William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet

William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet

William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet

William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet

Synopsis

Shakespeare's tragedy about two star-crossed lovers from warring families has stirred audiences and readers alike and inspired other artists for generations with its timeless themes of love and loss. This invaluable study guide examines one of Shakespeare's greatest plays through a selection of the finest contemporary criticism.

Excerpt

Embedded in the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, in the characters of the Friar and of Romeo himself, are two opposing traditional views concerning the origin of suffering, hence of tragedy, in human life. The play however eludes both the "providential" and the "fatal" formulae and offers us an early, but fully articulated Shakespearean tragic structure. This is marked by a characteristic emphasis on the opacity of appearances which the protagonists fail to penetrate, by tragic heroes whose high distinction is to be understood in terms of their embodiment of the forces whose collision provides the dynamic of the action; by a finely turned peripeteia in which coincidence and inevitability meet in a nexus of ironies; and by the evolving affirmation, made both dramatically (through action and character contrast) and poetically (through the light imagery) of the high value of idealized sexual love.

The plot of Romeo and Juliet stresses the accidental. The fortuitous meeting of Romeo and Benvolio with Capulet's illiterate messenger bearing the invitations he cannot decipher, the chance encounter between Romeo and Tybalt at a most unpropitious moment, the outbreak of the plague which quarantines Friar John, the meeting of Romeo and Paris at the Capulet tomb are instances which come at once to mind. Shakespeare, so far from mitigating the effect of unfortunate coincidence is evidently concerned to draw our attention to it. Bad luck, misfortune, sheer inexplicable contingency is a far from negligible source of the suffering and calamity in human life which is the subject of tragedy's mimesis; while of all the ancient and deep-seated responses of man to the world which he inhabits the fear of some force beyond his control and indifferent, if not positively inimical, to his desires is one of the most persistent. Accident, therefore, mischance, all that arouses a fearful and rebellious sense of the unintelligible and the non-necessitated, powerfully suggests to human anxiety a spectrum of the darker possibilities, whether these be interpreted as a universe dominated by meaningless, mindless vicissitude—the senseless hurrying of atoms, or as a devil-ridden chaos, the satanic void itself. Lear is the play in which Shakespeare presents the anguish of a mind fully facing the threat of chaos, a mind hovering above the void; in Romeo and Juliet when he sets out to dramatize the vulnerability of young love, he places his young lovers not too great a distance from that terrifying terrain.

Romeo and Juliet opens with the casual ruffianism of the Capulet servants, their idle chatter, their random bawdry, their haphazard impulses of sex and aggression. What is represented is the perennial fret and froth of lust and anger. This is indicated by Gregory's attempt to keep Sampson's eye upon the masculine target of enmity: "The quarrel is between our masters and us their men," and the nonchalant reply of the omnivorous . . .

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