This story of star-crossed lovers is one of William Shakespeare’s tenderest dramas. Shakespeare is sympathetic toward Romeo and Juliet, and in attributing their tragedy to fate, rather than to a flaw in their characters, he raises them to heights near perfection, as well as running the risk of creating pathos, not tragedy. They are both sincere, kind, brave, loyal, virtuous, and desperately in love, and their tragedy is greater because of their innocence. The feud between the lovers’ families represents the fate that Romeo and Juliet are powerless to overcome. The lines capture in poetry the youthful and simple passion that characterizes the play. One of the most popular plays of all time, Romeo and Juliet was Shakespeare’s second tragedy (after Titus Andronicus of 1594, a failure). Consequently, the play shows the sometimes artificial lyricism of early comedies such as Love’s Labour’s Lost (pr. c. 1594-1595, pb. 1598) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (pr. c. 1595-1596, pb. 1600), while its character development predicts the direction of the playwright’s artistic maturity. In Shakespeare’s usual fashion, he based his story on sources that were well known in his day: Masuccio Salernitano’s Novellino (1475), William Painter’s The Palace of Pleasure (1566-1567), and, especially, Arthur Brooke’s poetic The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet (1562). Shakespeare reduces the time of the...
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