Romeo and Juliet: A Guide to the Play

Romeo and Juliet: A Guide to the Play

Romeo and Juliet: A Guide to the Play

Romeo and Juliet: A Guide to the Play

Synopsis

Since its first performances around 1596 and its earliest editions (1597, 1599), Romeo and Juliet has remained one of Shakespeare's most popular plays. The reasons are not far to seek, as the play centers on a subject of perennial interest: romantic love. This reference guide examines every aspect of Shakespeare's creation: the transformation of the story from its sources, the use of the arts of language in both prose and verse, the dramatic structure and its significance, and the most significant themes and their development. In addition, a chapter on the textual history of Romeo and Juliet reviews past and current theories, and a chapter on performances from Shakespeare's time to ours analyzes important productions both on stage and on film. Psychoanalytical, feminist, and gender criticism are also considered as alternative critical approaches along with myth and archetypal criticism. Finally, the volume contains a current selected, annotated bibliography. Thus the book is the fullest and most comprehensive study of Romeo and Juliet to appear in years and is of value to students approaching the play for the first time and to scholars seeking a lucid synthesis of current information.

Excerpt

When the Bodleian Library recovered its original First Folio (1623) of William Shakespeare's plays, which it had previously replaced with the Third Folio (1664/1665), the most well-thumbed pages, which clearly left their mark on the volume, were those of Romeo and Juliet. Oxford University undergraduates (then as now) presumably found this play, among all the others, extremely moving and perhaps relevant to their own thoughts and feelings about life and love. Certainly in our own time the play has retained its enormous appeal among the young; hence, in America it has usefully replaced Julius Caesar in many schools as the play pupils read as their first serious introduction to Shakespeare's works. On the stage it rivals Hamlet as the most frequently produced in our time, and, given an adequate cast and appropriate staging, it is almost always a box office success.

The reasons for the appeal of Romeo and Juliet are not hard to determine. Apart from its exquisite poetry, its characters, themes, dramatic structure, and historical context (all of which are treated in the chapters that follow) provide an unending source of fascination for both young and old. Yet it is quite different in important ways from anything Shakespeare wrote before or after. In some ways it is, as the English scholar H.B. Charlton remarked, an experimental tragedy." In fact, it hardly begins as a tragedy at all, despite the violent quarrel that breaks out in the first scene. Many elements in the dialogue and in the action combine to suggest a comedy, the warnings of the first Chorus, or Prologue, notwithstanding. In the first scenes Shakespeare indulged his penchant for comic dialogue, which he had found so successful in his earlier plays dealing with love and sex, such as The Taming of the Shrew and Love's Labour's Lost. But it seems that he was interested now in moving in another direction, altering the course of comedy to the darker mode of tragedy. Why?

Shakespeare had written tragedies before. Titus Andronicus was his first venture into that mode, although it really belongs to the subgenre called "revenge tragedy." As such, it was the precursor to Hamlet, which changed the course of revenge tragedy in Elizabethan drama. Shakespeare had also dealt with tragedy in Richard II

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