The Capulet - Montague Feud
In the Prologue to Romeo and Juliet, the Chorus tells us of an "ancient grudge" between two households of equal dignity that has broken out into a "new mutiny" that will cause blood to flow in the streets of Verona and will ultimately result in the deaths of the "star-cross'd lovers." The Chorus points to the heads of these two families as the source of the strife at hand, the rage of their parents causing the deaths of their children. We soon learn the surnames of the warring clans, Capulet and Montague, and both patriarchs (as well as their respective ladies) appear in the flesh in the play's first scene. Although Tybalt of the Capulets is the most aggressive character on the stage, Mercutio's twice-spoken curse, "a plague a' both houses!" (III, i. ll.91, 106), makes it plain that the sides are equally to blame for his death, and by extension, for the tragedy that befalls the lovers. Beyond this, however, we are never told what the original cause of the war between the Capulets and Montagues was. The inference here is that the conflict is an archaic rivalry based upon the very equality of the families' social standing that has been driven forward by a long skein of injuries and slights. Not only has the issue at odds been lost to time and the overlay of fresh events, there is no effective mechanism to resolve it at hand. While the parental figures of the play, most notably Old Capulet, act as tyrants, civil authority is wanting in Verona. That being so, the cause of the ongoing mutiny that is played out before us does not stem solely from strong parental domination but also from the weak authority of the state as embodied in Prince Escalus.
The play moves directly from the Prologue to a lower case example of the mutiny as a confrontation unfolds between servants of the Capulet and Montague households. As Sampson and Gregory square off against Abram and Balthasar, the vulgar obscenities and gestures which they exchange undercut any sense of real danger. The interplay among these underlings is stylized and restrained; before any threshold is crossed, Samson checks with Gregory about whether the law is on their side if they assent to an implied challenge. The foot soldiers in the war between the families are far less serious than the Prologue forebodes. The comic aspect of the feud is reinforced when Old Capulet arrives in person in his gown, calls to his wife for a "long sword" and is punctured roundly when she tells him that a...
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Fate and Free Will in Romeo and Juliet
One of the most important issues in the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is that of choice. Do the characters have the ability to choose what they want to do, or are they simply destined to participate in death and destruction? There is ample evidence of both fate and free will in the play, and the presence of both greatly affects the interpretation of the plot and the characters.
Fate as a dominating force is evident from the very beginning of the play. The Chorus introduces the power of fortune in the opening prologue when we are told that Romeo and Juliet are “star-crossed” (destined for bad luck) and “death-marked,” and that their death will end their parents’ feud. Fate and fortune are closely related in the play, as they both concern events that are out of human control. By telling us that Romeo and Juliet are destined to die because of their bad luck, Shakespeare gives us the climax of the play before it even begins. This strategy, which seems odd considering the end has been spoiled for the audience, serves two purposes: it allows the introduction of the power of fate and fortune over people’s lives by declaring the fate of Romeo and Juliet at the very beginning, and it also creates tension throughout the play because they very nearly succeed despite this terrible declaration. Thus the opening prologue sets up the fate/free will problem.
The characters themselves all believe that their lives are controlled by destiny and luck, and Romeo is a prime example of this. When Romeo and his friends journey to the Capulet’s ball in Act I, scene iv, Romeo hesitates to go because he has had a bad dream:
...[M]y mind misgivesSome consequence, yet hanging in the stars,Shall bitterly begin his fearful dateWith this night’s revels and expire the termOf a despised life, closed in my breast,By some vile forfeit of untimely death (I, iv. 106-111).
Romeo not only acknowledges the power of the stars, which tell what fate has in store through astrology, but he also believes that his destiny is to die. Romeo’s belief in fate also affects his interpretation of events. When Romeo kills Tybalt in Act III, scene i, he claims that he is “fortune’s fool” by having contributed to his own downfall. In Act V, scene i, Romeo demonstrates his belief in the power of dreams to foretell the future once again when he believes that he will be reunited with Juliet on...
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Light and Dark in Romeo and Juliet
Light and darkness usually have very definitive meanings in human psychology. Traditionally, light is considered “good” because it allows us to perceive the world around us and to work within it. Conversely, dark is usually viewed as “evil” due to our inability to see and the fear that such a state brings. Thus day and night, which are distinguished by the amount of light available, have similar connotations. However, while typical notions of light and dark do appear in Romeo and Juliet, day and night are reversed. Night becomes good because it aids Romeo and Juliet, and day becomes evil because it brings death and destruction.
Light and dark are linked with the protagonists early in the play. When Romeo first appears in the play, he is immediately associated with darkness. As Montague observes, Romeo walks around before the sun rises, and
Away from light steals home my heavy son
And private in his chamber pens himself,
Shuts up his windows, locks fair daylight out,
And makes himself an artificial night (I, i. ll.135-138).
Romeo does this, of course, because of Rosaline’s rejection. Romeo’s parents and cousin regard his darkness as “black and portentous,” and consider it a reason for concern. And indeed it is troubling, as this is not typical behavior for Romeo, nor is it expected of most people, and there is clearly something wrong with him. Romeo’s relationship with the dark is also strengthened through the object of his love, Rosaline. When Romeo explains his situation to Benvolio, he comments that Rosaline has “Dian’s wit” because she has sworn to be a virgin for the rest of her life, ending, of course, any of Romeo’s romantic pretensions. This creates a link between Rosaline and darkness because Diana is the Roman goddess of the moon, which appears at night and thus is connected to it. This association will become important later in the play when Romeo and Juliet meet. Meanwhile, Romeo’s melancholy at Rosaline’s rejection and his desire to avoid light leads him to want to be a torchbearer at the Capulet ball in Act I, scene iv:
Give me a torch. I am not for this ambling.
Being but heavy, I will bear the light (ll.11-12).
Because of his depression, Romeo sees light as a burden, and does not regard it as good. Romeo conforms to the typical notions of light and...
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Mercutio's Queen Mab Speech
Mercutio’s speech about Queen Mab in Act I, scene iv, seems to have nothing to do with Romeo and Juliet whatsoever. In fact, some Shakespearean scholars have argued that it was added to the script during the printing of the Second Quarto and was not, therefore, a part of the play as it was originally written. Other scholars argue that even if the speech was in the original script, it contradicts what we know of Mercutio: a hot-tempered and lusty youth who has no patience for the dreams and visions discussed in the Queen Mab speech. The Queen Mab speech, however, does hold consistent with Mercutio’s character in some ways, and it also points to some important aspects of the play in general.
Let’s begin with a summary of the speech itself. When Romeo is reluctant to attend the Capulet ball because he has had a bad dream (probably because he has been pining for Rosaline), Mercutio makes fun of him for it by telling him that “Dreamers often lie” (l.51). Romeo puts out a witty retort to Mercutio’s joke, and Mercutio replies with a 42-line speech about Queen Mab, the “fairies’ midwife,” or the fairy responsible for bringing dreams that fulfill the wishes of the dreamer (l.54). It should be noted that the name “Mab” was an insult in Shakespeare’s time because it was synonymous with “prostitute.” Queen Mab’s name is also different from Titania, the name Shakespeare used for the fairy queen in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which was written during the same period as Romeo and Juliet. Once he identifies Queen Mab, Mercutio then describes her appearance and carriage. She is the size of a stone in a ring, and she rides in a coach pulled by atomies, or tiny creatures. This indicates Queen Mab’s importance because during Shakespeare’s time, only the rich had coaches. The coach itself is made of natural things: spider legs, grasshopper wings, spider webs, moonbeams, cricket bone, and filament. All of these items draw a connection between Queen Mab and nature, although coaches are artificial. We also learn that her driver is a gnat and that the seat is a hazelnut made by a “joiner squirrel” or a “grub,” whose job it has traditionally been to make these coaches for fairy royalty (l.68).
Once Mercutio finishes describing the Queen and her coach, he then turns to what Queen Mab actually does as the fairies’ midwife. Queen Mab and her coach gallop through the minds of lovers, courtiers,...
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The Balcony Scene in Romeo and Juliet
Act II, scene ii of Romeo and Juliet is commonly known as the "balcony scene," and although this designation may be inaccurate (Shakespeare's stage directions call for Juliet to appear at a "window," not on a balcony), this scene has been quoted from, played, and misplayed more than any other in all of the Bard's works. It is proceeded by some astoundingly beautiful verse in Mercutio's "Queen Mab" speech of Act I, scene iv., and by the individual and joint speeches of Romeo and Juliet at the banquet which concludes the first act and includes a wonderful exchange in which the lovers author a sonnet together. But the balcony scene rises even above these brilliant flashes and is indelibly etched in our memories. Here Shakespeare's genius is evident even at a relatively early stage in his career, and while the characters of Romeo and Juliet predominate, the playwright employs certain key dramatic devices and stage techniques that amplify the scene's impression.
There is, to begin, a deliberate heightening of dramatic suspense immediately before Romeo enters into Juliet's orchard. Before the beginning of Act II proper, Shakespeare inserts a second appearance by the Chorus (II, chorus 2, ll.1-14). Taking the same sonnet form as the play's Prologue, this speech is meant to heighten the narrative tension, suggesting, that Romeo, "being held a foe," may not have access to his Juliet. The dissonance is intensified still further when a lone Romeo asks aloud, "Can I go forward when my heart is here?" (II, I, l.1). When Mercutio and Benvolio enter just as Romeo withdraws, there is a mild sense of pursuit that lends even greater urgency to the moment. But the search for Romeo is broken off, with Romeo then emerging in Act II, scene ii to mark a line between the outside world and the lovers' world at hand by having the last word in the discourse of his friends: "He jests at scars that never felt a wound" (II, ii, l.1).
The second line of the balcony scene stands in sharp relief to the first. "But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?" (l.2), Romeo proclaims and not only does the level of diction now rise to the formally poetic, unlike the first line, Romeo is not simply inserting his own wit but describing to the audience the impression that Juliet makes upon him. Romeo now becomes a guide to the spectator. He sees Juliet in profile and remarks, "She speaks but she says nothing, what of that?" (l.12). The questioned asked is...
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Why does Friar Laurence's plan fail?
Friar Laurence's dramatic function as a "helping" character who will assist the star-cross'd lovers of Romeo and Juliet is established even before we see the Franciscan brother at work in his garden. At the conclusion of the balcony scene (Act II, scene ii), Romeo's mind turns from the reverie of repeated farewells with Juliet to the practical issue of how they can overcome parental opposition to the lovers' union and tells us that he will hie to his spiritual father for direction. Thereafter, we see Friar Laurence gathering herbs and are kindly disposed toward him. His initial banter with Romeo about the youth's abandonment of Rosaline is both jocular and sensible, and his quick agreement to preside at the marriage of his protégé to Juliet stands in sharp relief to the antagonism that the lovers face from the adults of Verona. Nevertheless, not only does Friar Laurence's plan to rescue the pair fail, we have good cause to believe that the fault here does not lie in the stars, but in Friar Laurence himself. In retrospect, Friar Laurence cooks up a half-baked scheme to advance his own agenda, exhibits both ignorance and arrogance in concocting a needless ruse, and then twists his own role in the tale of Romeo and Juliet as he relates it to the Prince in the play's last scene.
Act II, scene iii opens before sunrise in the garden of Friar Laurence who speaks to himself as he gathers "baleful weeds and precious-juiced flowers" (II, iii. l.8) by moonlight. The good father approaches this task philosophical and positing that among herbs at hand, none are so vile as to be devoid of value while none are so good as to be invulnerable to abuse. When he asserts that this is his view of human beings as well, the extension is logical but needless. Moreover, Friar Laurence is not as learned as he believes himself to be. In his first speech, he speaks of the "gray-eyed moon," botching an Homeric allusion to "gray-eyed Athena," the Greek goddess of wisdom who is associated with the dawn, not the moon.
The errors here are subtle, and when Friar Laurence mildly chastises Romeo for the instantaneous switch of his affections from Rosaline to Juliet with "Holy Saint Francis, what a change is here!" (II, iii. l.64), Romeo has it coming and the audience shares the clergyman's amusement. The Friar then justifies his willingness to marry Romeo and his Juliet that same afternoon, suggesting that while Romeo's love for Rosaline was mere...
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Character Analysis of the Nurse
In Act II, scene v, after returning from her first mission to Romeo, Juliet's Nurse tells her impatient mistress, "I am the drudge, and toil in your delight" (II, v. l.75). At this juncture, we are inclined to take the Nurse at her word. When we first encounter her in Act I, scene iii, the Nurse of Romeo and Juliet appears to be a comic figure given to bawdy humor and innuendo, but this coarse character is sofened by her fondness for Juliet. Thereafter, she proves a reliable go-between, taking a message to Romeo in Act II, scene iv, and then apprising first Juliet and then Romeo of events in the wake of Act III's dueling scene. But in Act III, our perception of the Nurse as a "helping" figure undergoes a sharp reversal as she changes her views of Juliet's suitors, favoring the proper County Paris over the "dishclout" Romeo. In doing so, the Nurse displays a highly unattractive penchant for the calculation of immediate advantage, weighing in on the side that seems most likely to prevail, and to favor her own interests, here Juliet's parents and their support of Paris with Romeo exiled to Mantua. The question naturally arises: Whose side is the Nurse on?
In Act I, scene iii, the Nurse's role as a functionary is established at once as Lady Capulet goes through the older woman to get to her daughter, telling the Nurse to call Juliet forth. We learn a great deal about the Nurse from her very first remarks: "Now by my maidenhead at twelve year old, I bade her come. What lamb! What ladybird! God forbid! Where's the girl? What, Juliet! (I, iii. ll.2-3). The Nurse's language is vulgar, and even when she utters terms of endearment she relies upon conventional and easily available oaths. That much apparent, our opinion of the Nurse firms as she speaks about Lamas-tide (1 August), Juliet's upcoming fourteenth birthday and then reminisces about breast-feeding the girl when she was an infant (I, iii. ll.16-49). Lady Capulet rankles at these musings, proclaiming "enough of this," but the Nurse proceeds with her story (I, iii. ll.50-57) intent upon relating her own reaction to the events described, and ends her speech by avowing Juliet to have been the "prettiest babe I ever nursed" (l.60). By nature rather than intent, the Nurse demonstrates that she can violate the commands of Lady Capulet, and this identifies her as a possible ally in Juliet's efforts to forestall marriage to the Prince's cousin. There are, however, some notes in her early...
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The Growth of Shakespeare's Tragic Technique in Romeo and Juliet
Although Romeo and Juliet appears early in the sequence of Shakespeare's tragedies, it represents a considerable improvement over his very first attempts at tragedy, the historical Tragedy of Richard III and Titus Andronicus. These two works follow in the tradition of a crude, though powerful, form of revenge drama perfected by Marlowe and Kyd in the 1580's. Richard III and Titus Andronicus contain the typical conventions of this form: ruthless Machiavellian villains, bloody spectacle, and long speeches debating the nature of villainous ambition and revenge.
The content of Romeo and Juliet differs greatly from that of Shakespeare's early revenge tragedies. No character in Romeo and Juliet can be clearly designated as a villain. The deaths emphasize the cruelty of a prejudiced society, rather than the horror caused by overtly destructive individuals. The language of the play is richly poetic and full of imaginative symbolism. Most likely, the exploration of themes of love and reconciliation inspired this blossoming of Shakespeare's poetry. A comparison of passages typical of Titus Andronicus and Romeo and Juliet demonstrates the growing beauty and sophistication of Shakespeare's style:
Aar. Madam, though Venus govern your
Saturn is dominator over mine:
What signifies ay deadly-standing eye,
My silence and my cloudy melancholy,
My fleece of wooly hair that now uncurls
Even as an adder when she doth unroll
To do some fatal execution?
(Titus Andronicus, II, iii. 30-37.)
Rom. ... But, soft! what light through yonder
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun!
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
That thou her maid art far more fair than
(Romeo and Juliet, II, ii. 2-6.)
The images of light and dark and heavenly bodies in this speech appear throughout the play. The contrast of light and dark adds to the impression that the love of Romeo and Juliet brings enlightenment to a world clouded by destructive feuds. This imagery often takes subtle turns. After the union is consummated, the dark night becomes the lovers' friend, and the light of day is their enemy:
Jul. ... 0! now be gone; more light...
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The Character of Mercutio Analyzed
Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is one of his earliest dramatic plays. Most critics believe that it was written in 1595 although there is some debate over the exact date. The plot is a simple one which revolves around the story of two families who are engaged in pursuing an ancient and senseless family feud. While the two main characters in the play are clearly Romeo and Juliet, others contribute to the action and are important in bringing out the characters of the other players as well as making a statement in their own right. Romeo's friend, Mercutio, is one such character. After a brief explanation of the plot which will place the play's events in context, we will examine the character of Mercutio to determine what kind of friend he was to Romeo. What is his role in the play? Why does he die? How important is his character in the course of the drama? Would the play be changed dramatically if his character were removed? It is questions like these that will determine the course of our analysis of the character of Mercutio.
The plot of Romeo and Juliet is not complex: Two households, the Montagues and the Capulets, have been fueding for years. Their ancient grudge finds renewed fuel at the beginning of the play and the Prince of Verona, Escalus, threatens Capulet and Montague with death if they cannot keep their families and the feuding under control. Thus when Romeo and Juliet meet and fall in love and then find out that they are from opposing sides in the dispute, there is reason for concern. But the two are young and impetuous and too much in love to let the complexity of their situation stop them. Within the space of twenty-four hours they agree to wed. They are wed the next day by Romeo's friend the Friar. After their wedding the two lovers must part but they promise to join each other soon. Unfortunately, as Romeo is walking with his two friends one of Juliet's cousins, Tybalt, insults Romeo, and Mercutio comes to his defense. The two enter into a duel wherein Mercutio is fatally wounded. Although Romeo does not want to have anything to do with fighting now that he is married to Juliet, he is forced to defend his dead friend's honor, and he kills Tybalt. For this he is banished from the city. Juliet's father, meanwhile, has arranged for her to marry Paris and preparations for this big wedding are underway. So she won't have to marry Paris she takes a potion which makes her appear dead even though she is only asleep....
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Romeo and Juliet: An Analysis of the Main Characters and Their Views on Love
Romeo and Juliet, the tragic play by William Shakespeare, centers around the love story between Romeo, the young heir of the Montagues, and Juliet, the daughter of the house of Capulet. Because of an on-going feud between the two families, Romeo and Juliet are forced to keep their love a secret, marry in secret and, due to ill-fated consequences, they die together in the tomb of the Capulets.
As the story unfolds, a great variety of moral assumptions and explanations as to the value of love are explored. Romeo is first presented as a lover creating poetical phrases in honor of his present love, the chaste and unattainable Rosaline. As he states to his friend, Benvolio, "She'll not be hit / With Cupid's arrow. She hath Dian's wit, / And, in strong proof of chastity well armed,...." He goes on to admit: "She hath foresworn to love; and in that vow do I live dead that live to tell it now." Romeo's purity and inexperience are thus exemplified by Rosaline's (whose existence is not portrayed, but rather revealed through Romeo) rejection of him - for it is love she is rejecting rather than her actual dislike of Romeo.
It is Romeo's friend, Benvolio, who represents more experienced love, being more realistic in his assessment of Romeo's over-indulgent longings. He reasonably proposes to Romeo that he can forget Rosaline "By giving liberty unto thine eyes. Examine other beauties." Benvolio further entices Romeo to go to a feast at the Capulets, Juliet's family, stating: "Go thither, and with unattained eye / Compare her face with some that I shall show / And I will make thee think thy swan a crow." What Benvolio foresees takes place. Romeo's sight of Juliet obliterates Rosaline from his mind. As he says to the servingman at the Capulets, upon seeing Juliet: "Did my heart love till now? / Forswear it, sight! / For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night."
Juliet responds equally ardently to Romeo. She says to her Nurse: "Go ask his name. If he be married, / My grave is like to be my wedding bed." It is a particularly eloquent and telling phrase, since their own marriage does end in their tragic deaths.
Romeo remains poetically ardent in his expressions of love, as in his speech to Juliet, when he views her upon her balcony: "What light through yonder window breaks? / It is the East, and Juliet is the sun! / Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon, / Who is already sick and pale with grief / That thou...
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Darkness in Romeo and Juliet
In Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare uses darkness to perform a variety of functions. Darkness sets the tone of the play as the tragedy proceeds with a dark and inexorable determinism. Many of the scenes in the work are set in darkness, with the alternation of day and night serving to propel the drama's narrative line. Darkness is employed, moreover, as a reflection of mood and character in the figures of Romeo, Juliet and Mercutio. The dark acts as a foil in images in which light represents the illumination of romantic love. Finally, the contrast between light and dark allows Shakespeare to elevate the dimensions of the tragedy to cosmic proportions.
Romeo and Juliet is, of course, a tragedy, and images of darkness give the work an ominous character from the outset. In the play's first scene, for example, we find that Romeo’s shutting himself from the light of day is,"black and portentous," for there is, from the beginning of the work, a darkly portentous nature to the work.1 The tragedy moves along with an irreversible determinism, ultimate demise careering like a juggernaut. Romeo gives expression to the deterministic caste of the drama in his observation: "And feckled Darkness line a drunkard reeling / from forth days path and Titan's burning wheels" (II, i. 232-233). For Shakespeare's star-crossed lovers fate seems to have been determined in advance. We find Juliet seeking to alter the deterministic progression of the plot when she implores Fortune to, "be fickle" (III, v. 62). Indeed, at salient points in the play we consistently here precognition of doom in terms of darkness. After Mercutio's death Romeo makes the joyless prophecy, "This day's black fate on moe days doth: depend / This but begins the woe others must end," (III, i. 123-124), and, in similar fashion Romeo describes the progress of the play’s action at the end of Act III, "more light and light—— more dark and dark our woes." (III, v. 36) While the narrative does have its brighter moments, even the light sequences of the plot appear but a prelude before the darkness, as, "a lightning before death" (V, iii. 90).
As one critic has remarked, Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet sets numerous scenes in the dawn, at the time of the division between light and dark.2 Indeed, numerous scenes in the work are set by torchlight, moonlight, or virtually in the absence of light. The alternation between night and day provides the...
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Evolution of Love in Romeo and Juliet
There is a great deal written about the nature of the love relationships involving Romeo in Romeo and Juliet. In analyzing the relationship which opens the play, namely, Romeo and Rosaline, with the one which quickly replaces it, Romeo and Juliet, we see a progression in the characters from innocence to maturity, from love-sickness to the authentic experience of love.
The change from one relationship to another is a forced change from childhood innocence to adult awareness. Hence, Northrop Frye refers to Romeo and Juliet as a play whose theme is love, bound up with and part of, violent death.1
As the lovers meet and find themselves bound by love, they are surrounded by the intruding world which brings with it a feud, family pride, loyalty for friends and the tragic death of the lovers.
In examining this change, we first consider Romeo as we first meet him in the play.
Romeo's love for Rosaline has long been taken to be an internal preparation; it is--for an external contrast and surprise. ...The Rosaline affair has...the purely dramatic or poetic advantage of offering an interesting contrast between Romeo's demeanor now and before.2
Romeo's view of Rosaline is what Frye calls the Petrarchan convention of love. This technique of describing the pristine, unrequited love from afar was altered when it reached the 17th Century. Writers explored the relationship, particularly its sexual aspects more deeply. Romeo's relationship followed the tradition. It involved a proud, disdainful mistress quite out of reach of the lover, but allusions are made to sexual desires and innuendo. Rosaline, the unavailable mistress, is not seen and does not engage in conversations with Romeo. Romeo is the lovesick youth "isolated and immature, self-absorbed and serious, a young man not yet awake to the possibilities of life or the dangers of death."3 He shows little actual awareness of Rosaline, and never speaks to her, but spends all his time writing poetry to her, wearing rumpled clothing and elaborating upon the "cruelty of his mistress, wept and kept 'adding to clouds more clouds with his deep sighs.’"4
This emotional affliction is more akin to melancholy, which, as noted above, was common to Shakespeare's time. At the play's beginning Romeo has no time for the street brawl, since he is immersed in the Petrarchan lament for...
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Common Themes in Romeo and Juliet and Antony and Cleopatra
Shakespeare’s plays Romeo and Juliet and Antony and Cleopatra share some common themes and attitudes, among them love, war, and the notion that love between two people can conquer even death. In Romeo and Juliet we find families at war, their children victims of an argument which is meaningless and irrelevant in the face of a mutual attraction. In Antony and Cleopatra the wars of nations and political intrigue trap the lovers in a net from which death is the only escape. Both pairs of lovers are dead at the end of each play; yet the nature and quality of the love which they shared while alive is different.
That the love between Juliet and Romeo "is no mere infatuation, but love indeed in its finest sense" is clear from the beginning.1 Between Antony and Cleopatra, however, there is a passion, and an outspoken sensuality which tends to mask the deeper strains of devotion and love. While Romeo and Juliet allows the reader to trace the beginnings and growth of young love from beginning to untimely end, Antony and Cleopatra does not, until the final act, reveal the extent to which the pleasure-seeking lovers have matured in their love. It is difficult to decide which pair of lovers meets a more tragic end, although as one critic has noted "the injurious gods cannot cheat Cleopatra as the stars cheat Juliet, because she has known years of love and revelry with Antony."2 On the other hand, Romeo and Juliet die before having to face the inevitable disillusionments of life together.
Both of these plays are supremely poetic, with images of light, the sun and stars, and the moon abounding. It is no accident that Romeo describes Juliet in these terms: "...it is the east, and Juliet is the sun...the brightness of her cheek would shame those stars...", and Cleopatra is called "0 eastern star”. In like manner, Juliet says of Romeo "...when he shall die, / Take him and cut him out in little stars," while Cleopatra calls Antony "our Jewel...our lamp." In both plays the woman seems the stronger of the lovers. Romeo’s brashness towards the end of the play tends to detract somewhat from the quality of his devotion to Juliet. Juliet's visit to Friar Laurence, and her drinking of the potion show a courage born of love, the intensity of which seems unmatched by any of Romeo's actions. It has been said that Juliet, "abandoned even by religion (in the person of Fr. Laurence)...
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