince’s threat of punishment cannot sever: “Montague is bound as well as I,” Capulet tells Paris ( 1.2.1 ). Indeed, the feud seems necessary to the structure of male-male relations in Verona. Feuding reinforces male identity—loyalty to one’s male ancestors—at the same time that it clarifies the social structure: servants fight with servants, young noblemen with young noblemen, old men with old men. 2
That the feud constitutes a relation of desire between Montague and Capulet is clear from the opening, when the servants Gregory and Sampson use bawdy innuendo to draw a causal link between their virility and their eagerness to fight Montagues: “A dog of that house shall move me to stand,” i.e., to be sexually erect ( 1.1.12 ). The Montagues seem essential to Sampson’s masculinity since, by besting Montague men, he can lay claim to Montague women as symbols of conquest. (This, of course, would be a reductive way of describing what Romeo does in secretly marrying a Capulet daughter.) The feud not only establishes a structure of relations between men based on competition and sexual aggression, but it seems to involve a particularly debased attitude toward women. No matter how comic the wordplay of the Capulet servants may be, we should not forget that the sexual triangle they imagine is based on fantasized rape: “I will push Montague’s men from the wall and thrust his maids to the wall” ( 1.1.18 –19). Gregory and Sampson are not interested in the “heads” of the Montague maidens, which might imply awareness of them as individuals. They are interested only in their “maidenheads.” Their coarse view of woman as generic sexual object is reiterated in a wittier vein by Mercutio, who understands Romeo’s experience of awakened desire only as a question of the sexual availability of his mistress: “O Romeo, that she were, O, that she were / An open-arse, thou a pop’rin pear” ( 2.1.40 –41).
Feuding, then, is the form that male bonding takes in Verona, a bonding which seems linked to the derogation of woman. But Romeo, from the very opening of the play, is distanced both physically and emotionally from the feud, not appearing until the combatants and his parents are leaving the stage. His reaction to Benvolio’s news of the fight seems to indicate that he is aware of the mechanisms of desire that are present in the feud: “Here’s much to do with hate, but more with love” ( 1.1.180 ). But it also underscores his sense of alienation: “This love feel I, that feel no love in this” ( 187 ). He is alienated not only from the feud itself, one feels, but more importantly from the idea of sexuality that underlies it. Romeo subscribes to a different, indeed a competing view of woman—the idealizing view of the Petrarchan lover. In his melancholy, his desire for solitude, and his paradox-strewn language, Romeo identifies himself with the style of feeling and address that Renaissance culture named after the fourteenth-century Italian poet Francesco Petrarca or Petrarch, most famous for his sonnets to Laura. By identifying his beloved as perfect and perfectly chaste, the Petrarchan lover opposes the indiscriminate erotic appetite of a Gregory or Sampson. He uses the frustrating experience of intense, unfulfilled, and usually unrequited passion to refine his modes of feeling and to enlarge his experience of self.
It is not coincidental, then, that Shakespeare uses the language and self-involved behaviors of the Petrarchan lover to dramatize Romeo’s experience of love. For Romeo as for Petrarch, love is the formation of an individualistic identity at odds with other kinds of identity: “I have lost myself. I am not here. / This is not Romeo. He’s some other where” ( 1.1.205 –6). Petrarchan desire for solitude explains Romeo’s absence from the opening clash and his lack of interest in the activities of his gang of friends, whom he accompanies only reluctantly to the Capulet feast: “I’ll be a candle holder and look on” ( 1.4.38 ). His physical isolation from his parents—with whom he exchanges no words in the course of the play—further suggests his shift from traditional, clan identity to the romantic individualism prefigured by Petrarch.
Shakespeare’s comic irony is that such enlargement of self is itself a mark of conventionality, since Petrarchism in European literature was by the late sixteenth century very widespread. A more cutting irony is that the Petrarchan lover and his sensual opponent (Sampson or Gregory) have more in common than is first apparent. The Petrarchan lover, in emphasizing the often paralyzing intensity of his passion, is less interested in praising the remote mistress who inspires such devotion than he is in displaying his own poetic virtuosity and his capacity for self-denial. Such a love—like Romeo’s for Rosaline—is founded upon frustration and requires rejection. The lover is interested in affirming the uniqueness of his beloved only in theory. On closer look, she too becomes a generic object and he more interested in self-display. Thus the play’s two languages of heterosexual desire—Petrarchan praise and anti-Petrarchan debasement—appear as opposite ends of a single continuum, as complementary discourses of woman, high and low. Even when Paris and old Capulet, discussing Juliet as prospective bride, vary the discourse to include a conception of woman as wife and mother, she remains an object of verbal and actual exchange.
In lyric poetry, the Petrarchan mistress remains a function of language alone, unheard, seen only as a collection of ideal parts, a center whose very absence promotes desire. Drama is a material medium, however. In drama, the Petrarchan mistress takes on embodiment and finds an answering voice, like Juliet’s gently noting her sonneteer-pilgrim’s conventionality: “You kiss by th’ book” ( 1.5.122 ). In drama, the mistress may come surrounded by relatives and an inconveniently insistent social milieu. As was noted above, Shakespeare distinguishes sharply between the social circumstances of adolescent males and females. Thus one consequence of setting the play’s domestic action solely within the Capulet household is to set Juliet, the “hopeful lady” of Capulet’s “earth” ( 1.2.15 ), firmly into a familial context which, thanks to the Nurse’s fondness for recollection and anecdote, is rich in domestic detail. Juliet’s intense focus upon Romeo’s surname—“What’s Montague? . . . O, be some other name” ( 2.2.43 , 44 )—is a projection onto her lover of her own conflicted sense of tribal loyalty. Unlike Romeo, whose deepest emotional ties are to his gang of friends, and unlike the more mobile daughters of Shakespearean comedy who often come in pairs, Juliet lives isolated and confined, emotionally as well as physically, by her status as daughter. Her own passage into sexual maturity comes first by way of parental invitation to “think of marriage now” ( 1.3.75 ). Her father invites Paris, the man who wishes to marry Juliet, to attend a banquet and feast his eyes on female beauty: “Hear all, all see, / And like her most whose merit most shall be” ( 1.2.30 –31). Juliet, in contrast, is invited to look only where her parents tell her:
I’ll look to like, if looking liking move.
But no more deep will I endart mine eye
Than your consent gives strength to make it fly.
( 1.3.103 –5)
The logic of Juliet’s almost instant disobedience in looking at, and liking, Romeo (rather than Paris) can be understood as the ironic fulfillment of the fears in traditional patriarchal culture about the uncontrollability of female desire, the alleged tendency of the female gaze to wander. Petrarchism managed the vexed question of female desire largely by wishing it out of existence, describing the mistress as one who, like the invisible Rosaline of this play, “will not stay the siege of loving terms, / Nor bide th’ encounter of assailing eyes” ( 1.1.220 –21). Once Romeo, in the Capulet garden, overhears Juliet’s expression of desire, however, Juliet abandons the conventional denial of desire—“Fain would I dwell on form; fain, fain deny / What I have spoke. But farewell compliment” ( 2.2.93 –94). She rejects the “strength” implied by parental sanction and the protection afforded by the Petrarchan celebration of chastity for a risk-taking experiment in desire that Shakespeare affirms by the beauty of the lovers’ language in their four scenes together. Juliet herself asks Romeo the serious questions that Elizabethan society wanted only fathers to ask. She challenges social prescriptions, designed to contain erotic desire in marriage, by taking responsibility for her own marriage:
If that thy bent of love be honorable,
Thy purpose marriage, send me word tomorrow,
By one that I’ll procure to come to thee,
Where and what time thou wilt perform the rite,
And all my fortunes at thy foot I’ll lay
And follow thee my lord throughout the world.
( 2.2.150 –55)
The irony in her pledge—an irony perhaps most obvious to a modern, sexually egalitarian audience—is that Romeo here is following Juliet on an uncharted narrative path to sexual fulfillment in unsanctioned marriage. Allowing her husband access to a bedchamber in her father’s house, Juliet leads him into a sexual territory beyond the reach of dramatic representation. Breaking through the narrow oppositions of the play’s two discourses of woman—as either anonymous sexual object (for Sampson and Gregory) or beloved woman exalted beyond knowing or possessing (for Petrarch)—she affirms her imaginative commitment to the cultural significance of desire as an individualizing force:
Come, civil night,
Thou sober-suited matron all in black,
And learn me how to lose a winning match
Played for a pair of stainless maidenhoods.
Hood my unmanned blood, bating in my cheeks,
With thy black mantle till strange love grow bold,
Think true love acted simple modesty.
( 3.2.10 –16)
Romeo, when he is not drawn by desire deeper and deeper into Capulet territory, wanders into the open square where the destinies of the play’s other young men—and in part his own too—are enacted. Because the young man’s deepest loyalty is to his friends, Romeo is not really asked to choose between Juliet and his family but between Juliet and Mercutio, who are opposed in the play’s thematic structure. Thus one function of Mercutio’s anti-Petrarchan skepticism about the idealization of woman is to offer resistance to the adult heterosexuality heralded by Romeo’s union with Juliet, resistance on behalf of the regressive pull of adolescent male bonding—being “one of the guys.” This distinction, as we have seen, is in part a question of speaking different discourses. Romeo easily picks up Mercutio’s banter, even its sly innuendo against women. Mercutio himself regards Romeo’s quickness at repartee as the hopeful sign of a return to a “normal” manly identity incompatible with his ridiculous role as lover:
Why, is not this better now than groaning for love? Now art thou sociable, now art thou Romeo, now art thou what thou art, by art as well as by nature. For this driveling love is like a great natural that runs lolling up and down to hide his bauble in a hole.
( 2.4.90 –95)
Implicit here is a central tenet of traditional misogyny that excessive desire for a woman is effeminizing. For Mercutio it is the effeminate lover in Romeo who refuses shamefully to answer Tybalt’s challenge: “O calm, dishonorable, vile submission!” he exclaims furiously ( 3.1.74 ). Mercutio’s death at Tybalt’s hands causes Romeo temporarily to agree, obeying the regressive emotional pull of grief and guilt over his own part in Mercutio’s defeat. “Why the devil came you between us?” Mercutio asks. “I was hurt under your arm” ( 3.1.106 –8). Why, we might ask instead, should Mercutio have insisted on answering a challenge addressed only to Romeo? Romeo, however, displaces blame onto Juliet: “Thy beauty hath made me effeminate / And in my temper softened valor’s steel” ( 3.1.119 –20).
In terms of narrative structure, the death of Mercutio and Romeo’s slaying of Tybalt interrupt the lovers’ progress from secret marriage to its consummation, suggesting the incompatibility between romantic individualism and adolescent male bonding. The audience experiences this incompatibility as a sudden movement from comedy to tragedy. Suddenly Friar Lawrence must abandon hopes of using the love of Capulet and Montague as a force for social reintegration. Instead, he must desperately stave off Juliet’s marriage to Paris, upon which her father insists, by making her counterfeit death and by subjecting her to entombment. The legal finality of consummated marriage—which was the basis for Friar Lawrence’s hopes “to turn your households’ rancor to pure love” ( 2.3.99 )—becomes the instrument of tragic design. It is only the Nurse who would allow Juliet to accept Paris as husband; we are asked to judge such a prospect so unthinkable that we then agree imaginatively to Friar Lawrence’s ghoulish device.
In terms of the play’s symbolic vocabulary, Juliet’s preparations to imitate death on the very bed where her sexual maturation from girl- to womanhood occurred confirms ironically her earlier premonition about Romeo: “If he be marrièd, / My grave is like to be my wedding bed” ( 1.5.148 –49). Her brief journey contrasts sharply with those of Shakespeare’s comic heroines who move out from the social confinement of daughterhood into a freer, less socially defined space (the woods outside Athens in A Midsummer Night’s Dream , the Forest of Arden in As You Like It ). There they can exercise a sanctioned, limited freedom in the romantic experimentation of courtship. Juliet is punished for such experimentation in part because hers is more radical; secret marriage symbolically is as irreversible as “real” death. Her journey thus becomes an internal journey in which her commitment to union with Romeo must face the imaginative challenge of complete, claustrophobic isolation and finally death in the Capulet tomb.
It is possible to see the lovers’ story, as some critics have done, as Shakespeare’s dramatic realization of the ruling metaphors of Petrarchan love poetry—particularly its fascination with “death-marked love” ( Prologue. 9 ). 3 But, in pondering the implications of Shakespeare’s moving his audience to identify with this narrative of initiative, desire, and power, we also do well to remember the psychosocial dynamics of drama. By heightening their powers of identification, drama gives the members of an audience an embodied image of the possible scope and form of their fears and desires. Here we have seen how tragic form operates to contain the complex play of desire/identification. The metaphors of Petrarchan idealization work as part of a complex, ambivalent discourse of woman whose ultimate social function is to encode the felt differences between men and women on which a dominant male power structure is based. Romeo and Juliet find a new discourse of romantic individualism in which Petrarchan idealization conjoins with the mutual avowal of sexual desire. But their union, as we have seen, imperils the traditional relations between males that is founded upon the exchange of women, whether the violent exchange Gregory and Sampson crudely imagine or the normative exchange planned by Capulet and Paris. Juliet, as the daughter whose erotic willfulness activates her father’s transformation from concerned to tyrannical parent, is the greater rebel. Thus the secret marriage in which this new language of feeling is contained cannot here be granted the sanction of a comic outcome. When Romeo and Juliet reunite, it is only to see each other, dead, in the dim confines of the Capulet crypt. In this play the autonomy of romantic individualism remains “star-crossed.”
- The story of these massive shifts in European sensibility is told in a five-volume study titled A History of Private Life , gen. eds. Philippe Ariès and Georges Duby (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987–91). The study covers over three millennia in the history of western Europe. For the period most relevant to Romeo and Juliet, see vol. 3, Passions of the Renaissance (1989), ed. Roger Chartier, trans. Arthur Goldhammer, pp. 399–607.
- The best extended discussion of the dynamic of the feud is Coppélia Kahn, Man’s Estate: Masculine Identity in Shakespeare (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981), pp. 83ff.
- Nicholas Brooke, Shakespeare’s Early Tragedies (London: Methuen, 1968), pp. 82ff.
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Literary Theory and Criticism
Home › Drama Criticism › Analysis of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet
Analysis of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet
By NASRULLAH MAMBROL on July 25, 2020 • ( 6 )
Shakespeare, more than any other author, has instructed the West in the catastrophes of sexuality, and has invented the formula that the sexual becomes the erotic when crossed by the shadow of death. There had to be one high song of the erotic by Shakespeare, one lyrical and tragi-comical paean celebrating an unmixed love and lamenting its inevitable destruction. Romeo and Juliet is unmatched, in Shakespeare and in the world’s literature, as a vision of an uncompromising mutual love that perishes of its own idealism and intensity.
—Harold Bloom, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human
Romeo and Juliet, regarded by many as William Shakespeare’s first great play, is generally thought to have been written around 1595. Shakespeare was then 31 years old, married for 12 years and the father of three children. He had been acting and writing in London for five years. His stage credits included mainly histories—the three parts of Henry VI and Richard III —and comedies— The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Taming of the Shrew, The Comedy of Errors, and Love’s Labour’s Lost. Shakespeare’s first tragedy, modeled on Seneca, Titus Andronicus , was written around 1592. From that year through 1595 Shakespeare had also composed 154 sonnets and two long narrative poems in the erotic tradition— Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece. Both his dramatic and nondramatic writing show Shakespeare mastering Elizabethan literary conventions. Then, around 1595, Shakespeare composed three extraordinary plays—R ichard II, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Romeo and Juliet —in three different genres—history, comedy, and tragedy—signalling a new mastery, originality, and excellence. With these three plays Shakespeare emerged from the shadows of his influences and initiated a period of unexcelled accomplishment. The two parts of Henry IV and Julius Caesar would follow, along with the romantic comedies The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night and the great tragedies Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra . The three plays of 1595, therefore, serve as an important bridge between Shakespeare’s apprenticeship and his mature achievements. Romeo and Juliet, in particular, is a crucial play in the evolution of Shakespeare’s tragic vision, in his integration of poetry and drama, and in his initial exploration of the connection between love and tragedy that he would continue in Troilus and Cressida, Othello, and Antony and Cleopatra. Romeo and Juliet is not only one of the greatest love stories in all literature, considering its stage history and the musicals, opera, music, ballet, literary works, and films that it has inspired; it is quite possibly the most popular play of all time. There is simply no more famous pair of lovers than Romeo and Juliet, and their story has become an inescapable central myth in our understanding of romantic love.
Despite the play’s persistence, cultural saturation, and popular appeal, Romeo and Juliet has fared less well with scholars and critics, who have generally judged it inferior to the great tragedies that followed. Instead of the later tragedies of character Romeo and Juliet has been downgraded as a tragedy of chance, and, in the words of critic James Calderwood, the star-crossed lovers are “insufficiently endowed with complexity” to become tragic heroes. Instead “they become a study of victimage and sacrifice, not tragedy.” What is too often missing in a consideration of the shortcomings of Romeo and Juliet by contrast with the later tragedies is the radical departure the play represented when compared to what preceded it. Having relied on Senecan horror for his first tragedy, Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare located his next in the world of comedy and romance. Romeo and Juliet is set not in antiquity, as Elizabethan convention dictated for a tragic subject, but in 16th-century Verona, Italy. His tragic protagonists are neither royal nor noble, as Aristotle advised, but two teenagers caught up in the petty disputes of their families. The plight of young lovers pitted against parental or societal opposition was the expected subject, since Roman times, of comedy, not tragedy. By showing not the eventual triumph but the death of the two young lovers Shakespeare violated comic conventions, while making a case that love and its consequences could be treated with an unprecedented tragic seriousness. As critic Harry Levin has observed, Shakespeare’s contemporaries “would have been surprised, and possibly shocked at seeing lovers taken so seriously. Legend, it had been hereto-fore taken for granted, was the proper matter for serious drama; romance was the stuff of the comic stage.”
Shakespeare’s innovations are further evident in comparison to his source material. The plot was a well-known story in Italian, French, and English versions. Shakespeare’s direct source was Arthur Brooke’s poem The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet (1562). This moralistic work was intended as a warning to youth against “dishonest desire” and disobeying parental authority. Shakespeare, by contrast, purifies and ennobles the lovers’ passion, intensifies the pathos, and underscores the injustice of the lovers’ destruction. Compressing the action from Brooke’s many months into a five-day crescendo, Shakespeare also expands the roles of secondary characters such as Mercutio and Juliet’s nurse into vivid portraits that contrast the lovers’ elevated lyricism with a bawdy earthiness and worldly cynicism. Shakespeare transforms Brooke’s plodding verse into a tour de force verbal display that is supremely witty, if at times over elaborate, and, at its best, movingly expressive. If the poet and the dramatist are not yet seamlessly joined in Romeo and Juliet, the play still displays a considerable advance in Shakespeare’s orchestration of verse, image, and incident that would become the hallmark of his greatest achievements.
The play’s theme and outcome are announced in the Prologue:
Two households, both alike in dignity, In fair Verona, where we lay our scene, From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean. From forth the fatal loins of these two foes A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life; Whose misadventur’d piteous overthrows Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife.
Suspense over the lovers’ fate is eliminated at the outset as Shakespeare emphasizes the forces that will destroy them. The initial scene makes this clear as a public brawl between servants of the feuding Montagues and Capulets escalates to involve kinsmen and the patriarchs on both sides, ended only when the Prince of Verona enforces a cease-fire under penalty of death for future offenders of the peace. Romeo, Montague’s young son, does not participate in the scuffle since he is totally absorbed by a hopeless passion for a young, unresponsive beauty named Rosaline. Initially Romeo appears as a figure of mockery, the embodiment of the hypersensitive, melancholy adolescent lover, who is urged by his kinsman Benvolio to resist sinking “under love’s heavy burden” and seek another more worthy of his affection. Another kinsman, Mercutio, for whom love is more a game of easy conquest, urges Romeo to “be rough with love” and master his circumstances. When by chance it is learned that Rosaline is to attend a party at the Capulets, Benvolio suggests that they should go as well for Romeo to compare Rosaline’s charms with the other beauties at the party and thereby cure his infatuation. There Romeo sees Juliet, Capulet’s not-yet 14-year-old daughter. Her parents are encouraging her to accept a match with Count Paris for the social benefit of the family. Love as affectation and love as advantage are transformed into love as all-consuming, mutual passion at first sight. Romeo claims that he “ne’er saw true beauty till this night,” and by the force of that beauty, he casts off his former melancholic self-absorption. Juliet is no less smitten. Sending her nurse to learn the stranger’s identity, she worries, “If he be married, / My grave is like to be my wedding bed.” Both are shocked to learn that they are on either side of the family feud, and their risk is underscored when the Capulet kinsman, Tybalt, recognizes Romeo and, though prevented by Capulet from violence at the party, swears future vengeance. Tybalt’s threat underscores that this is a play as much about hate as about love, in which Romeo and Juliet’s passion is increasingly challenged by the public and family forces that deny love’s authority.
The first of the couple’s two great private moments in which love’s redemptive and transformative power works its magic follows in possibly the most famous single scene in all of drama, set in the Capulets’ orchard, over-looked by Juliet’s bedroom window. In some of the most impassioned, lyrical, and famous verses Shakespeare ever wrote, the lovers’ dialogue perfectly captures the ecstasy of love and love’s capacity to remake the world. Seeing Juliet above at her window, Romeo says:
But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the East, and Juliet is the sun! Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon, Who is already sick and pale with grief That thou her maid art far more fair than she.
He overhears Juliet’s declaration of her love for him and the rejection of what is implied if a Capulet should love a Montague:
O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo? Deny thy father and refuse thy name! Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, And I’ll no longer be a Capulet. . . . ’Tis but thy name that is my enemy. Thou art thyself, though not a Montague. What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot, Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part Belonging to a man. O, be some other name! What’s in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet .So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d, Retain that dear perfection which he owes Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name; And for that name, which is no part of thee, Take all myself.
In a beautifully modulated scene the lovers freely admit their passion and exchange vows of love that become a marriage proposal. As Juliet continues to be called back to her room and all that is implied as Capulet’s daughter, time and space become the barriers to love’s transcendent power to unite.
With the assistance of Friar Lawrence, who regards the union of a Montague and a Capulet as an opportunity “To turn your households’ rancour to pure love,” Romeo and Juliet are secretly married. Before nightfall and the anticipated consummation of their union Romeo is set upon by Tybalt, who is by Romeo’s marriage, his new kinsman. Romeo accordingly refuses his challenge, but it is answered by Mercutio. Romeo tries to separate the two, but in the process Mercutio is mortally wounded. This is the tragic turn of the play as Romeo, enraged, rejects the principle of love forged with Juliet for the claims of reputation, the demand for vengeance, and an identifi cation of masculinity with violent retribution:
My very friend, hath got this mortal hurt In my behalf; my reputation stain’d With Tybalt’s slander—Tybalt, that an hour Hath been my kinsman. O sweet Juliet, Thy beauty hath made me effeminate And in my temper soft’ned valour’s steel!
After killing Tybalt, Romeo declares, “O, I am fortune’s fool!” He may blame circumstances for his predicament, but he is clearly culpable in capitulating to the values of society he had challenged in his love for Juliet.
The lovers are given one final moment of privacy before the catastrophe. Juliet, awaiting Romeo’s return, gives one of the play’s most moving speeches, balancing sublimity with an intimation of mortality that increasingly accompanies the lovers:
Come, gentle night; come, loving, black-brow’d night; Give me my Romeo; and, when he shall die, Take him and cut him out in little stars, And he will make the face of heaven so fine That all the world will be in love with night And pay no worship to the garish sun.
Learning the terrible news of Tybalt’s death and Romeo’s banishment, Juliet wins her own battle between hate and love and sends word to Romeo to keep their appointed night together before they are parted.
As Romeo is away in Mantua Juliet’s parents push ahead with her wedding to Paris. The solution to Juliet’s predicament is offered by Friar Lawrence who gives her a drug that will make it appear she has died. The Friar is to summon Romeo, who will rescue her when she awakes in the Capulet family tomb. The Friar’s message to Romeo fails to reach him, and Romeo learns of Juliet’s death. Reversing his earlier claim of being “fortune’s fool,” Romeo reacts by declaring, “Then I defy you, stars,” rushing to his wife and breaking society’s rules by acquiring the poison to join her in death. Reaching the tomb Romeo is surprised to find Paris on hand, weeping for his lost bride. Outraged by the intrusion on his grief Paris confronts Romeo. They fight, and after killing Paris, Romeo fi nally recognizes him and mourns him as “Mercutio’s kinsman.” Inside the tomb Romeo sees Tybalt’s corpse and asks forgiveness before taking leave of Juliet with a kiss:
. . . O, here Will I set up my everlasting rest And shake the yoke of inauspicious stars From this world-wearied flesh.
Juliet awakes to see Romeo dead beside her. Realizing what has happened, she responds by taking his dagger and plunges it into her breast: “This is thy sheath; there rest, and let me die.”
Montagues, Capulets, and the Prince arrive, and the Friar explains what has happened and why. His account of Romeo and Juliet’s tender passion and devotion shames the two families into ending their feud. The Prince provides the final eulogy:
A glooming peace this morning with it brings. The sun for sorrow will not show his head. Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things; Some shall be pardon’d, and some punished; For never was a story of more woe Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.
The sense of loss Verona and the audience feels at the lovers’ deaths is a direct result of Shakespeare’s remarkable ability to conjure love in all its transcendent power, along with its lethal risks. Set on a collision course with the values bent on denying love’s sway, Romeo and Juliet manage to create a dreamlike, alternative, private world that is so touching because it is so brief and perishable. Shakespeare’s triumph here is to make us care that adolescent romance matters—emotionally, psychologically, and socially—and that the premature and unjust death of lovers rival in profundity and significance the fall of kings.
Romeo and Juliet Oxford Lecture by Emma Smith
Analysis of William Shakespeare’s Plays
Categories: Drama Criticism , Literature
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In Romeo and Juliet how are the characters and setting different in the movie compared to the play
Romeo has a premonition of Juliet's demise in the original play, however in the movie there is an absence of such a premonitionin the last scene with Romeo and Juliet on stage in the play, Juliet wakes to find Romeo next to her, dead. In the movie, this ending scene was changed to show Juliet wake up right before Romeo drinks the poison. She is too out of it to realize what is going on, and Romeo's attention is gotten right after he drinks the poison, when he turns to find Juliet alive
📚 Related Questions
What is meant when a character is called “static”? A. that it is a character who is minor B. that it is a character who doesn’t change C. that it is a character who opposes the main character D. that it is a character who changes during the story
The correct answer is: B. That is a character who does not change. A static character does not evolve throughout history but represents the same role from beginning to end. It is reduced to a set of characteristics or a necessary function in the development of the action.
Sense and Sensibility Jane Austen Which characteristics apply to Mrs. John (Fanny) Dashwood? SELECT ALL THAT APPLY. selfish compassionate manipulative generous
selfish and manipulative
The domain name (.edu .com .net etc.)... Question 11 options: gives the name of the website. is not very important. let’s you know the kind of website you are visiting.
Always allow _______ to complete a writing project. A. more time than you think you will need B. about one week C. just enough time D. at least one day
Details : Always allow _______ to complete a writing project. A. more time
What tool can help readers understand the meaning of an unfamiliar word?
Answer: A. more time than you think you will need.
Before you start a project, it is important to plan out how long it is likely to take. However, all plans need some flexibility. It is possible for a project to be harder or more time-consuming than anticipated. Therefore, it is a good idea to always allow more time than you think you will need to complete the project.
Which of the following is the best topic sentence expressing the central idea as indicated in the paragraph? A. Over 5 million American Indians live on reservations. B. Although many American Indians live in the Pacific Northwest, they can be found across the US. C. Climate change poses a significant threat to American Indians throughout the United States. D. Climate change affects American Indians.
The type of novel that satirizes social classes is known as a ____ novel.
Details : The type of novel that satirizes social classes is known as a ____
In John Steinbeck’s “The Turtle,” what do the seeds represent in the story?
Possibility is the answer.
obstacles or inconveniences in the road
This story is used to represent how the farmers, all these people that were kicked out from their farms and despite this troubles and many they never lose their focus, they wanted to get a home and worked really hard for it, so does the turtle, she wanted to cross the road and despite all the seeds that stuck to her she keep moving forward.
Read the sentence. When she arrived at the concert hall, the singer walked through a crowd of cheering fans. Which word is a preposition?
Answer: at, through.
Explanation: a preposition is a word governing, and usually preceding, a noun or pronoun and expressing a relation to another word or element in the clause. In the given sentence, there are two prepositions: "at" which object is "the concert hall" and "through" (through can be a preposition, an adverb or an adjective, but when it is followed by a noun, it is a preposition) which object is "crowd."
A central idea of “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” is that a. the great and the lowly find equality in death. b. no one notices the deaths of the common people. c. eloquent epitaphs take away the sting of death. d. a country churchyard contains forgotten kings and heroes.
A central idea of “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” is that the great and the lowly find equality in death. (Option A).
Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard is a poem by Thomas Gray. The poem's origins are uncertain. However, it was partly inspired by Gray's thoughts in the wake of the death of the poet Richard West in 1742.
This poem embodies a meditation on death.
What should always be included in an example of formal writing
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Pls HELP!!!! Help!!
NEED HELP NOW 100 POINTS WILL MARK BRAINLIEST ANSWER 2 PHOTOs BELOW
~batmans wife dun dun dun....
Details : NEED HELP NOW 100 POINTS WILL MARK BRAINLIEST ANSWER 2 PHOTOs BELOW
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Answer : c. the personal experience of the poet.
The term elegy is usually used to identify a poem of serious reflection. Although it is nowadays considered a poem for the dead, its broader meaning includes any serious, meditative poem. These type of poems usually tell the story of a person's experiences, especially mournful ones.
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in this excerpt from "Colonialism in the United States" by Henry C. Lodge, which word is closest in meaning to the word indelibly?
The answer is C. Permanently
Details : in this excerpt from "Colonialism in the United States" by Henry
When Usher decides to preserve his sister’s body for two weeks in the vault in the house, why does the narrator go along with the idea? He understands that using the vault has been a family tradition. He suspects that Madeline is not truly deceased yet. He knows that Usher will go insane if Madeline’s body leaves the house. He understands that Usher wants to keep Madeline’s body away from the physicians.
Performers typically stand in the wings __________________ just prior to going on stage. This helps them to think more clearly and settle their nerves. a. breathing deeply b. thinking positively c. carefully preparing d. practicing frequently
The correct answer is option a. "breathing deeply".
Deep breathing is a good way of relaxing because it increases the supply of oxygen to the brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness. Deep breathing is useful to think clearly and settle the nerves on stressful situations such as a performer that is about to perform his act.
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She thought of her last day in middle school, seven years ago, when Sarah had given her an iPod. She had felt ecstatic that day when she realized she would be able to listen to her favorite songs and fend off comments from her cousins about how little she knew about music.
which of the following appeals might be considered unprofessional? ethos logos pathos all none
If this refers to odyssey ware then this is your answer.
Pathos in Business
Emotional appeals are often seen as unprofessional. When you make an emotional appeal in business, you have to be very careful. It's best to avoid them, if possible. Sometimes, however; a well-placed story or example may work.
Details : which of the following appeals might be considered unprofessional?
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Your answer is A. that loyalty and goodness were highly valued. Hope this helps :)
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When Jerry arrives at the wild beach, he goes for a swim while he can see his mother in the distance, just a small dot on the crowded beach. He notices some local boys, they dive in to the sea in turn and Jerry is impressed by them. Eventually, the boys dive and do not come up for a long time. Jerry dives down to see what is there and finds a big black wall of rock and understands that the boys have swum through some hole in it to the other side. The boys take 160 seconds to go through the rock and the boys go away, leaving jerry experiencing failure and crying.
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A. a modest, but warm and cheerful interior space
B. a welcoming, but unimposing servant
These are the answers to the multiple choice question.
Details : An ideal version of Victorian domesticity might include _____. Select
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Metaphors and Similes
Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs (1.1.181)
Early in the play, as he moans about his unrequited love for Rosaline, Romeo uses a simile to compare love to a smoke that arises from the sighs of lovers, perhaps suggesting that it is simultaneously beautiful, potentially suffocating, and difficult to hold onto.
A man, young lady—lady, such a man As all the world—why, he’s a man of wax. (1.3.77–78)
In this metaphor, the Nurse tries to convince Juliet that Paris is a perfect specimen of a man, comparing him to a wax sculpture.
Is love a tender thing? It is too rough, Too rude, too boisterous, and it pricks like thorn. (1.4.25–26)
Out of favor with Rosaline at the beginning of the play, Romeo rejects the idea that love is tender, comparing it in this simile to a sharp thorn piercing the skin.
I talk of dreams, Which are the children of an idle brain, Begot of nothing but vain fantasy. (1.4.97–99)
In this metaphor, Mercutio suggests that dreams are born from a lazy mind in the same way that children are born from their parents.
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night As a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear (1.5.43–44)
In this simile, Romeo compares Juliet’s radiant beauty against the backdrop of night to an earring sparkling against the dark skin of an Ethiopian person.
But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun. (2.2.2–3)
In this metaphor, Juliet’s appearance at her balcony window prompts the lovestruck Romeo to compare her radiant beauty to that of the rising sun.
I have no joy of this contract tonight. It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden, Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be Ere one can say “It lightens.” (2.2.117–120)
Juliet reacts skeptically to Romeo’s first profession of love, comparing its suddenness in this simile to that of lightning, which flashes quickly and then disappears without warning.
These violent delights have violent ends And in their triumph die, like fire and powder, Which, as they kiss, consume. (2.6.9–11)
In this simile, Friar Lawrence advises Romeo to temper his extreme passion for Juliet, warning that their hasty marriage could turn out like a “kiss” between fire and gunpowder, causing a short-lived but violent explosion that consumes them both.
Death lies on her like an untimely frost Upon the sweetest flower of all the field. (4.5.29–30)
Here Lord Capulet uses a simile to compare young Juliet’s apparent death to that of a beautiful flower killed by an early winter frost.
O happy dagger, This is thy sheath. There rust and let me die. (5.3.183–184)
Just before stabbing herself with Romeo’s dagger, Juliet uses a metaphor to compare her body to the dagger’s case, suggesting that she intends for the dagger to stay there permanently.
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