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Romeo and Juliet
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Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
The Forcefulness of Love
Romeo and Juliet is the most famous love story in the English literary tradition. Love is naturally the play’s dominant and most important theme. The play focuses on romantic love, specifically the intense passion that springs up at first sight between Romeo and Juliet. In Romeo and Juliet , love is a violent, ecstatic, overpowering force that supersedes all other values, loyalties, and emotions. In the course of the play, the young lovers are driven to defy their entire social world: families (“Deny thy father and refuse thy name,” Juliet asks, “Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, / And I’ll no longer be a Capulet”); friends (Romeo abandons Mercutio and Benvolio after the feast in order to go to Juliet’s garden); and ruler (Romeo returns to Verona for Juliet’s sake after being exiled by the Prince on pain of death in 2.1.76–78).
Love is the overriding theme of the play, but a reader should always remember that Shakespeare is uninterested in portraying a prettied-up, dainty version of the emotion, the kind that bad poets write about, and whose bad poetry Romeo reads while pining for Rosaline. Love in Romeo and Juliet is a brutal, powerful emotion that captures individuals and catapults them against their world, and, at times, against themselves. The powerful nature of love can be seen in the way it is described, or, more accurately, the way descriptions of it so consistently fail to capture its entirety. At times love is described in the terms of religion, as in the fourteen lines when Romeo and Juliet first meet. At others, it is described as a sort of magic: “Alike bewitchèd by the charm of looks” (2.Prologue.6). Juliet, perhaps, most perfectly describes her love for Romeo by refusing to describe it: “But my true love is grown to such excess / I cannot sum up some of half my wealth” (3.1.33–34). Love, in other words, resists any single metaphor because it is too powerful to be so easily contained or understood. Romeo and Juliet does not make a specific moral statement about the relationships between love and society, religion, and family; rather, it portrays the chaos and passion of being in love, combining images of love, violence, death, religion, and family in an impressionistic rush leading to the play’s tragic conclusion.
Love as a Cause of Violence
The themes of death and violence permeate Romeo and Juliet , and they are always connected to passion, whether that passion is love or hate. The connection between hate, violence, and death seems obvious. But the connection between love and violence requires further investigation. Love, in Romeo and Juliet , is a grand passion, and as such, it is blinding; it can overwhelm a person as powerfully and completely as hate can. The passionate love between Romeo and Juliet is linked from the moment of its inception with death: Tybalt notices that Romeo has crashed the feast and determines to kill him just as Romeo catches sight of Juliet and falls instantly in love with her.
Read more about love causing pain in Shakespeare’s comedy, Twelfth Night .
From that point on, love seems to push the lovers closer to love and violence, not farther from it. Romeo and Juliet are plagued with thoughts of suicide, and a willingness to experience it: in Act 3, scene 3, Romeo brandishes a knife in Friar Lawrence’s cell and threatens to kill himself after he has been banished from Verona and his love. Juliet also pulls a knife in order to take her own life in Friar Lawrence’s presence just three scenes later. After Capulet decides that Juliet will marry Paris, Juliet says, “If all else fail, myself have power to die” (3.5.242). Finally, each imagines that the other looks dead the morning after their first, and only, sexual experience (“Methinks I see thee,” Juliet says, “. . . as one dead in the bottom of a tomb” (3.5.55–56).
This theme continues until its inevitable conclusion: double suicide. This tragic choice is the highest, most potent expression of love that Romeo and Juliet can make. It is only through death that they can preserve their love, and their love is so profound that they are willing to end their lives in its defense. In the play, love emerges as an amoral thing, leading as much to destruction as to happiness. But in its extreme passion, the love that Romeo and Juliet experience also appears so exquisitely beautiful that few would want, or be able, to resist its power.
The Individual Versus Society
Much of Romeo and Juliet involves the lovers’ struggles against public and social institutions that either explicitly or implicitly oppose the existence of their love. Such structures range from the concrete to the abstract: families and the placement of familial power in the father; law and the desire for public order; religion; and the social importance placed on masculine honor. These institutions often come into conflict with each other. The importance of honor, for example, time and again results in brawls that disturb the public peace. Though they do not always work in concert, each of these societal institutions in some way present obstacles for Romeo and Juliet. The enmity between their families, coupled with the emphasis placed on loyalty and honor to kin, combine to create a profound conflict for Romeo and Juliet, who must rebel against their heritages.
Further, the patriarchal power structure inherent in Renaissance families, wherein the father controls the action of all other family members, particularly women, places Juliet in an extremely vulnerable position. Her heart, in her family’s mind, is not hers to give. The law and the emphasis on social civility demand terms of conduct with which the blind passion of love cannot comply. Religion similarly demands priorities that Romeo and Juliet cannot abide by because of the intensity of their love. Though in most situations the lovers uphold the traditions of Christianity (they wait to marry before consummating their love), their love is so powerful that they begin to think of each other in blasphemous terms. For example, Juliet calls Romeo “the god of my idolatry,” elevating Romeo to level of God (2.1.156). The couple’s final act of suicide is likewise un-Christian. The maintenance of masculine honor forces Romeo to commit actions he would prefer to avoid. But the social emphasis placed on masculine honor is so profound that Romeo cannot simply ignore them.
It is possible to see Romeo and Juliet as a battle between the responsibilities and actions demanded by social institutions and those demanded by the private desires of the individual. Romeo and Juliet’s appreciation of night, with its darkness and privacy, and the renunciation of their names, with its attendant loss of obligation, make sense in the context of individuals who wish to escape the public world. But the lovers cannot stop the night from becoming day. And Romeo cannot cease being a Montague simply because he wants to; the rest of the world will not let him. The lovers’ suicides can be understood as the ultimate night, the ultimate privacy.
The Inevitability of Fate
In its first address to the audience, the Chorus states that Romeo and Juliet are “star-crossed”—that is to say that fate (a power often vested in the movements of the stars) controls them (Prologue.6). This sense of fate permeates the play, and not just for the audience. The characters also are quite aware of it: Romeo and Juliet constantly see omens. When Romeo believes that Juliet is dead, he cries out, “Then I defy you, stars,” completing the idea that the love between Romeo and Juliet is in opposition to the decrees of destiny (5.1.24). Of course, Romeo’s defiance itself plays into the hands of fate, and his determination to spend eternity with Juliet results in their deaths.
The mechanism of fate works in all of the events surrounding the lovers: the feud between their families (it is worth noting that this hatred is never explained; rather, the reader must accept it as an undeniable aspect of the world of the play); the horrible series of accidents that ruin Friar Lawrence’s seemingly well-intentioned plans at the end of the play; and the tragic timing of Romeo’s suicide and Juliet’s awakening. These events are not mere coincidences, but rather manifestations of fate that help bring about the unavoidable outcome of the young lovers’ deaths.
The concept of fate described above is the most commonly accepted interpretation. There are other possible readings of fate in the play: as a force determined by the powerful social institutions that influence Romeo and Juliet’s choices, as well as fate as a force that emerges from Romeo and Juliet’s very personalities.
Given that Romeo and Juliet represents one of the world’s most famous and enduring love stories, it seems obvious that the play should spotlight the theme of love. However, the play tends to focus more on the barriers that obstruct love than it does on love itself. Obviously, the Capulet and Montague families represent the lovers’ largest obstacle. But the lovers are also their own obstacles, in the sense that they have divergent understandings of love. Romeo, for instance, begins the play speaking of love in worn clichés that make his friends cringe. Although the language he uses with Juliet showcases a more mature and original verse, he retains a fundamentally abstract conception of love. Juliet, by contrast, tends to remain more firmly grounded in the practical matters related to love, such as marriage and sex. This contrast between the lovers appears clearly in the famous balcony scene. Whereas Romeo speaks of Juliet poetically, using an extended metaphor that likens her to the sun, Juliet laments the social constraints that prevent their marriage: “O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo? / Deny thy father and refuse thy name” (II.ii.33–34).
Another obstacle in Romeo and Juliet is time—or, more precisely, timing. Everything related to love in this play moves too quickly. The theme of accelerated love first appears early in the play, regarding the question of whether Juliet is old enough for marriage. Whereas Lady Capulet contends that Juliet is of a “pretty age” and hence eligible for marriage, Lord Capulet maintains that it’s too soon for her to marry. When Lord Capulet changes his mind later in the play, he accelerates the timeline for Juliet’s marriage to Paris. Forced to act quickly in response, Juliet fakes her own death. Everything about Romeo and Juliet’s relationship is sped up as well. Not only do they fall in love at first sight, but they also get married the next day.
The lovers’ haste may raise questions about the legitimacy of their affection for one another. Do they truly love each other, or have they doomed themselves out of mere sexual desire? The theme of accelerated love returns at the play’s end, when Romeo arrives at Juliet’s tomb, believing himself to be too late. In fact, he arrives too early, just before Juliet wakes up. His bad timing results in both their deaths.
The themes of love and sex are closely linked in Romeo and Juliet , though the precise nature of their relationship remains in dispute throughout. For instance, in Act I Romeo talks about his frustrated love for Rosaline in poetic terms, as if love were primarily an abstraction. Yet he also implies that things didn’t work out with Rosaline because she preferred to remain a virgin:
She’ll not be hit With Cupid’s arrow. She hath Dian’s wit, And, in strong proof of chastity well armed, From love’s weak, childish bow she lives uncharmed. (I.i.202–5)
Mercutio picks this thread back up in Act II, when he insists that Romeo has confused his love for Juliet with mere sexual desire: “this driveling love is like a great natural that runs / lolling up and down to hide his bauble in a hole” (II.iv.84–85). Mercutio’s words suggest a comparison between Romeo and either a court jester looking for a place to hide his staff or a mentally impaired person (i.e., a “natural”) seeking to hide a trinket. Yet Mercutio’s use of the phrases “lolling up and down” and “hide his bauble in a hole” also strongly imply sexual imagery (“bauble” and “hole” are slang for penis and vagina, respectively). Hence Mercutio’s words suggest a third comparison between Romeo and an idiot clumsily groping for a woman to have sex with. Whereas Mercutio cynically conflates love and sex, Juliet takes a more earnest and pious position. In Mercutio’s view, there is ultimately no such thing as love, since love is ultimately reducible to sexual desire.
Juliet, by contrast, implies that the concepts are distinct and that they exist in a hierarchical relationship, with love standing above sex. This view accords with Catholic doctrine, which privileges the spiritual union of marriage, but also indicates that this union must be legally consummated through sexual intercourse. The speech Juliet delivers in Act III, scene ii, nicely demonstrates her view of the proper relationship between love and sex:
Oh, I have bought the mansion of a love But not possessed it, and, though I am sold, Not yet enjoyed. (III.ii.26–28)
Here the notions of purchase and possession designate love/marriage and sex, respectively. Through marriage, she has “bought” Romeo’s love (and likewise “sold” hers to him), but the moment of mutual possession has not yet taken place. Now that they’re married, however, Juliet clearly longs to “enjoy” the consummation. “Give me my Romeo,” she says: “And when I shall die, / Take him and cut him out in little stars” (III.ii.21–22). “Die” was Elizabethan slang for orgasm, and the image of Romeo “cut . . . out in little stars” subtly references the sexual ecstasy Juliet anticipates.
Due to the ongoing feud between the Capulets and the Montagues, violence permeates the world of Romeo and Juliet . Shakespeare demonstrates how intrinsic violence is to the play’s environment in the first scene. Sampson and Gregory open the play by making jokes about perpetrating violent acts against members of the Montague family. And when Lord Montague’s servant, Abram, appears, their first response is to prepare for a fight. Gregory instructs Sampson, “Draw thy tool!” (I.i.29), and Sampson does so immediately.
Tempers among the young men of Verona are clearly short, as further demonstrated when Tybalt spots Romeo at the Capulet ball and spoils for a fight. Lord Capulet succeeds in temporarily calming Tybalt, but the latter’s fury continues to smolder until the top of Act III, when he tries to provoke a duel with Romeo, fatally wounds Mercutio, and ends up slain by Romeo’s hand. Though tragic, this turn of events also seems inevitable. Given how the feud between the two families continuously fans the flames of hatred and thereby maintains a low-burning rage, such flaring outbursts of violence appear inescapable.
Read about another cycle of violence with deadly consequences in S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders .
Violence in the play has a particularly significant relationship with sex. This is true in a general sense, in the way the feud casts a shadow of violence over Romeo and Juliet’s romance. But it also comes up in more localized examples. Sampson sets the stage for this link in the play’s opening scene, when he proclaims his desire to attack the Montague men and sexually assault the Montague women: “I will / push Montague’s men from the wall and thrust / his maids to the wall” (I.i.15–17). Sex and violence are also twinned in the events following Romeo and Juliet’s wedding. These events frame Act III, which opens with the scene in which Romeo ultimately slays Tybalt, and closes with the scene after Romeo stays the night with Juliet, possibly consummating their marriage. Even the language of sex in the play conjures violent imagery. When at the end of Act III Romeo declares, “Let me be put to death” (III.v.17), he’s referring to the real threat of being put to death by the Capulets if he’s found in Juliet’s room, but he’s also making a sexual pun, since “death” is slang for orgasm.
Romeo and Juliet are both very young, and Shakespeare uses the two lovers to spotlight the theme of youth in several ways. Romeo, for instance, is closely linked to the young men with whom he roves the streets of Verona. These young men are short-tempered and quick to violence, and their rivalries with opposing groups of young men indicate a phenomenon not unlike modern gang culture (though we should remember that Romeo and his friends are also the privileged elite of the city).
In addition to this association with gangs of youthful men, Shakespeare also depicts Romeo as somewhat immature. Romeo’s speech about Rosaline in the play’s first scene is full of clichéd phrases from love poetry, and Benvolio and Mercutio take turns poking fun at him for this. They also mock Romeo for being so hung up on one woman. Benvolio in particular implies that Romeo’s seriousness prevents him from acting his age. He’s still young, and he should therefore take his time and explore relations with other women: “Compare [Rosaline’s] face with some that I shall show, / And I will make thee think thy swan a crow” (I.ii.87–88).
Whereas we never learn Romeo’s precise age, we know that Juliet is thirteen. Her age comes up early in the play, during conversations about whether or not she’s too young to get married. Juliet’s mother insists that she’s reached “a pretty age” (I.iii.11), but her father describes her as “yet a stranger in the world” (I.ii.8) and hence not yet ready to marry. Although Juliet does not want to marry Paris, she certainly believes herself old enough for marriage. In fact, she yearns for marriage and for sexual experience, and she often uses explicitly erotic language that indicates a maturity beyond her actual years.
Yet in spite of this apparent maturity, Juliet also tacitly acknowledges her own youthfulness. When she looks forward to her wedding night, for example, she compares herself to “an impatient child” (III.ii.30), reminding the audience that in fact, this is what she is. Such acknowledgments of the lovers’ youth ultimately serve to amplify the tragedy of their premature death. Indeed, one of the saddest aspects of the play is that the lovers die so young, cutting their lives (and their relationship) so tragically short.
The theme of ill-fated love frames the story of Romeo and Juliet from the beginning. During the Prologue, before the play officially commences, the Chorus makes several allusions to fate, including the famous reference to Romeo and Juliet as a “pair of star-crossed lovers.” Shakespeare coined the term “star-crossed,” which means “not favored by the stars,” or “ill-fated.” Although the term may seem primarily metaphorical today, the science of astrology occupied a place of privilege in Renaissance society. Thus, the notion that one’s fate was written in the stars had a more immediate, literal meaning than it does today. In the case of Romeo and Juliet, then, their fates are cosmically misaligned.
Later in the Prologue, the Chorus reiterates the idea of fate in referring to Romeo and Juliet’s love as “death-marked,” which once again indicates that, from the very beginning, their desire for one another carries a sign or omen of inevitable death. Shakespeare’s use of the word “marked” here also suggests a physical inscription, alluding to the notion that their fate has been pre-written. It may seem counterintuitive for Shakespeare to open his play by spoiling its ending, but this choice about how to tell the story allows Shakespeare to incorporate the theme of predetermined fate into the play’s very structure. Uniting the theme of fate with the play’s structure in this way introduces a sense of dramatic irony, such that the audience will have more insight into the unfolding events than the characters. Watching the characters struggle against an invisible and unbeatable force such as fate heightens the sense of tension throughout the play.
This struggle also amplifies the sense of tragedy at the play’s conclusion. For instance, when Romeo cries out, “I defy you, stars!” (V.i.), the audience knows that his headstrong resistance is no match for fate, and acknowledging this impotence only makes Romeo’s agony that much more painful. In the end, then, mentioning Romeo and Juliet’s fate at the beginning of the play doesn’t spoil the ending. Instead, it locks the audience into a sense of tense anticipation of inescapable tragedy.
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Romeo and Juliet
by William Shakespeare
Tradition and Subversion in Romeo and Juliet
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7256
Francois Laroque, University of Paris III, Sorbonne
Romeo and Juliet, the story of "star-crossed" love, is so well and so deeply rooted in a number of traditions—those of myth, legend, folklore, novella, to name a few—that to present it as a subversive play may appear paradoxical and perhaps even perverse. Yet the play's main polarities that explore the frictions between high and low spheres, public and private lives, age and youth, authority and rebellion, sacred and secular love, generate powerful whirls of energy that partly account for its enduring fascination for world audiences.
To the ebullient atmosphere of erotic drives that is released by the prospect of marriage, by music, dancing, and masquing, as well as by the flares of torches at night and the dog days of early summer in Verona, one must surely add the numerous language games, puns, innuendoes, and paradoxes whose main source is Mercutio, the play's lord of misrule. These witty language games and conceits are all part of a tradition (rhetorical tropes, Petrarchan codes, sonneteering conventions) as well as of the subversion of this tradition. Romeo and Juliet introduces us into a world upside down where the ordinary rules—whether they be syntactical, social, or sexual—are temporarily lifted or brushed aside. The violence of the civil brawls is reflected in the violence of the language or rather in the violence imposed upon language. The very genre of the play—a love tragedy—is itself a subversion of tragedy since the first two acts correspond to the structure of Shakespearean comedy until Mercutio is turned into a "grave man," thus causing the play to veer off into tragedy. Gender is also subverted, as Shakespeare plays at presenting an active, almost masculine Juliet against a weak, effeminate Romeo.
The law is subverted by a love that brings about a destabilization of domestic order, thus leading to a world where contraries are reconciled in a series of sublime or grotesque conjunctions (high and low, hate and love, the sacred and the profane, life and death) so as to create a series of discordant fusions. Shakespeare is here influenced by Marlowe, whose heterodox approach to life and love, repeatedly stressed in his plays, allowed the pagan mysteries to displace or subvert the traditional Christian values that were then regarded as the foundation of public order and of household peace.
Young Shakespeare seems to have delighted in delineating the ravages of misrule, of the hurly-burly of love and desire, in a traditional aristocratic society dominated by custom, patriarchy, and well-established wealth. 1 Festivity is not limited to orchestrating the coming of age in Verona or the various rites of passage for young men and women, but it also serves to turn the world upside down, to subvert its rigid hierarchies. United with the subversive power of love, festivity does not only achieve a temporary suspension of social rules and political authority, but it also leads to a radical questioning of traditional patriarchal order.
Following on the dense, syntactically complex and highly contorted sonnet prologue, we are thrust in medias res into the verbal sparrings of the two Capulet servants, Sampson and Gregory (1.1.1-30). Theirs is a stichomythic exchange depending on linguistic thrust and parry, on a quick succession of quibbles: colliers — choler — collar; of antithesis and paradox: move — stand. Although this is unquestionably a type of demotic language that foreshadows the future banter between Romeo and Mercutio (what the latter calls the "wild-goose chase" in 2.4.72), it remains both vivacious and entertaining and serves to strike the keynote, one of aggressive virility and unabashed phallicism, at the outset of the play. 2
Before going further I should also remark that, on stage, the servants' appearance creates an impression of rapid movements, intense agitation, and a great expenditure of youthful male energy. Sampson and Gregory use a number of telling gestures while they speak to denote outrage, provocation, insult, or mockery; and their mode of expression also depends on body language. So expressions like "we'll draw" (1.1.3), "to stand" (1.8), "women are ever thrust to the wall" (lines 14-15), "'tis known I am a pretty piece of flesh" (line 28), "draw thy tool" (line 30), are all accompanied by specific gestures, some of them probably quite obscene and using all the possibilities offered by the costumes and properties of the set (in particular the bulging codpieces so conspicuous on Renaissance male apparel). So, this mixture of verbal aggressiveness and of "macho" pride (the flaunting of sexual virility traditionally identified with the implements of fight with expressions like "stand" or "tool") has elements of clowning as well as of youth culture with its martial rites that find expression in street brawls as well as in carnival games. 3 This is a sample of what Peter Burke has called "blue-apron culture," 4 which found expression in riots or on various festive occasions, something quite reminiscent of the French Sociétés Joyeuses or "Abbeys of Misrule" described by Natalie Davis. 5 The play thus opens on a combination of popular culture, joyful anarchy, and sexual bravado, an index to festive license or mass rebellion as in the Jack Cade scenes in 2 Henry VI.
We find here a string of gruesome puns on "cutting off the heads of the maids" (lines 22-23) amounting to taking their "maidenheads," a style of wordplay already found in 2 Henry VI in a dialogue between Jack Cade and Dick the Butcher (4.7.121-23). In 2 Henry VI this was followed by the savage farce of showing the heads of Lord Say and his son-in-law, Sir James Cromer, on top of long pikes and then in having them kiss one another in some sinister puppet show. This bloody spectacle may be construed as the unmetaphoring 6 of the latent brutality of the sexual punning (4.7.124-25), and one is reminded of Lavinia's rape and mutilation in Titus Andronicus. In the latter, as in the history play, verbal violence is followed by acts of sadism and cruelty that take the form of bloody farce and savagery. In Romeo and Juliet subversion is apparently less radical since, on the surface at least, it remains confined to speech patterns and to a series of provoking postures. 7
Yet if we think of Juliet's ominous threat, "… Nurse, I'll to my wedding bed, / And death, not Romeo, take my maidenhead" (3.2.136-37) or of old Capulet's lament in 4.5, when his daughter is discovered apparently dead on the morning of her marriage to Paris, we may see an interesting underground connection between the initial jokes and the belated accomplishment of Juliet's fate:
O son, the night before thy wedding day Hath Death lain with thy wife. There she lies, Flower as she was, deflowered by him. Death is my son-in-law, Death is my heir. My daughter he hath wedded.… (4.5.35-39; emphasis mine)
This association between defloration and death had also been anticipated by Juliet's own fantasies when she said to Friar Laurence:
O, bid me leap, rather than marry Paris, From off the battlements of any tower, Or walk in thievish ways, or bid me lurk Where serpents are. Chain me with roaring bears, Or hide me nightly in a charnel-house O 'ercover 'd quite with dead men's rattling bones, With reeky shanks and yellow chapless skulls. (4.1.77-83; emphasis mine)
These are not only words, as the initial sinister images are acted out in the play's final scene when, after a last kiss to the dead Romeo, Juliet kills herself with a dagger and exclaims:
O happy dagger. This is thy sheath. There rust, and let me die. (5.3.167-68)
The act of suicide is a perversion of the act of love since the phallic dagger (Gregory's "tool") is allowed to penetrate Juliet's "sheath," a word that is used instead of the more technical term "scabbard," which is also the exact English translation of the Latin vagina. More farfetched but no less intriguing is the possible Latin pun on head/ caput that refers us directly to the name Capulet, so that the word "maidenhead" could already be an indirect allusion to the play's heroine—Juliet Capulet. 8 This type of linguistic juggling, combining two separate signifiers ("head" and "maid") into a component whole ("maidenhead") that radically alters the initial meaning (from cruelty to sexuality) while opening up metaphorical perspectives used later in the play, is an illustration of a form of linguistic subversion characterizing low comedy.
Another example of these subversive language games may be found in the Nurse's soliloquy in 1.3, when she refers to her teeth and exclaims:
… I'll lay fourteen of my teeth— And yet, to my teen be it spoken, I have but four — She's not fourteen. (1.3.12-14; emphasis mine)
A similar pun is found in the scene where Old Capulet is busy preparing the marriage festivities with Peter and the other servants:
Cap. —Sirrah, fetch drier logs! Call Peter, he will show thee where they are. 2 Ser. I have a head, sir, that will find out logs and never trouble Peter for the matter. Cap. Mass and well said! A merry whoreson, ha. Thou shalt be loggerhead! (4.4.15-20; emphasis mine)
This repeats the type of popular wordplay already indulged in by the servants, male or female, all of them part of the Capulet household, so that it may be regarded as a form of clannish mannerism; the various puns on the word "head" are also indirectly related to the name Capulet.
Such low-life linguistic bricolage has its counterpart in the rhetoric of the lovers that places such an emphasis on the oxymoron—the "pretty riddle," as Erasmus calls it. 9 It conveys the extreme tension between polar opposites characterizing such a brief and intense experience, this "prodigious birth of love" where "[their] only love [is] sprung from [their] only hate" (1.5.137).
Contrary to the euphuistic dead language of Lady Capulet comparing Paris to a book (1.4.81-92) and in opposition to Old Capulet's cyclical vision of life and love (1.2.26-30), inscribed within an immemorial and universal tradition of succeeding generations that prompts him to cast a nostalgic backward glance on the lost pleasures of his youth ("Nay sit, nay sit, good cousin Capulet, / For you and I are past our dancing days … / Come Pentecost as quickly as it will, / Some five and twenty years: and then we masqu'd"—1.5.30-37), Romeo and Juliet's language of love seems closer to a "misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms" (1.1.177). The simultaneously rapturous and destructive experience of love at first sight, suggested in the French expression le coup de foundre, which associates sudden love with a flash of lightning, is rendered in the play's complex and ambivalent light and darkness imagery 10 in repeated allusions to fire, powder, consummation, combustion, explosion, and also in the language of impetuous and rash speed (running, galloping, and so forth). The oxymoron, which can only be reduced, when used mechanically, to a string of dead images as in Romeo's pseudo-Petrarchan ejaculations in 1.1.174-79, "O brawling love, O loving hate … ," is bound to produce or to reflect an emotional shock; if antithesis may be defined as a strategy of opposition and paradox as a strategy of inversion, the oxymoron itself is based on a strategy of fusion. 11 The ontology of the oxymoron is in fact close to the neoplatonic concept of coincidentia oppositorum as illustrated by Marsiglio Ficino in his commentary on Plato's Symposium, where he states that "Love is Desire aroused by Beauty":
Only by the vivifying rapture of Amor do the contraries of Pulchritudo and Voluptas become united: "Contradictoria coincidunt in natura uniali." But to achieve the perfect union of contraries, Love must face the Beyond; for as long as Love remains attached to the finite world, Passion and Beauty will continue to clash. 12
An equivalent of this may be seen in some of the love images in the play that both contrast and collapse the opposite ideas of light and darkness, like Romeo's description of Juliet "As a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear" (1.5.45) or Juliet's description of Romeo as "day in night" (3.2.17). Oddly enough, Puttenham calls this figure "the Crosse-couple" because "it takes [me] two contrary words, and tieth them as it were in a paire of couples, and so makes them agree like good fellowes." 13 So the oxymoron, or "crosse-couple," should indeed be regarded as the emblematic trope of the "pair of star-crossed lovers."
But in the play's dialectics, love is a transcending force that disrupts and subverts the marriage strategies of the establishment but it is itself subverted by Mercutio's wit and by the Nurse's bawdy humor. In creating a multiplicity of perspectives, Shakespeare is able to view the central love story from conflicting and parallel lines and thus to deflate some of its potential pathos and sentimentality. Romanticism is pitted against the cynical view of love as sex, as an affair of a "poperin pear" in an "open arse" (2.1.38), as Mercutio crudely puts it. The voices of tradition and subversion are not one-sided in this play but constantly interact and reflect one another so that they oblige the spectator and the reader to resort to constant realignments of perspective. We find a similar dynamic at the level of social, sexual, and gender roles, as well as of ideological positions in general.
That the Nurse should be regarded as one of the strong voices of tradition in the play seems an undeniable fact. In her long rambling speech about Juliet's age in 1.3 she seems to be the keeper of family memory, reminiscing numerous details about Juliet's infancy and growth to childhood (her weaning, her standing "high lone," her falling forward). For her the past is safely contained within a double calendar—that of an old Celtic holiday (Lugnasadh) turned into the agricultural feast of Lammastide celebrating the beginning of harvest and the calendar of her own private memories, the death of her daughter Susan, the earthquake that surprised her while she was "sitting in the sun under the dove-house wall. …" If time is associated with the cycles of growth and coming of age, as in the traditional her discourse or pastoral notions of time in the Renaissance, 14 her discourse remains predicated on a void, on the dark shadow of death that it simultaneously suggests and screens. It also betrays an insistence on and even an obsession with the body and bodily functions that combines sexuality and death. The Nurse's speech undermines itself since the counterdiscourse of sex and death progressively subverts the surface search for calendar landmarks, thereby destroying the happy remembrance of things past.
The Nurse's way of reckoning time is highly idiosyncratic. The main public event that she recaptures is the earthquake "eleven years before," a phrase she repeats several times. This event coincided with little Juliet's weaning, just before she turned three, an unusually late age for weaning a child, even by Elizabethan standards. 15 This reconstruction of time past is achieved, as it were, by means of her own bodily geography. On several occasions she refers to her "dug" and "nipple" (lines 26, 30, 31, 32), just as earlier she had jokingly mentioned her teeth to count Juliet's age. At this juncture one is reminded of the poetic blason —that is, the metonymic game consisting of describing and heraldizing the female body, or rather its naughty parody, the contreblason, which both belong to the tradition started by the French poet Clément Marot. 16 Indeed, the Nurse relies on this particular part of her old and ugly body (her sagging breasts or "dugs," otherwise emblematic of her trade) as a piece of evidence to date one particular episode. 17 In spite of the apparent disorder and random associations of her soliloquy, 18 she resorts to loci memoriae while her own ars memorativa associates past events with bodily pictures. Indeed, hers is an instinctive memory system that works as memoria rerum or rather as memoria corporis. 19 The wearing of Juliet and the earthquake are a miniature drama encapsulated within her brain ("I do bear a brain," line 29) that she is physically reexperiencing on the stage as she is telling her story. The scene begins as a picture of "childhood recollected in tranquillity" until the idle, lazy "sitting in the sun under the dove-house wall" (line 27) suddenly quickens into life when the "pretty fool" grows tetchy and falls out with the dug; then the wall shakes with the earthquake, thus obliging the Nurse to "trudge." This gentle, peaceful action appears in strong contrast to Gregory's thrusting the "maids to the wall" (1.1.16). The uncomfortable association of the earthquake and of domestic bliss is accompanied by the darker note of the evocation of the dead figures of Susan and of her "merry" husband. The Nurse's incongruous animation of the dovehouse ("'Shake!' quoth the dovehouse," 1.3.34), a pathetic fallacy combined with hysteron proteron, a trope inverting the order of cause and effect, may also be interpreted as just another way of evoking the "shaking of the sheets" in the "love-house." Besides being very common rhymes, love and dove are almost interchangeable words in poetry and Romeo does call Juliet a "snowy dove" when he first sees her (1.5.47); moreover, the traditional Renaissance interconnections between micro- and macrocosm made the earthquake a possible image for the tremors of the belly and of the lower bodily parts. So the reawakening of dead or dormant memories is first and foremost a means or an excuse for the Nurse to bring back to life her extinct sexual life so as to retrieve the happy time when her husband was still of this world. If the sexual allusion is transferred to young Juliet, as may seem appropriate since the business at hand is, after all, her prospective marriage, it can also be understood as an expression of the Nurse's nostalgia for her own married life, now dead and gone with her husband's body.
Indeed, the correspondences between the little world of man and nature's macrocosm made it possible to establish a series of links and analogies between bodily parts, the four elements, and the planets. In this view the earth was quite logically associated with the lower parts so that an earthquake could be interpreted in a sexual or scatological manner as, for instance, in Hotspur's sarcastic remarks to Glendower in 1 Henry IV:
Diseased nature oftentimes breaks forth In strange eruptions, oft the teeming earth Is with a kind of colic pinch'd and vex'd By the imprisoning of unruly wind Within her womb, which, for enlargement striving Shakes the old beldame earth, and topples down Steeples and moss-grown towers. At your birth Our grandam earth, having this distemp'rature, In passion shook.… (3.1.26-34)
Hotspur is here bent on sending down the mad pretensions of the Welsh magus but this piece of "Bakhtinian grotesque" reveals that the eruptions of nature were also popularly construed as the release of an unruly wind contained within the womb of "our grandam earth." Scatological allusions being, if one may say so, next door to sexual innuendo, the allusion to the earthquake may be regarded as a kind of double entendre that the gestures of the actress playing the part of the Nurse can always make quite explicit on stage.
In The Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare had already developed a string of comic analogies between the female anatomy of Nell, the kitchen wench, and European geography, 20 an idea followed up in The Purple Island, or the Isle of Man (1633) by Phineas Fletcher, where the human figure merges into the landscape and the landscape is made to look like a human body, 21 a double conceit that is a verbal equivalent of the art of the "curious perspective" or anamorphosis.
The Nurse's soliloquy can thus be read as a verbal anamorphosis of her own body, where the travel into "the dark backward and abysm of time" 22 provides her with an opportunity to retrieve the map of her female anatomy with its periodic fluxes and shakings. 23 Such powerful corporeal presence is also a screen for an absence and a palimpsest that points to the shadow of death underneath. When one uses the method of "backward reckoning," which seems to have been common practice in the religious and judicial worlds as well as in the popular culture of early modern Europe, 24 one realizes that the reference to "Lammaseve at night" (31 July) takes us back to the probable date of Juliet's conception, nine months earlier, which corresponds to the night of Hallowe'en (31 October), when the souls of the dead were believed to be roaming about. The Italian historian Carlo Ginzburg has described these Hallowe'en superstitions as the offshoots of a vast corpus of European beliefs in the night battles waged between the living and the dead or between the night walkers, or benandanti (children born with a caul and thus with a sign of their gift), and bands of nocturnal demons spreading sterility and death:
The nocturnal ridings of the women following Diana's cult are no doubt a variant of the 'wild hunt' … Diana-Hecate is indeed herself followed in her night peregrinations by a group of disquieted dead souls—the premature dead, children having died in infancy, people having died violent deaths.… 25
So even if it is subdued and if it only briefly surfaces in the Nurse's monologue, this association of wintry barrenness and fruition (Lammas and Hallowe'en), of "birthday and deathday," 26 of breast-feeding, weaning, and burying ("falling backward" is an expression that links copulation and death, a possible proleptic suggestion of Juliet's "death" on the very morning of her marriage to Paris) is both paradoxical and typical of the play's alliance of contraries.
On closer examination, the image of the weaning of Juliet with the laying of wormwood on the dug, which uses what Gail Paster describes as "the aversion technique," 27 may probably be regarded as a subliminal foreshadowing of Juliet's desperate attempt in the end, when she tries to suck the last drops of poison from Romeo's lips and exclaims:
Poison, I see, hath been his timeless end. O churl. Drunk all, and left no friendly drop To help me after? I will kiss thy lips. Haply some poison yet doth hang on them To make me die with a restorative. (5.3.162-166)
The Nurse's smearing her breast with wormwood, a proverbially bitter oil used to discourage the child from breastfeeding, also reinforces the motif of death insofar as the prefix "worm" also looks forward to Mercutio's curse after the fight against Tybalt—"A plague o' both your houses, / They have made worms ' meat of me" (3.1.109; emphasis mine), and to Romeo's lurid evocation of "worms that are [Juliet's] chambermaids" (5.3.109), both announcing Hamlet's irreverent epitaph for Polonius:
King Now, Hamlet, where's Polonius? Ham. At supper. King At supper? Where? Ham. Not where he eats, but where 'a is eaten. A certain convocation of politic worms are e'en at him. Your worm is your only emperor for diet: we fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots. Your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable service, two dishes, but to one table—that's the end. King Alas, alas! Ham. A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm. King What dost thou mean by this? Ham. Nothing but to show you how a king may go a progress through the guts of a beggar. (4.3.16-31)
Hamlet's sardonic humor is here at its most savage as it presents an image of royal festivity, of going "a progress" through the empty stomachs and the "guts" of the populace. This is more than the traditional memento mori or than the description of death as the great leveler. This provocative vision of a world upside down is a caveat to Claudius, a direct challenge to his authority, a veiled death threat associated to grim apocalyptic visions of social revenge in the form of latter-day cannibalism using the worms as proxies. In the case of Romeo and Juliet, things are far from being so clear, and the subversive elements in the Nurse's defense of tradition and memory can only appear through the work of retrospective interpretation (like the Nurse's own serpentine anamnesis) once the play's sequence of unlucky events has been disclosed and the theme of the triumph of death has taken over on the triumph of love. Shakespeare resorts to the power of language and imagery to prepare the audience for the idea and the spectacle of the gradual fusion of eros and thanatos.
Indeed, the reference to the earthquake has the function of a dark saturnalia: it combines the ideas of the dance of sex and of the dance of death and it rolls into one the impressions of catastrophe and ecstasy (other images for this are images of the flash of lightning, of the meteor, or allusions to the myth of Phaeton). Like the Nurse's insistence on her own body, this combination of sexuality and death, of joy and mourning, is a recognizable feature of the grotesque mode with its specific mixture of humor and horror 28 and its foregrounding of bodily organs and bodily functions. This ambivalence is analyzed by Bakhtin in what he calls "grotesque realism":
Degradation and debasement of the higher do not have a formal and relative character in grotesque realism. "Upward" and "downward" have here an absolute and strictly topographical meaning. "Downward" is earth, "upward" is heaven. Earth is an element that devours, swallows up (the grave, the womb) and at the same time an element of birth, of renascence (the maternal breasts),… To degrade is to bury, to sow, and to kill simultaneously, in order to bring forth something more and better. To degrade also means to concern oneself with the lower stratum of the body, the life of the belly and the reproductive organs; it therefore relates to acts of defection and copulation, conception, pregnancy and birth. Degradation digs a bodily grave for a new birth; it has not only a destructive, negative aspect, but also a regenerating one. 29
The conversion from festival to funeral, therefore, does not only concern Juliet's planned marriage rites. The play negotiates a constant to and fro movement from mirth to lament and vice versa until it becomes itself a dramatic equivalent of Peter's "merry dump" (4.5.105).
Another example of the subversion of the ordinary opposition between life and death may be found in the scene where Juliet is discovered dead on the morning of her marriage to Count Paris. The hysterical nature and the hyperbolic artificiality of the collective lamentations orchestrated by the Nurse and articulated by Old Capulet have often been rightly pointed out. This is all the more visible as the audience knows that Juliet is not actually dead, so that all emotion is drained of the lament and mourning is turned into a hollow performance. As Thomas Moisan writes:
Shakespeare deliberately undercuts the rhetoric of grief in this scene to underscore, by contrast, the more genuine emotions of Romeo and Juliet … the ululant effusions of the mourners, with their "0"-reate apostrophes and expletives undeleted … are too "high" and "tragic" for a death that has not actually occurred, while the punning badinage between Peter and the musicians is too "low" and "comic" for a death that is supposed to have occurred.… 30
So when Paris expresses his grief by exclaiming,
Beguil'd, divorced, wronged, spited, slain. Most detestable Death, by thee beguil'd, By cruel, cruel thee quite overthrown (4.5.55-58)
he follows suit and amplifies Capulet's most vocal lamentation but he also unwittingly reveals that Romeo, who has taken Juliet away from him and married her in secret, is now identified with the figure of Death. He had already been recognized as such by Tybalt during the masque scene in 1.5, when the latter had described him as "cover'd with an antic face" (the word antic, as Richard II reveals, was a traditional name for death). 31 So, among the play's supreme ironies and successive reversals we discover that the two rivals for Juliet's love, both unknown to each other, are allowed to be cheated and defeated by a false death. This is the result of Friar Laurence's unfortunate attempt to simulate death to preserve life, which led him to a dangerous transgression with unforeseen consequences.
The subversion of the border between life and death at the initiative of figures that seem hallmarked by tradition and experience follows another subversion, namely that of gender roles in the play. This appears when Romeo compares Juliet with the sun in the "balcony" scene:
But soft, what light through younder 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. (2.2.2.-6)
Juliet is placed above him and Romeo hears her from below, unseen in the dark. He is thus spatially dominated by Juliet and this places him in an inferior, passive position, later acknowledged by Romeo himself when he describes the situation in terms of the mystic adoration of a saint:
O speak again bright angel, for thou art As glorious to this night, being o'er my head, As is a winged messenger of heaven Unto the white-upturned wondering eyes Of mortals that fall back to gaze on him When he bestrides the lazy-puffing clouds And sails upon the bosom of the air. (2.2.26-32; emphasis mine)
Juliet, compared to an angel, is made explicitly masculine here, riding the clouds in the air like the incubus Queen Mab in Mercutio's description "the hag, when maids lie on their backs, / That presses them and learns them first to bear" (1.5.92-93). 32 Furthermore, Romeo is said to be "fishified" by love—that is, emasculated: Mercutio says that he has lost his "roe" and compares him to a "dried herring," an image evoking Lenten fare (2.4.38-39). After Mercutio's death, Romeo will indeed exclaim:
O sweet Juliet, Thy beauty hath made me effeminate (3.1.115-16)
Critics have also noted that it is Juliet who is allowed to speak the prothalamic soliloquy in 3.2 ("Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds"), thus reversing the traditional sexual roles, since the prothalamion was traditionally sung by the bridegroom on the eve of the marriage night. This detail adds to Juliet's self-confidence, turning her into what a critic has called an "atypical, unblushing, eager bride." 33 The last line of the play, which reverses the order of the appearance of the heroes in the title—"For never was a story of more woe / Than this of Juliet and her Romeo"—making Romeo the one who belongs to Juliet rather than the other way around, cannot only express the necessities of the rhyme. It also confirms the subversion of traditional sexual relations and the taking over of initiative and authority by Juliet in the field of love and sex.
The love between the two children of enemy families leads to a reversal of ordinary social and sexual roles and to the subversion of the borders between life and death. The initial transgression lies in the love at first sight experienced during the masque at old Capulet's house, and it will subsequently defeat all the plans worked out by the traditional forces and voices of authority in the play (parents, confessor, Nurse). Paradoxically, the speeches that remind us of times past, of grave customs and ancient power, are laden with ironical foreboding of the inevitable transgression and subversion of tradition that will be allowed to take place. The subversion of life by death is itself an old idea found in morality plays, and it is mainly due to its being placed in a Renaissance context and applied to a pair of young and innocent lovers that it may be regarded as sensational or shocking. More intriguing is the ambiguous game played with the idea and the gruesome representation of death itself, which is responsible for the creation of horror with a sort of morbid, pre-Gothic or even Poesque thrill. 34 The repeated occurrences of the normally rather rare figure of the oxymoron serve to "define the carnal knowledge of a love in which life and death intertwine" 35 and this macabre representation is given pride of place, often with a highly visual emphasis, in important soliloquies (4.3.15-58 and 5.3.75-120).
But this simultaneous expression and subversion of amour passion and of Petrarchan love lyrics also corresponds to a particular aspect of the artistic sensibility of the Northern European Renaissance, in a topos known as that of the encounter between the Maiden and Death, often found in the works of German artists such as Hans Baldung Grien, Samuel Beham, or Peter Flötner. In this macabre iconography, where a perverse erotic touch is added to the representation of the young woman's naked body, the painters gave birth to a pre-Mannerist memento mori, just another melancholy and disturbing variation on the traditional theme of Vanitas? 36 Since another of Dürer's disciples, the German painter Hans Holbein, worked for a long time in England, it is quite possible that this Continental motif reached London and the theatrical circles where Shakespeare was working, giving him the idea of a dramatic transposition of these images so as to lend more power to Arthur Brooke's moralizing poem, which he was otherwise using as his main source.
Tradition in Romeo and Juliet is certainly seen as a constraint that reduces the freedom of the individuals, 37 obliging them to follow the inherited hatreds of the clannish feud, "the continuance of their parents' rage," as the sonnet Prologue puts it, rather than gratify their own inclinations. On the other hand, the importance or the precedence given to tradition also implies that there is an obligation inherent in ceremony, a respect due to the laws of hospitality that, for instance, leads Old Capulet to curb Tybalt's fury when he recognizes Romeo hiding behind his "antic face" in the ball scene (1.5.53-91).
But Shakespeare treats the whole relation in a more complex, dialectic manner, as tradition in the play combines order and disorder, discipline and disobedience (to the Prince and to the laws of Verona). Moreover, characters like the Nurse and the Friar, who represent the voices of tradition, engage in soliloquies full of subversive potential. Their various attitudes and actions in the play also favor the clandestine resistance of the lovers to their family traditions. Does not Friar Laurence, after all, go far beyond the allowed limits of the church tradition and of his own responsibility as a holy man when he tampers with the forces of life and death and allows Juliet to "continue two and forty hours" in a "borrow'd likeness of shrunk death" (4.2.105-6)? Mercutio is also a highly ambiguous figure who embodies the traditional cynicism of young men's festive societies while simultaneously allowing the darker forces of dream, desire, and death to haunt his eerie Queen Mab soliloquy (1.4.53-94).
By contrasting and combining the voices of tradition and the forces of subversion in his early love tragedy, Shakespeare was in fact still experimenting with the power of dramatic art. Even if the influence of Marlowe is still very much felt in this play, the lovers pay a heavy price in the end and they cannot be said to be "overreachers" like Tamburlaine or Doctor Faustus. They do not set out to conquer the world or engage in black arts and in the quest of forbidden knowledge. They do not pay for their own sins only (impatience, anger, and revolt) or for their own blindness or naiveté, but they are also the victims of the subversive forces let loose by some of the other characters in the play (the Nurse, Mercutio, and Friar Laurence). Their love heroism is certainly misguided and vulnerable, as the recurrent imagery of the tempest-tossed or pilotless ship suggests, 38 but it also reflects the contradictions and clashes in Verona's patriarchal system as well as those inside the world of desire itself.
In the last analysis, their death is the sign of a triumph of sterility over the hope for continuity and regeneration, since it is not the old who die in the play, as tradition and natural laws would have it, but mainly the young (Mercutio, Tybalt, Paris, Romeo, and Juliet). The golden statues raised by the parents to commemorate the two eponymous heroes in the end are a sad and painful tribute, a mourning monument built to remind future generations of the dangers of civil strife and of the triumph of tradition over individual desire with its subversive potential. But, as the play itself plainly shows, this Pyrrhic victory is just another name for disaster since it is achieved at considerable expense, that of the sacrifice of the young and of the forces of life and renewal.
1 In a study of the early plays, Alexander Leggati pits Shakespeare's well-known "sense of control" (as illustrated by the tightly knit structure of A Midsummer Night's Dream) against what he rightly calls "a fascination with the anarchic" (Alexander Leggati, English Drama: Shakespeare to the Restoration, 1590-1660 [London: Longman, 1988], 31).
2 According to Valerie Traub in Desire and Anxiety: Circulations of Sexuality in Shakespearean Drama (London: Routledge, 1992), "each space of transcendent love is ultimately shown to be contained within, and even invaded by, the dominant ideology and effects of masculine violence," 2. Joseph A. Porter insists on the resemblances between Marlowe and the character of Mercutio and writes that "the opening of Romeo and Juliet with Sampson and Gregory talking of thrusting maids to the wall … is the most relentlessly phallic opening in all of Shakespeare's plays" ("Marlowe, Shakespeare and the Canonization of Heterosexuality," South Atlantic Quarterly 88 [Winter 1989]: 134).
3 See François Laroque, Shakespeare's Festive World: Elizabethan Seasonal Entertainment and the Professional Stage (1991); reprint, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 209-10.
4 Peter Burke, "Popular Culture in Seventeenth-Century London," in Popular Culture in Seventeenth-Century England, ed. Barry Reay (1985; reprint, London: Routledge, 1988), 32. See also
5 See Natalie Davis, "The Reasons of Misrule," in Society and Culture in Early Modern France (1965; reprint, Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 1975), 97-123 and Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, Le carnaval de Romans (Paris: Gallimard, 1979), 249-50, 326-28, 356.
6 I am here using Rosalie Colie's concept for the deliberate transposition of a conventional stylistic figure to the reality presented on the stage in Shakespeare's Living Art (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974), 11. In an early tragedy like Titus Andronicus, gruesome puns on bodily mutilation and sexual defloration through rape become literally true when they are acted on stage.
7 The first scene of the play would certainly fit in with C. L. Barber's formula (to describe Cade's rebellion) of a "consistent expression of anarchy by clowning" (Shakespeare's Festive Comedy [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959], 13). In this connection, see François Laroque, "The Jack Cade Scenes Reconsidered: Rebellion, Utopia, or Carnival?" in Shakespeare and Cultural Traditions: The Selected Proceedings of the International Shakespeare Association World Congress, Tokyo, 1991, eds. Tetsuo Kishi, Roger Pringle, and Stanley Wells (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1994), 76-89.
8 In this connection, see Pierre Iselin, "'What shall I swear by?' Langue et idolâtrie dans Romeo and Juliet," in Romeo et Juliette: Nouvelles perspectives critiques, eds. Jean-Marie Maguin and Charles Whitworth (Montpellier: Collection Astraea, Imprimerie de Recherche, 1993) 174.
9 See Marjorie Donker, Shakespeare's Proverbial Themes: A Rhetorical Context for the Sententia as Res (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1992), 31.
10 See Caroline Spurgeon, Shakespeare 's Imagery and What It Tells Us (1935; reprint, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1961), 310-16, and François Laroque, "'Cover'd with an Antic Face': les masques de la lumière et de l'ombre dans Romeo and Juliet," Études Anglaises, no. 4 (October-December 1992): 385-95.
11 See Gilles Mathis, "'L'obscure clarté' de Roméo et Juliette: les parades du langage," in Roméo et Juliette: Nouvelles perspectives critiques, e d. Maguin and Whitworth, 243.
12 Edgar Wind, Pagan Mysteries in the Renaissance (1958; reprint, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980), 46-47, 54-56.
13 Gladys Doidge Willcock and Alice Walker, eds., The Arte of English Poesie (1598; reprint, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1936), 216.
14 See Laroque, Shakespeare's Festive World, 74-76. See also
15 See G. Blakemore Evans, Romeo and Juliet, The New Cambridge Shakespeare (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 198-99.
16 See François Laroque, '"Heads and Maidenheads': Blason et contreblasons du corps," in Roméo et Juliette: Nouvelles perspectives critiques, ed. Maguin and Whitworth, 189-208. See also
17 See Laroque, "'Heads and Maidenheads,'" 196-97. See also
18 Lois Potter describes them as "jangled reminiscences" in '"Nobody's Perfect': Actors' Memories and Shakespeare's Plays of the 1590s," Shakespeare Survey 42 (1990): 91.
19 See Frances Yates, The Art of Memory (1966; reprint, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978), 22-27.
20 The Comedy of Errors 3.2.93-138. In "The letter that killeth: the Desacralized and the Diabolical Body in Shakespeare," Shakespeare et le corps (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1991), Ann Lecercle makes the following commentary on this scene:
Nell's name is her body. … The second body is that of a type of representation that reached its apogee between 1550 and 1650, the landscape anamorphosis. For Nell's second body is a mappa mundi. … (143)
21 See Andre Topia, "Les liturgies du corps dans A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, " in Figures du corps, ed. Bernard Brugière (Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 1991), 164.
22 The Tempest 1.2.50.
23 Edward Snow, "Language and Sexual Difference in Romeo and Juliet, " in Romeo and Juliet: Critical Essays, ed. John Andrews (New York: Garland, 1993). Snow says that "the Nurse's memory weaves all this eventfulness into a matrix of primary female experience (birth, lactation, weaning, marriage, maidenheads and their loss)," 388.
24 In this connection, see for example Rabelais, Book 5, chapter 29:
… by the registers of christenings at Thouars, it appears that more children are born in October and November than in the other ten months of the year, and reckoning backwards, it will be easily found that they were all made, conceived, and begotten in Lent.
in The Complete Works of Doctor François Rabelais, trans. Sir Thomas Urquart and Peter Motteux, 2 vols. (1653; reprint, London: The Bodley Head, 1926), 2:626-27, my emphasis. See also
25 Carlo Ginzburg, Les batailles nocturnes. Sorcellerie et rituels agraires aux XVIe et XVIIe siècles (Turin, 1966; Paris, 1980; reprint, Paris: Flammarion, 1984), 39. (I translate here from the French edition.) In Le sabbat des sorcières (1989; reprint, Paris: Gallimard, 1992), Ginzburg establishes a connection between those nocturnal ridings and Mercutio's description of Queen Mab, 118.
26 Barbara Everett, Young Hamlet: Essays on Shakespeare's Tragedies (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), 115.
27 Paster, The Body Embarrassed, 224.
28 On this see Neil Rhodes, Elizabethan Grotesque (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1980), 49.
29 Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World, trans. Hélène Isowlsky (1965; reprint, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984), 21.
30 "Rhetoric and the Rehearsal of Death: the 'Lamentations' Scene in Romeo and Juliet," Shakespeare Quarterly 34 (1983): 390.
31 Romeo and Juliet 1.5.55. See Laroque, '"Cover'd with an Antic Face': Les masques de la lumière et de l'ombre," 390.
32 In this connection see Ann Lecercle, "Winking in Romeo and Juliet," in Roméo et Juliette: Nouvelles perspectives critiques, ed. Maguin and Whitworth, 259.
33 Whittier, "The Sonnet's Body and the Body Sonnetized in Romeo and Juliet," 33.
34 See Mario Praz, The Romantic Agony (1933; reprint, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 27-32.
35 Whittier, "The Sonnet's Body," 32.
36 See Jean Wirth, La jeune fille et la mort. Recherches sur les thèmes macabres dans l'art germanique de la Renaissance (Geneva: Librarie Droz, 1979), 137, 171-73. The rich iconographical appendix, with some 156 black-and-white reproductions of etchings, prints, drawings, and paintings, gives an idea of the diversity and continuity of the theme in Germanic art, from Dürer to Baldung Grien.
37 At a lecture at the Sorbonne Nouvelle in November 1992, Brian Gibbons spoke of "the Juggernaut of custom."
38 This contrasts with what happens in Othello and Antony and Cleopatra where love is presented against a heroic background and where the influence of Marlowe's Tragedy of Dido and Tamburlaine is visible. See Brian Gibbons, "Unstable Proteus: Marlowe and Antony and Cleopatra," in Shakespeare and Multiplicity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 182-202.
Source: "Tradition and Subversion in Romeo and Juliet," in Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" : Texts, Contexts, and Interpretation, edited by Jay L. Halio, University of Delaware Press, 1995, pp. 18-36.
Cite this page as follows:
"Romeo and Juliet - Tradition and Subversion in Romeo and Juliet" Shakespearean Criticism Ed. Marie Lazzari. Vol. 32. Gale Cengage 1997 eNotes.com 3 Mar. 2023 <https://www.enotes.com/topics/romeo-and-juliet/critical-essays/tradition-and-subversion-romeo-and-juliet>
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Romeo and Juliet
By william shakespeare, romeo and juliet essay questions.
In what way do Romeo and Juliet break gender conventions? How do these roles fluctuate throughout the play?
At the beginning of the play, the young lovers' behavior reverses common gender conventions – Romeo acts in a way that his friends call feminine, while Juliet exhibits masculine qualities. Romeo is by no means an archetypal Elizabethan man; he is disinterested in asserting his physical power like the other male characters in the play. Instead, Romeo chooses to stew in his pensive melancholy. On several instances, Romeo's companions suggest that his introspective behavior is effeminate. On the other hand, Juliet exhibits a more pronounced sense of agency than most female characters in Shakespeare's time. While the women around her, like her mother, blindly act in accordance with Lord Capulet's wishes, Juliet proudly expresses her opinion. Even when she has lost a battle (like when Lord Capulet insists she consider marrying Paris), she demonstrates a shrewd ability to deflect attention without committing to anything. In her relationship with Romeo, Juliet clearly takes the lead by insisting on marriage and proposing the plan to unite them. As the play progresses, Romeo starts to break out of his pensive inaction to the point that Mercutio notices this change. Romeo also makes a great shift from his cowardly attempt at suicide in Act III to his willful decision in Act V. Overall, Romeo and Juliet are arguably a good match because they are so distinct. Juliet is headstrong, while Romeo is passive until passion strikes and inspires him to action.
Contrast Romeo's attempted suicide in Act 3 with his actual suicide in Act 5. How do these two events reveal changes in his character and an evolving view of death?
Romeo considers suicide in both Act 3 and Act 5. In Act 3, Romeo's desire to take his own life is a cowardly response to his grief over killing Tybalt. He is afraid of the consequences of his actions and would rather escape the world entirely than face losing Juliet. Both Friar Laurence and the Nurse criticize Romeo for his weakness and lack of responsibility - taking the knife from his hands. In contrast, Romeo actually does commit suicide in Act V because he sees no other option. He plans for it, seeking out the Apothecary before leaving Mantua, and kills himself out of solidarity with Juliet, not because he is afraid. While suicide is hardly a defensible action, Romeo's dual attempts to take his life reveal his growing maturity and his strengthened moral resolve.
Several characters criticize Romeo for falling in love too quickly. Do you believe this is true? Does his tendency towards infatuation give the audience occasion to question Romeo's affection for Juliet?
This question obviously asks for a student opinion, but there is evidence to support both sides of the argument. In Act 2, Friar Laurence states his opinion that Romeo does indeed fall in love too quickly. Romeo is arguably in love with being in love more than he is in love with any particular woman. The speed with which his affections shift from Rosaline to Juliet – all before he ever exchanges a word with the latter – suggests that Romeo's feelings of 'love' are closer to lust than commitment. This interpretation is supported by the numerous sexual references in the play, which are even interwoven with religious imagery in Romeo and Juliet's first conversation. However, it also possible to argue that Romeo's lust does not invalidate the purity of his love. Romeo and Juliet celebrates young, passionate love, which includes physical lust. Furthermore, whereas Romeo was content to pine for Rosaline from afar, his love for Juliet forces him to spring into action. He is melancholy over Rosaline, but he is willing to die for Juliet. Therefore, a possible reading is that Romeo and Juliet's relationship might have been sparked by physical attraction, but it grew into a deep, spiritual connection.
Examine the contrast between order and disorder in Romeo and Juliet . How does Shakespeare express this dichotomy through symbols, and how do those motifs help to underline the other major themes in the play?
The contrast between order and disorder appears from the Prologue, where the Chorus tells a tragic story using the ordered sonnet form. From that point onwards, the separation between order and disorder is a common theme. Ironically, violence and disorder occurs in bright daylight, while the serenity of love emerges at night. The relationship between Romeo and Juliet is uncomplicated without the disorderly feud between their families, which has taken over the streets of Verona. The contrast between order and disorder underscores the way that Shakespeare presents love - a safe cocoon in which the lovers can separate themselves from the unpredictable world around them. At the end of the play, it becomes clear that a relationship based on pure love cannot co-exist with human weaknesses like greed and jealousy.
Many critics note a tonal inconsistency in Romeo and Juliet . Do you find the shift in tone that occurs after Mercutio's death to be problematic? Does this shift correspond to an established structural tradition or is it simply one of Shakespeare's whims?
After the Prologue until the point where Mercutio dies in Act III, Romeo and Juliet is mostly a comic romance. After Mercutio dies, the nature of the play suddenly shifts into tragedy. It is possible that this extreme shift is merely the product of Shakespeare's whims, especially because the play has many other asides that are uncharacteristic of either comedy or tragedy. For example, Mercutio's Queen Mab speech is dreamy and poetic, while the Nurse's colorful personality gives her more dimension than functional characters generally require. However, it is also possible to see the parallels between this tonal shift and the play's thematic contrast between order and disorder. Shakespeare frequently explored the human potential for both comedy and tragedy in his plays, and it is possible that in Romeo and Juliet , he wanted to explore the transition from youthful whimsy into the complications of adulthood. From this perspective, the play's unusual structure could represent a journey to maturity. Romeo grows from a petulant teenager who believes he can ignore the world around him to a man who accepts the fact that his actions have consequences.
Eminent literary critic Harold Bloom considers Mercutio to be one of Shakespeare's greatest inventions in Romeo and Juliet . Why do you agree or disagree with him? What sets Mercutio apart?
One of Shakespeare's great dramatic talents is his ability to portray functional characters as multi-faceted individuals. Mercutio, for example, could have served a simple dramatic function, helping the audience get to know Romeo in the early acts. Then, his death in Act 3 is a crucial plot point in the play, heightening the stakes and forcing Romeo to make a life-changing decision. Mercutio barely appears in Arthur Brooke's Romeus and Juliet , which Romeo and Juliet is based on. Therefore, Shakespeare made a point of fleshing out the character. In Mercutio's Queen Mab speech, Shakespeare has the opportunity to truly delve into the bizarre and often dangerous sexual nature of love. Further, Mercutio's insight as he dies truly expresses the horrors of revenge, as he declares a plague on both the Montague and Capulet families. He is the first casualty of their feud - and because he transcends functionality, the audience mourns his untimely death and can relate to Romeo's capricious revenge.
How does Shakespeare use symbols of gold and silver throughout the play? What does each element represent?
Shakespeare uses gold and silver as symbols to criticize human folly. He often invokes the image of silver to symbolize pure love and innocent beauty. On the other hand, he uses gold as a sign of greed or desire. For example, Shakespeare describes Rosaline as immune to showers of gold, an image that symbolizes the selfishness of bribery. Later, when Romeo is banished, he comments that banishment is a "golden axe," meaning that banishment is merely a shiny euphemism for death. Finally, the erection of the golden statues at the end of the play is a sign of the fact that neither Lord Capulet nor Lord Montague has really learned anything from the loss of their children. They are still competing to claim the higher level of grief. Romeo, however, recognizes the power of gold and rejects it - through him, Shakespeare suggests a distinction between a world governed by wealth and the cocoon of true love.
Do a character analysis of Friar Laurence. What motivates him? In what ways does this motivation complicate his character?
Friar Laurence is yet another character who transcends his functional purpose. When Romeo first approaches the Friar to plan his marriage to Juliet, the older man questions the young man's sincerity, since Romeo openly pined for Rosaline only a few days before. However, the Friar shows a willingness to compromise by agreeing to marry the young lovers nevertheless. What ultimately motivates Friar Laurence is his desire to end the feud between the Capulets and the Montagues, and he sees Romeo and Juliet's marriage as a means to that end. While his peaceful intentions are admirable, his devious actions to achieve them – conducting a marriage that he explicitly questions – suggests he is more driven by politics than by an internal moral compass. The fact that a religious figure would compromise one of the Church's sacraments (marriage) further suggests that the Friar wants his power to extend beyond the confines of his Chapel. He also displays his hubris by helping Juliet to fake her death, rather than simply helping her get to Mantua to be with Romeo. While Friar Laurence is not an explicit villain, his internal contradictions speak to Shakespeare's ability to create multi-faceted characters.
Should Romeo and Juliet be considered a classical tragedy (in which fate destroys individuals)? Or is it more a tragedy of circumstance and personality? Moreover, could the tragic ending of Romeo and Juliet have been avoided?
In classical tragedy, an individual is defeated by Fate, despite his or her best efforts to change a pre-determined course of events. A classical tragedy both celebrates an individual's willpower while lamenting the fact that the universe cannot be bested by mankind. The tragic elements in Romeo and Juliet are undeniable - two young lovers want nothing more than to be together and fall victim to an ancient feud and rigid societal conventions. However, while Romeo and Juliet's deaths result from human folly, the immovable power of fate also has a hand in sealing their destinies. For instance, Romeo and Juliet had many opportunities to simply run away together instead of being separated after Romeo is banished from Verona. Furthermore, many of the tragic occurrences are contingent on antagonistic characters running into one another, and then choosing to pursue vengeance rather than simply walk away. Based on this evidence, it is possible to read Shakespeare's intent as suggesting that behavioral adjustment can often prevent tragic events.
How is Romeo and Juliet a criticism of organized religion? Examine the play's secularism to develop your answer.
While Romeo and Juliet does not present explicit attacks against religion, Shakespeare reveals his skepticism of Christianity in subtle ways. In many ways, Romeo and Juliet must reject the tenets of Christianity in order to be together. In their first meeting, they banter, using religious imagery to share their sexual feelings. In this exchange, the lovers acknowledge the omnipresence of Christianity, but cheekily use religious images in an unexpected context. Further, Christian tradition would have required Juliet to submit to her father's desire, but instead, she manipulates his expectations to distract him from her real agenda. Even Friar Laurence, an explicitly religious figure, uses Christianity as a tool towards his own ends. In this way, the play implicitly suggests that the rigid rules of religion often work in opposition to the desires of the heart - and to pursue true happiness, one must throw off the shackles of organized faith.
Romeo and Juliet Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Romeo and Juliet is a great resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Why doesn't Romeo know how to tell Juliet who he is? What relationship is Romeo establishing between his name and himself?
I'm not sure what you are asking here. Initially Romeo is hesitant to tell Juliet he is a Montague because of the ancient feud between their two families. I'm not sure what your second question is, can you elaborate?
What is the definition of melody according to Aristotle?
According to what Aristotle wrote in Poetics, melody is the music that accompanies a dramatic work. In order for the melody to be used properly, it can only be used when it blends in with the play.
How does Shakespeare use Juliet’s leaving and returning to reveal more about Juliet’s feelings?v
Shakespeare's Juliet is a mixture of caution and passion. Juliet perhaps uses a little more caution in trusting the friar's plan. She urges Romeo to act naturally, not poetically. She questions what satisfaction he wants that evening in the...
Study Guide for Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet study guide contains a biography of William Shakespeare, literature essays, a complete e-text, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.
- About Romeo and Juliet
- Romeo and Juliet Summary
- Romeo and Juliet Video
- Character List
Essays for Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare.
- Unity in Shakespeare's Tragedies
- Fate in Romeo and Juliet
- Romeo and Juliet: Under the Guise of Love
- The Apothecary's Greater Significance in Romeo and Juliet
- Romeo and Juliet: Two Worlds
Lesson Plan for Romeo and Juliet
- About the Author
- Study Objectives
- Common Core Standards
- Introduction to Romeo and Juliet
- Relationship to Other Books
- Bringing in Technology
- Notes to the Teacher
- Related Links
- Romeo and Juliet Bibliography
E-Text of Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet e-text contains the full text of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare.
- List of Characters
Wikipedia Entries for Romeo and Juliet
- Date and text
Romeo And Juliet Essays
Friar lawrence quotes in romeo and juliet.
Romeo and Juliet have a crazy, secretive relationship, that isn’t like most. The Capulets and the Montagues have a long feud between each other. Romeo and Juliet are not allowe to be seen together due to the feud between the Capulets and Montagues. Through the story, the two become very close, and tried to do everything together. Although their relationship has to be a secret, they still fall madly in love. The day before Juliet’s wedding night, Friar Lawrence gave […]
The Nurse and Friar Laurence are Responsible for Romeo and Juliets Death
The things most responsible for Romeo and Juliet’s death are Friar Lawrence, themselves, and the feud between the Montagues and the Capulets. Friar Lawrence causes the deaths of Romeo and Juliet by marrying them too quickly, advancing with his plan too quickly, and running away instead of helping Juliet. When Friar Lawrence is approached by Romeo and learns that Romeo wants to get married to a girl he met a few hours ago, he is initially shocked. He asks Romeo […]
The Theme of Gender being Shown in Romeo & Juliet
Throughout history, society has been built on the gender roles of men and women. Women were supposed to be proper and submissive, while men were often viewed as hot headed and superior to women. The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, takes place in Verona, Italy in the late sixteenth century. Two houses, the Capulets and Montagues, have an ancient feud. When two young adolescents from each house fall in love, the consequence of their forbidden love ends […]
The Theme of Fate in ‘Romeo and Juliet’
Romeo and Juliet was the timeless classic that redefined love, tragedy and forbidden romance. The story starts with Romeo and Juliet, two strangers from opposing families at war meeting at a party and falling in love at first sight. They decide to keep their love a secret and get married the next day. But when Romeo is banished for killing Juliet’s cousin Tybalt, Friar Laurence and Juliet, create a plan to fake Juliet’s death so that she can join Romeo […]
Romeo and Juliet: Fate or Free Will?
The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet has two very prevalent themes. One can cease that the two apposite themes are free will and fate. Within the script of this beloved play, Shakespeare displays a mixed notion of the actual theme which could lead to the assumption that either theme can be lectured. The denotative meaning of fate being … events beyond a person’s control and free will meaning power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate both can […]
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Romeo and Juliet Gender Roles
The society of Verona had major differences among the way men and women should act. Men were expected to be masculine and carry themselves with honor and pride; while women were expected to please their men and hold their own opinions. However, Romeo and Juliet defied the standard gender roles that was put on them by their society. Men in Verona during this time induced a strong sense of power over women. Whereas, women were looked at as possessions who […]
How is Death Presented in Romeo and Juliet
Works of literary merit usually have different themes, and Romeo and Juliet is one of them. Romeo and Juliet is still the most tragic love story to ever be written. How death hurts society in the story Romeo and Juliet is the most important theme because of the tension between the two families ends up being the ultimate downfall. In the story Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet truly loved each other, but they could have avoided […]
What are some Mistakes in Romeo and Juliet that Took the Tragedy Forward?
The deaths in the play Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare are tragic and disappointing. Even though a lot should have been done to prevent their deaths, these 2 are not able to avoid their destiny. A lot of things lead to their death and some people blame Friar Lawrence for their deaths, but Tybalt is most to blame. Shakespeare uses Tybalt’s involvement in the tragedy to show youth and inexperience often lead to mistakes. Some people believe that Friar […]
The Role of Fate in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet
Throughout the play Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare uses the detrimental effects of the never-ending feud between the Montague and Capulet families on the young lovers to portray that one can not overcome fate, despite of one’s efforts. Additionally, Shakespeare suggests that although the love between Romeo and Juliet is passionate, the influences of their family will lead to their inevitable fate of death. In fact, much of the story revolves around the struggles of Romeo and Juliet against the […]
Who is to Blame for Romeo and Juliets Death?
Who is to blame for Romeo and Juliet’s death? There is no one in particular to blame ,however it is every single person that should be blamed for their death.Romeo and Juliet are two star crossed lovers who fail in love at first site. The play opens with servants from both houses engaged in a street brawl that eventually draws in the family lords and the city officials, including Prince Escalus. The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet took their lives. […]
Dramatic Irony Examples in Romeo and Juliet
In the play Romeo and Juliet by Capulet and Friar Lawrence affect the dramatic and tragic ending and the plot of Romeo and Juliet, they made many irresponsible and nearsighted decisions that could have been avoided if they did not interfere with the relationship of the star-crossed lovers throughout the play. Capulet and Friar Lawrence had good intentions but were unaware that making these decisions would lead up to the devastating deaths of Romeo and Juliet and ruin their relationship […]
Mercutio, Tybalt and Nurse Influence in Romeo and Juliet
In William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet there are several different themes. Tybalt, Mercutio, and Nurse all relate to the theme of the play because they influence Romeo and Juliet in various ways. Tybalt influences Juliet because Tybalt’s death forces her to reconsider her love for Romeo. Mercutio influences Romeo because after his death Romeo is determined to get Tybalt back for what he did to Mercutio. The Nurse influences Juliet because she is the one that brought the news […]
The Power of Romeo and Juliet’s Love
Shakespeare depicts in the play, Romeo and Juliet, that love can manipulate and control a person to perform acts they would not otherwise do. The power of love can go beyond the chemistry between two lovers, by affecting the love between parents and child, and even act as a force between two people. This type of power can produce immense hatred between two households, in which one will obey those in charge out of obedience, love, and fear. Shakespeare wants […]
Feminism of Romeo and Juliet
Introduction The idea that playwright, William Shakespeare, tends to write within the gender expectations of saintly maidens or widowed hags in esteem of his female characters is not a new concept, as essentially all of his female characters face some sort of grievance either at the will of or by submitting to the strict patriarchal expectations of their time. Many would concur that Juliet Capulet in Romeo and Juliet is not any different. She is particularly childish and fickle, and […]
Themes of Love and Hate in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet were two star crossed lovers who were inseparable from the second they met. Their love for each-other fueled countless arguments, family members to be killed, and in the end brought people closer than they would have ever imagined. I agree with the analysis of Romeo and Juliet from Analyzing the love between Romeo and Juliet (UK Essays). The two lovers caused clashes of love and hate which made the two families rival with each other more than […]
Romeo and Juliet – a Tragic Love Story or a Series of Poor Choices
Romeo and Juliet is a play full of irony. The story started out as a romantic comedy of two young people belonging to households of two mortal enemies, both having a certain expectation towards the society to meet. Romeo, the son of Montague, is expected to find himself a woman and Juliet, the daughter of Capulet, a young girl waiting to get married off by her parents to a suitable household of their choice. The characters in the play have […]
Romeo & Juliet Plot Summary
A drama well known by William Shakespeare is Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare’s play is about the doomed romance of two teenagers from feuding families and is the most famous love story written. This play was first performed around 1596, Romeo and Juliet has been adapted by ballets, operas, the musical West Side Story, and a dozen other films. The play focuses on romantic love, specifically the intense passion that springs up in the first sight between Romeo and Juliet. The […]
The Theme of Rivalry in Romeo and Juliet
In every long-lasting pursuance, there must be challenges faced in the process. Romeo and Juliet are strongly in love, and challenges are seen in their love life. These challenges make their life together in the future almost impossible. As such, the theme of rivalry is evident throughout Romeo and Juliet’s love story. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is characterized by the rivalry between Montagues and the Capulets, Juliet’s inner self, and Tybalt and Romeo. Shakespeare starts the play depicting an ancient […]
To what Extent were Romeo and Juliet to Blame for their Tragic End?
Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet presents perusers with the narrative of a deplorably destined love. It is the narrative of two young people’s who begin to look all starry eyed at and the general population and conditions that keep them from being as one. Four characters specifically, to be specific Woman and Master Capulet, Juliet’s medical caretaker, and Minister Laurence, assumed a huge part in the devastation of the primary characters and youthful darlings, Romeo and Juliet. These characters, through […]
Motif, Symbol, and Theme – Examples
Motif, symbol, and theme: does one grasp the distinction between these 3 literary terms? due to the reciprocity of those devices, folks usually use them interchangeably—and incorrectly. after you scan a book, you may notice continual themes inside the text, that sometimes influence the plot and supply clues into the plot or conflict occurring. so as to make and make a case for the theme, the author can use symbols and motifs. several readers absolutely perceive what a logo is, […]
The Idea of Romantic and Marital Relationships
The idea of romantic and marital relationships has changed and evolved over time into a much different concept than it used to be. In the Elizabethan Era, the concept of love and marriage was much different than the typical marriage between two people in today’s age. Not only marriage, but the relationship between a parent and their child has also adapted significantly over time. In the playwright William Shakespeare’s time, fathers chose their daughter’s husband for them. This decision that […]
Techniques Used in Romeo and Juliet
William Shakespeare both includes themes of drama, tragedy, and sacrifice in their love story in English literary tradition. The English poet William seeks tragedy in the end of his stories. The American novelist uses the word “love” as a real-life scenario. William Shakespeare’s Romero and Juliet’s tragic love story ends horrifically, where two young teenagers fall in love but are forbidden to be with each other. Shakespeare’s Juliet and Romeo is a tragedy so there must be a tragic hero. […]
Romeo and Juliet Really in Love
Romeo’s Train that fell of the Tracks In Romeo and Juliet, a play created by William Shakespeare, many events could have played out differently if it were not for characters’ actions, many of which would have saved countless lives in the play. Romeo was by far my favorite character; he helped me understand the bottom line of the story, revenge, and consequences and the effects it had on the story. His main interest is love. The three reasons Romeo is […]
Romeo and Juliet Film Review
Many iconic creations of literature have been turned into modern, motion films. Shakespeare’s famous Romeo and Juliet is a play that has fallen victim to creators’ hands. Having been recreated a different number of times there is going to be many representations. Directors like Baz Luhrmann and Franco Zeffirelli, both from different decades, have very different ideas of how Shakespeare’s words were perceived. Luhrmann’s 1996 Romeo + Juliet is more successful than Zeffirelli’s 1968 Romeo and Juliet in representing what […]
Shakespeare in Love
The film depicts a fictional novel featuring playwright William Shakespeare ( Joseph Fiennes ) and Viola de Lesseps ( Gwyneth Paltrow) when Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet. Some characters are based on historical figures, and many characters, lines and plot techniques refer to Shakespeare’s plays. Shakespeare in Love received positive reviews from critics and had box office receipts, collecting $ 289.3 million worldwide, and became the ninth most profitable film of 1998. The film won numerous awards, including seven […]
Shakespeare’s Plays with Hidden Meanings
Shakespeare hid facts about his real life in his most famous writings: Macbeth, Hamlet, and Romeo and Juliet. The famous humor, the many double entendres, and the mysterious Rosaline all go far beyond what is written on the page. These aspects of Romeo and Juliet, among others, contribute to the mystery of the way Shakespeare writes. By analyzing three aspects of Shakespeare’s writing: his inconspicuous jokes, his character development, and his complex vocabulary, it can be determined that Shakespeare wrote […]
Romeo and Juliet’s Families are Responsible for their Deaths
The story of Romeo and Juliet takes place in the town of Verona where a pair of star-crossed lovers take their life (272). There is a feud going on between the Montagues and the Capulets. They have been fighting for many generations. Romeo, who is a Montague, and Juliet, who is a Capulet, fall in love and keep their marriage a secret from their parents. In the end both of them commit suicide. Because of the fake death of Juliet, […]
An Analysis of the Path of True Love in Romeo and Juliet, a Play by William Shakespeare
The path of true love never did run smooth. Three such love stories from our time are Romeo and Juliet], [An Affair to Remember] and the recent movie Moulin Rougell. These great well- known stories depict the path of true love littered with tragedy, other people trying to sabotage love and other disasters befalling the star-struck lovers. Nothing in love goes smoothly all the time, there are always hiccups along the way. This is the key factor that makes these […]
Comparing the Similarities of Romeo and Juliet in Miracle Worker by Helen Keller
Romeo and Juliet is a tragic play written by William Shakespeare. It is a love story between two rival families, the Montagues and the Capulets. Romeo, who is a Montague, falls in love with Juliet who happens to be a Capulet. It is love at first sight, but if their parents find out there will be no way that Romeo will ever see Juliet again. The Miracle Worker is another play that we read. It is about a little girl […]
Lust was Mistaken for Love in Romeo and Juliet, a Tragedy by William Shakespeare
Was Romeo and Juliet’s love genuine? In the play a feud between the two families separate the young star-crossed lovers. The secret marriage of the two couples and feud between the two families end with Romeo and Juliet killing themselves. In the famous tragic love play, Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet mistakes love for lust. First reason their love is lust, is because their love is constructed on their appearance. Romeo is fascinated by […]
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Essays About Romeo and Juliet Romeo and Juliet is the classic Shakespearean tragedy about two star-crossed lovers from feuding families. Considered one of William Shakespeare’s most popular works, it is one of the most popular performed plays and is a classic tale of love and fate. The play has been adapted for the screen many times and continues to be an excellent work of art. It raises questions on numerous topics. As a play, it is studied in schools, and the college’s around the world. An essay on Romeo and Juliet can outline a wide variety of themes and opens the door for a wide range of critical analysis and questions. Our writers cover extensive essay styles on Juliet Capulet and Romeo Montague, explore the family rivalry and the significance of the characters. Examples of essays our professional team have written include; persuasive essay styles, argumentative essay styles, and compare and contrast pieces. We also offer a range of different themed essays on areas such as; free will in Romeo and Juliet, feminism and gender roles. If required, our professional writers can also draft a research paper about Romeo & Juliet, or any other style of paper that may be needed. They are experts in the field of Shakespeare and literature. Essays that explore themes are a core part of their writing practices, and each essay is individual. References are carefully researched, and the language of theatre and Shakespeare himself are always given exceptional care and consideration, to truly understand Romeo and Juliet.
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Last Updated 05 Aug 2020
Romeo and Juliet analysis essay
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, is a play about two young star crossed lovers, whose love was destined for doom from the beginning due to the hatred between the two families, Montagues and Capulets. The themes of love and hate are very important in the play as they drive the plot. Set in fair Verona, Italy, Shakespeare uses figurative language, symbolism and motif, dramatic irony and characterisation to show the key themes these key themes of love and hatred.
Shakespeare explores the themes of love and hatred through the use of figurative language such as ‘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. Be not her maid, since she is envious. Her vestal livery is but sick and green And none but fools do wear it. Cast it off.’ (2.2.2-9). This quote shows Romeo talking about Juliet referring to her as the sun, he does not realise Juliet can hear him, until she shows herself. He is talking about the sun in a positive manner, meaning he also considers Juliet in a positive manner.
Lightness and darkness is arguably the most significant symbol in Romeo and Juliet. Innocent, likable characters like Romeo, Juliet, Mercutio and Benvolio, are often seen during the daylight, likewise, characters who are considered ‘evil’ or ‘unlikable’ such as Lord Capulet and Paris, are usually seen only at night. Another symbol in Romeo and Juliet is the poison, this shows how far Romeo will go for love, and is backed up by this quote ‘Here’s to my love! [Drinks poison] O true apothecary, Thy drugs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die.’ (5.3.119-120). Motif is used by way of the repeating the symbol of nighttime, the evening hours consist of all the significant moments for the young lovers; they meet at night, they confess their love at night, they get married at night and finally they commit suicide at night. Nighttime represents a time when a person can relax and calm down. The same hold true for our title characters; they have a feeling of untouchable and fearless at night that does not seen in the day; this is especially true for Romeo.
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Dramatic irony is displayed throughout the play, for example in act 2 of Romeo and Juliet, dramatic irony is shown when Romeo tries to console Juliet and tell her that their love is in no danger, “Alack, there lies more peril in thine eye Than twenty of their swords! Look thou but sweet, And I am proof against their enmity” (2.2.71-73). However, because of the Prologue, the audience already know’ that the young lovers are doomed. There is more dramatic irony in act 2 scene 3 when Friar Lawrence notices Romeo has not been to bed, he states, ‘God pardon sin! Wast thou with Rosaline?’ (2.3.40). Here the audience knows that he is over Rosaline but the Friar does not. Romeo is characterized as impulsive ……. Juliet is characterized as ……..The tragedy story of Romeo and Juliet displays the various feelings of love and hate through literacy devices such as figurative language, symbolism and motif, dramatic irony and characterisation. The two’s love was doomed before it even started.
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Juliet’s love for Romeo seems at least in part to be a desire to be freed from her parents’ control by a husband who can’t control her either. More experienced characters argue that sexual frustration, not enduring love, is the root cause of Romeo and Juliet’s passion for one another.
23 Edward Snow, "Language and Sexual Difference in Romeo and Juliet, "in Romeo and Juliet: Critical Essays, ed. John Andrews (New York: Garland, 1993). Snow says that "the Nurse's memory weaves ...
The relationship between Romeo and Juliet is uncomplicated without the disorderly feud between their families, which has taken over the streets of Verona. The contrast between order and disorder underscores the way that Shakespeare presents love - a safe cocoon in which the lovers can separate themselves from the unpredictable world around them.
Words: 709 Pages: 2 1102. Romeo and Juliet is a tragic play written by William Shakespeare. It is a love story between two rival families, the Montagues and the Capulets. Romeo, who is a Montague, falls in love with Juliet who happens to be a Capulet.
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, is a play about two young star crossed lovers, whose love was destined for doom from the beginning due to the hatred between the two families, Montagues and Capulets. The themes of love and hate are very important in the play as they drive the plot.