Romeo and Juliet Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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Why is Romeo and Juliet a tragedy?

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Mike Walter eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Regarding Romeo and Juliet, you would think this would be a relatively easy question to answer. But the definition of tragedy has changed a bit through the years, and people don't always agree on what constitutes a tragedy. In general, if the story has a sad ending, or if the protagonist fails to achieve his goal, the story is considered to be a tragedy. If the protagonist is successful and the story has a happy ending, it could be classified as a comedy. If there is one thing we can be absolutely certain of, Romeo and Juliet does not have a happy ending.

We call it a tragedy, although there are some scenes that make us laugh, usually involving the nurse.

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mswright | Student

Much as they are now, Elizabethan theaters defined plays as either a tragedy or a comedy. For the most part, and in regards to Shakespeare's plays specifically, if a play ended in death, it was a tragedy, and if it ended in a wedding, it was a comedy. By this simple definition, Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy. After many others die (Paris, Tybalt, Mercutio, and Lady Montague), the play ends not only in more deaths, but the double suicide of the two lead characters and lovers. The extreme rashness of both Romeo and Juliet adds a darker sense of drama over the play as they attempt to obtain what they want without any regard for consequence. To add to the tragic occurrences, ultimately no characters end up getting what they desire.

Though there are absolutely elements of tragedy in Romeo and Juliet, it can be argued as a comedy. The rashness of Romeo and Juliet can certainly be seen as the dramatic overreaction of two teenagers who insist they know best, despite having just met and both being very young.

In James Forse's article Arden of Feversham and Romeo and Juliet: Two Elizabethan Experiments in the Genre of Comedy-Suspense, he explores each scene and their comedic elements. Of the twenty-four total scenes, he found that twelve appear entirely comedic, eleven contain comedic elements, and only one seems completely void of comedy.

mostafizbar07 | Student

At the of story we found that the hero dies I think because of it its a tragedy.

user7870940 | Student

Romeo and Juliet is not a tragedy because they both die, but rather because all of it could have been avoided at several points throughout the play. 

eamoore1 | Student

This play can be considered as a tragic comedy. Like all of Shakespeare's tragedies, a lot of character die at the end of Romeo and Juliet. The major difference with this play is that time after time, their deaths could have been prevented. They could have run away together, the Friar could have made better decisions, they could have told their parents, etc. There were a lot of other options and other mistakes that led to the death of these two youths. The is an emphasis on youths as well because Shakespeare pokes fun at the two characters and the impact on their age to their love lives. Romeo was madly in love with an uninterested party right before he falls madly in love with Juliet.

Think about how two high school students act when they are in love, and you have these two characters! It shows as an extreme example of how Shakespeare's writing has crossed time, and it still relatable. 

njpaul | Student

Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare's most famous plays; however, it is very tragic. There are quite a few elements that make this play a tragedy. One of the first is the downfall of the main characters, Romeo and Juliet, culminating in their deaths at the end of the play. Second, are the many events that lead up to the deaths of Romeo and Juliet. Some of these include the fact that each comes from each other's loathed enemy family, Juliet's father insists that she marry Paris and then he moves the wedding up a day, Romeo kills Tybalt, etc. We usually expect the protagonist (s) to have a happy ending; however, this does not happen. As a result, these are some of the elements that make Romeo and Juliet a tragedy.  

roundsk | Student

Romeo and Juliet is considered a tragedy for a number of reasons, however it's important to point out that the play is considered a Shakespearean tragedy. (Yeah, I know, Shakespeare must have been a busy dude, creating his own variety of tragedy and stuff.)

Anyway, there are a number of elements that identify R&J as a Shakespearean tragedy:

1. The story includes a tragic hero, in this case, Romeo. Now there are a couple reasons Romeo is considered a tragic hero- he is the protagonist (our main man), he is presented with a difficult conflict he must overcome (falling in love with his enemy's daughter, killing her cousin), and his judgments lead to death (his own and multiple others). Another important point to remember is that most of Shakespeare's tragic heroes are high born men.

2. Everything bad that happens happens as a result of all the characters' decisions. Even the small role of the apothecary has a large impact on the entire outcome, if he had decided to say no to Romeo, the deaths of Romeo and Juliet could be avoided.

3. The heroes are responsible for their own misfortune. Their personal decisions lead to a chain reaction of destruction.

4. By the end of the story the hero (Romeo) realizes that they/he have/has caused the tragic events to unfold, but there's no way to stop the momentum.

5. The hero dies in the end. 

I hope this provides a good summary of why Romeo and Juliet is considered a tragedy. It's not particularly happy stuff, but alas, it is a Shakespearean tragedy.