Act I Commentary
Opening Prologue: The first act prologue not only reveals what will happen during the course of the play, but also some of the major dichotomies. The opening line shows us that the Capulet and Montague houses are, although at odds, equal in their aristocratic status. It was considered "fashionable" in the Renaissance for aristocratic families to have feuds, but they were not to engage in public fighting, a taboo which is broken by the Capulets and the Montagues. However, line 4 indicates that these equal families are in an ungoverned situation where no rules will be obeyed, which is why they are able to fight. The Chorus reveals one of the most important themes of the play in line 5-8, which is that Romeo and Juliet are destined not only to love each other, but to die, which will end the feud. The fact that Shakespeare tells us the end of the play before it even begins is intentional—this creates a tension between what we as the audience know must happen, and what could have happened if the characters had acted differently. Thus the theme of fate versus free will emerges: do Romeo and Juliet die because it was their destiny, or do they die because of their actions and the actions of those around them? The third major point that surfaces in the opening prologue is one of extremes. There is extreme hatred between the Capulet and Montague families. The only solution to this situation is, according to line 11, the "end" of Romeo and Juliet. Thus we see a situation in which one extreme, hatred, is ended by its opposite: love.
Scene i: This scene is really a compilation of three mini-scenes. The first mini-scene begins with the fighting between the servants, after some brief comic relief through the jokes of Sampson and Gregory. The fact that the servants from each household are fighting further demonstrates that this feud has gone too far—so far, in fact, that Benvolio, who is a Montague, is prevented from breaking up the servants' fight by Tybalt, who, although Lady Capulet's nephew, is not really a Capulet. Even the Prince has very little control of the situation, which is evident in line 81 when fighting continues despite the fact that he has ordered them to stop. Escalus' weakness as ruler is revealed in his speech, where he notes that this is the third time that public fighting has erupted between the two families. His threat to execute any member of either family in lines 94-95 is fairly meaningless because he has...
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Act II Commentary
Prologue: This prologue lists the consequences of the newfound passion of Romeo and Juliet. In the first four lines, the Chorus reminds us that although Romeo was once completely enamored of Rosaline, his once-invulnerable attraction has been vanquished by his love for Juliet, which is much more "fair." The prologue goes on to state that there is immense danger in this relationship, even going so far as to compare Juliet to a fish attracted to the bait of a fishing hook. Although Romeo and Juliet cannot conduct their relationship in the typical Renaissance England manner (as Paris attempts to do by approaching Capulet instead of Juliet), the combination of the strength of their love and "good" timing allows them the ability to develop their romance. As we were told in the Act I prologue, the love of Romeo and Juliet will counterbalance the hate of the feud, which is encapsulated in the last line of this prologue.
Scene i: Scene 1 begins where Act 1 leaves off—with the guests leaving the party. Romeo, being the devoted lover that he is, cannot leave Juliet, and climbs the wall to the Capulet orchard. However, he is still close enough to hear his friends calling for him. Mercutio, in one of his many displays of wit, decides to cast a spell and "conjure" Romeo by reciting all of what he thinks to be important to Romeo—love and Rosaline. While commenting that this sort of speech will anger Romeo, Benvolio tells Mercutio that "Blind is his love and best befits the dark" (l. 32). With this statement, the light/dark theme resurfaces. This will become critical in the next scene.
Scene ii: Once his friends leave, Romeo turns his attention to Juliet, who has just come out to the balcony for one of the most famous scenes in all of literature, despite its relatively minor status to the play itself. Upon seeing Juliet, Romeo compares her to the sun. This brings the light/dark dichotomy to the foreground. Juliet is associated with the sun, which overpowers the moon (Rosaline) through her light. However, it is the darkness of the night that allows Juliet to symbolize the sun, which she cannot do during the day because the real sun dominates the sky. Because of this, and because Romeo and Juliet cannot be together in the daytime for fear of their parents' rage, night is their time. Day, which is usually associated with good, turns to evil because of the destruction of the feud and the separation of Romeo and...
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Act III Commentary
Scene i: Like the first scene of Act I, this scene has three major parts. The first part begins with Benvolio and Mercutio discussing the heat, which stirs the "mad blood." Benvolio, who tries once again to avert a fight, suggests that they go inside, but Mercutio claims that Benvolio is more likely to cause trouble than he is. This is mere projection—Mercutio is obviously talking about himself when he refers to Benvolio's quick temper. Mercutio is so accurate in these opening lines of the scene that he even predicts his own death when he declares that if there were two of the people he is describing, "we should have/none shortly, for one would kill the other." We do indeed have two hot-headed individuals in this play—Mercutio and Tybalt, and we will shortly have none because Tybalt enters the scene looking for Romeo in order to pursue his challenge.
The second part of this scene concerns the duels. Romeo, having just come from his own wedding, tries to avoid fighting Tybalt out of his love for his wife and concern for her family, despite Tybalt's attempts to enrage him through insults. Romeo is doing exactly what he is supposed to do here—he is not supposed to fight in public because of the Prince's decree, and he should not try to kill his wife's cousin. While Romeo is trying to be logical and pacifying, Mercutio allows his temper to get the better of him. He believes that Romeo is acting like a girl in refusing to fight. Mercutio, who was trying to start a fight with Tybalt, decides to engage him at this point. When Romeo attempts to break up the fight, Tybalt stabs Mercutio under Romeo's arm and kills him. However, Mercutio does not see his own fault in this—he blames Romeo, the Montagues, and the Capulets instead. Romeo, believing that his love for Juliet makes him "effeminate," stops thinking all together and kills Tybalt. He does not stop to consider that Mercutio started the fight for no logical reason against the orders of the Prince, his kinsman. Because Romeo's masculinity has been called into question, he commits the "manly" act of vengeance in order to make up for his former "femininity." Also, Romeo knows that pursuing Tybalt will have consequences (which he relates in lines 117-118), but when he finally kills Tybalt, he blames fate for it. Romeo's statement that he is "fortune's fool" reminds us of the fate/free will theme—is Romeo destined for bad things, or does he choose his actions himself?...
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Act IV Commentary
Scene i: Friar Laurence and Juliet both display their wit and their emotions in this subtext-filled scene. While Paris arranges for the marriage and Friar Laurence tries to keep what he knows quiet, Juliet comes to the cell hoping to elicit the friar's wisdom. While Paris attempts to get some sign of affection from Juliet, Juliet manages to dodge his questions with quick retorts and avoidance. When Paris leaves, Juliet cries to the friar for help, and threatens to stab herself to death if he does not come up with a solution for her problem. Although her grief is a strong as Romeo's was in Act III, the difference here is that Juliet is willing to allow the friar to share his wisdom with her. Romeo did not listen to the friar at all until his manhood was called into question. Friar Laurence, seeing Juliet's desperation, hands her a potion that will kill her, albeit temporarily, if she is not prevented by "womanish fear." Juliet, who in this example of gender typing is more masculine than Romeo because she can overcome her emotions, accepts the potion and agrees to the friar's plan.
Scene ii: This scene is another example of the use of comic relief after a tense situation. The Capulet household is in preparation for the wedding. In a reversal of gender roles, Capulet does the majority of the wedding preparation, from arranging for the cook in the beginning of the scene to playing the housewife while letting his wife help Juliet. Juliet is forgiven for her act of rebelliousness, but all is not quite forgotten. Capulet decides to have the wedding a day early (although he thought Wednesday too soon in Act III, scene 4), and he sends both the Nurse and Lady Capulet to Juliet in order to keep an eye on her.
Scene iii: This scene explores the nature of fear and the power of love to overcome it. Once Juliet "rids" herself of her mother and the Nurse, her soliloquy focuses on the task at hand—the drinking of the potion. The coldness of the fear Juliet feels almost prevents her from taking the potion. In another image-filled speech, Juliet contemplates the potion's effects. She is at first terrified to be alone, but in a metadramatic comment remarks that she must complete her "scene" on her own. She then wonders if the potion will work at all, which will leave her stuck with the same situation in the morning, but then solves that problem by pulling out a dagger with which to commit suicide. The next problem is...
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Act V Commentary
Scene i: Romeo, who has fled to Mantua, opens this scene talking of the wonderful dream he has just experienced. Romeo, who professes a great belief in dreams and fate throughout the play, dreams that Juliet came to him and woke him up from death. Ironically, this is the reverse of what Friar Laurence and Juliet planned, as Romeo is supposed to take Juliet, who is "dead," and lead her from the tomb to their new life together. If Romeo truly believes that dreams can predict the future, then he should follow his first inclination to believe that all will be well. However, Romeo's faith in dreams and fortune is shallow, and he will only believe what his emotions tell him to. When Balthasar brings news of Juliet's funeral, which he witnessed, Romeo immediately blames fate: "Is it e'en so? Then I defy you, stars!/Thou knowest my lodging" (ll. 23-24). Although he initially believes his dream that he and Juliet will succeed in their quest to be together, Balthasar's news makes him think that his fate is to live out his life without Juliet. Although Romeo does ask Balthasar for any letters from the friar (which would have prevented the events to come, had there been any), Romeo never really stops to question the oddity of the situation. In sudden "haste," Romeo rushes off to find an apothecary, from whom he procures a poison which will kill him without any pain. To commit suicide in such a manner would have been considered "feminine" and weak during the Renaissance, when a "manly" suicide would have been to fall on his sword. Romeo displays his quick thinking again when he talks the apothecary into giving him the poison, an act that brings the death penalty by Mantua law. If Romeo had thought more about Juliet's death instead of how to talk the apothecary into selling him the poison, he might have realized that perhaps Juliet was not dead after all.
Scene ii: This brief scene reveals a major aspect of Elizabethan life and an important plot point. Friar John, who was supposed to have delivered a letter to Romeo telling him of the new plan, arrives at Friar Laurence's cell after temporary imprisonment. Friar John and a fellow priest had been visiting the sick when the local health inspectors suspected that they had visited a house where someone had the bubonic plague (also known as the Black Plague). The plague killed thousands of people throughout all of Europe during the medieval period and the Renaissance. The only way to...
(The entire section is 1078 words.)