How can I discuss Romeo and Juliet's genre, including the elements of tragedy and comedy in the play?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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There are certainly a number of approaches to defining the genre of Romeo and Juliet; however, an interesting interpretation of the play is that of critic Granville-Barker, who compares the Nurse with Falstaff, one of Shakespeare's greatest comic creations.  She contends that the presence of the loquacious Nurse who turns what could be serious scenes into burlesque, along with the satiric humor of the young Mercutio, holds the play to Romantic comedy until her exit as a commentator. For example, her effusive complaints about her aches and pains are ludicrous in contrast to what Juliet considers the urgent message of Cupid--whether Romeo has responded to her acceptance of marriage--thus creating parody:

Jesu, what haste! Can you not stay awhile?
Do you not see that I am out of breath? (2.3.29-30)

It is, then, after the exit of the comic foils of Mercutio to Romeo and the Nurse's prolix ramblings to Juliet that Shakespeare's play becomes a veritable tragedy where true pathos takes place with Juliet's desperate escape from marrying Paris, and the consequences of this action that follow as Romeo despairs of life

Thou desperate pilot, now at once run on
The dashing rocks thy seasick weary bark!
Here's to my love! Drinks. O true apothecary!
Thy drugs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die. (5.3.117-120)

and, in turn, effects her ultimate hopelessness and death.

Such an interpretation as that of Granville-Barker would, therefore, classify Romeo and Juliet as tragicomedy with Romantic comedy prevailing in the earlier parts of the play, followed by the tragic elements at the end.