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(This is for 10 honors literary analysis)
Prompt/Topic: Is "Romeo and Juliet" an Aristotelian tragedy?
Tragedy, is what binds humans in an infinite circle; encompassing the complexity of emotions; enriching that, which we hold closest to our hearts; able to stimulate the melody of life. This is the nature of an exceptional tragedy, the very nature Aristotle describes in his book, Poetics. He states that tragedies must have six main elements: plot, character, thought, diction, melody and spectacle. To be considered an Aristotelian tragedy a play without doubt must contain plot as well as character. It is well known that Shakespeare’s tragedies were modeled after Aristotle’s tragedies. Thus, “Romeo and Juliet” is an Aristotelian tragedy because it contains a complete plot as well as character.
First and foremost, Aristotle states that a tragedy must consist of a plot exhibiting “unity of action” and also hold magnitude. To begin, “Romeo and Juliet” plays with action revolving around the story or fate, not the characters. Thus, the play consists of “unity of action” because the characters are at the mercy of fate, rather than themselves. Scattered throughout the play are examples proving unity of action. In the prologue, the reader is told the fact that Romeo and Juliet are “star- cross’d lovers” (Prologue.6.). Consequently, the reader can infer that the characters are fated to be together. Also contained within the prologue is that fact that the families have bred an “ancient grudge…to new mutiny” (Prologue.3), so they too are fated to bereavement and tragedy. This concrete example further emphasizes the commanding role of fate throughout the play, and the passive role of the characters. An abstract piece of evidence lies in the nature of the characters. As Romeo and Juliet grow, it is required “that they separate themselves from their parents by forming with a member of the opposite sex” (Coppelia. 62). This statement emphasizes the inevitability of fate, proving that the choice to be passive when it comes to love is not within the lover’s control. These examples become evidence when it comes to proving that the play relies on fate, and that no matter of outside forces, fate is inevitable. Secondly, an Aristotelian tragedy must expose “magnitude” or complexity: containing universal meanings and be large in length. There is no doubt the this twenty-five thousand eight-hundred fifty-two word play has magnitude in terms of length, but also in terms of universal meaning. Firstly, the reader can uncover many themes through the actions of the characters. For example, Romeo tries to love in a society that hates and undermines. As a result, complications arise and when Romeo in informed of Juliet’s fake death, he is defiant and exclaims “I defy you- stars!” (V.i.25). While trying to defy the stars, Romeo falls to his death by his lover’s side. If one were to analyze this scene in this way an obvious theme would arise: the inevitability of fate. In addition, “Love, in its many forms, is an important theme in the play.” (Novel guide.1). What this means and how it applies to universal meaning of the play is made clear by the many ways Shakespeare uses characters to emphasize different views of love. Mercutio and the Nurse speak in crude terms of love, often referring to its physical side. Romeo’s love represents simple childish infatuation. The love Paris displays toward Juliet is an independent love, he is not marrying Juliet, rather her fortune. These examples exhibit the complexity of the plot and its universal meaning. While it’s true that plot is the most important part in a tragedy, it is not complete without character.
“Romeo and Juliet” possess Aristotelian character: the protagonist must be prosperous at first and later drown into a sea of despair; the protagonist must bring about their own untimely downfall. To start off, the protagonist must have good fortune and end up with bad fortune, this change “should come about as the result, not of vice, but of some great error or frailty in a character.” (McManus. 1999). This means that the reason the character falls is due to a “tragic flaw” the character imposes. For example, Romeo is wealthy because of his family, as the play progresses he falls in love with Juliet. Due to the inevitability of fate, he dies by her side. This example brings to light the falling of a character, from good fortune to bad fortune, thus Romeo is an Aristotelian character. In addition, Romeo admits he is a “fortunes fool!” (III.i.42), and the reader is able to infer that Romeo is referring to the traps set by fate he keeps falling into. Due to the murder of Tybalt, more inevitable complications arise, which descend Romeo into despair. This example goes to further prove that no matter how Romeo chooses to do things, he will lose his good fortune. In the second place, the protagonist must bring about their own untimely downfall. This will not happen because the character is morally weak, but because “he does not know enough” and because of “the inevitability of its consequences” (Barbara. 1999). As was previously stated, bad fortune (such as death) should come because of some great “error” or “frailty in the character”: in terms of Romeo, this “error” is impulsiveness. With that in mind, the greatest episode in the play proving this point is when Balthazar reports to Romeo carrying erroneous information of Juliet’s death. Due to Romeo’s tragic flaw, impulsiveness, and because Romeo “does not know enough”, he travels to Verona to die by his love’s side. Before committing suicide he says “Thou art not conquered… and death’s pale flag is not advanced there.” (V.iii.104-105). This also emphasizes that the reason the character falls is not only because of tragic flaw, but also because he is not aware and does not know enough.
This play, a masterpiece created by Shakespeare, has lived through decades. It is full of instances that are inevitable and characters that arouse pity and fear in the audience. Throughout the play Shakespeare gives credence to fate, and thus the plot becomes complex, and because no outside force can influence fate, the plot becomes united. Because the play contains pity and fear arousing character, and a united complex plot, “Romeo and Juliet” is an Aristotelian tragedy. Aristotle’s tragedy is like a clock: all clocks contain a face, which give you time plain and simple; however, what lays under, the gears, the effort, the screws, the complexity, the underlying work, the true beauty. Without understanding what lies at the heart, and its connections to our lives, a tragedy holds no meaning.
What you are writing here is essentially an argumentative essay because you must prove that Romeo and Juliet meets the standards of an Aristotelian tragedy. So, you need a little stronger thesis that clearly defines this type of tragedy, and then you can support this definition (your argument) point by point. You have defined tragedy, but in your essay, you do not analyze all that you enumerated about plot. Perhaps, then, your thesis could be more strongly stated by eliminating the sentence that begins,"He states that tragedies...." and revise the sentence that begins, "To be considered an Aristotelian tragedy.... See below for a revised first paragraph:
- Example of introduction to the thesis:
Tragedy is what binds humans in an infinite circle, encompassing the complexity of emotions that enrich what is within their hearts, what stimulates the melody of life [Some small revisions were made to this wonderful observation, written poetically]. In order to be an Aristotelian tragedy, a play must contain the elements of thought, diction, melody, and spectacle; furthermore, the tragic hero(es) must be of noble stature, commit freely an act of hamartia, or excessive pride*, but at the same time suffer misfortune, evoking sorrow and compassion from the audience.
While William Shakespeare's tragic characters of Romeo and Juliet suffer from the tragic flaws of impulsiveness and violence of emotion rather than Aristotelian harmartia, the drama of Romeo and Juliet [use italics, not quotation marks] meets much of the criteria for Aristotelian tragedy as it has the essential elements of plot and character.
Body of the Essay (use 3 main paragraphs):
- paragraph 1
example of the topic sentence for this paragraph:
There is truly a unity of action in Romeo and Juliet that opens with feuding families in the streets of Verona as impulsiveness and fate drive the actions of the main and lesser characters both as fate interferes with them, and as they act impulsively and with a violence of action seemingly beyond their control. (In addition to what you have written, be more specific. For instance, the servants feel they must be loyal to the families they serve; Romeo falls in love with his enemy's daughter, and climbs the wall to stand under her balcony and impetuously propose, can serve as examples of what you call "love is not within the lover's control." Even Friar Laurence recognizes this rush of action and warns against it in Act II.) Hint: You may want to use cite MORE passages; use MANY supporting details and citations along with what you already have.
- paragraph 2
example of a topic sentence for this paragraph (paragraphs 1 and 2 deal with action):
The thought and diction of the characters also express the overpowering theme of passion and impulsiveness, and the complexity of emotions of tragedy. In this paragraph you can point to Romeo's monologue in Act I, Scene 1, that contains oxymorons, which suggest his own conflicts of emotion as he speaks of the loss of Rosalind: "O brawling love! O loving hate!/ O heavy lightness! Serious vanity!...." as well as, ironically, expressing the theme of violent love that permeates Romeo and Juliet.
Don't forget, too, Juliet's metaphor that expresses their love: "Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be/Ere one can say "It lightens." (2.2.) and Friar Laurence's speech of the dangers of "violent delights" (2.6).
- paragraph 3
example of a topic sentence for this paragraph that will deal with character:
Having a unity of action with the plot and theme, there is, then, the criterion of tragic character that completes the assessment of Romeo and Juliet as an Aristotelian tragedy, and certainly both Romeo and his Juliet prove themselves tragic heroes.
First of all, Romeo contributes to the tragic milieu with the element of spectacle: his injection of himself in the quarrel between Tybalt and Mercution in Act III. (Be sure to cite lines as support). Then, in his "violent delight," he sets in motion his and Juliet's "violent ends" as he is banished from Verona and Juliet is left to be victimized by fate as Paris asks for her hand in marriage. [You have many cogent points of your own that you can insert in this paragraph.]
Be sure to simply restate your thesis and add a "clincher"; that is, some thought that is based on what has happened, but it extends to the readers, as well. Perhaps, you could underscore what the Prince says; namely, that all are punished as a result of the tragic deaths of Romeo and Juliet.
Here are a few grammatical and coherence errors: Sentence 2: You write "This" which is ambiguous. Rather, you could write "This infinite circle is the nature of an exceptional tragedy...." Eliminate sentence 4 (see notes above)
In this sentence: "these examples become evidence..." Change this to discuss the control fate exerts." Reword these lines.
In the sentence about Shakespeare's using character to emphasize "different ways of love" change this phrase to character emphasizes the role of fate and violence.
The paragraph that begins with "Romeo and Juliet" --put into italics
...the protagonist--add s--eliminate "must" and write, the protagonists effect their own untimely deaths. Change "to start off" to Initially...Change "this means that" to In other words, ....Change Romeo is referring to Change "Due to" to Because of....Change "Romeo is referring to...." to Romeo alludes to." And, reword the last 3 lines of this paragraph.
- In the final paragraph:
Change "This play..." to "A masterpiece created by Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet has endured throughout the decades."...Throughout the play, Shakespeare acknowledges fate as a terrific adversary.
Be certain to just reword the thesis and point to a couple of the strong examples that cause the mighty to fall. Add a "clincher," but no new thoughts--some idea that emanates from your points that will grab the reader.