Romeo and Juliet begins with a brief overview by a chorus that removes all suspense. The chorus specifically tells the audience: "A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life." What does this do to the play? Why might Shakespeare tell us ahead of time that Romeo and Juliet are going to die?
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Romeo and Juliet begins with a brief overview by a chorus. Now, in many forms of drama, a chorus or a choral opening is common. (In Greek drama the chorus plays a major role.) However, in this one, the chorus plays kind of an odd role. It enters, gives 14 lines of overview, and, in the process, removes all suspense. The chorus specifically tells the audience: "A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life." My question is, what does this do to the play? We know when it starts that Romeo and Juliet are going to die.
Why might Shakespeare do this?
I am reminded of the purpose of Julia Alvarez's novel, In the Time of the Butterflies which begins with the epitaph of the Mirabal sisters. The purpose, as Alvarez explains, is to remove speculation about the outcome of the tragedy, and instead focus on the events that compell and propel their deaths. I think the Chorus in R&J is doing much the same thing.
It must be understood that the chorus's line "A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life," is subject to double-meaning interpretation. The listener is, perhaps, left in some doubtas to the ultimate conclusion of the play, if the meaning of "take their life" is merely the reference to Romo and Juliet receiving their lives from the birth (from their parents' loins). The second meaning, of cousre is more obvious.
I think Shakespeare wants us to focus on the events and character traits of Romeo and Juliet by letting us know the conclusion from the beginning through chorus. Because I think there is something unique about their chararters. We see the switched roles of male (romeo) and female (juliet) in this play. We generally associate men with reason and mind whereas we associate women with emotions and moon which is unstable. In this play Juliet,as a women, is the reasonable and also more courageous one. She gives reasonable decesions and suggests quick solutions while Romeo behaves childlike. Also the way they kill themselves give us clue about their characters. Romeo takes the easier way by drinking poison he will die as if he is sleeping. But, Juliet kills herself with the sword which needs a lot more courage.
I think at the time, the audience would have already been somewhat familiar with the story because of the poem The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet, so it probably wasn't news to them.
The chorus is one actor. This actor enters from the back of the stage to introduce and explasin the theme of the play. The Chorus "hooks" the audience's interest by telling people just enough to quiet them down and make them eager for the play to begin.
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