How does Shakespeare maintain the interest of the audience with technique in Romeo and Juliet when we are told in the prologue how the play is going to end?

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Lynnette Wofford eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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First, this question seems to assume that the standard case is that the ending of a play is unknown by an audience and the interest is normally maintained by suspense. In Shakespeare's period, this was not necessarily true. In all the classical models, on which much of Renaissance drama was based, the audience was already familiar with the plots of the plays. Many of Shakespeare's plots, including that of Romeo and Juliet, were not original, but taken from existing stories which may have been familiar to his audience. Thus what held audiences was not suspense in the sense of finding out what would happen at the end, but in part the experience of watching how the nature of the characters impelled them to their tragic denouement and how thecharacter's choices determined their fates. Finally, as well as the story of the lovers, we also get to watch unfold how the politics of rivalry between great houses does so much harm to the city, and bears a lesson in practical morality for England, as resolved in the last scene:

 

Capulet, Montage,
See what a scourge is laid upon your hate,
That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love!

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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I think that the opening characterization of Romeo and Juliet as "star- crossed lovers" does much to enhance the characterization in the Prologue.  Understanding that the protagonists are "fated" to a great extent enables our interest to be piqued.  With stating that the death of both young lovers will "bury their parents' strife," Shakespeare has been able to clearly establish that the characterizations offered will be fundamentally different than what the current setting offers.  In this, the characterization offered is more of what can be as opposed to what is.  This is an element in which interest is maintained.  The audience becomes engaged in seeing how the characterizations offered will be so fundamentally different than the setting in which they live.  The audience realizes that the end will be tragic.  Yet, there is interest in seeing how this will come about.  There is something uniquely distinctive about characters who wish to see more of what can be in a condition that is bound only to display what is.  In this, there is challenge and difficulty.  Through this, there is interest maintained and this is how characterization in the Prologue is able to sustain audience interest even though the ending is clearly evident.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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I think that one way Shakespeare holds the interest through the use of thematic development in the Prologue is by simply summarizing the drama for the audience.  Through the...

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