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Why is Romeo and Juliet a tragedy?

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hanson16 | Student, Grade 9 | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted May 26, 2012 at 10:22 PM via web

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Why is Romeo and Juliet a tragedy?

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roundsk | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted October 4, 2013 at 5:28 PM (Answer #2)

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Romeo and Juliet is considered a tragedy for a number of reasons, however it's important to point out that the play is considered a Shakespearean tragedy. (Yeah, I know, Shakespeare must have been a busy dude, creating his own variety of tragedy and stuff.)

Anyway, there are a number of elements that identify R&J as a Shakespearean tragedy:

1. The story includes a tragic hero, in this case, Romeo. Now there are a couple reasons Romeo is considered a tragic hero- he is the protagonist (our main man), he is presented with a difficult conflict he must overcome (falling in love with his enemy's daughter, killing her cousin), and his judgments lead to death (his own and multiple others). Another important point to remember is that most of Shakespeare's tragic heroes are high born men.

2. Everything bad that happens happens as a result of all the characters' decisions. Even the small role of the apothecary has a large impact on the entire outcome, if he had decided to say no to Romeo, the deaths of Romeo and Juliet could be avoided.

3. The heroes are responsible for their own misfortune. Their personal decisions lead to a chain reaction of destruction.

4. By the end of the story the hero (Romeo) realizes that they/he have/has caused the tragic events to unfold, but there's no way to stop the momentum.

5. The hero dies in the end. 

I hope this provides a good summary of why Romeo and Juliet is considered a tragedy. It's not particularly happy stuff, but alas, it is a Shakespearean tragedy.


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mwalter822 | Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted May 26, 2012 at 11:02 PM (Answer #1)

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Regarding Romeo and Juliet, you would think this would be a relatively easy question to answer. But the definition of tragedy has changed a bit through the years, and people don't always agree on what constitutes a tragedy. In general, if the story has a sad ending, or if the protagonist fails to achieve his goal, the story is considered to be a tragedy. If the protagonist is successful and the story has a happy ending, it could be classified as a comedy. If there is one thing we can be absolutely certain of, Romeo and Juliet does not have a happy ending.

We call it a tragedy, although there are some scenes that make us laugh, usually involving the nurse.


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