Romeo and Juliet is a romantic tragedy first performed on the Elizabethan stage in around 1595 Essay

Published: 2021-07-21 22:00:07
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Category: William Shakespeare

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Romeo and Juliet is a romantic tragedy first performed on the Elizabethan stage in around 1595. It was first performed by the Lord Chamberlain’s company whilst they were the occupants of the Shoreditch Theatre. As this play is a romantic tragedy there are many different ways which the themes of love and death are portrayed. My essay is going to deal and discuss in greater detail these themes and try to discover who is responsible for the deaths.
In the play many different types of love are revealed. One type is Romantic love, this form of love is shown throughout the play. Romeo and Juliet fall in love at first sight and he starts to refer to himself as a ‘pilgrim’ and to Juliet as “Dear-Saint”. This shows that the feelings he has for Juliet are true and not just sexual. You can see more examples of this in Act 2 Scene 2 where Romeo says “Juliet is the sun, and the brightness of her cheek would shame those stars”. Juliet too expresses love in a heart-felt romantic way, poetic lines crammed with romantic imagery. The fact that Romeo and Juliet’s is a secret forbidden love makes their relationship all the more romantic
Juliet – “This bud of love by summer’s ripening breath,
my prove a beauteous flower when next we meet.”
Act 2 Scene 2
There are many examples throughout the play which shows how pure and innocent their love is. Towards the end of the play Romeo is told that Juliet is dead and he almost instantly decides that he can no longer live without her. This shows how strong their love really was as no one would kill themselves over the death of someone that they have not got the strongest possible feelings for.
The play has many allusions to sexual and more uncouth references to lustfulness. This brings me on to another form of love, Sexual love. Right from the very beginning of the play sex is referred to in crude and aggressive terms by the Capulet servants Sampson and Gregory. They are the first characters the audience see and they refer to love as just a physical thing. Their language is earthy and vulgar treating women as ‘weaker vessels’ and speaking of how the maids of the Montague household will be raped.
Sampson – “Tis true, and therefore women being the weaker
vessels are ever thrust to the wall: therefore I will
push Montague’s men from the wall and thrust his maids
to the wall.”
Act 1 Scene 1
From the outset we see a superficial view of love and sex where women are mere objects of sexual gratification. This is always in stark contrast to the innocent and true love of the ‘star crossed lovers’.
Another type of love central to the play is the special love between friends of the same sex. Benvolio, Romeo’s god friend is someone he can confide in. They share deep inner secrets of their emotions. In Act 1 Scene 1 Romeo talks openly about his desires where love is concerned, speaking of Rosaline and the unrequited idealized love. Instead of mocking him Benvolio is supportive and empathises
Romeo – “This love feel I, that feel no love in this
Dost thou laugh?”
Benvolio – “No coz, I rather weep.”
Romeo – “Good heart at what?”
Benvolio – “At thy good heart’s oppression.”
Act 1 Scene 1
If this was not such a close friendship Romeo would never be so revealing about his feelings and what is more, less intimate friends would laugh at the confession. Benvolio’s suggestion that Romeo attends the Capulet ball shows how he wants to cheer Romeo up and prove to himself that Rosaline isn’t right Romeo.
Benvolio – “With all the admired beauties of Verona,
Go thither, and with unattainted eye,
Compare her face with some that I shall show,
And I shall make thee think thy swan a crow.
Act 1 Scene 2
Some of the dialogue between Mercutio and Romeo captures this strong sense of friendship. They talk of love in an open candid way.
Romeo – “Is love a tender thing? It is too rough,
Too rude, too boisterous, and it pricks like a thorn,
Mercutio – “If love be rough with you, be rough with love.
Prick love for pricking, and you beat love down.”
Act 1 Scene 4
Another kind of love the play deals with is Parental love, which is shown most forcefully in the case of Capulet, father of Juliet. His attitude to his daughter’s well being is that ‘father knows best’. Whatever father says must be right and good for his children, whether they like it or not. Whenever he is questioned he flies into a rage because as far as he is concerned, as the head of the household, Juliet and her cousin Tybalt must abide by his every rule without question. Juliet is to marry Paris. Full stop. No arguments! In Act 3 Scene 5 he makes his wishes clear
Capulet father – “Bet fettle your fine joints gainst Thursday next,
To go with Paris to Saint Peter’s Church:
Or I will drag thee on a hurdle thither.
Out you green-sickness carrion,out you baggage,
You tallow-face.”
Act 3 Scene 5
And just before he exits his closing words to his daughter are:
Capulet father – “I’ll give you to my friend,
And you be not, hang, beg, starve, die, in the streets,
For my soul I’ll ne’er acknowledge thee,
Nor what is mine shall never do thee good:
Trust to ‘t, bethink you, I’ll not be forsworn.
Exit Act 3 Scene 5
She has no option whether she likes it or not, Father
rules all!
His insistence might seem strange to us because all his other children have died. Juliet is his only child left:
Capulet father – “Earth has swallowed up all my hopes but, She’s the hopeful lady of
my earth”
Act 1 Scene 2
You would have thought that he would want her to be happy. In fact, he does think he is doing what is best for her, despite her misery.
One aspect of the tragedy is the fact that he puts such unbearable pressure on Juliet to marry Paris, to the extent of casting her out of his house. Even Lady Capulet seems to back her husband’s narrow mindedness. We are confused by her motives. Does she love her husband? Does she love her daughter? All we know for sure is the fact that she simply wants to keep the peace. This too has tragic consequences.
As we can see Shakespeare the dramatist is exploring love in all its forms. Another type of love that hangs over the entire story is the love/hate that exists between families. It is like tribal warfare. It takes this awful event to make the Montague’s and Capulet’s realise the fatal cost of their hatred.
Capulet – “O brother Montague, give me thy hand,
This is my daughter’s jointure, fir no more
Can I demand.
Montague – “But I can give thee more,
For I will raise her statue in pure gold,
That whiles Verona by that name is known,
There shall no figure at such rate be set,
As that of true and faithful Juliet.
Capulet – “As rich shall Romeo’s by his Lady’s life,
Poor sacrifices of our enmity.
Act 5 Scene 3
The writer here is challenging the stupidity of family warfare which is apparent from the very beginning of the play.
Why do the Capulet’s hate the Montague’s?
Why do the Montague’s hate the Capulet’s?
Even today in different parts of the world there are unexplained conflicts between tribal groups. Factions fighting factions. Religious groups at war with other religious groups. The Mafia is another example where families are feuding with families for no apparent reason.
One of the most touching aspects of the play are the affections shown by the guardian of Juliet her nurse. She shows a care and understanding much deeper than Juliet’s own parents. Their bond is special and it is heart-rending when the nurse realises Juliet’s death. Earlier on in the play she arranges for their secret meeting after the death of Tybalt:
Nurse – “Hie to your chamber, I’ll find Romeo
To comfort you, I wot well where he is:
Hark ye, your Romeo will be there at night
I’ll to him, he is hid at Laurence’ cell.
Juliet – “O find him, give this ring to my true knight,
And bid him
come, to take his last farewell.”
Act 3 Scene 2
When she hears of Juliet’s death she is absolutely distressed and her words tumble out as she blurts out that it is ‘a most lamentable day’
Nurse – “O woe, O woeful, woeful, woeful day,
Most lamentable day, most woeful day
That ever, ever, I did yet behold.
O day, O day, O day, O hateful day,
Never was seen so black a day as this,
O woeful day, O woeful day.
Act 4 Scene 5
You can see how she loses all her self-control and reason. Once she was full of humour and bawdy comments: she is now reduced to a blubbering wreck unable to control her emotions.
Another theme that the play covers is death. It contrasts sharply with issues of love and friendship. However Shakespeare links them together because in most instances death comes as a result of some form of love.
There are five deaths in Romeo and Juliet of varying tragic causes. If we look at each of them in turn, we can make up our minds whether they are a direct result of love or whether something else provokes them.
Of course at the centre of the play are the deaths of the two lovers, Romeo and Juliet despite the fact that they were not involved in the squabbling and fighting of the families. The first death of Mercutio, who was killed by Tybalt, sets off a chain reaction of untimely deaths. Tybalt is the aggressive violent trouble maker who is always taunting Romeo, he speaks of hate
Tybalt – “What drawn and talk of peace? I hate the word, As I hate hell, All
Montague’s and thee”
There were so many characters in the play that have a tragic end through fate or misfortune but some characters were as you might say ‘cruising for a bruising’.
Tybalt doesn’t miss an opportunity to insult and mock Romeo and his family.
Tybalt – “Romeo the love I bear thee, can afford
No better term than this thou art a villain”
Act 3 Scene 1
Tybalt’s belligerence results in him challenging Romeo to a duel and even though Mercutio intervenes, Tybalt doesn’t care. He has no fear of either of them and will take them both on. Ultimately Mercutio is fatally wounded by Tybalt.
Amongst his dying words he says:
Mercutio – “I am hurt.
A plague o’ both houses, I am sped”
Act 3 Scene 1
These words blame both Romeo and Tybalt for his death. This makes Romeo very angry and gives him the rage to take vengeance on Tybalt. In Romeo’s eyes, Mercutio had no reason to die and now Tybalt must pay for his actions. This results in a fight between the two in which Romeo is triumphant and kills Tybalt.
I think that Romeo was not to blame for the death of Mercutio, he was not encouraging the fight between himself and Tybalt, in fact he was trying to prevent it. It was Mercutio’s decision to intervene, not Romeo’s. I think Tybalt was the one to blame, as by first killing Mercutio, he could then proceed to kill Romeo. Committing murder so readily is never justifiable.
As for Tybalt’s death you could say Romeo is responsible but you would be forgetting his reason for killing him. Unlike Mercutio’s death this one has a motive. Tybalt had just killed his best friend right in front of his eyes without reason and Romeo is now so angry with Tybalt he is prepared to do the ultimate and kill him with his own hands. So, I think Tybalt was responsible for his own death. After all he was asking for it, and as the saying goes ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’.
Paris’s death is more straight forward than the other two we’ve talked about. There is one reason and one reason only and that is he wouldn’t let Romeo see into the tomb of Juliet. This makes the distressed Romeo even more frustrated and causes him to lash out at Paris resulting in Paris’s death. This can only be blamed on Romeo but I don’t think he was worried about the consequences of committing murder as he intends to commit suicide anyway.
Romeo’s death is perhaps the most famous death in the play. Romeo kills himself as he thinks Juliet is dead and to him he cannot live without Juliet as she is the love of his life. Earlier in the play Romeo had bought some poison after hearing of Juliet’s alleged death. After killing Paris he lays down beside Juliet and consumes the entire contents of the poison. Just then Juliet awakes from her deep-sleep just in time to see Romeo die. She tries to take some of the poison but there is none left so instead she kills herself using Romeo’s knife.
I can’t really put all the blame on the characters for their own deaths. In fact most of the blame could be put on the two families. If it weren’t for their feud, Romeo and Juliet would not have had to conceal their relationship and therefore they would not have needed to take any risks which was eventually the cause of their deaths.
It takes the death of the two lovers to unite these two feuding families. When they finally make up, it’s over the bodies of their beloved children. It’s a tragedy of obstinacy, short-sightedness and sheer petty mindedness.
Love and friendship is thrown aside as a consequence of less noble motives. This though is only acknowledged right at the end of the play.
It could be argued that the nurse’s love is the most enduring love of the play because whatever happened, the nurse constantly supported Juliet.
Of all Shakespeare”s tragedies, Romeo and Juliet is the most romantic. However this does not mean it is any less powerful than Macbeth or Othello. In some ways it could be seen as doubly tragic as there are two terrible unnecessary deaths.
The story would have been well known to Elizabethan audiences but how he adapted it would have stirred the audiences greatly. We do know that suicide was a sin to the Elizabethan’s, so the shock factor of Romeo’s death would wet their appetite for the outcome.

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