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Some say that "Romeo and Juliet" is a tragedy and some say that it is a comedy, which...

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zagora | eNotes Newbie

Posted January 16, 2010 at 7:12 AM via web

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Some say that "Romeo and Juliet" is a tragedy and some say that it is a comedy, which is it and why?

Some say that "Romeo and Juliet" is a tragedy and some say that it is a comedy, which is it and why?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted January 16, 2010 at 7:36 AM (Answer #2)

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It is definitely a tragedy, even though it has some comic moments.

I don't see how a play can be anything other than a tragedy when it ends so badly.  In this play, you have two very young people who fall in love.  They do nothing worse than disobeying their parents, who hate each other.  Because of this (and because Romeo kills Tybalt even though he didn't really want to) they both end up killing themselves.  This is definitely tragic.

If you are at all emotionally invested in the characters, you are not going to leave the theater laughing.  So I do not think this can be a comedy.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted January 16, 2010 at 8:37 AM (Answer #3)

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I would have to concur with the previous post.  I would suggest that the pure conception of "comedy" is not one  humor- based as much as one where there is the presence of harmony and unity at its end.  For example, Dante's work is entitled "The Divine Comedy," because of its end vision of cohesion in articulating the good, the true, and the beautiful in the divine.  This notion of "comedy" could not be applied to the predicament offered in Romeo and Juliet because of the death of the two protagonists, and the lack of coherency offered at its end.  It is not as if both families embrace, swearing off their feud and recognize the goodness in the other.  Instead, the ending is more suspended with only the elements of sadness at the death of both and the death of youthful love as a result.  This vision is not one where harmony emerges, which is why I could not accept its characterization as a "comedy."

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mstultz72 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted January 16, 2010 at 9:34 AM (Answer #4)

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Romeo and Juliet is tragedy, but tragedy *light*.  It could have very easily have been a comedy.  Had not Mercutio been stabbed or Friar John been quarantined, the play might have had a happy ending.

In fact, the comedic form of the play is called Much Ado About Nothing.  Claudio and Hero are Romeo and Juliet.  Don John is Tybalt, etc...  Both Hero and Juliet stage their deaths.  The difference is in Act III.  Whereas Mercutio's accidental death sets off a series of revenge acts, Don John's attempts to have Benedict kill Claudio are foiled by Dogberry.  Both plays hinge on these turning points in Act III.  Death leads to death in Romeo and Juliet, whereas Hero's life is spared by the constable's exposing of Don John's plot.

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readerofbooks | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted January 16, 2010 at 9:35 AM (Answer #5)

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There are some elements of comedy and tragedy that are linked together. Plato's Symposium ends with the members of the party discussing this very point. With that said, it really depends on how you look at Romeo and Juliet. The most common approach is to look at it from a tragic angle and this is probably the best way to look at it. A play that is filled with longing and ends in death is tragic. However, if you tweak your vision a bit and look at other element, there are various shades of comedy. Also I should say that that all comedy is filled with frivolous beliefs. Romeo and Juliet, who cannot be together in life, are together in death has hints of comedy. It shows that the tyranny of their parents cannot win in the end. This is one of the reasons why despots are usually humorless people.

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kmcappello | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

Posted January 16, 2010 at 11:33 AM (Answer #6)

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Though the play does provide some comic moments as previous posters have noted, the play is a tragedy because of its plot construction.  The words "comedy" and "tragedy" mean different things when you're speaking about drama.  The dramatic term "comedy" refers, not necessarily to a funny play, but to a play which follows this pattern:

  1. the play begins with a problem or misunderstanding
  2. the problem gets worse and comes to a climax
  3. the problem is suddenly solved, and angry parties are reconciled, usually married

A dramatic tragedy, on the other hand, follows this pattern:

  1. the play begins with a problem or misunderstanding
  2. the problem seems to be solved
  3. something goes wrong, and the problem gets worse, or another arises
  4. the problem comes to a climax, usually violent, in which most of the main characters die

You can see this pattern in all of Shakespeare's tragedies, including Othello, Macbeth, Hamlet, and of course, Romeo and Juliet.  This pattern is also present in ancient Greek tragedies such as Oedipus Rex and Antigone.

The comedy found in Romeo and Juliet is known as "comic relief," a device used in plays, literature, and movies to momentarily lighten the mood in a very dark piece.

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tullye1 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

Posted January 22, 2010 at 7:28 AM (Answer #7)

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 I consider "Romeo and Juliet" a tragedy with elements of "comic relief."  Shakespeare uses comic relief in many of his tragedies.  For example, Juliet's nurse is quite serious, but comes across very comical.  Herein lies the comic relief of the play.

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted January 22, 2010 at 1:41 PM (Answer #8)

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Shakespearean comedy requires a happy ending.  Shakespearean tragedy has an unhappy ending in which the hero or heroine must die.  If the hero or heroine dies at the end, it's a tragedy.

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ask996 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

Posted January 23, 2010 at 8:01 PM (Answer #9)

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In terms of definitions, tragedy in literature is a dramatic work with serious events and consequences. The main character(s) will inevitably suffer a terrible fate. All things considered, Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare is a tragedy. Yes there are comedic overtones, but this is perhaps more to give the audience a break from time to time than any intent on Shakespeare’s part to make it comedic.

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brettd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted May 27, 2010 at 4:37 PM (Answer #10)

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There is too much anger, violence and death for this to be a comedy.  The death of the two protagonists in this story also guarantee it is a tragedy.  To make such events comedic, the whole story would have to be parody or tongue in cheek, and as an earlier poster points out, there are only funny moments, not themes.

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kmlewispdx | eNotes Newbie

Posted December 4, 2011 at 1:41 PM (Answer #11)

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In reply to #1: Based on the views of the society in which this play was written, one can only come to the conclusion this was a morality tale / comedy. Simply put, noblemen and women did not marry for love. They married for wealth, land, and or title. Once the woman produced the heir and the spare (heir) the custom was to not remark upon the looks of the younger children as fidelity was not inherently important once the heirs were produced. It is a modern interpretation that this play is a romantic tragedy. In Elizabethan eyes, they were traitors to their station, not Jack and Rose from "Titanic".

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