Romeo and Juliet

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Editor: Anne Marie Hacht
Date: 2007
Document Type: Recommended readings; Critical essay; Work overview; Character overview; Plot summary
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Romeo and Juliet


Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare's tragedy of star-crossed lovers, is one of the most popular romantic tragedies in English literature. The drama has been reworked and adapted to the likes and times of audiences from the sixteenth century until today. Shakespeare himself adapted his drama from a folktale that originated at least one hundred years earlier than his play. Despite the changes in the story over the centuries, whether they were made for religious, political, or social concerns, at the core of this drama is a tale that has not been changed and that reaches deeply into the psyche. It is a story about growing up, experiencing love, rebelling against authority, surrendering to the power of fate, and facing mortality—of friends and lovers as well as one's own. In a capsule, Romeo and Juliet is a play about life. The drama's consistent popularity proves it. Everyone, at some stage of their lives, can relate to Romeo and Juliet.

Pinning down the publication date of this play is difficult. What is known is that Shakespeare wrote it around the same time he wrote Richard II and A Midsummer Night's Dream, which would place Romeo and Juliet around 1595. The official date that has been recorded for the printed version of the play is 1597. Although most critics are sure Shakespeare's tragedy was presented earlier, there are no specific performances of this play recorded until 1662. By then, the original style of the play had been drastically changed. For example, Sir James Howard's version of the play during that Page 765  |  Top of Articleyear provided a happy ending to this originally tragic story.

The inspiration for Shakespeare's version of this old story came from Luigi da Porto (1489–1529), a scholar living in northern Italy, who wrote a story called Giulietta e Romeo. Then in 1562, Arthur Brooks (d. 1563) introduced this story to England via a long poem he called The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet, which became Shakespeare's primary source. Shakespeare left many of the same events that occurred in the poem; however, in bringing his work to the stage, Shakespeare sharpened some of the details for dramatic effect. For instance, he shortened the time frame; he reduced Juliet's age to a more innocent thirteen years; and increased the emphasis on some of the minor characters, adding contrast between them and the young lovers in order to provide more complexities to the personalities of Romeo and Juliet. Since the play was taken from a popular story of the time, Shakespeare's audiences were not as surprised as modern audiences might be to be told right in the beginning of the play what would happen. Shakespeare's audiences came not to be surprised but rather to witness how Shakespeare would tell the familiar story. In some ways, this continues today, with modern audiences going to see updated versions of this well-known story.


Act 1, Prologue

The Prologue of Romeo and Juliet is read by a chorus of one or more people. In many productions of this play, the Prologue is often read by Prince Escalus, the lawmaker of this drama. In a 1997 movie version of this play, the Prologue is read by a television reporter, who presents it as a news report.

Act 1, Scene 1

Two servants from the Capulet household, Sampson and Gregory, talk about their dislike of the Montagues. The young men boast of how they will fight with the men and what they may also do to the women. When young men from the Montagues appear, the men fight. Benvolio, from the Montagues, tries to stop the fighting. However, Tybalt (of the Capulets) misinterprets Benvolio's drawn sword and attacks.

Capulet, the head of the family, arrives and sees the master of the Montague family. Capulet calls for his sword. The older men call one another names, but the prince appears and breaks up the impending fight. The prince declares that the feuding between the families must stop, promising a death sentence for anyone who is caught fighting again.

Capulet leaves with the prince, while Montague questions Benvolio about who started this brawl. Lady Montague changes the topic, asking if Benvolio has seen her son, Romeo. Benvolio replies that he has seen him and that Romeo appeared depressed. Montague describes Romeo as being different from the other young men. Romeo likes to be alone. He stays up at night and shuns the daylight and is often seen in tears. Then, seeing Romeo approach, Benvolio leaves, telling the Montagues he will find out what troubles Romeo.

When Benvolio presses Romeo to tell him why he is sad, Romeo describes the love he feels "Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs; / Being purged, a fire sparkling in lovers' eyes: / Being vexed, a sea nourished with loving tears." He continues, being somewhat dramatic in his descriptions. Benvolio pokes fun at Romeo, then suggests that he look at other women. As Romeo and Benvolio part, Romeo says: "Thou canst not teach me to forget [this love]." And Benvolio replies: "I'll pay that doctrine, or else die in debt." In other words, Benvolio has accepted Romeo's challenge and will do his best to make Romeo forget this love that Benvolio believes Romeo has completely invented.

Act 1, Scene 2

Capulet invites Paris, a kinsman of the prince, to Capulet's masquerade party. He also talks to Paris about Juliet. Capulet tells Paris that his daughter is too young to marry, but in a couple of years "we may think her ripe to be a bride." He suggests that Paris woo her and win her heart, but to wait until Juliet is ready. Then Capulet tells Peter, one of his servants, to announce the masquerade party around town. He gives Peter a list of people to invite.

Peter leaves but is concerned because he cannot read. He bumps into Romeo who reads the list and finds Rosaline's name. Peter invites Romeo and Benvolio to come to the party, providing they are not Montagues (he does not know who they are). Benvolio encourages Romeo to go Page 766  |  Top of Article
Romeo speaking with an apothecary, Act V, scene i Romeo speaking with an apothecary, Act V, scene i (© Shakespeare Collection, Special Collections Library, University of Michigan) to meet other women. Romeo agrees, but his reason is to not to meet any one new but to be closer to Rosaline.

Act 1, Scene 3

Lady Capulet searches for her daughter Juliet. When Juliet is found, Lady Capulet dismisses the Nurse, but then changes her mind and asks the Nurse to stay. This points out Lady Capulet's lack of confidence as a mother. Lady Capulet, remembering that she was Juliet's age when she gave birth to her daughter, asks Juliet if she has given any thought to marriage. Lady Capulet mentions that Paris has stated an interest and will be present that night at the party. Juliet promises her mother that she will pay attention to Paris.

Act 1, Scene 4

Romeo, Mercutio, and Benvolio are about to enter the Capulet's masquerade party. Romeo remains in his melancholy mood, claiming he is more comfortable just observing the party but not participating. Mercutio teases Romeo, trying to bring him out of his depressed mood. Mercutio tells Romeo that if he is in love, he should use that love to lighten his state of mind. Romeo insists that love is not tender but rather "too rough, / Too rude, too boist'rous, and it pricks like thorn." Romeo tries to change the subject, speaking of dreams. Mercutio says that dreams lie. Romeo, on the other hand, believes that dreams tell of the future.

Mercutio tells the story of Queen Mab, a fairy queen who visits people in their dreams. Mercutio's story quickly goes from the lightly romantic to the slightly bizarre; and Romeo tells him to be quiet. The point that Mercutio wants to make is that dreams "are the children of an idle brain, / Begot of nothing but vain fantasy." Mercutio is trying to tell Romeo that it is time for Romeo to wake up and live. Shakespeare, in the meantime, is contrasting Mercutio's cynical reaction to love with Romeo's romantic notions.

Act 1, Scene 5

Romeo is asking who Juliet is, when Tybalt recognizes Romeo's voice. Tybalt is furious that Romeo has crashed the party. He wants to fight Romeo. Capulet interferes, yelling at Tybalt to not destroy the party.

Romeo is heard talking to Juliet for the first time. Note that just before Tybalt leaves the scene, he speaks in rhyme. Then as Romeo and Juliet speak, they also talk in rhyme. This continues, sometimes with Romeo beginning a rhyme and Juliet finishing it, and vice versa. The rhyming helps to soften the mood, building up to Romeo and Juliet's first kiss. Note also how quickly Romeo forgets about Rosaline as soon as he sets eyes on Juliet. Arguments have been made that this shows Romeo's immaturity. Others state that Rosaline represented Romeo's lack of worldly experience; and Juliet marks the beginning of Romeo's maturity.

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Nurse interrupts the young lovers, and Romeo finds out, through Nurse, that the young woman he just kissed is a Capulet. Shortly after, Juliet also asks Nurse to identify Romeo. Nurse returns and tells Juliet that he is a Montague. "My only love," Juliet says upon finding out, "sprung from my only hate!" Here again, Shakespeare is setting up opposites. Juliet emphasizes the contrast by stating: "Prodigious birth of love it is to me / That I must love a loathèd enemy." The scene ends with everyone leaving the party.

Act 2, Prologue

Act 2 begins with another prologue. The chorus recites another sonnet, this time summarizing the events that took place in act 1.

Act 2, Scene 1

Romeo is alone again. Benvolio and Mercutio are looking for him. Mercutio is fed up with Romeo and his romantic ideals, believing that Romeo is still pining for Rosaline. "The ape is dead, and I must conjure him," Mercutio says. Mercutio talks about the physical aspects of lovemaking. He does not imagine a higher, more spiritual kind of love. Benvolio wants Mercutio to leave Romeo alone, fearing that what Mercutio is talking about will only anger Romeo.

Act 2, Scene 2

This scene incorporates the famous balcony scene at the Capulets'. Romeo has jumped over the garden wall and sees a light in a room he assumes is Juliet's. He hides under the balcony when she appears. When Juliet and Romeo speak in this scene, they no longer talk through sonnets. They now speak in blank verse, suggesting that they have strayed away from the stereotypical literary protocol of lovers, like the poems that Romeo was once so fond of when he was infatuated with Rosaline. Juliet's famous line is read: "O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art though Romeo?" She does not know that Romeo is listening, as she announces that she wants Romeo to deny his name, which she will also do, if that is what it will take for them to love one another. The emphasis on her speech is on the meaninglessness of names and words. She is asking why a name should keep them apart. But this emphasis is also Shakespeare's way of bringing up the topic of love. Juliet and Romeo are trying to define what love is. Romeo has read about it. He knows the words of love. But how can they tell if what they are feeling for one another is true love and not just infatuation that will disappear? They decide that the way to prove that they are committed to one another is to get married.

Act 2, Scene 3

Friar Laurence is working with his plants, mentioning how some make poisons. Romeo enters and talks of love. Friar Laurence reacts dismally, thinking Romeo still longs for Rosaline. When Romeo tells him that it is Juliet, Friar Laurence first teases Romeo about the fickleness of his love, but then seems pleased. Friar Laurence hopes that the love between the two young people will end the feuding. Romeo asks Friar Laurence to marry them. The friar consents.

Act 2, Scene 4

Mercutio and Benvolio mention a letter Romeo has received, containing a challenge from Tybalt. Mercutio states that Romeo "is already dead, stabbed / with a white wench's black eye, run through the ear with / a love song." Mercutio is speaking metaphorically but also prophetically.

When Romeo appears, Mercutio makes fun of Romeo's poetic nature. The young men banter back and forth. Mercutio constantly makes sexual overtones in his speech, but he is happy that Romeo appears to have dropped his melancholy mood.

Nurse makes an appearance, reminding Romeo that Juliet awaits a word from him. Romeo tells Nurse to have Juliet meet him at Friar Laurence's.

Act 2, Scene 5

Nurse relates Romeo's message, including that Juliet should have a ladder ready so that after the wedding, Romeo can enter Juliet's bedroom.

Act 2, Scene 6

Romeo is waiting with Friar Laurence, when Juliet enters. Friar Laurence joins them in marriage.

Act 3, Scene 1

The tone of the play quickly changes as the wedding scene moves toward the impending trouble. Two groups of men assemble in the streets, one group includes Benvolio and Mercutio; the other group is headed by Tybalt. There is tension between Mercutio and Tybalt until Romeo appears. Then Tybalt challenges Romeo to a Page 768  |  Top of Articleduel. Tybalt calls Romeo a villain. Upon hearing this, Romeo says that if Tybalt thinks he is a villain, then Tybalt does not really know him. Romeo claims to love Tybalt but says he cannot, right at that moment, explain this.

Mercutio, who is too anxious to fight, can stand it no longer. He draws his sword and challenges Tybalt, who responds by drawing his sword. Romeo tries to stop them but cannot. Tybalt thrusts his sword into Mercutio then runs. Mercutio curses both families. Romeo cannot believe Mercutio is badly hurt, but Mercutio states: "No, 'tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church door; but 'tis enough, 'twill serve. Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man." Here Mercutio is making a morbid pun, not really saying that he is mortally injured but at the same time knowing that this is the case. Then Mercutio dies.

Romeo says: "This day's black fate on more days doth depend; / This but begins the woe others must end," thus prophesying the other deaths that will follow. Benvolio tries to stop Romeo from fighting with Tybalt, but he is unsuccessful. Tybalt dies. Benvolio tells Romeo to run. The prince appears, and Benvolio tells him what has happened. Lady Capulet wants Romeo to suffer for having killed Tybalt. However, Montague argues that Romeo did only what the law would have done by killing Tybalt for having murdered Mercutio. So the prince decides to banish Romeo from Verona, instead.

Act 3, Scene 2

Juliet beseeches Nurse to tell her what has happened. Nurse moans that someone is dead. Juliet believes it is Romeo. Nurse says she has seen the wound in Tybalt's chest; so Juliet thinks both Tybalt and Romeo are dead. Nurse finally tells Juliet that it is Tybalt who has died and Romeo has been banished. When Nurse settles down, she tries to soothe Juliet, telling her to prepare. Nurse will find Romeo and bring him to Juliet to sleep with her that night.

Act 3, Scene 3

Romeo has not yet heard the prince's punishment, so he is afraid he might lose his life. But when Friar Laurence tells Romeo he has been banished, Romeo states that it would have been better that he had been put to death, since he will now be so far from Juliet. This makes the Friar lose his patience with Romeo, saying: "O rude unthankfulness!" The prince has granted Romeo mercy and the Friar is disappointed that Romeo does not recognize his great fortune.

Nurse arrives, telling Romeo that Juliet is feeling miserable. Romeo states that he wants to stab himself. Friar Laurence is again disgusted with Romeo, asking if he really is a man. After a long speech telling Romeo how awfully he has been behaving, Friar tells Romeo, "Go get thee to thy love, as was decreed."

Act 3, Scene 4

Capulet with his wife and Paris console one another about Tybalt's death. Then Capulet tells his wife to prepare Juliet for Paris's declaration of love and that on Thursday, they will be married.

Act 3, Scene 5

Romeo and Juliet have spent the night together. Romeo knows he must leave before dawn. He has been banished to Mantua (in northwestern Italy). As the two young lovers say good-bye, their language is filled with poetic images, showing that they have matured. Their love is no adolescent crush. Juliet urges him to be gone so that no one will find him still in the city. Romeo says they will be together again. However, Juliet has a vision of Romeo's death.

Lady Capulet enters the bedroom. She believes Juliet is crying because of Tybalt and promises Juliet that she will send someone to Mantua to poison Romeo. In an ambiguous statement, Juliet tells her mother: "Indeed I never shall be satisfied/With Romeo till I behold him—dead—/Is my poor heart so for a kinsman vexed." This can be read in two ways. One way is that Juliet is trying to appease her mother, having it sound like she wants to see Romeo dead. But in another reading, Juliet means that her heart is dead until she sees Romeo again.

Lady Capulet tells her daughter that she will wed Paris. Juliet rebels against her father's wishes. Her father says he will disown her if she does not obey. Later, when Juliet turns to Nurse for advice, Nurse tells her to marry Paris.

Act 4, Scene 1

Juliet goes to Friar Laurence pleading for help. Friar Laurence gives her a concoction that will put her into a deep sleep, making it look like she is dead. She will awaken in the tomb, and Friar Page 769  |  Top of ArticleLaurence will make sure Romeo is there to take her to Mantua.

Act 4, Scene 2

Juliet goes back home, and when her father asks where she has been, she tells him she went to church to confess her sin of disobedience.

Act 4, Scene 3

Juliet goes to bed and drinks the sleeping potion.

Act 4, Scene 4

It is the next day, and the Capulet household prepares for the wedding.

Act 4, Scene 5

Nurse goes to Juliet's room and thinks she has found Juliet's dead body. Capulet, his wife, and Paris all mourn the loss. Friar Laurence quickly appears, pretending not to know what is going on. He tells the family not to mourn, because "she's best married that dies married young." The funeral is prepared.

Act 5, Scene 1

Balthasar, Romeo's servant, appears in Mantua and mistakenly tells Romeo that Juliet is dead. Distressed, Romeo seeks out the Apothecary for a poison he can take so that he can join Juliet.

Act 5, Scene 2

Friar John appears at Friar Laurence's, telling him that he was unable to deliver the letter to Romeo, telling him that Juliet is not dead but just in a deep sleep. Friar Laurence says he will make sure another letter is sent to Romeo, and in the meantime, he will hide Juliet until Romeo arrives.

Act 5, Scene 3

Romeo is at the vault and tells Balthasar to take a letter he has written to his family. When Romeo enters the tomb, Paris is inside protecting Juliet's body. Paris tries to stop Romeo. The two young men fight. Paris dies.

Romeo sees Juliet's body and is surprised that death has no power over her beauty. Romeo kisses her, drinks the poison, and dies.

Friar Laurence comes across Balthasar and is happy to hear that Romeo is at the vault. He hurries over. He sees Paris's bloody body, and then he notices Romeo, who is very pale. Juliet awakens. The friar tells Juliet of the deaths and asks her to come to his place. He will take her to a nunnery. The friar leaves, and Juliet kisses Romeo. When a watchman startles her, she finds Romeo's dagger and stabs herself.

Sidebar: HideShow


  • In 1936, Romeo and Juliet was produced on film under George Cukor's direction. It was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actress (Norma Shearer).
  • Almost twenty years later, in 1954, another film version was made. Laurence Harvey starred in this version, which was directed by Renato Castellani.
  • Using Leonard Bernstein's musical score, a story based on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet was adapted for the screen in 1961. Natalie Wood starred as Maria (the Juliet character) in West Side Story. The movie won ten Academy Awards.
  • Romeo and Juliet was adapted as a film by Italian director Franco Zeffirelli for Paramount Studios in 1968. The movie won an Academy Award for costume design and cinematography and featured the acting talents of Olivia Hussey, Leonard Whiting, Michael York, and Milo O'Shea.
  • In 1996, Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes starred in a Baz Luhrmann version of Romeo and Juliet that used modern scenery (it was set in Miami Beach) but retained the language of Shakespeare.

Watchmen, Friar Laurence, and the prince enter. Capulet and his wife, as well as Montague, eventually show up. Montague says his wife has died of grief at Romeo's banishment. The prince demands the friar tell them everything he knows. Then Balthasar brings Romeo's letter, which fills in all the missing details. The prince points out how both families have been punished for their hatred of one another. Capulet and Montague promise peace, and the prince ends the play with Page 770  |  Top of Articlethe line: "For never was a story of more woe / Than this of Juliet and her Romeo."



A maker of drugs and medicines who sells Romeo the poison with which he kills himself.


Balthasar, Romeo's servant, is a minor character in this play. He travels to Mantua to inform Romeo of Juliet's supposed death. Balthasar then travels with Romeo back to the Capulets' tomb where Juliet lies. Romeo commands that Balthasar wait outside. He therefore cannot prevent the tragic ending.


Benvolio, who tries to live up to the meaning of his name that implies a man of goodwill, is Montague's nephew and Romeo's and Mercutio's friend. Benvolio tries to make peace between the fighting servants of the Montague and Capulet families in the beginning of the play. He also tries to talk Romeo out of his love sick state when Romeo is infatuated with Rosaline. Later Benvolio attempts in vain to prevent the fight between Mercutio and Tybalt. Adults in this play turn to Benvolio to find out what has happened between the members of Benvolio's generation. In this way, Shakespeare implies that Benvolio might be the more rational and the more mature of all the young people. Benvolio also is one of the least tainted (along with Romeo and Juliet) by the feud between the Capulets and the Montagues.


Capulet is the head of the Capulet household and Juliet's arrogant and domineering father. He is protective of Juliet and is careful about arranging her marriage at first. However, after Tybalt's death, Capulet insists that Juliet marry Paris. When Juliet refuses, Capulet threatens to abandon her. Capulet, at times in this play, appears to be somewhat level headed, such as when he stops Tybalt from creating a disturbance at the masquerade party when it is discovered that Romeo is there. However, Capulet also often exposes his hot temper, such as when he demonstrates that he is willing to completely disown his daughter. After Juliet's death, Capulet makes peace with Montague.

Lady Capulet

Lady Capulet is Capulet's wife and Juliet's mother. Her role in the play is small. She is not a warm-hearted mother and is raising her daughter without much affection. She favors Juliet's marriage to Paris and, with her husband, rebukes her daughter when Juliet protests the match. She also demonstrates that she knows far less about her daughter than Nurse does. In fact, it is Nurse that Juliet turns to for counsel and comfort, not Lady Capulet.


The chorus narrates the prologues to acts one and two.

Prince Escalus

Escalus is the prince of Verona and represents the law. He attempts, unsuccessfully, to prevent the public brawls between the feuding houses of the Montagues and Capulets. After Romeo kills Tybalt in a duel, Escalus banishes Romeo from Verona. At the end of the play, at Capulet's tomb, it is the prince who delivers the news of the deaths of Romeo and Juliet to their parents. It is also the prince who preaches at the parents, making them understand the way their actions have led to these untimely deaths.


Gregory opens act 1 as he walks down the street with a fellow servant from the Montague household. He boasts of how he will take the Capulet men and their women. Shortly after, he becomes involved in a brawl with Capulet men. Gregory, along with the other young men in this first scene, sets the stage for further developments in the escalating feud between the two families.

Friar John

Friar John is a minor player in this drama. A Franciscan monk, he is quarantined in Verona because of the plague and is therefore unable to deliver Friar Laurence's letter to Romeo which would have told him that Juliet's death has been contrived.


Juliet is the tragic heroine of this play, the daughter of Capulet and Lady Capulet, raised almost entirely by the character Nurse. The play opens Page 771  |  Top of Article
Still of Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio from the 1996 movie Romeo and Juliet Still of Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio from the 1996 movie Romeo and Juliet (Reproduced by permission of The Picture Desk, Inc.) with Juliet at the age of thirteen—old enough, her parents believe, to be married. But Juliet has not put much thought into marriage yet, at least, not until she meets Romeo.

Juliet's parents have no interest at all in Romeo. He is the heir of the Montague family, their arch rivals. Instead, at the ball, they introduce her to Paris, who is kin to the prince. Juliet is, at that point, an obedient daughter, who tells her mother she will try to love Paris. But at that same ball Juliet meets Romeo, and she is more taken by him. When the two of them appear together, it is immediately noticeable that Juliet is more level-headed than Romeo. Romeo is rash, where Juliet is calm and rational. Romeo is romantic, where Juliet is practical. But it is through her sudden and deep love of Romeo that Juliet matures, quite quickly.

Juliet secretly marries Romeo and defies her parents, protesting when they insist that she marry Paris. After Romeo is exiled, Juliet plans her false death to avoid becoming Paris's wife. She drinks a potion that produces death-like symptoms. When she awakens in the Capulet vault to find Romeo dead, she commits suicide by stabbing herself with Romeo's dagger, preferring not to live without her Romeo.

Juliet represents innocence in some ways. She is not completely innocent when it comes to sex, but she strives for a higher form of connection between a man and a woman. She is innocent, also, in that she is not contaminated by the hatred that runs through her family. She knows of the family feud but does not take part in it. She also elevates herself in this realm, realizing that the only difference between the families is in their names. In other ways, however, Juliet is worldly and wise. She chastises Romeo for being in love with love, for attempting to practice love as if one could read directions for it from a book. She awakens Romeo to his real feelings and is daring enough to make up her own definitions of love. At the end of the play, she kills herself, as Romeo has, but not in the same manner. She uses a dagger, which one might argue is more aggressive than using poison.

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Friar Laurence

Friar Laurence is the Franciscan priest who marries Romeo and Juliet in a secret wedding. His hope in doing so is that the Montague and Capulet families will stop feuding. After Romeo is banished from Verona, Friar Laurence advises Juliet to marry Paris. Then it is Friar Laurence's suggestion that leads Juliet to feign her death. Friar Laurence writes a letter to Romeo to explain the false death of Juliet, but his letter does not get to Romeo. At the end, Friar Laurence explains to the families what has happened to the young lovers.

Friar Laurence is a catalyst in the play. This is fitting, since besides his religious calling, he also studies the chemical properties of plants. It is through Friar Laurence's scheming that the tragedy takes place, although his thoughts run in an entirely different direction. He hopes his actions will heal the city and resolve the battle between the two families. Ultimately this does happen, but not until two precious members of those families are dead.

Throughout the play, Friar Laurence serves as a friend and counselor to both Romeo and Juliet. He provides a religious dimension to the play, as he attempts to restore peace in Verona and dispel the evil. The Friar is generally viewed as a good man who exercises poor judgment when he hastily marries the lovers. He stands by his actions, however, and tries to prevent Juliet's marriage to Paris by devising the sleeping potion scheme. The play also offers another perspective of the Friar. Numerous references demonstrate that had he, too, acted with less haste, the tragic deaths of Romeo and Juliet may have been prevented. For example, had the priest sent the message concerning Juliet's assumed death to Romeo via Balthasar rather than Friar John, the final catastrophe might have been averted. No matter how one interprets his role in the play, Friar Laurence is indeed an active agent in bringing about the lovers' tragedy.


Mercutio, Romeo's playful friend, is very witty with a touch of sarcasm. He does not believe in love and pokes fun at Romeo for his affections toward Juliet. He quarrels with Tybalt and ends up being killed by him in a duel; this is the critical event that motivates Romeo to seek revenge. The bawdy, or humorously obscene, language of Mercutio (as well as of the Nurse) presents a contrast to the innocence of Romeo and Juliet's passion. For this reason, Mercutio is often interpreted as a comic "foil" to the lovers. (A foil is a character who, through strong contrast, underscores or enhances the distinctive traits of another character.) Mercutio is renowned for his vitality. He is viewed as an extreme egotist and sensualist, whose open personality and coarse sexual humor reflect his individuality and naturalness. Shakespeare has been particularly praised for his well-defined portrait of Mercutio's character.


Although Montague is Romeo's father, his role in this play is small. He is the head of the Montague household. He reconciles with Capulet after Romeo's and Juliet's deaths and promises to erect a statue in the young girl's name.

Lady Montague

Lady Montague is Montague's wife and Romeo's mother. She dies from grief over Romeo's banishment from Verona.


Nurse is Juliet's attendant and provides some comic relief to this tragedy. She has raised Juliet from a baby, having lost her own child. She is more like a mother to Juliet than Lady Capulet is. Her humor often stems from sexual innuendos, providing a contrast to Juliet's innocence and high ideals of love. Nurse helps arrange Juliet's secret marriage to Romeo, but after Romeo's banishment, Nurse advises Juliet to marry Paris. It is Nurse who finds Juliet on the morning of Juliet's wedding to Paris, in a drug-induced fake death. Nurse believes, however, that the death is real and she laments the loss. The Nurse, a well-conceived, rich, and natural character, is often considered one of Shakespeare's greatest comic creations. Her bawdy, or humorously obscene, language presents a stark contrast to the purity of Romeo and Juliet's passion. For this reason, her character is often interpreted as a comic "foil" to the lovers.


Paris is a nobleman and Prince Escalus's kinsman. Paris is just the opposite of Romeo, in that he is very straightforward and lacks passion. He becomes engaged to Juliet without apparent Page 773  |  Top of Articlelove. But his feelings for Juliet appear real when he believes that she has died. In an attempt to protect her body from harm, he duels with Romeo at the Capulet vault. Paris dies at the hands of Romeo.


Peter is a Capulet servant, who is asked to distribute the news around town of a party Capulet is holding. Peter is worried because he cannot read the list of people's names, and stops to ask Romeo, who happens by, to read it for him. Romeo notices Rosaline's name. Peter leaves but not before inviting Romeo to the party, assuming he is not a Montague.


Romeo, along with Juliet, is the main character of this play, the sixteen-year-old (or so) tragic hero. He is the son of Montague and Lady Montague. In the beginning of the play, Romeo sounds much like an immature young man. He is moody and hides from his family and friends so that he might brood in solitude. The reason for his melancholy is his infatuation with Rosaline, a character that never appears in the play, thus alluding to the probability that she is barely aware of Romeo. His love for her, more than likely, is manufactured from the love poems he reads. Romeo wants to be in love, in other words, like the poets that he reads, so he imagines that he is.

It is not until he meets level-headed Juliet that Romeo begins to mature. He falls instantly in love with her, this time for real. He is taken by her wit and beauty. Juliet is flesh and blood, not a figment of his imagination. Romeo's passion now has a true and fulfilling focus.

Unfortunately, Romeo's passion, once it is ignited through his love for Juliet, becomes a bit wild, or uncontained. Whereas before he met Juliet, he shunned the duels that his Montague friends engaged in with the Capulets, now he seeks revenge. When Mercutio is killed, Romeo acts as if he cannot help but kill Tybalt. This sets into action a train of fateful events that will lead to Romeo's death. But still, Romeo could have stopped that train. Had he but been more patient and sought counsel with Friar Laurence after finding Juliet in the Capulet tomb, this story would have been a romance instead of a tragedy.


Rosaline never appears on stage; she is merely mentioned in the early part of the play. Romeo's seeming melancholy in the beginning of the play is due to his infatuation with Rosaline. Rosaline, it is said, has taken the vow of chastity, never to love any man. Rosaline is used to provide a contrast between Romeo's rational but contrived feelings of love as opposed to the emotions that will quickly swoop him off his feet when he meets and falls for Juliet. Rosaline is mentioned throughout much of the play, as many of the characters believe that Romeo's emotional state is caused by his love for Rosaline. They mock him, believing that his feelings are the result of his reading too many love poems and really have nothing to do with Rosaline at all. When Friar Laurence discovers that Romeo has found a new love with Juliet, someone who returns Romeo's love, Friar Laurence realizes that Romeo has finally matured.


Sampson, a young servant of the Montague household, helps to open the first act of this play, as he is walking down a street in Verona with a fellow servant, Gregory. The two young men boast of triumphing over Capulet men and taking their women. Sampson ends up getting in a brawl with some of the Capulet men, thus demonstrating in the beginning of the play the bad feelings between the two families.


Tybalt is Lady Capulet's nephew and Juliet's cousin. Tybalt is the most unruly and most hotheaded of all the young men in this play. He seems to have no greater goal in life than to fight with the Capulets. He is looked upon as the leader of his group of men, and his ultimate goal, or trophy, appears to be a duel with Romeo. After mortally wounding Mercutio in a fight, he gets his wish. However, Tybalt is killed by Romeo.



In examining the nature of Romeo and Juliet's relationship, it is important to achieve an understanding of how love is viewed in this play. In some ways, the young lovers' emotions reflect Page 774  |  Top of Articlethe practice of so-called courtly love that was prevalent in the Middle Ages and affected the European literature of the Renaissance. Although courtly love influenced a part of Romeo and Juliet's relationship, by definition Romeo's affection for Rosaline is more closely identified with the language, conventions, and sentiments of this type of relationship.

Courtly love was a late medieval tradition that defined what love was and established a code of behavior for lovers. In essence, under this system, love is illicit (not between husband and wife) and is accompanied by great emotional suffering. The lover (in literature, usually a knight) falls in love at first sight and agonizes over his situation until his affection is returned, which it often is not, since the target of the knight's affection might not even know of him. Whether the feelings are returned is not essential. The emotions that the knight feels as a result of his love are enough to propel him to do great deeds.

Romeo's affection for Rosaline is based on his reading about courtly relationships. He is consumed by the poetry (some of which goes back to the ballads of troubadours) and believes he has fallen in love with this young woman, who never appears on stage. This distance builds the allusion that she is unaware of Romeo's existence. Therefore, Romeo suffers through his emotional upheaval in solitude, pining for a woman who might not even know Romeo exists. Romeo's courage to attend the Capulet's masquerade party is the direct result of his feelings for Rosaline; taking this risk is Romeo's "great deed" of courtly love.

Romeo's love for Juliet (and hers for him) is also tinged with the precepts of courtly love. According to the conventions of courtly love, the lovers pledge their fidelity to one another and vow to keep their union a secret. Romeo and Juliet have a clandestine relationship, meeting at night and telling no one but Nurse and Friar Laurence of their plans. There are other elements of courtly love that Romeo and Juliet's affair closely follow: they fall in love at first sight and their love is strengthened rather than weakened by the challenges they must face (in their case, because of their families' feud).

However, Shakespeare takes Romeo and Juliet's love a step deeper, definitely demonstrating the influence of these concepts, but wanting to show that there is more to love than the bookish conventions that order love into neat categories. Whereas Romeo's love affair with Rosaline followed the concepts of courtly love more faithfully, his love for Juliet differs in major ways. Romeo and Juliet have a love that has a spiritual quality. The couple treats love with great reverence. They are more grounded in one another, facing their fears as they try to define their love not by the book but through their feelings. They also take their love higher than Nurse's and Mercutio's bawdy definitions that are based on sex. Romeo removes from his mind the fantasies of the poems he has been reading and the images they presented to him and feels love from his heart instead of from his head. It is Romeo and Juliet's faithfulness to this higher element of love in the face of violence and hatred, and even to the point of meeting their deaths, that ultimately restores peace and order to Verona. It is as if Shakespeare was saying that, whereas courtly love might read well, it does not have the power of real love. The playwright, through this play, also exposes the power of marrying for love rather than marrying as obedience to one's parents.

There is also the sexual love as talked about through Mercutio and Nurse. Mercutio represents love for carnal pleasure. This type of love does not elevate the object of love but rather generalizes the object. Thus, one woman is as good as any other, for Mercutio's satisfaction. He does not linger long enough to find out who the woman is or what she thinks or feels. He uses her to satisfy his needs. Nurse also talks about men and women in terms of their sexual drives. However, she adds another element to the discussion of love. When Juliet goes to Nurse for counsel when Capulet insists that Juliet marry Paris, Nurse tells Juliet to forget Romeo and to marry Paris. This is contractual love—marrying someone for rational reasons, whether it be for money, title, or land. Love might develop, but it is not the motivating force.


Just as love is used as a theme, its opposite, hate, is also woven through this play. The hate between the Capulets and the Montagues is demonstrated immediately at the opening of the play. Shakespeare offers no reason for this hate, he only shows how this negative emotion affects everyone in the play. Tybalt, for example, has this hate so enmeshed in his thoughts and his psyche that he believes his honor has been Page 775  |  Top of Articlecrushed merely by Romeo's presence at the Capulet masquerade party. This hate, unchecked, ends in Mercutio's and Tybalt's deaths.

The hate is questioned, however, when it extends to Romeo and Juliet. They each fall for one another without knowing what family the other belongs to. When they discover that they are on the opposite sides of the warring families, they must look through their families' horrible dislike for one another in order to see through to their love. In some ways, it is because of this hate that Romeo and Juliet create such an instantaneous and pure love. Because they are shocked to find out the truth about each other's families, they question the hate that has been handed down to them. It is through this foil of hate that they realize how deeply felt their love is.


The most obvious example of passion in this play is that of Juliet's and Romeo's love for one another. But there are other passions that run through this drama. Mercutio, for example, is a person who does not believe in the passion of love, but does exhibit a passion for life. Mercutio believes that Romeo's passions for Rosaline robs Romeo of the pleasures of life. He wants to awaken Romeo out of his dark melancholy and show him the beauty of light—he wants Romeo to dance rather than hide in the shadows, to enjoy women rather than pine for them. But Mercutio is not all fun and light himself. He also has dark passions. In act 1, scene 4, Mercutio teases Romeo about his dreams, saying they mean nothing. His joking, however, goes quickly from imagining fairies to conjuring demons. Mercutio begins by talking about love and suddenly turns to talking about cutting throats, exhibiting his own passion for fighting and death.

In act 2, scene 4, Mercutio compares different kinds of passion. Mercutio believes that Romeo's passion for love has made him blind, weak, and useless. In other words, the uplifting emotions of love have left Romeo less than a man, unprepared for the challenges a man must face, such as Tybalt's duel. But even Tybalt falls short of the fighting passion that Mercutio sees as most pure. Though Tybalt is a master swordsman, Tybalt is too distracted by appearances. He talks with a fake accent and is too interested in all the new clothing fashions. Mercutio, in comparison, is an old-fashioned kind of man, which Shakespeare does not fully define but he has Mercutio say: "Why, is not this a lamentable thing, grandsire, that we should be thus afflicted with these strange flies, these fashionmongers, these pardon-me's, who stand so much on the new form that they cannot sit at ease on the old bench?" Whatever the "old bench" is, it is not the likes of Tybalt.

There is another incident with Mercutio, who begins act 3, scene 1 by telling Benvolio that he argues too much. However, as soon as Tybalt makes an appearance and asks to speak to them, Mercutio says: "And but one word with one of us? / Couple it with something; make it a word and a blow." This further demonstrates the difference between Tybalt and Mercutio. Tybalt's passion might be for swordsmanship; but Mercutio's is the pleasure of fighting. Words are meaningless, Mercutio implies. He wants something more, like blood. Mercutio's passion is so strong in this area that he pushes Tybalt into dueling with him. It was not Mercutio's fight and yet he makes it so. When Romeo arrives, Mercutio is insulted by Romeo's attempts to calm Tybalt. "O calm, dishonorable, vile submission!" he yells. Mercutio will not allow this night to end without a fight.

Passion is exemplified in other characters as well. Capulet, for instance, who asks for peace at his masquerade party when Tybalt discovers Romeo's presence. However, when Tybalt pushes him, Capulet exhibits his own fighting passions as he raises his voice at Tybalt and threatens him if Tybalt dares to disrupt the party. Capulet also exposes the range in his passions when at one point he tells Paris that his daughter is too tender to marry at the age of thirteen, then suddenly changes his position and he becomes so furious at Juliet's refusal to obey him that he is willing to cast her out of his life if she does not consent to marrying Paris a few days later

In addition, there is a quiet but dominant passion that drives the prince to find peace between the feuding families. There is also Friar Laurence's misguided passion that drives him to marry Romeo and Juliet, knowing that their families would not approve. He then concocts schemes to make sure Romeo and Juliet can find a way to be together, because he hopes, like the prince, for an end to the family feud.

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Harold Perrineau as Mercutio, giving the Queen Mab speech, from the 1996 film Romeo and Juliet Harold Perrineau as Mercutio, giving the Queen Mab speech, from the 1996 film Romeo and Juliet (© 20th Century Fox Film Corp/Everett Collection)


As in many of his plays, such as Julius Caesar and Macbeth, Shakespeare explores the theme of fate in this drama. From the opening lines in the prologue to the last act, the characters are helpless to do anything other than what fate directs them to do. Romeo goes to Capulet's party to seek comfort from Rosaline. He does not even know, at that point, that Juliet exists. And yet, once he sets his eyes upon her, he falls in love instantly. Although Friar Laurence, upon hearing that Romeo wants to marry Juliet, believes this marriage might end the feud between the Capulets and Montagues, fate has twisted this fairy tale. While the coming together of Romeo and Juliet ultimately does end the feud, it is their deaths and not their love that brings the two families together. Also, no matter how hard Friar Laurence works to make sure that the two young people are protected from their families' hatred, it is Friar Laurence who brings about their deaths. Fate has played against Friar Laurence, disallowing his letter to be delivered. Romeo faces Tybalt in a confident mood after he has married Juliet. Even though Romeo extends the love he has for Juliet to her kinsman, fate again steps into the picture. Hot-tempered Mercutio, either too impassioned with hate or too protective of Romeo, decides that the battle should be between himself and Tybalt. Had Mercutio held his temper, Romeo might have walked away, and Tybalt might have put his sword back in its sheath. But Romeo and Juliet, as the chorus states in the prologue, are star-crossed lovers. Thus, their love may be strong but it is not meant to last, at least not on this mortal plane.

Had Romeo, on the other hand, mourned Mercutio's death and declared that the killings should stop there, his life and Juliet's life might have been spared. But fate would not allow it. Had Capulet not forced his young daughter to marry Paris, Juliet would have had no need to fake her death. And if Romeo had not acted so hastily upon seeing Juliet's drug-induced slumber, he might not have swallowed the poison. And what would have happened had Juliet awakened a few minutes earlier?

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Shakespeare uses all these incidents to present the world as a place ruled by a higher power. No matter what the characters intend or wish to do, fate determines the lives all of the characters will lead.


Passage of Time

A prominent aspect of the construction of Romeo and Juliet is Shakespeare's handling of the passage of time. He has set up the short time frame to underscore the lovers' hasty actions. This is most clearly emphasized in Romeo and Juliet's headlong rush to fulfill their love for each other. Shakespeare most notably emphasizes this haste by compressing the several months' worth of action found in Brooke's Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet to only five days in his play.

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  • Bring a copy of the video West Side Story to class. Set up a schedule with your teacher for showing it. After you have seen the video, lead a discussion about the similarities or differences between this story and that of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Questions you can ask to begin the discussion might include: What are the themes of the two stories? How are the emotions of the main characters similar? Do the differences in setting or in time affect the story in any way?
  • Suppose that before Juliet dies, she writes a letter to her parents. What do you think she would say? How would her remarks differ when she addresses her father and then her mother? Also have her include a note to Nurse. Really try to get into the emotions she would have for each person and use those emotions to affect her words.
  • In the seventeenth century, some producers changed the play so that it would end happily. Prepare a script for Romeo and Juliet and act it out with a partner in front of your class. Start with Romeo coming and seeing Juliet in the tomb. What would happen next? What would they have to say to one another? How would they react when their parents show up? How could they stop the family feud without dying?
  • Create two panels of students, one of four or five boys, the other of four or five girls. The topic will be definitions of masculinity. Begin with a presentation of how Shakespeare defines masculinity through this play. Add some research notes that you have made about men of the sixteenth century, from any country, including your own. Then ask your panel to discuss how those definitions have changed over the years. Or have they changed at all?

Subtle patterns of swift imagery and lively dialogue, as well as the chorus's commentary, create an undercurrent of tension and impulsiveness that is discernible throughout the play. On several occasions, Shakespeare ironically contrasts the notion of time and haste with a particular character's dialogue. One example of this technique is the contradiction between the play's hurried pace and Friar Laurence's warning to Romeo at the end of act 2, scene 3: "Wisely and slow. They stumble that run fast." The priest later fails to heed his own advice, however, when, in act 5, he is startled and hastens from the tomb, leaving Juliet to her fate. Shakespeare employs all of these devices to create a frantic atmosphere in which the characters behave recklessly.

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Construction of a Tragedy

Some critics have had trouble deciding if Shakespeare's tragic design is effective and therefore an authentic tragedy. In drama, a tragedy traditionally recounts the significant events or actions in a protagonist's life which, taken together, bring about the catastrophe. The ambiguity surrounding the cause of the lovers' deaths has led some critics to regard the play as an apprentice tragedy, one in which Shakespeare had not yet developed his skills as a tragic dramatist. In fact, Romeo and Juliet is often considered an experiment in tragedy, in which the playwright attempts to break free of traditional patterns by omitting the necessary cause-and-effect relationship between the lovers' characters and their catastrophe.

In trying to determine the validity of the construction of Shakespeare's play, critics have proposed three main ways to interpret Shakespeare's arrangement of events and circumstances in Romeo and Juliet.

One method of looking at Shakespeare's arrangement of events is to regard Romeo and Juliet as helpless victims of the arbitrary operation of fate. Numerous tricks of chance in the play support this theory. For example, there are Romeo's failed attempt to stop the fight between Mercutio and Tybalt, and Friar John's inability to leave Verona due to the plague. References to fortune and the stars throughout the play, particularly the description of Romeo and Juliet in the prologue to act 1 as "star-crossed lovers," also uphold this argument. This emphasis on fortune as a guiding force that determines one's destiny was probably not lost on Elizabethan audiences, who would have been familiar with, and would have likely endorsed, this belief in fate.

A second perspective is that Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy of providence or divine will. Proponents of this interpretation maintain that the seemingly coincidental or accidental events in the play are in fact initiated by God to punish and, ultimately, to reconcile the feuding families. God finally achieves this reconciliation by using the deaths of the lovers as a moral example for the others.

A third reading of Shakespeare's tragic design holds that the lovers' own reckless passion leads to their double suicide. Supporters of this viewpoint sometimes regard Friar Laurence as a spokesman for Shakespeare himself, for the monk does not completely endorse Romeo and Juliet's impetuous behavior but rather cautions them toward a moderate love.

These three perspectives on Shakespeare's tragic design are perhaps the most commonly discussed issues in Romeo and Juliet. At various times throughout the centuries since the tragedy was written, critics have generally emphasized one or another of these interpretations of the play's construction. Recently, however, commentators have argued that Shakespeare actually presents a balance of all three concepts in the play.


Shakespeare uses prose, blank verse (unrhymed metered lines), and sonnets in this play. The sonnets are the most poetic, having metered as well as rhymed lines. The prologues in the beginning of the first and second acts are in the form of sonnets. When Romeo and Juliet first profess their love in act 1, scene 5, they also speak in a sonnet form, in which they divide the lines between them. Many critics believe that it is through the sonnet that Shakespeare imparts the highest of emotions in his early plays. As Shakespeare matured as a writer, however, he used sonnets less frequently.

A sonnet is a fourteen-line poem in iambic pentameter (pairs of five double syllables, the first of which is unstressed, the second of which is stressed). The lines are carefully patterned in rhymes. If you look at lines 1 through 14, in the prologue prior to act 1, you will see that the last word in line 1 rhymes with the last word in line 3; the last word in line 2 rhymes with the last word in line 4. Then the pattern changes. Line 5 rhymes with line 7; line 6 rhymes with line 8. Line 9, rhymes with 11; and 10 rhymes with 12. Then lines 12 and 14 rhyme with one another. This is one patterned formed in the sonnet.

The rhyming, even if audiences are unaware of it, helps the lines flow together more smoothly than normal speech. The rhymes, as well as the rhythm, hold the speech to a very distinct size and form. The word sonnet comes from the Italian word sonetto meaning "little song." So when characters on stage recite a sonnet, it is somewhat like having them sing to the audience.

Use of Puns for Comic Relief

A pun is a figure of speech that plays on various meanings of a word, usually to create a comic Page 779  |  Top of Article
Zubin Varla as Romeo and Lucy Whybrow as Juliet in Act V, scene iii, at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, 1995 Zubin Varla as Romeo and Lucy Whybrow as Juliet in Act V, scene iii, at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, 1995 (© Donald Cooper/Photostage. Reproduced by permission) response or ambiguity. Romeo and Juliet is filled with puns.

Shakespeare uses many puns in this play to offset some of the tension of the sword fights, the deaths, and the anxiety that builds toward the deaths of his two protagonists. Although audiences in the twenty-first century might not understand the puns that Shakespeare uses in this play, his audiences in Early Modern England would have grabbed their meaning and laughed out loud at the humor and clever wit of the author.

Some of the puns are lost on audiences today because the words that are used as puns no longer exist in contemporary language. However, some are still evident. Such a one is in Mercutio's statement after he has been wounded by Tybalt. In act 3, scene 1, Mercutio says: "Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man." His reference to "grave man" implies both a serious man as well as a dead man. Many other of the puns have sexual connotations, especially in the speeches of Nurse and Mercutio.

In the first scene of act 1, less serious puns are spoken between Sampson and Gregory, two servants of the house of Montague. As they walk down the street, the first young man mentions the word coal, which is Shakespeare's time also referred to an insult. The second young man picks up on the meaning of coal as modern readers would understand it, a fuel, stating that if they "carry coals" they then would be called "colliers," which refers to people who bring the fuel in wagons to various houses to sell it. Then Sampson mentions the word "choler," which sounds the same as the word "collier," but means "anger." And Gregory continues this word play by mentioning the word "collar," an allusion to the rope noose that is used to hang a person and a word that sounds the same as "choler." In Shakespeare's time, the audience would have understood all these allusions as well as the playful confusion between the double meanings of the words and how those meanings completely change the context of the young men's speech. In this way, despite the fact that the men are talking about dueling, anger, and possible murder, the audience cannot help but laugh at the word play.

Use of Oxymoron to Deepen or to Deflect Meaning

An oxymoron is another figure of speech that is used to describe a feeling or an object by using two words that appear to contradict one another. In contemporary language, the use of the term friendly fire to describe the action of one army killing one of their own helps to soften the true meaning of the action. Killing one's own is a terrible event, a tragedy. But by calling it "friendly fire" it downplays the accident, the causes, and the blame.

Shakespeare uses an oxymoron in Juliet's comment when Romeo must leave her. She says, in act 2, scene 3: "Parting is such sweet sorrow." Sorrow is painful, so why would she refer to it as sweet? Possibly because the sorrow is caused by her love for Romeo, which is definitely sweet. Also in act 1, scene 1, Romeo speaks, using an oxymoron. He uses phrases such as "heavy lightness," "Feather of lead," "cold fire," and "sick health" to explain how melancholy he is in his love for Rosaline.

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Imagery through Metaphor

The use of imagery provides the audience with more than the words that are spoken by the actors. Imagery is used to describe some feeling or a person or an action. Using metaphors as imagery involves bringing two unlike things together and showing how they are actually very similar. For example, Romeo describes love in act 1, scene 1 like this: "Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs." This allows the audience to first see the smoke, then replace that image with a person sighing. Everyone knows what they feel like when they sigh. There is a sadness or maybe a joy that takes one's breath away. So this is how Romeo is feeling when he thinks about love. Shakespeare uses the metaphor not only to describe the feeling but to help the audience to share in that feeling as well.


Religion in Elizabethan England

Queen Elizabeth's father, King Henry VIII (1509–1547), changed the structure of religion in England. Upon falling in love with Anne Boleyn and wanting a divorce from his first wife, King Henry appealed to the Pope, the head of the Catholic religion, of which King Henry was a part. The Pope refused to grant the dispensation that would allow the king to dissolve his marriage to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. So King Henry turned to his parliament, which produced a series of legal acts that reduced the supreme authority of the Roman Catholic Pope in England. When Henry appealed to the Archbishop of Canterbury and went forward with his plans to marry Anne, Pope Clement VII, in 1533, excommunicated King Henry VIII from the Catholic Church. This action was the beginning of the English Reformation, the breaking away of England from the Catholic Church. In 1534, with the Act of Supremacy, Henry VIII declared himself the head of the Church of England; the Pope no longer had any jurisdiction in Henry's country.

During Queen Elizabeth's reign Catholics and Protestants (Christians who did not recognize the Church under the rule of the Pope) both lived in England. During the reign of Queen Mary I (1553–1558), the power of the Catholic Church had been returned to England, when Mary repealed the Act of Supremacy. However, Elizabeth overturned all the attempts Queen Mary had made to reinstate the Pope as the head of the church in England. Through a second Act of Supremacy that Elizabeth pressed for in parliament, she became, as her father had intended, the head of the church.

However, England was in no way settled on the issue of religion. Prior to Queen Elizabeth, depending on which monarch was in rule, either Catholics or Protestants were persecuted, losing their land, wealth, status, or even their lives if they acted out against the professed religion of the country (the country was protestant during Henry's term and Catholic during Mary's). Elizabeth wanted those persecutions to stop. She believed that Catholics should be allowed to practice their religion as long as their actions did in no way present any danger to the country's peace or any rebellion to Elizabeth's rule.

Major differences between Catholics and Protestants in England during that time were that the Catholics believed that priests and the Pope were divinely chosen and only they could interpret the Bible and dictate to the people the meaning of religion in the parishioners lives. The Protestants, however, believed ministers of the religion were ordinary people who could marry, wear regular street clothes, and were not responsible for interpreting anything spiritual for the other members.

Short History of Elizabethan Drama

Prior to the Elizabethan drama traditions of Shakespeare's time were the mystery and morality plays of medieval times. In contrast to the Elizabethan dramatic themes, the medieval plays focused on teaching people the morals that were influenced by the Christian religion and were most often produced and played by religious monks. These early plays were produced in order to help the audience learn the teachings of their religion; these plays were basically dramatized interpretations of stories from the Bible. Mystery plays were popular between the tenth and fifteenth centuries.

At the end of the fifteenth century in England, a new type of play appeared that was less didactic and less serious than the mystery play and often contained a bit of humor. This type of play was performed most often at the houses of noblemen and was called an Interlude. Performed during special holidays, Interludes were very simple at first but they evolved over time to include music and dance and, under French influence, Page 781  |  Top of Articlefarce—an exaggerated form of comedy. John Heywood (c.1497–1580) was one of the more famous of London's playwrights at that time, creating several Interludes, one of which was called The Play of the Wether, a New and Mery Interlude of All Maner of Wethers (1533).

Another type of play also was developed in the early sixteenth century. This was the historic play. John Bale (1495–1563), who also wrote mystery plays and interludes, is often cited as one of the more important first playwrights of history plays. Bale's Kynge Johan (1538) would influence a new direction for other writers, including Shakespeare, who would go on to write his own play, based on the life of King John of England, sometime around 1596.

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  • 1600s: Dueling is a popular way to settle so-called uncivil behaviors between gentlemen that have caused a loss of honor. King James I attempts to ban stories that postulate this practice as he fears dueling is a threat to law and order.
    1800s: In the United States, the most famous duel was between two prominent politicians, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Pistols were used, with both men being shot and Hamilton dying the next day.
    Today: Gangs in many of large United States cities use drive-by shootings as a way to settle arguments or disputes between warring gang members.
  • 1600s: The city of Verona, located in northern Italy between Venice and Milan, enjoys enormous prosperity as part of the Republic of Venice. The many wealthy families of Verona, as well as the affluent religious sects, build large mansions and monasteries in the city.
    1800s: The Roman-built Arena of Verona, constructed in the first century C.E., is one of Europe's most stunning and well-preserved amphitheaters. Once used for gladiatorial bouts and tournaments, the arena is newly dedicated to the art of theatric performances.
    Today: Verona is one of Italy's biggest tourist attractions. In the city, a balcony on the side of an ancient building, falsely named Casa di Giulietta (The House of Juliet), draws tourists and lovers. They stand at the bottom of the balcony and write love notes that they leave taped to the walls. They also have their pictures taken next to a bronze statue of Shakespeare's tragic heroine.
  • 1600s: In many European countries, marriage is made official through the sanctioning of the families of the bride and groom, and through a final ceremony at the church.
    1800s: Due to Lord Harwicke's Marriage Act of 1753 in England, the state government becomes involved in sanctioning marriages, with parental consent until age 21 and a legal license required.
    Today: Marriage laws are being contested by people who want same-sex marriages approved by the government and sanctioned by the church.

Humanism—a term applied to the philosophical and intellectual flow of thought that valued the ability of the individual to determine what was truth and what was not—and specifically Renaissance humanism, influenced the stage and its productions in the mid-fifteenth century. Through this influence, dramatists began turning to classical works of Greece and Rome. During this time, writers looked to ancient Greek and Roman dramas as sources of new works, which eventually lead to the birth of English tragedy.

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Often accredited as the first English tragedy is Richard Edwards's Damon and Pythias (1564), a play based on a Greek story about the power of strong friendship. This early tragedy did not contain the elements that would later be used by playwrights such as Shakespeare, however. Those elements were brought to English tragedies first by Jasper Heywood (1553–1598) who translated the plays of a classical Roman playwright called Seneca. It was through Seneca's work that elements such as blood and violence, grand rhetorical speeches, and the appearance of ghosts would become part of staged productions, such as is seen in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar (1599). However, Shakespeare was not the first to write an Elizabethan tragedy. That honor is attributed to two lawyers, Thomas Sackville (1536–1608) and Thomas Norton (1532–1584) who wrote Gorboduc in 1561. This was a play whose message was directed at Elizabeth I, suggesting the importance of her leaving a definite heir to the throne. This was also the first English play to be written in blank verse. The themes and the format of this play are believed to have greatly influenced Shakespeare's later play King Lear (1605).

Queen Elizabeth I supported the arts and viewed many of the staged dramas of her time. Through her encouragement, she helped to create the great contributions that sixteenth and seventeen English dramatists would provide the world—those plays that continue to be enjoyed by twenty-first-century audiences and which are referred to as Elizabethan drama.

Petrarch, His Poetry, and Laura

There are several allusions to Petrarch in Romeo and Juliet, especially in the first few acts when Romeo is very much under the influence of love poems. Francesco Petrarch (1304–1374) was an Italian poet, considered to be one of the fathers of the Renaissance and the poet laureate of Rome. Petrarch never married (although he fathered a couple of children) but he is famous, among other things, for passionate poems he wrote to a woman known as Laura. Petrarch's love of Laura, at least as he writes of it in his poems, was always from a distance, and it is filled both with joy and with anguish. It was through his poems dedicated to Laura that the form of the sonnet was modified, a form that latter poets followed. For his character Romeo, however, it was not the form of the sonnet but rather the sentiments that Petrarch portrayed, the deep longing for the love of a woman who will never be reached, the melancholy, the self-pity, and the need to be alone in his suffering.


Romeo and Juliet's early stage history is only based on speculation. As Andrew Dickson writes in The Rough Guide to Shakespeare, "It seems probable that Romeo and Juliet was put on initially at the Theatre in Shoreditch [outside London], then perhaps at the nearby Curtain after Shakespeare's company moved there temporarily in 1597." But there is no recorded evidence to prove this. It was not until William Davenant, a possible godson of Shakespeare's, produced his version of the play in 1662 that the event was actually recorded. Samuel Pepys, a famous seventeenth-century English diarist attended, and according to Davenant, wrote that after seeing the play, he "couldn't decide which he detested more, the play or the actors." Despite this disapproving comment, as Anthony Davies states, writing for The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare, "the early quartos [published texts of the play] attest to the play's popularity in the theatres." Davies also mentions that proof of the popularity of this play could also be found in the fact that a preacher named Nicholas Richardson quoted the play "in a sermon in 1620." However, literary critics tended to point out Shakespeare's "over-indulgence in punning and rhyming."

The play went through changes in the next decade, returning to the stage as the adapted The History and Fall of Caius Marius (1679), written by Thomas Otway and set in ancient Rome. Otway emphasized the politics of the day, for one thing, but he also changed the ending. Unlike Sir James Howard's version, which gave the play a happy ending, Otway had Juliet awakening before Romeo dies, giving the lovers an extra scene in which to exchange their love. This version brought audiences back to the theatre, and the ending was retained in future productions in the next century.

However, Davies points out that prior to the late nineteenth century: "Romantic writers and artists across the English-speaking world and continental Europe … regarded the play as an unqualified presentation of an ideal love too good for the corrupt world." After this, critics began to focus on whether the play was truly a tragedy. As Maurice Charney writes, in his All of Shakespeare, Romeo Page 783  |  Top of Articleand Juliet, although classified as a tragedy has more of an affinity with Shakespeare's romantic comedies written at the same time. "Shakespeare has trouble endowing Romeo and Juliet with tragic stature; in some ways they are not tragic at all." These characters do not bring tragedy onto themselves, states Charney, "and they have no identifiable tragic flaw or weakness of character." Therefore, Charney believes, "they don't qualify as tragic protagonists." Charney goes on to say that Shakespeare filled the beginning of the play with "forebodings and portents," but these "aren't always relevant to the dramatic context." It is not until Mercutio's death, according to Charney, that the play takes a turn toward tragedy. "There seems to be a rush now to realize the implications of all the forebodings." Despite these misgivings, Charney does refer to a part of this play that he likes: "The representation of love is magical in this play," he writes. However, Charney concludes: "It is exceedingly difficult to make an emotion as complex and ambivalent as love seem an adequate motivating cause for tragedy."

Countering Charney's point of view is Northrop Frye, in his book Northrop Frye on Shakespeare. Frye writes that tragedy has an ironic side, by which Frye means, in this instance, that the audience knows more than the characters. Tragedy also has a heroic side. Frye contends that Juliet and Romeo were heroic. "Romeo and Juliet are sacrificial victims, and the ancient rule about sacrifice was that the victim had to be perfect and without blemish." The belief underlying this concept was that nothing that is perfect can exist in this world of imperfection. That which is perfect, "should be offered up to another world before it deteriorates." It was not only the beauty of Juliet that was perfect, it was also the passion that the two young lovers shared. Their "passion would soon burn up the world of heavy fathers and snarling Tybalts and gabby Nurses if it stayed there." This not merely a story of love that goes wrong, Frye writes, "It didn't go wrong: it went only where it could, out. It always was, as we say, out of this world." Frye concludes his opinions of this play by stating: "It takes the greatest rhetoric of the greatest poets to bring us a vision of the tragic heroic, and such rhetoric doesn't make us miserable but exhilarated, not crushed but enlarged in spirit." That is why, he contends, that people all over the world, all through the past centuries have fallen in love with this tragedy.

The variation of productions is vast. In 1845, the American actress Charlotte Cushman, "caused a sensation when she played Romeo to her sister's Juliet at the Haymarket," writes Dickson. The critics loved it. Dickson quotes a newspaper review that states: "'Miss Cushman's Romeo is a creative, a living, breathing, animated, ardent, human being.'" Then in the mid 1900s, as Dickson writes, Peter Brook used "a virtually bare stage," meant to emphasize "the play's violence." Brook also ended the play without the reconciliation of the feuding families after the deaths of Romeo and Juliet, further darkening the mood of the play.

In more modern times, as Dickson writes, the play has gained in popularity, having been "revived over 350 times internationally in the half-century following World War II." There are at least sixty different filmed versions, with the 1996 version by Baz Luhrmann staging the production near a Miami beach filled with bikini-clad women; with young boys who drive supped-up cars; and an innocent Juliet who falls head-over-heels into a swimming pool when she first meets her Romeo.

Norrie Epstein, in The Friendly Shakespeare sums up the play with these words: "Like adolescence itself, the play has many moods: it is delicate yet intense, occasionally obscene, sometimes funny, and always heartbreaking … you're in for a delightful surprise. This play is terrific."


Tom F. Driver

Driver examines Romeo and Juliet in terms of the necessity of condensing "real" time into stage time in such a way that the audience will believe the events of the play have actually taken place. The critic points out that Shakespeare compressed the action of Romeo and Juliet in two ways: first, he considerably shortened the length of the action as it appeared in his source, Arthur Brooke's The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet; second, he used very brief scenes to acount for longer periods of time. This compression, Driver asserts, underscores the theme of haste in the play. The critic also notes how Shakespeare varies the rhythm of the drama, slowing down or speeding up the action to match its meaning.

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In Romeo and Juliet the young Shakespeare learned the craft of creating on stage the illusion of passing time. The Prologue is a kind of author's pledge that we are to see something that really happened. At least, and for technique it amounts to the same thing, it could have happened.

    Two households, both alike in dignity,
    In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
    From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
    Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
    [Prologue, 1-4]

The story is further summarized, and the Prologue ends with this couplet:

    The which if you with patient ears attend,
    What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.
    [Prologue, 13-14]

Once such a beginning is made, the author is under obligation to be as faithful to the clock as possible. He must show one thing happening after another, according to its proper time, and he must keep the audience informed as to how the clock and the calendar are turning. Shakespeare was well aware of the obligation, Romeo and Juliet contains no less than 103 references to the time of the action—that is, 103 references which inform the audience what day things take place, what time of day it is, what time some earlier action happened, when something later will happen, etc. In every case but one Shakespeare was thoroughly consistent.

It is not enough, however, for the dramatist to be consistent. He also must be able to make us believe that in the short time we sit in the theater the whole action he describes can take place. He must compress the action of his story into the length of a theatrical performance.

    The fearful passage of their death-marked love,
    And the continuance of their parents' rage,…
    Is now the two-hours' traffic of our stage.
    [Prologue, 9, 10, 12]

Faced with a dramatic necessity, Shakespeare decided to make capital of it. If he has much business to set forth in a short time he will write a play about the shortness of time. In Granville-Barker's words, Romeo and Juliet is "a tragedy of precipitate action". No little part of the attraction of the play is due to this frank exploitation of a dramatic necessity.

    Come, Montague; for thou art early up
    To see thy son and heir more early down.
    [V. iii. 208-09]

In addition to the 103 chronological references noted above, the play contains 51 references to the idea of speed and rapidity of movement.

I shall mention only briefly the two ways by which Shakespeare has achieved the uncommonly tight compression of action in this play. His first stratagem was to shorten the length of the action, as found in his source, from nine months to four or five days. With this he achieved two results: he heightened the sense of "o'er hasty" action considerably, and he enabled himself more easily to appear to account for all the "real" time in the story. He did not, of course, account for every hour, but he came nearer to a correspondence between stage time and "real" time.

His second stratagem was to make very short scenes on the stage account for comparatively long periods of "real" time. This effect, which has been called "double" time, was mastered by Shakespeare in the course of writing Romeo and Juliet. The play has two notable scenes in this respect: I. v, the feast at Capulet's house, and V. iii, the final scene. In both, the technique is to focus attention upon a series of small scenes within the major scene, one after another, so that we are forgetful of the clock, and then to tell us at the end that so-and-so-much time has gone by. Because the story has advanced, we are willing to believe the clock did also.

So much for the problem of compressing "real" time into stage time and for Shakespeare's use of the resulting rapidity as a theme in his play. Page 785  |  Top of ArticleThere remains a further complexity owing to the drama's being a performed art. That is the problem of tempo. The sense of rapidity in the movement of the action must be varied. The play must have a rhythm different from the movement of the clock, however that clock may have been accelerated. There must be a fast and slow, and that fast and slow will account for much of the subtle form which the play assumes under the hand of the dramatist. Here is a major difference between art and life. In life, time is constant. The dull days last as long as the eventful ones, if not longer. In a drama time speeds up or slows down according to the meaning of the action. The excitement of dramatic art lies very largely in the tension thus established between chronological tempo and artistic, or dramatic, tempo.

Roughly speaking, Romeo and Juliet has four periods or phases—two fast and two slow. It opens in a slow time. True, there is a street fight to begin with; but that is in the nature of a curtain-raiser skillfully used to set the situation. Basically, the first period is the "Rosaline phase", and it moves as languidly as Romeo's mooning. The second period, of very swift action, begins to accelerate in I. iii. with talk of Paris as a husband. It rushes headlong, with only momentary pauses, through love, courtship, and marriage until Tybalt is impetuously slain. Here there is a pause, while the audience waits with Juliet to see what will happen, and while Friar Laurence cautions Romeo to be patient until he can "find a time" to set matters straight. It is important to notice that this pause accounts for only a very small period of "real" time. The pause is purely psychological—or rather, dramatic. In the midst of it Shakespeare prepares to accelerate the action once more by inserting between two of the lovers' andante [moderately slow] scenes the very remarkable staccato [abrupt and disjointed] scene iv of Act III, in which Capulet arranges with Paris for Juliet's marriage. In this short scene of 35 lines there are no less than 15 specific references to time and haste. The scene is all about how soon the marriage can take place—counterpoint to the mood of the lovers, who would turn the morning lark into a nightingale. In the final phase of the play, speed takes over again and we rush to the catastrophe.

It is in the last phase that the most interesting relations between dramatic rhythm and chronological clarity may be seen. Two or three
Chiwetel Ejiofor as Romeo and Charlotte Randle as Juliet in Act III, scene v, at the National Theatre, London, 2000 Chiwetel Ejiofor as Romeo and Charlotte Randle as Juliet in Act III, scene v, at the National Theatre, London, 2000 (© Donald Cooper/Photostage. Reproduced by permission) days of "real" time are required to pass in order to make sense of the action: Romeo must be exiled, Friar Laurence must put his plan for Juliet's false death into effect, messengers must travel, family must grieve, and a funeral be held. But the drama, once Juliet takes the sleeping potion, requires a swift conclusion. Therefore, after that event, references to exact time, which hitherto have been profuse, almost entirely disappear from the text. There is no way for an audience to know when any of the scenes in Act V begins. There are no clues as to what day it is, let alone what time of day, until line 176 of scene iii, when the Watch informs us that Juliet has been buried two days. The vagueness is deliberate. The "real" time is comparatively long, but the play wants to move swiftly. Therefore the audience is given an impression of speed, but specific time references are withheld.

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The foregoing remarks should make it clear that in such a play as Romeo and Juliet, where the story demands a setting more or less realistic, Shakespeare strings his art between two poles: on one side, accurate imitation of what would really happen; on the other, bold shaping of events into an aesthetic pattern. We may say that the play results from a tension between these two. The actual technique is to move from one to the other. Tension, however, expresses our feeling about the play. Imagination and reality seem to be combined in a system of stresses and strains. Time is real, and to imitate action is to imitate time. But there is also in men a capacity for transcending time, which the playwright-artist and his audience know well. Time and its events alone do not produce an action; the imagination, transcending but not escaping time, may do so.

Source: Tom F. Driver, "The Shakesperian Clock: Time and the Vision of Reality in Romeo and Juliet and The Tempest," in Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. XV, No. 4, Autumn 1964, pp. 363-70.

Sidebar: HideShow


  • Romeo and Juliet in Jerusalem, published in 2003, is a collection of short stories written by H. C. Kim, about star-crossed modern lovers who must struggle through very difficult situations to realize their love.
  • Butterfly Lovers: A Tale of the Chinese Romeo and Juliet by Fan Dai (2000) takes the theme of star-crossed lovers and adapts it to the Chinese experience. The young female protagonist, Yingtai, the only daughter of a prosperous family, must disguise herself as a man in order to enter school. At school she meets and falls in love with Shanbo, but she does not reveal that she is a woman. Later she is called home, for her parents have arranged a marriage for her. Shanbo finds out that Yingtai is a woman and immediately wants to marry her. The book is well-written with turns and twists that match Shakespeare's tale.
  • Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream is another drama of love, confusion, parental control, and other themes similar to Romeo and Juliet. A Midsummer Night's Dream was written around the same year, in 1595, and has an added element of fantasy.
  • Another of Shakespeare's plays written around the same time as Romeo and Juliet is Richard II (1595). The play is based on real life events of England's king, whose reign was contaminated with Richard's focus on his wardrobe, rich friends, and meaningless wars rather than on the common people. The play is a tragedy, ending with the king's death in prison.
  • The 1957 musical West Side Story tells a tragic love story that was often referred to as a Romeo and Juliet kind of story. The original story for the play was written by Arthur Laurents but it was adapted to novel form by Irving Schulman in 1999. The story is set in New York City and tells of a love that develops between a young woman and young man who are associated with two warring city gangs.


Charney, Maurice, All of Shakespeare, Columbia University Press, 1993.

Dickson, Andrew, The Rough Guide to Shakespeare, Rough Guides, Inc., 2005, pp. 305-12.

Dobson, Michael and Wells, Stanley, eds., The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare, Oxford University Press, 2005, pp. 397-401.

Epstein, Norrie, The Friendly Shakespeare, Penguin Books, 1993, p. 316.

Fallon, Robert Thomas, How to Enjoy Shakespeare, Ivan R. Dee, 2005.

Frye, Northrop, Northrop Frye on Shakespeare, edited by Robert Sandler, Yale University Press, 1986, pp. 15-33.

Mack, Maynard, Everybody's Shakespeare, University of Nebraska Press, 1993.

Shakespeare, William, Romeo and Juliet, edited by Peter Holland, Penguin Books, 2000.

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Bergeron, David M., "Sickness in Romeo and Juliet," in CLA Journal, Vol. 20, No. 1, March 1977, pp. 356-64.

This is a detailed analysis of the imagery of sickness, disease, and remedy in Romeo and Juliet and how it contributes to the tragic structure of the play.

Bloom, Harold, ed., Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Chelsea House, 1999.

Harold Bloom has collected some of the most important critical essays of the twentieth century on Shakespeare's play in this book.

Bruce, Brenda, "Nurse in Romeo and Juliet," in Players of Shakespeare: Essays in Shakespearean Performance by Twelve Players with the Royal Shakespeare Company, edited by Philip Brockbank, Cambridge University Press, 1985.

This book provides a theatrical insight into the Nurse's character, describing how she interpreted the role for a 1981 Royal Shakespeare Company production of Romeo and Juliet.

Cole, Douglas, ed., Twentieth Century Interpretations of "Romeo and Juliet," Prentice-Hall, 1970.

This volume is a collection of scholarly essays on Romeo and Juliet.

Greenblatt, Stephen, Will in the World, W. W. Norton & Company, 2004.

Greenblatt presents an interesting view of Shakespeare's life through the events of his years as well as through his literature.

Harbage, Alfred, "Mastery Achieved: Romeo and Juliet," in William Shakespeare: A Reader's Guide, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1966, pp. 139-61.

Harbage offers a scene-by-scene plot summary of Romeo and Juliet accompanied by critical commentary on various aspects of the play.

Smith, Warren D., "Romeo's Final Dream," in Modern Language Review, Vol. 62, No. 4, October 1967, pp. 577, 580-83.

This article considers the lovers' immortality a major theme of Romeo and Juliet, arguing that several scenes in the play support the Christian ideal of resurrection after death.

Wells, Stanley, "Juliet's Nurse: The Uses of Inconsequentiality," in Shakespeare's Styles: Essays in Honour of Kenneth Muir, edited by Philip Edwards, Inga-Stina Ewbank, and G. K. Hunter, Cambridge University Press, 1980, pp. 51-66.

This article examines the content and structure of the Nurse's speech, noting that its lack of intellectual logic marks a new dramatic style for Shakespeare.

Williamson, Marilyn L., "Romeo and Death," in Shakespeare Studies, Vol. 14, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1981, pp. 129-37.

Williamson contends that Romeo's suicide is not motivated by his love for Juliet but rather by a death wish he harbored before he met her. Williamson admits, however, that the feud does play a part in the catastrophe; because of the feud, Romeo not only expects an early death, he desires one to escape the guilt he suffers regarding the conflict.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX2896100036