What is the tone of Romeo and Juliet?

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The tone of Romeo and Juliet moves back and forth between the light-hearted/comic and the intense/tragic. We can appreciate that Shakespeare provides a Prologue that tells his audience this will be a tragedy, because the tone is so often comic, especially in the beginning scenes.

Comedy includes Romeo's over-the-top mooning over Rosaline, the only woman, he claims initially, that he could ever possibly hope to love, only to drop her instantly the moment he sets eyes on Juliet at the Capulet party.

Mercutio, with his wit, puns, and strong storytelling skills, as well as his lively personality, also contributes to the lighthearted tone of the play. Juliet's nurse provides comic touches, too, in her outrage at Mercutio's jokes at her expense and when she takes forever to tell the news of the marriage plans to the anxious Juliet.

Alternating with these, however, are scenes of intensity and anguish, such as when Tybalt kills Mercutio and Romeo kills Tybalt. The intense emotions aroused by those events continues with Juliet's deep distress at Tybalt's death and in Romeo's banishment. As the play comes to a close, the mood also darkens—Juliet alone in her ancestors' tomb has a deep sense of foreboding, and the suicide scenes, of course, are filled with pain and anguish.

Shakespeare keeps the play alive and engaging with his interplay of the lighthearted and tragic tones.

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Romeo and Juliet is arguably the most famous story in the English language, and so the tone can be hard to pin down since it is so universal. However, there are certain elements within Romeo and Juliet that really elucidate the tone of the play. I've listed some of these elements below:

  1. LOVE - The love between Romeo and Juliet is the central focus of the play.
  2. THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS - Romeo and Juliet both desire to pursue their romantic love, despite the wishes of their families, because it makes them happy.
  3. BETRAYAL - Romeo and Juliet both betray their families. 
  4. DEATH - Many deaths happen in the play, and they are mostly results of the family feud. 

Due to these elements, a person could argue that the tone of Romeo and Juliet is tragically romantic. The love between Romeo and Juliet is one of the most famous romance stories of all time, but this love is rushed and results in many tragic deaths. The combination of these two factors creates a tragically romantic tone. 


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