What dramatic devices does Shakespeare use in Romeo and Juliet?

The dramatic devices Shakespeare uses in Romeo and Juliet include foreshadowing, dramatic irony, paradox, and tragedy.

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Shakespeare employs various dramatic devices in Romeo and Juliet. There is extensive use of foreshadowing throughout the play. Aside from the fact that the fate of the two lovers is spelled out in the prologue, there are several points at which premonitions of their deaths disturb the atmosphere ...

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Shakespeare employs various dramatic devices in Romeo and Juliet. There is extensive use of foreshadowing throughout the play. Aside from the fact that the fate of the two lovers is spelled out in the prologue, there are several points at which premonitions of their deaths disturb the atmosphere, as when Juliet exclaims,

O God, I have an ill-divining soul!
Methinks I see thee, now thou art below,
As one dead in the bottom of a tomb.

Even Juliet's death-like trance, which leads her family, and even Romeo, to believe she is really dead, prefigures her actual death soon afterwards.

Dramatic irony is also an important element of Romeo and Juliet, particularly in the way Shakespeare withholds knowledge of Friar Laurence's plan from everyone except Juliet herself and the audience. It is also employed throughout the play in more minor matters: for instance, when Mercutio is unable to fathom the reason behind Romeo's good humor in act 2, scene 4 or his subsequent affection for Tybalt.

Romeo's love for Tybalt, because he loves Juliet, is one of the play's many examples of paradox. The central paradox is that the families who hate each other are unknowingly bound together by love. Romeo comments on this with a flood of such paradoxes:

O heavy lightness! serious vanity!
Mis-shapen chaos of well-seeming forms!
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health!

The most pervasive dramatic device is that of tragedy itself. Although it is one of Shakespeare's best-known tragedies, Romeo and Juliet does not follow the Aristotelian pattern of a tragic hero falling from eminence through a tragic flaw. Instead, the tragedy is even more grimly inevitable because it is fated, and the audience is told even in the prologue not to expect a happy ending for the lovers.

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The entire play is built on paradox, or contradiction. Two people who are supposed to hate each other to the death instead fall in love. The play pivots on that central paradox and the exploration it inspires of the difference between expectation and reality. Juliet, especially, comments on this paradox. In act 2's balcony scene, she asks why Romeo has to have the name of Romeo [Montague], from her family's hated house, noting that a rose by any other name would still have the same sweet smell. Likewise, when her beloved Romeo kills her beloved cousin Tybalt, she has a moment of anguished paradox, wondering how the one she loves could have murdered the one she loves.

Soliloquy, speech overheard by the audience that reveals a character's inner thoughts, is another dramatic device Shakespeare uses. For example, Juliet's "Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds" soliloquy in act 3, scene 2, expresses Juliet's desire for her wedding night and Romeo to arrive faster. This soliloquy sets an amorous mood and highlights the erotic desire the two lovers share. Juliet speaks of Romeo's arrival as

Whiter than new snow upon a raven’s back.

In another soliloquy, in act 4, right before she drinks the potion that will cause her to appear dead, Juliet creates a mood of creepy foreboding as she dwells on death, Tybalt's corpse lying in the same crypt, and her fears of what might go wrong.

Mood is another dramatic device Shakespeare uses, with moods changing between light and dark throughout the play.

Finally, although Shakespeare reveals in the Prologue that the two lovers will come to a bad end, he builds suspense in other ways: we don't know, for example, that Tybalt will kill Mercutio or Romeo, and as the fight is unfolding, the audience is kept guessing. Further, we feel with Juliet her worry about how the plan to avoid marrying Paris will work out. Even if we have seen the play before, we can get so wrapped up in the action that we are anxious about what will happen next.

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There are many examples of dramatic devices in Romeo and Juliet, but I will highlight the use of a prologue and catharsis, as well as foreshadowing, dramatic irony, and tragedy.

Romeo and Juliet famously utilizes a prologue that explains the events that will occur in the play. In this prologue, Shakespeare foreshadows the love and death in the play to create dramatic irony. Dramatic irony occurs because the audience knows things the characters do not. Romeo and Juliet jump impatiently into their relationship, but the audience knows the consequences of this love. This dramatic irony creates tension. Finally, the end of the play brings about catharsis. Catharsis is a Greek term that describes the emotional response that occurs towards the end of a dramatic structure. A catharsis usually elicits emotional responses like crying. The Friar announces the catharsis and also classifies the events as a tragedy: 

I will be brief, for my short date of breath / Is not so long as is a tedious tale. / Romeo, there dead, was husband to that Juliet; / And she, there dead, that Romeo's faithful wife./ I married them; and their stol'n marriage-day / Was Tybalt's doomsday, whose untimely death / Banish'd the new-made bridegroom from the city, / For whom, and not for Tybalt, Juliet pined" (V.iii.229-236).

 

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