Is Romeo and Juliet a Tragedy or Comedy?Hi, I'm a high school student from South Korea, and there was a discussion (more likely an argument) about the genre of Romeo and Juliet, written by...

Is Romeo and Juliet a Tragedy or Comedy?

Hi, I'm a high school student from South Korea, and there was a discussion (more likely an argument) about the genre of Romeo and Juliet, written by W.Shakespeare.

One student said basically there are people dead including R and J's cousins.

I said that the end is not about their death, it's about reconciliation between two families, so I think it is a comedy

I heard there's a theory that it is tragicomedy.

Expert Answers
mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Folio title of the play is The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, so I think William Shakespeare has answered your question.

Although I would not classify it purely as a tragedy, it is more comedic than most tragedies.  Mercutio and the Nurse certainly seem out of place in a full-fledged tragedy.  And the all the fighting at the beginning seems a bit overblown to be taken seriously.

Actually, the comedy version of Romeo and Juliet is called Much Ado About Nothing.  It too has a pair of young lovers, Claudio and Hero.  Where her reputation is slandered, Hero fakes her death.  Claudio is challenged and repents, and both sides are reconciled.  Two weddings are celebrated.

According to Northrop Frye, comedy is more realistic than tragedy.  Tragedy is engineered for disaster: everything that can go wrong does go wrong.  This definition fits Romeo and Juliet perfectly.  Romeo fails to get the Friar's message.  Juliet doesn't wake up until Romeo has poisoned himself.  These cosmic ironies are what drive the play, not the reconciliation of the families.  In fact, the scene at the end with Lord Montague and Capulet is a throw-away bit.  The Prince's monologue carries the weight of tragic commentary.

gcarden498 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

My graduate instructor in Shakespeare, gave a lecture that defended the belief that Romeo and Juliet was a comedy. Essentially, he noted that the two lovers had died at a point when their passion and physical charms were at their peak. Since the two lovers had escaped the tragedies associated with aging, the waning of passion and the disillusionments that came with mortality, they had achieved "a happy ending." The implication is that the real tragedy would have been to have the two survive (a bald Romeo and a fading Juliet) bickering with each other.  This interpretation reminds me of a wonderful play by Brian Friel entitled Lovers: "Winners" and "Losers". There are two plays then: "Winners" which is about a young couple who drown accidently, and "Losers" which is about a couple who survive their youthful passion to become a miserable, grumpy husband and wife (and a mother-in-law).  I find this interpretation a bit cynical but much to my liking.