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Romeo and Juliet

One of Shakespeare's most popular plays, Romeo and Juliet centers on the ill-fated love between the adolescent offspring of two leading, but warring, families of medieval Verona. Because of the feud between the families and the dictates of the day, which gave Juliet's father the right to promise her in marriage to any man of his choice, Romeo and Juliet's secret marriage is destined to bring tragedy both to the couple and to their families. Although critics disagree over the nature of the young couple's love for each other, most concur that themes of love and sexuality are central to the play's meaning. Scholars have focused on issues such as the nature and extent of Romeo and Juliet's love for each other, the social dictates and consequences of sexuality in medieval times, and the passage of the title characters from childhood to adulthood.

Many commentators have examined the nature of Romeo and Juliet's love for one another, concentrating on its brevity and the extent to which it was lustful. Ronald B. Bond states that Romeo's love for Juliet is ocular and is based only on satisfying his senses. Bond claims that even in death their love is "devoted to the flesh" and that the play is about "the intensity of youthful love." However, Marjorie Kolb Cox distinguishes between the Nurse's interpretation of the romance in terms of lust and Juliet's stress on abiding love, maintaining that Romeo and Juliet's love does not fit the Elizabethan Courtly Love model because it is realistic, normal, and attainable. Conversely, Leonora Leet Brodwin develops the argument that Shakespeare did indeed create a Courtly Love Tragedy.

Critics have also questioned whether the feud between the Capulets and the Montagues can be considered the primary cause of the disasters that befall the young couple. Many scholars have suggested that the feud is not the cause of their deaths but rather a symptom of larger problems within society that contribute to the young lovers' tragedy. Michael Rustin argues that the play is about the modern emotion of romantic sexual love and the inability of medieval society to deal with this emotion. Rustin also notes that medieval society in both Verona and England was based on patriarchal authority, and that both Romeo and Juliet were at odds with this structure. A. K. Nardo reminds the reader that violence and sex were linked in this society and that such an atmosphere certainly "does not nurture innocent lovers." Coppélia Kahn develops this theme, observing that Romeo's friends expect him to prove his manhood through violence and that the feud between the Capulets and Montagues gives him the opportunity to prove his loyalty to his father by killing members of the Capulet household. That he is divided between these two factions through his marriage to Juliet is the irresolvable problem which drives both of the lovers to their deaths.

The role of adolescence in Romeo and Juliet is another theme that has prompted significant debate among critics. Rustin attributes the play's continued popularity to Shakespeare's success at evoking the emotional turbulence of such a universal experience as adolescence. Adolescence is the transitional phase between childhood and adulthood when children break their attachment to their parents and form new bonds. Although medieval society did not recognize adolescence as a part of the life course, several commentators have agreed that it is Romeo and Juliet's attempt to pass through adolescence and the failure of their families to accept this effort that leads to their demise. Romeo and Juliet are both attempting to reach adulthood, but their actions are limited by the social conventions of the time. According to Kahn, Romeo becomes a man both through his defense of his family and through his sexual liaison with Juliet. Juliet, however, has no freedom of choice. Her role is reproductive, to produce an heir, and she must marry whomever her fathers chooses. Kahn contends that Juliet therefore has less freedom to experiment with new roles. But unlike her mother and her Nurse, Juliet acknowledges and expresses her sexuality apart from its reproductive aspects. Cox claims that neither Juliet's mother nor the Nurse are fully adult—a station in life which Juliet reaches through her relationship with Romeo—because they were denied the adolescence through which Juliet passes.


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G. Blakemore Evans (essay date 1984)

SOURCE: An introduction to Romeo and Juliet, Cambridge University Press, 1984, pp. 1-48.

[In the following excerpt, Evans provides an overview of the play's sources, structure, style, characters, and tragic qualities with an emphasis on the theme of love.]


The general type of story represented by Romeo and Juliet has its roots in folklore and mythology. Best described as a separation-romance, it shows obvious analogies with the stories of Hero and Leander, Pyramus and Thisbe, Tristan and Isolde, and with later medieval works like Floris and Blanchefleur and Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde.1 Chaucer's poem leaves its mark strongly on Shakespeare's principal source for the play, Arthur Brooke's Romeus and Juliet, and, independently perhaps, on Shakespeare's play itself.

The earlier history of the Romeo and Juliet story has been treated in detail by a number of critics,2 but since there is no persuasive evidence that Shakespeare knew the Italian or French versions at first hand,3 we may limit our discussion to the two English versions:4 Arthur Brooke's long poem, The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet (1562); and William Painter's 'Rhomeo and Julietta' included in volume II (1567) of his widely known Palace of Pleasure, a collection of prose translations from classical sources and from Italian and French novelle.5 Both Brooke and Painter used a French version of the story by Pierre Boaistuau, published in volume I of Francois de Belleforest's Histoires Tragiques (1559),6 which in turn was based primarily on Matteo Bandello's 'Romeo e Giulietta' (1554) and, in some details, on Luigi da Porto's Giuletta e Romeo (about 1530), the immediate source of Bandello's version and the first to lay the action in Verona and to give the names Romeo and Juliet to the protagonists.7

Shakespeare worked directly with Brooke's Romeus, for verbal echoes resound throughout the play; that he knew Painter's prose version is highly probable, but, except for four or five suggestive and scattered details,8 Painter's influence remains shadowy, though we may surmise that at least Shakespeare's use of Romeo' (instead of Brooke's 'Romeus') was due to Painter's title.9 It is not surprising that Shakespeare concentrated his attention on Brooke. Painter's translation of Boaistuau's version is close and generally accurate, but Brooke's much longer verse narrative, 3020 lines in poulter's measure,10 gives essentially everything in Boaistuau (and hence in Painter), and makes substantial additions and slighter alterations that considerably enhance the dramatic potentialities of the story.11 The more important additions are the Nurse's interview with Romeo following the lovers' first meeting (631-73), the consequent report to Juliet of the Nurse's arrangements for the marriage (674-704), Romeo's long and highly emotional interview with the Friar after Tybalt's death (1257-1510), the account of Romeo's sorrow in exile in Mantua (1740-80), and the Nurse's crass advice urging Juliet to marry Paris while she maintains a liaison with Romeo (2295-2312). In all of these additions, except the description of Romeo's sorrow in exile, Shakespeare found viable dramatic material, which he put to memorable use in parts of 2.4, 2.5, 3.3 and 3.5. Brooke also sometimes converts narrative statement in Boaistuau into direct speech, expands speeches already present, or adds extra bits of short dialogue (apart from the larger additions already noticed), which give the poem more life and movement. Finally, Brooke occasionally showed some flair for inventing new detail in description and character, particularly in his presentation of the Nurse, who under his hand emerges as the only character Shakespeare inherited from the source story that offered more than a romance stereotype. Despite Brooke's virtues, however, the poem is pedestrian, long-winded, overdecorated with 'poetic' commonplaces, and written in a lumbering pseudo-high style. The miracle is what Shakespeare was able to make from it.

Shakespeare's treatment of Brooke's poem has been discussed many times.12 To convert it into a play, Brooke's leisurely narrative required tightening, focusing, and restructuring. The story as it existed in Brooke and in Painter already offered both a public and a private dimension: the blood-feud with its larger social implications in the life of a city state and the intimate, private love of two young people tragically caught in the web of a world inimical to their private vision. But unlike Brooke, Shakespeare establishes this important underlying duality in the first scene, opening with the cautious sparring of the Capulet and Montague servants—a comic beginning that quickly turns serious as they are jointed first by Benvolio (a Montague), then by Tybalt (a Capulet), followed immediately by Officers of the Watch, Capulet and his wife, Montague and his wife, and finally by the Prince as the voice of authority. The play, then, begins on a note of threat and public discord, resolved for the moment by an imposed and uneasy truce. In contrast, Brooke, though mentioning the Capulet-Montague feud early in the poem (25-50) and suggesting that it is still smouldering, only allows it to erupt in violence after Romeus and Juliet's marriage (955-1034), thus losing the immediate potential conflict which Shakespeare sets up between the public and private worlds of the play.

The formal, almost mechanical patterning of the first scene (through line 94)13 is essentially repeated twice more, at the crisis (3.1) and at the end (5.3), both scenes more formally patterned and concentrated than in Brooke (959-1046; 2809-3020), in each of which the outer world of the feud impinges on the inner world of Romeo and Juliet. This formality may be seen as Shakespeare's mode of distinguishing and distancing the public from the private voice, the characters here speaking less as individuals and more as spokesmen for the contending parties and the arbitration of law, a role from which the Prince never escapes. With the exit of the Prince in 1.1, however, the tone changes and we begin to hear the voice of personal involvement and concern in Romeo's parents and his friend Benvolio, as, ironically, they worry over the problem of Romeo's apparently anti-social behaviour. At this point the play moves onto a different level, one that sounds the note of personal emotion and establishes the emergence of individual character, catching us up into the smaller, more intimate and intense sphere of human relations. These dual modes, the public and the private, interrelated but carefully distinguished, set up the larger dimensions of the play, in which the concerns of individual lives (their love and hate, joy and grief) will be played out against the muted but inescapable demands of convention and society—'Here's much to do with hate, but more with love' (1.1.166).

Other structural departures from Brooke's narrative are equally significant. Tybalt and Paris appear in Brooke only when events demand them. Tybalt is unheard of until he is needed as the ringleader of the Capulet faction in the street brawl, which breaks out some months after Romeus and Juliet have been secretly married (955-1034), and he no sooner appears than he is slain by Romeus. Shakespeare, however, introduces Tybalt in the first scene in his self-appointed role as leader of the younger Capulets and then underscores this by showing him as a troublemaker at the Capulet feast (1.5), a further foreshadowing of Tybalt's later decisive function that finds no place in Brooke. Shakespeare can thus draw on an already sharply defined character at the moment of crisis in 3.1, creating a sense of Tybalt's apparently strong personal hostility to Romeo and achieving a dramatically effective causeand-effect relationship. In the same way, Shakespeare introduces Paris in 1.2, even before Romeo first meets Juliet, in order to suggest the potential conflict of a rival suitor and to lay the grounds for Capulet's later ill-advised, if well-intentioned, insistence on Juliet's immediate marriage with him. Brooke again delays any mention of Paris (1881 ff.) until the plot demands an eligible husband for Juliet to cure her seeming grief over Tybalt's death. As the final block in this expository structure Shakespeare also shows us Juliet with her mother and the Nurse in 1.3, when the marriage with Paris is first broached, a scene that again advances Brooke's narrative scheme, in which we learn nothing of any of these characters until after the beginning of the Capulet feast. With the opening of 1.4 and the sudden and unprepared appearance of Mercutio as one of the masking party, all the major characters, except Friar Lawrence, have been introduced and the lines of possible tension and future conflict suggested.

After 1.4, with a firmly established series of expository scenes behind him, Shakespeare essentially follows Brooke's narrative order, with one significant exception. Whereas Brooke describes first the consummation of Romeo and Juliet's marriage (827-918), followed by the killing of Tybalt a month or two later, with the resulting sentence of banishment (949-1046), and then the lovers' last night together (1527-1728), Shakespeare telescopes these meetings, reducing the lovers' period of happiness to a single night after the fateful killing of Tybalt. Not only does this heighten the sense of the overwhelming pressure of events and increase the emotional tension by forcing the lovers to consummate their marriage under the shadow of immediate separation,14 but, as Mark Rose notes,15 it enables Shakespeare structurally to balance 'the two lovers' scenes [2.2 and 3.5] one on either side of the centerpiece [3.1]'. Even in this single example, we can glimpse how Shakespeare, by a slight rearrangement of Brooke, concentrates the time-scheme, establishes firmly the relations of the key points in the play's structure, and achieves a more powerful emotional impact.

This brings us to a consideration of the larger implications of Shakespeare's use of time in the play. Brooke's story develops slowly over a period of at least nine months.16 After Romeus first meets Juliet at Capulet's Christmas feast, 'a weeke or two' (461) passes before he is able to speak to her again, and, after their secret marriage, they continue to meet clandestinely each night for 'a month or twayne' (949) before the fight with Tybalt.17 But for Shakespeare time does not 'amble withal'. He turns it into a powerful dramatic instrument. Instead of Brooke's months, Shakespeare, setting the season around the middle of July, two weeks before Lammas-tide (1.3.15-16), packs the dramatic action into four days and nights (Sunday through Wednesday), ending early on the morning of the fifth day (Thursday):

Day I Sunday: 1.1-2.2 (from shortly before 9
  a.m. to just before dawn of Monday)
Day II Monday: 2.3-3.4 (from dawn to
Day III Tuesday: 3.5-4.3 (from dawn to after
Day IV Wednesday: 4.4-5.2 (from early
  morning to very late Wednesday evening)
Day V Thursday: 5.3 (from very late
  Wednesday night to early Thursday

An intense and driving tension is thus set up that results in our heightened understanding of and sympathy for the headlong actions of the lovers. The audience, like Romeo and Juliet, is swept along by the apparently overwhelming rush and pressure of events, even though some of those events are, in fact, not beyond the lovers' rational control. Shakespeare achieves part of this effect not by ignoring actual (or clock) time, but by stressing it. The play is unusually full, perhaps more so than any other Shakespearean play, of words like time, day, night, today, tomorrow, years, hours, minutes and specific days of the week, giving us a sense of events moving steadily and inexorably in a tight temporal framework. But Shakespeare can also, when he wishes, concentrate and speed the action by annihilating time in favour of what Granville-Barker calls 'tempo'. Thus in 4.2, though Juliet has only just returned from her morning shrift at Friar Lawrence's cell, we are told a few lines later by Lady Capulet that 'It is now near night', so late in fact that they cannot be prepared for the wedding feast now suddenly arranged for the next day (Wednesday).19 The device here serves, by abridging a period of 'dead' time, to advance the immediate movement toward the moment, earlier prepared for in 4.1, when Juliet must drink the Friar's potion.

Apart from Brooke (and perhaps Painter) a number of other, comparatively minor influences on Romeo and Juliet have been pointed out: …, Samuel Daniel's Complaint of Rosamond (1592), John Eliot's Orthoepia Gallica (1593), Sidney's Astrophil and Stella (1591), several works by Thomas Nashe, notably Have with You to Sqffron-Walden (1596), and Bartholomew Yong's translation of Montemayor's Diana and Gil Polo's Enamoured Diana (1598, but available to Shakespeare in manuscript several years earlier). There are also links with other Shakespearean plays, particularly Two Gentlemen, Love's Labour's Lost, and Midsummer Night's Dream. Except for Daniel, and possibly Sidney and Nashe, none of these minor nonShakespearean sources did more than contribute a passing phrase or image, but one aspect of the play, its debt to the sonnet tradition and to Shakespeare's own Sonnets, warrants further comment.20

Coleridge, forgetting or not knowing Brooke's Romeus, particularly praises Shakespeare for opening the play with Brooke, with a Romeo who is already 'love-bewildered'.21 Brooke, of course, also devotes a number of lines (53-100) to Romeus's unrequited love for an unnamed lady: 'In sighs, in teares, in plainte, in care, in sorow and unrest, / He mones the daye, he wakes the long and wery night' (92-3). But Coleridge is quite correct in one important respect. Even though Brooke may have furnished the hint, the development of the idea is very much Shakespeare's own. It is Shakespeare, not Brooke, who first introduces us to a Romeo who is undergoing all the delicious pangs and enjoyed agonies of a young man fashionably 'in love' or, as Coleridge puts it, 'in love only with his own idea'.22 To present this kind of bloodless figment of the mind, Shakespeare turns to the conventional language of earlier courtly love as it had developed in the sonnet tradition from Petrarch and other continental practitioners to Wyatt, Surrey, Watson, Sidney and Spenser. As practised by most sonnet writers (Watson is the perfect example) it is a language compounded of hyperbole, more or less witty conceits, word-play, oxymorons and endless repetition, usually focused on the versifier's unrequited love (real or imagined) for a disdainful or otherwise unattainable mistress. A Sidney, Spenser or Shakespeare (in his own sonnets) could, and usually did, rise above the conventional techniques of the sonnet tradition, but they were conscious of its dangers and limitations, and Shakespeare, before he wrote Romeo, had already exposed its hollowness in Love's Labour's Lost, where the four would-be lovers are finally forced to abjure

Taffata phrases, silken terms precise,
Three-pil'd hyperboles, spruce affection,
Figures pedantical …

and express their wooing minds 'In russet yeas and honest kersey noes' (5.2.406-13). When, therefore, Romeo appears in 1.1, lamenting the cruel day and longing for night and darkness, he is unconsciously 'playing' the conventional role. His first substantial speech puts the authentic verbal seal on this role:

Here's much to do with hate, but more with
Why then, O brawling love, O loving hate,
O any thing of nothing first create!
O heavy lightness, serious vanity,
Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms,
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick
Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is!

As Mercurio later says (2.4.34-5), Romeo is 'for the numbers that Petrarch flowed in'. Thus Shakespeare employs Romeo's role as the lover in love with love (hence largely with himself) as a clearly realised foil to set off the new Romeo who begins to emerge after he meets Juliet and who loses his heart in a real love, the kind of love that is beyond the posturing of what may be expressed through the facile medium of mere sonnetese. But Shakespeare goes beyond this simple contrast, using Romeo's verbal acrobatics to foreshadow one of the central themes of the play—the ambiguous and frighteningly fragile nature of love itself, 'A choking gall, and a preserving sweet' (185).23 Shakespeare's preoccupation with the ambiguous and unseizable qualities of love may be traced too in the constant, almost frenetic word-play and punning—both serious and comic—that characterises this play, and in Friar Lawrence's remarks on the ambivalence of good and evil:

For nought so vile, that on the earth doth live,
But to the earth some special good doth give;
Nor ought so good but, strained from that fair
Revolts from true birth, stumbling on abuse.
Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied,
And vice sometime by action dignified.

Nor is it accidental that sonnet form, tone and situation seem so strongly marked and dominant in the first part of the play. The sonnet choruses to Act 1 preside over a structure that seems to reflect a typical sonnet situation (a cold-hearted lady rejects her suitor; a family feud separates two lovers). Thus it is fitting that Romeo and Juliet first address each other in a highly patterned and figurative sonnet in antiphonal form. But after the balcony scene, in which Romeo still from time to time speaks in sonnet clichés, the impact and operation of the sonnet tradition fade,24 replaced by sterner realities, symbolised in part by Friar Lawrence; mere talk (the essence of the sonnet tradition) becomes action, and life, with its attendant death, takes over from literature.

Finally, we may notice Shakespeare's debt to Chaucer, which, in Romeo and Juliet, may be considered large or small25 depending on the extent to which we are willing to allow direct influence from Troilus and Criseyde. The evidence for such influence remains suggestive rather than substantive and is complicated by Brooke's own considerable borrowings from Chaucer's poem in his Romeus, a debt that tends to confuse the actual genesis of points in common between Chaucer and Shakespeare, and by the lack of identifiable verbal echoes of Chaucer's Troilus.26 Nevertheless, recent critics,27 recognising that Shakespeare had already shown some knowledge of Chaucer's works before he composed Romeo,28 feel that the two stories naturally invited comparison (as Brooke had recognised) and call attention to certain thematic, psychological and tonal affinities, lacking in Brooke's treatment, that seem to link Shakespeare's play with Chaucer's great poem. Among these we may note the interplay (not always clearly realised) of Fate (or Fortune) and free will (a tension in Romeo that will have to be considered in some detail later); the infusion of comedy which enables both writers 'to maintain a comic or affirmative tone much of the time', allowing us to forget for the moment the tragic outcome announced at the beginning of Troilus and by the opening Chorus in Shakespeare; and the presentation of Criseyde and Juliet as psychologically mature compared with Troilus and Romeo.29


Critical opinion of Romeo and Juliet has ranged from simple adulation to measured disapproval, raising a number of interrelated and vexing questions. Two may be considered here. Is Romeo and Juliet in the usually accepted sense a successful tragedy or an experiment that fails to come off? Is the play a tragedy of Fate or a tragedy of character? Or is it both? That is, does Shakespeare succeed here in creating the paradox that has long been felt to lie at the heart of great tragedy, the mysterious interaction and fusion of Fate and free will?

Some critics, of whom the most influential is H. B. Charlton,30 admit the powerfully moving quality of the love story, but find the play a failed tragedy, an experiment which does not quite succeed, or which, so far as it succeeds at all, does so, in Charlton's words, 'by a trick'. He considers the feud as 'a bribe' used by Shakespeare 'to exonerate himself from all complicity in their [the lovers'] murder … disown[ing] responsibility and throw[ing] it on Destiny, Fate … the feud [being] the means by which Fate acts' (p. 52). But neither Fate nor feud, he finds, is strongly enough handled by Shakespeare to carry the weight of the tragedy, and Shakespeare's 'achievement is due to the magic of [his] poetic genius and to the intermittent force of his dramatic power rather than to his grasp of the foundations of tragedy' (p. 62).

An older and more popular view, most recently supported by Bertrand Evans,31 treats the play as a pure tragedy of Fate, in which not only every action of Romeo and Juliet themselves but every action of all the other characters is dictated by the Prologue's reference to 'star-crossed lovers' and 'death-marked love'. If this seems simplistic, it is no more so than the opposite extreme embraced by, among others, Franklin M. Dickey and W. H. Auden.32 Essentially sidestepping the Prologue and later suggestions of Fate (or Fortune) in the play, or subsuming Fate under Divine Providence, they find Romeo and Juliet basically free agents, who, in pursuing their love blindly and recklessly, become moral exempla of excessive passion (they die 'For doting, not for loving') and are condignly punished (Auden declares both Romeo and Juliet to be damned) for trespassing beyond the temperate married love sanctioned by church and state.

More recently, John Lawlor33 has examined Romeo and Juliet in the light of medieval conceptions of tragedy (which he distinguishes by the spelling tragedie), of which, of course, Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde is the supreme example in English. 'Its central truth is that Fortune knows nothing of human deserving. But her activities are not, in the end, inscrutable; for those who are minded to learn, a greater good is in prospect' (p. 124); and 'Where such tragedy [i.e. the Greek form, found in Shakespeare's later tragedies] returns us to the real world, tragedie takes us beyond it' (p. 125), where 'Death has no final power over the lovers' (p. 127). Lawlor thus sees the play as one which 'does not minimize, much less cancel, Fortune's power, but which denies her an entire victory' (p. 127). Choosing to die for their love, Romeo and Juliet may be seen as shaking off the yoke of inauspicious stars in an assertion of personal will and sealing a triumphant and dateless bargain to eternity.

Another medieval concept, that 'sexual love is a manifestation of the all-pervading love of God, through which the universe is governed', has been brought to bear on the play by Paul Siegel.34 In this view, the love of Romeo and Juliet serves Divine Providence as part of the cosmic love through which the universe is nurtured by God, and their death converts the evil and hate of the world into the social harmony of love in the 'death' of the feud (pp. 383-92). Like Lawlor, Siegel finds the lovers entering triumphantly upon a new and better existence, adding, however, specific reference to the medieval and Renaissance conception of the 'paradise of lovers' (pp. 384-6), a commonplace of courtly love literature, given contemporary expression in Spenser's garden of the Temple of Venus (Faerie Queene, x).

Finally, T. J. Cribb has sought to find the 'ordering principle' in Romeo and Juliet by suggesting that we should see the play as a dramatic expression of the neo-Platonic concept of love as it was interpreted by Ficino, Pico della Mirandola and Leone Ebreo, a revaluation in which passional love, 'love of another, not for another, eros not caritas', is a new key element.35 He believes, for example, that the sense of 'awe and amazement' in Romeo's 'sun' and 'angel' images in his opening soliloquy in 2.2 are intelligible only in the context of neo-Platonic thought, and he sees the death of the lovers, in these somewhat intellectualised terms, as a triumphant affirmation of love achieved through a victory over hate, the opposing principle, represented for Cribb in the centrally important role of Tybalt. Tybalt thus becomes 'an agent not merely of the stars, but of the metaphysical paradoxes which present the lovers both as star-crossed by "misadventur'd pittious overthrowes" (Prologue, 7) and as heroes of love who triumph over the stars through love itself'. His argument, therefore, views the play 'at a poetic level' and he is refreshingly honest in admitting that such a reading 'may not be fully appreciable on the stage' and that 'in this play poet and playwright are not perfectly united'.

These are, in brief, the principal more recent approaches to Romeo and Juliet. That any of them solves all the problems of the play may be doubted. They are after all simply ways of looking at (or ignoring) some of these problems in an attempt to explain the one incontrovertible fact—the universal appeal which the play has exercised on generations of readers and theatre-goers. One of the principal stumbling blocks to seeing the play as an organic whole is, as we have already noted, the confusion which many critics see in Shakespeare's treatment of the concepts of Fate and free will. Virgil Whitaker's statement may be taken as typical:

The metaphysics of the play is not particularly sophisticated, and it is nowhere clear whether the stars symbolize blind fate or chance or whether they indicate, as in Julius Caesar and other later plays, the operation of natural forces which may be resisted or modified by human will.36

The comment is a fair one, but what is not generally asked is what the effect on the play would have been if Shakespeare had decided to concentrate on only one or the other (as some critics, in fact, believe he essentially did). May it not perhaps be argued that his handling of these two paradoxically opposed concepts, confused though it may be, is nevertheless an effective cause of Romeo and Juliet's success as a tragedy? By thus playing, occasionally a bit fast and loose perhaps, with the dual ideas of Fate and free will, does he not achieve an otherwise unobtainable effect in the final impact? Emphasising at strategic moments the overshadowing of Fate (or Fortune or Chance), he softens the moral implications of the headlong and self-willed career of the lovers so that we are not in danger of applying a simple moral yardstick to their actions, of measuring them, in fact, by the harshly Protestant tone of Brooke's address 'To the Reader':

And to this ende (good Reader) is this tragicall matter written, to describe unto thee a coople of unfortunate lovers, thralling themselves to unhonest desire, neglecting the authoritie and advise of parents and frendes, conferring their principali counsels with dronken gossyppes, and superstitious friers … attemptyng all adventures of peryll, for thattaynyng of their wished lust … abusyng the honorable name of lawefull mariage, to cloke the shame of stolne contractes, finallye, by all meanes of unhonest lyfe, hastyng to most unhappye deathe.

On the other hand, by employing Friar Lawrence as the voice of Christian morality, a kind of muted but sufficiently stated undersong counselling temperance and reason, which the lovers generally choose to ignore, Shakespeare significantly humanises the situation and escapes from presenting the unbearable spectacle of two young people, helpless puppets, driven to an early death as sacrifices to the President of the Immortals for his 'sport', mere means to an end, however laudable in one sense (the resolving of the feud) that end may be.

By thus juxtaposing the concepts of Fate and free will, and by the intermittent but powerful play of irony that results, Shakespeare may be seen as attempting to ensure a humanely tempered reaction to his story of young and tragic love. That he juxtaposes these concepts instead of fusing them, as he is able to do in his later major tragedies, may indeed be recognised as a sign of immaturity and inexperience, but it should also be admitted that the play succeeds because of, not despite, what critics have described as Shakespeare's 'confusion'.


Language, style and imagery in Romeo and Juliet interact on many levels. We have earlier commented on the public and private voices established in the first scene, but the private voice, particularly, has a variety of tones of its own: the 'low' bawdy word-play of the servants set against the 'high' bawdy wit games of Mercutio and Benvolio (into which Romeo is briefly drawn); the oxymoron and hyperbole of sonnet love counterpointed and balanced by the obscenely physical extremes of Mercutio and the Nurse; the conventionally mannered language of adult society in Capulet and Lady Capulet played off against the earthy amoral prattle of the Nurse and complemented by the gravitas of Friar Lawrence's moral pronouncements; all these are brilliantly set off by the free and natural outpouring of feeling that, in intimate moments, pulses in the language (and imagery) of Romeo and Juliet. Except for this last, which expresses the private world of the lovers, language in the play shows many faces: intentionally ambiguous and quibbling, broodingly foreshadowing, brutally threatening, sexually suggestive; it is often the language of rhetorical artifice and role-playing, of social convention and moral statement, of wit and some wisdom.

Stylistically, Romeo and Juliet comes at a point in Shakespeare's development when he is beginning to break away from the conventional and rhetorically bound use of language and figure,37 of images 'used for their own sakes', of the overextended conceit with its 'vain pleasure taken in painting every detail',38 and is discovering, fitfully, a dramatic language which, though it continues to use the figures, uses them directly and integrally, so that language and imagery not only describe character but through organic metaphor become the expression of character itself.

Among the all too frequent examples of the early conventional style,39 we may notice Lady Capulet's praise of Paris (1.3.81-95), Capulet's description of Juliet in tears (3.5.126-37), Juliet's reaction first to what she interprets as news of Romeo's death (3.2.43-51) and then to the discovery that Tybalt, not Romeo, is dead (3.2.73-85). Each of these passages shows self-indulgence, embroidering and spinning out the central conceit to a point where it becomes an ornamental setpiece calculated to display the writer's wit rather than a character's feeling. It has been suggested that this style is properly characteristic of Juliet's parents,40 but the same saving argument can scarcely be made for Juliet's outbursts in 3.2,41 which are separated by only a few lines from one of the most famous speeches in the play ('Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds'), Juliet's personal epithalamium, a speech in which Shakespeare writes with an immediacy of feeling and a perfect projection of the dramatic moment. Art here becomes nature, and what Juliet says realises essentially what she is. This is the new style, and we find it most notably in the earlier window scene (2.2), particularly when Juliet speaks; later, in the dawn parting of the lovers (3.5); and finally, in Romeo's last speech in 5.3.42

Where the new style emerges most successfully, Shakespeare is writing with little or no direct dependence on Brooke, and this tends to be especially true when he is concerned with the lovers either singly or when alone together. Usually at these moments Shakespeare translates the love theme into a poetic world totally out of Brooke's sphere and far beyond the emotional bounds of the traditional story. At one of these moments, however, Shakespeare remains Brooke's prisoner: Juliet's dramatically important soliloquy before drinking the sleeping potion (4.3). The speech is a pastiche of bits and pieces rearranged from lines 2337-2400 of Brooke's poem, and, although Shakespeare concentrates the material and makes some incidental additions (the dagger, the passing suspicion of the Friar's motives, the substitution of 'spirits' for Brooke's 'serpentes odious, / And other beastes and wormes', the fear of madness and of dashing out her brains with a kinsman's bone), neither the additional material nor the speech as a whole rises imaginatively or emotionally much beyond Brooke's merely competent level. Somehow the moment failed to involve Shakespeare creatively.

Shakespeare's use of imagery in Romeo and Juliet has received considerable attention, especially, of course, since Caroline Spurgeon's pioneer study in 1936.43 As usual in Shakespeare, images from nature and animals are among the most frequent, but his use of personification is unusually high (perhaps in part under the influence of Brooke, who often uses the figure). Particularly important are the fire/light images:

There can be no question, I think, that Shakespeare saw the story, in its swift and tragic beauty, as an almost blinding flash of light, suddenly ignited, and as swiftly quenched.44

As Friar Lawrence warns (2.6.9-11):

These violent delights have violent ends,
And in their triumph die like fire and powder,
Which as they kiss consume.

Shakespeare may have found some suggestion for his fire imagery in Brooke,45 who, as Miss Spurgeon notes, describes the feud, in well-worn metaphor, as a 'little sparke' flashing into 'flame' (35-6, 49-50, 956-8, 978) and the love of Romeus and Juliet as 'quick sparks and glowing furious gleade', which 'set on fyre, eche feling parte' (303-5). We may, indeed, compare one of Brooke's comments (209-10) with Shakespeare's lines above:

This sodain kindled fyre [of love] in time is
  wox so great:
That onely death, and both theyr blouds might
  quench the fiery heate.

The light image, in its associations with fire and its opposite, darkness, is further extended by the frequent references to sun, moon, stars, day, night, heaven and lightning, a running series of iterative images which emphasises both the intensity and glory of love and its terrible brevity—'So quick bright things come to confusion' (MND 1.1.149). Night and darkness as sympathetic to love, and day and light as inimical to it, are foreshadowed in the first scene when we are told how Romeo steals 'Away from light', 'locks fair daylight out' and 'makes himself an artificial night' (128-31). At the same time, the lover's view is contrasted with conventional praise of day and light by Benvolio's reference to 'the worshipped sun' (109), by Montague's 'all-cheering sun' (125), and by his ill-fated hope that Romeo might 'dedicate his beauty to the sun' (144). Like much else in this opening scene (an important measure of Shakespeare's mastery), Romeo's histrionics and conventional attitude to day/light and night/darkness set up the terms in which, ironically, something of the truth of real love, once it strikes Romeo, will be played out—'then turn tears to fires' (1.2.89).

When Romeo first sees Juliet, she appears to him 'As a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear', a brilliance that 'teach[es] the torches to burn bright' (1.5.43-5). It is through this special quality of light in darkness that we now, through Romeo's eyes, experience Juliet. In the garden scene (2.2) Romeo's first two speeches are suffused with Juliet as light: she is the 'fair sun' that in the dark of night makes the pale moon envious; 'Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven' court her eyes, which 'stream so bright / That birds would sing and think it were not night' (15-22); she is one of those 'Earth-treading stars that make dark heaven light' described by Capulet earlier (1.2.25), and a 'bright angel' 'glorious to this night' (26-7), this 'blessèd, blessèd night' (139) as it is perceived by Romeo, while word-play on 'good night, good night' runs like a refrain through the last third of the scene. The following scenes, through 3.1, are daylight scenes and the light/dark imagery does not appear again until the opening of 3.2 (Juliet's epithalamium), where the sun ('Phoebus') is banished and 'love-performing', 'gentle', 'loving' night summoned to comfort and conceal the lovers, who can 'see to do their amorous rites / By [the light of] their own beauties' (8-9). The light imagery now embraces Romeo, who becomes, first, Juliet's 'day in night' shining like 'new snow upon a raven's back' (17-19), then, a constellation of 'little stars' that puts 'the garish sun' to shame (21-5). This sense of night and darkness as the ally of love is further developed in the dawn-parting scene (3.5). It is the invasion of day (light) with its 'envious streaks … in yonder east' (7-8) that parts the lovers:

ROMEO More light and light, more dark and
dark our woe! …
JULIET Then, window, let day in, and let life
                                     (36, 41)47

Indeed, Shakespeare seems to reverse our normal expectations. Night and darkness, usually associated with evil and death, take on the qualities of light and life, while day, usually identified with light and life, assumes the aspect of darkness and death. Thus, even though he plays continually on the conventional association of night and death ('The horrible conceit of death and night' as Juliet terms it, 4.3.37), linked closely with the concept of the stars as the supposed arbiters of Fate48 (as in the 'star-crossed lovers' and 'death-marked love' of the Prologue and in Romeo's premonition of 'untimely death' 'yet hanging in the stars' 1.4.111,107), yet at the end we are made to feel that the lovers defy Fate ('Is it e'en so? then I defy you, stars!', 5.1.24) and, 'shak[ing] the yoke of inauspicious stars' (5.3.111), usurp death's role 'in a triumphant grave', 'a feasting presence full of light' (5.3.83,86).

The most powerful evocation of death (often personified) is, of course, as Juliet's surrogate husband. The image begins in 1.5.133-4 when Juliet says, 'If he be marrièd, / My grave is like to be my wedding bed' ; it is repeated by Juliet in 3.2.136-7, 'I'll to my wedding bed, / And death, not Romeo, take my maidenhead!'; echoed by Lady Capulet, 'I would the fool were married to her grave'(3.5.140); stated as the theme of Capulet's lament at the discovery of Juliet's 'death' (4.5.38-9), 'Death is my son-in-law, Death is my heir, / My daughter he hath wedded'; and it finally becomes, with powerful dramatic irony, the central driving image in Romeo's soliloquy over the supposedly dead Juliet in 5.3.88-120. This speech, in its intimate evocation of powerful feeling, in the effortless way it brings to a final focus all the leading images and themes in the play (light in darkness, the stars (as Fate), the sea/ wreck, womb-tomb, and life-as-journey49 images, night, death, life, and love, the 'love in death' of 4.5.58), and in its mature denial of hate and triumphant affirmation of love—a love that embraces not Juliet alone, but Paris and Tybalt50—crystallises the tragic moment with a strength and emotional immediacy new in Shakespeare.


Shakespeare inherited from Brooke not only his story, but all his principal characters apart from Mercutio; by way of Brooke, he was drawing on Italian romance as seen by French eyes.51 The inhabitants of this romance world are rarely more than stock figures on which to hang stories of love intrigue and attendant cuckoldry, double dealing, witty escapes, disguising and mistaken identity—what Painter calls 'the thousand thousand slippery sleightes of Love's gallantise'.52 Usually such tales end happily, if not exactly morally (love as a topic being considered essentially the proper province of comedy), but occasionally, as in the stories of Tancred and Gismunda or the Duchess of Malfi, the love sport turns deadly serious and tragedy results. Even so, the characters involved remain largely flat, conventional figures, constitutionally given to argumentative, motive-probing discussions and long-winded complaints.

Such—with the partial exception of the Nurse—are the generic types Shakespeare encountered in Brooke or Painter. In the case of some of the supporting characters Shakespeare was content simply to sharpen the stereotype. Neither the Prince nor the Montague and Capulet parents emerge as much more. In Capulet, for example, both the considerate and loving father of 1.2 and the tyrannical autocrat of 3.5 are already fully sketched by Brooke; only Capulet's reminiscences of vanished youth (1.5) and the occasional comic moment really distinguish Shakespeare's portrait. In the same way, Tybalt and Paris remain as they are in Brooke: Tybalt as the agent provocateur, a figure of inherited hate with a mistaken sense of honour, Paris as the young gallant, well-born, rich and honourably in love, who finds himself cast through no fault of his own as Romeo's rival—though Shakespeare extends these roles by introducing them early and inventing the death of Paris in the final scene. There Shakespeare bestows a pathetic integrity on Paris and allows him a noble gesture as he dies protecting, as he believes, his lady's body from desecration at the hands of a marauding enemy. The slaying of Paris has raised some critical questions, but there is a mysterious rightness in it that validates Paris's love and allows him, in company with Romeo, to be joined with Juliet in the silent communion and consummation of death.

Apart from this sudden illumination of Paris's character, Shakespeare's imaginative involvement with the minor supporting characters is fitful. Even Capulet, Lady Capulet and Benvolio, all of whom have comparatively large roles (50, 45, and 63 speeches), are little more than conventional sketches of well-meaning but self-centred parents and the male confidant and friend, who, after 1.1, surprisingly ceases to share Romeo's confidences and becomes merely a reporter of action and a sounding-board for Mercutio's wit, disappearing suddenly from the play in 3.1.53 But on the three principal supporting characters, Mercutio, the Nurse and Friar Lawrence, Shakespeare has lavished memorable attention.

Brooke says little of Mercutio except for his reputation as a courtier 'highly had in pryce', 'coorteous of his speche, and pleasant of devise':

Even as a Lyon would emong the lambes be
Such was emong the bashfull maydes,
  Mercutio to beholde.
                            (Brooke, 255-8)

The Mercutio we know is wholly Shakespeare's invention—perhaps, indeed, an invention that only occurred to him after he had blocked out the major lines of the play. His appearance in 1.4 is rather sudden and one is given the impression that, along with Romeo and Benvolio, he is gate-crashing Capulet's feast, although he is named, along with a brother called Valentine, in the Clown's list of invited guests in 1.2. He dominates 1.4, particularly with his set-piece on Queen Mab, a brilliant tour de force of doubtful dramatic or thematic relevance, and then fades into complete silence at the feast (1.5), surely a strange fate for such a compulsive talker. It is almost as if Shakespeare had planned or even written 1.5 before he thought of creating Mercutio.54

Dryden, in what appears to be the earliest critical comment on Romeo and Juliet, singles Mercutio out as Shakespeare's most successful attempt to portray a 'fine gentleman':

Shakespeare showed the best of his skill in his Mercutio; and he [Shakespeare] said himself, that he was forced to kill him in the third act, to prevent being killed by him. But, for my part, I cannot find he was so dangerous a person: I see nothing in him but what was so exceeding harmless, that he might have lived to the end of the play, and died in his bed, without offence to any man.55

Since by 'fine gentleman' Dryden meant a Restoration rake like Etherege's Dorimant, his grudging praise of Mercutio may be interpreted as unintentionally complimentary. Dr Johnson puts Dryden firmly in his place:

Mercutio's wit, gaiety and courage, will always procure him friends that wish him a longer life; but his death is not precipitated, he has lived out the time allotted him in the construction of the play; nor do I doubt the ability of Shakespeare to have continued his existence, though some of his sallies are perhaps out of the reach of Dryden …56

Here, for the first time, we encounter a hint of one of Mercutio's principal dramatic functions: his role as a foil. Representing one extreme through his continual, witty insistence on the purely physical side of love, Mercutio contrasts with and comments on Romeo's equally extreme position as conventional lover in the sonnet tradition and emphasises Romeo's later more mature understanding that love is not either body or spirit but a fusion of both, the 'subtle knot that makes us man'. Once Romeo has outgrown Rosaline, Mercutio's function on one level has been outworn, but Shakespeare does not waste his creation wantonly. In inventing the accidental death of Mercutio, a character whose irrepressible high spirits and 'sure wit' have won our hearts, Shakespeare has also set up a situation that gains our understanding and sympathy for Romeo, who blames himself for his friend's death, and softens the impact of his slaying of Tybalt. Lacking a Mercutio at this point, Brooke's handling of Romeus is different. After a vain attempt to stop the growing street brawl, Romeus is attacked mercilessly by Tybalt. Instead of attempting to defend himself, Romeus loses his control, and, turning on Tybalt with the ferocity of a wounded boar or a lion bereft of its whelps (as Brooke puts it), kills him without scruple.

Mercutio is also the source or provoker of much of the word-play, witty as well as bawdy, with which the comic levels of the play abound. It is, as Mahood points out, 'one of Shakespeare's most punning plays'.57 Falstaff, indeed, defines Mercutio's way with language when he characterises 'excellent wit' as 'apprehensive, quick, forgetive, full of nimble, fiery, and delectable shapes' (2 Henry IV 4.3.99-100). Words are Mercutio's 'whirlwind passion': he is 'A gentleman … that loves to hear himself talk, and will speak more in a minute than he will stand to in a month' (2.4.123-4). But although words are his only true love, his sense of their ambiguity—a sense which complements Friar Lawrence's belief in the alternative possibilities for good or evil in all levels of God's creation—not only provides an intellectual tension and drive in the first half of the play but obliges us to realise that under the airy speculations of romantic love lies a hard core of physical and inescapable reality.

With his usual incisiveness Dr Johnson catches the Nurse as it were in full flight:

[She] is one of the characters in which the Author delighted: he has, with great subtilty of distinction, drawn her at once loquacious and secret, obsequious and insolent, trusty and dishonest.58

But if we allow for the difference between genius and talent, much the same characterisation might be given of Shakespeare's original in Brooke.59 There is in both the same moral obtuseness, garrulousness, appetite for secrecy, opportunism and pleasure in the physical aspects of love (693-704, 890-900), all softened by a real if sentimental affection for her 'nurce childe'. To these traits Brooke adds a touch of venality (627-8, 667-73) which Shakespeare wisely omits. Shakespeare, of course, extends and lovingly elaborates Brooke's portrait, giving the Nurse an animal vitality (comparable to Mercutio's) through her continual, in part unconscious (unlike Mercutio's) obsession with sexuality. Her function thus parallels Mercutio's in certain ways, but, more important, as nurse-confidante and co-conspirator, she complements, on a serio-comic level, the role of Friar Lawrence, the spiritual counsellor and friend to both Romeo and Juliet.60

Juliet's final assessment of the Nurse ('Ancient damnation!', 3.5.235) implies perhaps a harsher and more general condemnation than her character as a whole warrants, but it reaches out beyond her and underscores the vital difference between complete commitment to an ideal and the easy opportunism that governs the world surrounding Romeo and Juliet, a world in which the Nurse is happily and thoughtlessly at home.

Critical reaction to Friar Lawrence ranges from the uneasily ambiguous to the downright hostile. The reasons for this confused response lie partly in the inherited story-line and partly in Shakespeare's treatment of the character. In following Brooke, Shakespeare is twice seemingly content to make Friar Lawrence a victim of the plot: first when, under the pressure of Juliet's impending marriage to Paris, he fails to reveal the prior marriage of Romeo and Juliet and tries to cover up the situation by the questionable subterfuge of the sleeping potion; and second when, in the final scene, he turns tail and attempts to run away, abandoning Juliet in her moment of supreme need. The second action is the more obviously damaging, since it seems to undercut at a single stroke all our former sympathy for Friar Lawrence, who, like Romeo and Juliet, had been perceived as caught in a tangled web of 'accidental judgments' and 'purposes mistook/Fall'n on th'inventors' heads' (Hamlet 5.2.382-5). It would probably be too much to suggest that Shakespeare saw in this action a lurking weakness in the Friar's character. It seems more likely that Shakespeare was concentrating at this point on what may have appeared to him a dramatic necessity: the symbolic isolation of Juliet at the moment she joins Romeo in death, recalling and focusing for us her earlier moments of isolation when she is deserted by her parents and the Nurse (3.5) and her declaration before drinking the sleeping potion, 'My dismal scene I needs must act alone' (4.3.19). Even the Friar, as spectator, would have violated the privacy of her union with Romeo and death. This may not entirely excuse sacrificing Frair Lawrence, but it at least suggests that Shakespeare was not blindly following his source without dramatic and thematic considerations.

The first instance, Friar Lawrence's recourse to the sleeping potion subterfuge, is, of course, in a different category; it is a 'given', something that could not be altered without a radical change in the whole story. But Shakespeare by his earlier presentation of the Friar's character gives it perhaps a deeper significance than it has in Brooke.

Friar Lawrence is first introduced in 2.3 as a choral voice through whom Shakespeare explains the potentiality for either good or evil inherent in all created things, including man, an explanation, as R. M. Frye points out, that expresses an orthodox Christian view which could have been shared by Catholics and Protestants.61 His first interview with Romeo immediately follows, in which he emerges as a kindly 'father surrogate', admonitory but indulgent, showing a playfully humorous understanding of Romeo's excess in 'doting' on Rosaline, and an immediate if unthinking willingness to perform the marriage. This, to be sure, he couples with a single brief warning,62 a warning repeated several times in later scenes, not to allow a similar excess to govern his newly declared love for Juliet ('Wisely and slow, they stumble that run fast', 94), a warning which ominously echoes his earlier choral lines:

Nor ought so good but, strained from that fair
Revolts from true birth, stumbling on abuse.

His intentions are good, but his action is precipitate, without any consideration of the dangers involved in Romeo's clandestine marriage.63 When events get out of hand Friar Lawrence is pushed, to some extent out of a dangerous personal involvement,64 into proposing the subterfuge of the sleeping potion to Juliet (4.1). In a sense, then, what began as a potential work of 'grace'—to heal the feud by a marriage between the families—is twisted instead, by the Friar's choice of 'desperate' means, into something verging on a work of 'rude will' ('Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied', 2.3.21). Ironically, Friar Lawrence illustrates through his own actions the moral dangers inherent in man's dual nature that he had warned against in his opening choral speech:

Two such opposèd kings encamp them still
In man as well as herbs, grace and rude will;
And where the worser is predominant,
Full soon the canker death eats up that plant.

Shakespeare thus creates a character in which the Friar's function as orthodox moral commentator—an emphasis which is not in Brooke—seems to be at odds with aspects of his character and actions as a man. The ambiguity of the critical response to Friar Lawrence, therefore, is not surprising or entirely unjustified. As we suggested earlier, Shakespeare wanted the moral voice, insistently but quietly implying man's freedom to choose 'grace' or 'rude will', to offset the dehumanising effect of his pervasive and strong emphasis on the operation of Fate. But he also wanted a fallibly human Friar Lawrence, who would not, by a too marked moral contrast, endanger our sympathy with the actions of the young lovers. In this way, although he may not be entirely successful in fusing Friar Lawrence's dual function (as chorus and as a character in the plot), Shakespeare achieves an effect, analogous to his handling of Fate and free will, which he feels to be necessary in balancing our reactions to the central characters, Romeo and Juliet.

The special quality of the love that is finally expressed through Romeo and Juliet is, of course, Shakespeare's supreme achievement in this play. Drayton, in 1597, in a poem that appears to show some knowledge of Romeo and Juliet,65 seems to catch much of its essence:

True love is simple, like his mother Truth,
Kindlie affection, youth to love with youth.

Here, with almost critical precision, are all but one of the special qualities we associate with the lovers and their love: simplicity, truth, natural passion, youth and mutuality. Absolute commitment, the one quality lacking in Drayton's definition, is the theme of Shakespeare's Sonnet 116, parts of which seem to bear directly on this, the central focus of the play, in its celebrated definition of love:

O no, it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand'ring bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his highth
  be taken …
Love alters not with his [Time's] brief hours
  and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

Juliet gives complete expression to her character as well as to her conception of love when she says to Romeo about her love:

But to be frank and give it thee again,
And yet I wish but for the thing I have:
My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee
The more I have, for both are infinite.

And Romeo, though the inner security of his love matures more slowly, captures the same sense of selfless giving when, in a speech strongly marked by tragic foreshadowing, he cries out:

Amen, amen! but come what sorrow can,
It cannot countervail the exchange of joy
That one short minute gives me in her sight.
Do thou but close our hands with holy words,
Then love-devouring Death do what he dare,
It is enough I may but call her mine.

In 2.3.91-2, Friar Lawrence expresses his hope that

… this alliance may so happy prove
To turn your households' rancour to pure

He is speaking, of course, of 'pure love' in its social sense, but it is surely an irony that the 'pure love' of Romeo and Juliet, warmly human and alive, which does indeed bring to the Montagues and Capulets a 'glooming peace', only achieves its final public symbolic expression in the cold and lifeless 'pure gold' of a funeral monument.

But Romeo and Juliet are more than static evocations of the spirit of ideal love. Here, for essentially the first time in his career as a dramatist, Shakespeare undertakes to present something like developing characters—the growth from thoughtless adolescence to the inescapable and painful realities of maturity.67 The bare story-line for such character development was ready to hand in Brooke, but Brooke gives us little sense that the lovers have grown in self-knowledge or in awareness of the heavy responsibilities that such understanding entails. Shakespeare accomplishes this movement in part by establishing what may be called two early points of contrast. In 1.3 Juliet is introduced as a demure, almost tongue-tied girl of barely fourteen, properly dutiful in the presence of such authorities as her mother and the Nurse (she manages only six-and-a-half lines in a scene of over a hundred).68 Shakespeare thus emphasises her extreme youth and her almost cloistered dependence, in contrast to Brooke's Juliet, who is sixteen and appears for the first time in the context of the Capulet feast, where she receives the attentions of both Mercutio and Romeo with aplomb, and in her handling of the situation is described by Brooke (350) as 'the yong and wyly dame'. So too Romeo, whatever his age may be,69 is presented (1.1) by Shakespeare as more boyish in his solemn vapourings about unrequited love than Brooke's Romeus, who having been repulsed by an unnamed lady (Shakespeare's Rosaline) takes his friend's advice70 to forget her (141-50) and for three months surveys the field 'where Ladies wont to meete', judging 'them all with unallured eye', determined that 'his savage heart [should] lyke all indifferently'. Not so Romeo, who only agrees to attend the Capulet banquet in the hope of being able to feast his eyes on Rosaline.

Critics have often pointed out that Juliet is a stronger personality than Romeo and that she wins through to an almost frightening maturity more quickly. We sense this in her poised and playfully serious exchange with Romeo at their first meeting (1.5) and it is underscored in the famous window scene (2.2), where she shows herself more thoughtful, prudent and realistic than Romeo, though no less deeply engaged, in sensing the tragic threat involved in such 'sudden haste':

Although I joy in thee,
I have no joy of this contract tonight,
It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden,
Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be
Ere one can say 'It lightens'.

But the threat, though recognised, does not deter Juliet, nor does Shakespeare make us feel that it should, any more than Friar Lawrence's wise cautions to Romeo cause us emotionally to question the essential lightness of the lovers' headlong commitment—though they make us aware of what sound doctrine and reason dictate. Juliet accepts complete responsibility for her actions by the end of 3.5. Repudiated by her father and mother and betrayed by the Nurse's amoral advice, isolated, that is, from her immediate family, Juliet is able to say:

I'll to the Friar to know his remedy;
If all else fail, myself have power to die.

All that follows grows out of the absolute commitment expressed in that last line—no weakening or turning back.

Romeo's final commitment, though no less absolute, is achieved only after he believes Juliet to be dead (5.1.24): 'Is it e'en so? then I defy you, stars!' This is a new note in Romeo, particularly when we recall his hysterical performance as late as 3.3, the scene in Friar Lawrence's cell, in which, consumed with self-pity, he tries to stab himself rather than face banishment deprived of Juliet.71 His attempted suicide here is an important index of his comparative immaturity, a moment in the scene that owes nothing to Brooke. The implied commitment of such an action—to die for love—disguises nothing more than a selfish and thoughtless emotional reaction, without any real consideration for Juliet's feelings or the difficulty of her position. Through this scene, and particularly through this moment, Shakespeare sets up a startling point of contrast with the Romeo we encounter in the last act. After disappearing from the play for the whole of the fourth act (some 400 lines),72 Romeo in 5.1 suddenly faces a situation, the report of Juliet's death, that might be expected, for anything we have seen to the contrary, to produce a repetition of the emotional debauchery of 3.3. Instead, Romeo meets the news with control, quiet resolution and unhesitating commitment ('Well, Juliet, I will lie with thee tonight'). With Juliet dead, as he believes, there is nothing left worth living for, and we can now accept his determination to die for love as the supreme expression of a commitment that, like Juliet's, 'is as boundless as the sea'.


1 See J. J. Munro (ed.), Brooke's 'Romeus and Juliet', 1908, pp. i-xxi; Stith Thompson (ed.), Motif-Index of Folk-Literature, 6 vols., rev. edn, 1955, D 1364.7, K 1348, N 343, T 211.3.

2 See Munro, Romeus, pp. xxv-lii; H. B. Charlton, 'France as chaperone of Romeo and Juliet', Studies in French Language and Literature Presented to M. K. Pope, 1939, pp. 43-59; Olin H. Moore, The Legend of Romeo and Juliet, 1950; Bullough, I, 269-76.

3 Moore, Legend (pp. 111-18, 138), argues for direct influence from Luigi da Porto's Giuletta e Romeo (c. 1530), but the evidence is tenuous and has received little notice; see, however, Muir, p. 38. Muir (p. 39, following Charlton, 'France as chaperone', p. 50) notes that Shakespaeare may have taken one detail directly from Boaistuau (Romeo's attending the Capulet feast in the hope of seeing Rosaline) which is omitted by Bandello, Painter and Brooke; but it is also omitted by Boaistuau. It is Da Porto who includes such a motive for Romeo. The proposed influence of Luigi Groto's La Hadriana (1578) and Lope de Vega's Castelvines y Monteses (not published until 1647) is now generally discounted.

4 Brooke in 'To the Reader' reports that he had recently seen a play on the Romeo and Juliet story (see the excerpts from Brooke in the Appendix, pp. 213-47 below). Formerly, many of Brooke's differences from Boaistuau, as well as Shakespeare's deviations from Brooke, were attributed to it. Recent criticism, however, barely mentions it (Muir, p. 38; Bullough, p. 275). The anonymous Latin tragedy Romeus et Julietta, preserved in the British Library (Slone MS. 1775), is later than Shakespeare's play, probably early-seventeenth-century.

5 The text of Painter's translation here used is that edited by P. A. Daniel (New Shakespeare Society, Ser. III No. I, 1875). Bullough does not include Painter. Painter appears to have made some slight use of Brooke's poem (Daniel, Rhomeo, p. xxi).

6Histoires tragiques, extraites des oeuvres italiennes de Bandel (1559), Histoire troisieme. The edition here used was published at Turin in 1570.

7 Following Da Porto, Bandello arranges the death scene so that Juliet awakes just after Romeo takes the poison and the lovers are allowed a few moments of recognition and reunion before Romeo dies. This handling of the situation influenced later adaptations of Rom. (see below, pp. 34-8).

8 See Commentary, 1.1.93; 3.1.55-8, 61-5; 4.1.105; 4.5.104; 5.1.59.

9 Brooke uses the form 'Romeo' once (253) as a rhyme for 'Mercutio'.

10 Rhymed couplets, a six-stress line followed by a seven-stress line, the first line breaking three and three and the second line breaking four and three (and so printed in the three sixteenth-century editions of Brooke's poem).

11 Brooke owes the inspiration for several of his additions and other changes to the influence of Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde. See Munro, Romeus (pp. lii-liv and Appendix II), for an analysis of his borrowings.

12 Daniel, Rhomeo, pp. xii-xviii; Munro, Romeus, Appendix I (a detailed comparison of the poem and the play); R. A. Law, 'On Shakespeare's changes of his source material in Romeo and Juliet,' University of Texas Bulletin, Studies in English, 1929, pp. 86-102; Moore, Legend, pp. 111-18; Bullough, I, 274-83; Muir, pp. 40-2.

13 G. K. Hunter ('Shakespeare's earliest tragedies: Titus Andronicus and Romeo and Juliet', S.Sur. 27 (1974), 3-4) compares the similarly patterned structure of the opening scene of Titus Andronicus.

14 Muir, p. 40.

15Shakespearean Design, 1972, p. 149.

16 Munro, Romeus, p. 132. Brooke's story begins shortly before Christmas and seems to end sometime after 10 September (Brooke, 2072).

17 These vague time references are generally typical of Brooke; unlike Painter (p. 127), who follows Boaistuau, Brooke gives no specific length of time for the working of the potion.

18 Although Shakespeare carefully reinforces (with frequent temporal signposts) the time-scheme outlined above, he appears to trip himself when the Friar tells Juliet that the potion will take forty-two hours (4.1.105) to run its course. Since she drinks the potion shortly before 3 o'clock on Wednesday morning (4.4.4) and awakens shortly before dawn on Thursday (5.3), the time elapsed is around twenty-seven hours, not fortytwo. If, on the other hand, Shakespeare inadvertently thought of the play as ending on the early morning of the sixth day (Friday), the forty-two hour period is not long enough.

19 There is no sudden change in the day set for the wedding in Brooke; see Commentary, 4.2.24.

20 See Gibbons (pp. 42-52) for an excellent discussion of the influence of the sonnet tradition on Rom., particularly that of Sidney's Astrophil and Stella.

21Lectures and Notes on Shakespeare, ed. T. Ashe, 1885, p. 323.

22Ibid., p. 98.

23 Lines 181-5 foreshadow the four stages of Romeo's love; see Commentary, 1.1.181-5.

24 The first two acts, for example, contain many echoes of Shakespeare's own sonnets, as the Commentary shows; such echoes become rarer in the last three acts.

25 See Commentary, 1.4.70-88 and 5.1.1-9.

26 Even when Shakespeare used Chaucer's poem in his own Tro. (1601-2) there are very few verbal echoes.

27 J. W. Hales ('Chaucer and Shakespeare', Quarterly Review 134 (1873), 225-55) began the study of Shakespeare's debt to Chaucer. For more recent criticism see N. Coghill, 'Shakespeare's reading in Chaucer', in Elizabethan and Jacobean Studies Presented to F. P. Wilson, ed. H. Davis and H. Gardner, 1959, pp. 86-99; Ann Thompson, Shakespeare's Chaucer, 1978; Thomas Moisan, 'Chaucer's Pandaras and the sententious Friar Lawrence', Arkansas Philological Association 8 (1982), 38-48.

28 Shakespeare shows a knowledge of Chaucer (The Legend of Good Women) as early as Lucrece (1593-4).

29 Thompson, Shakespeare's Chaucer, pp. 99-103.

30Shakespearian Tragedy, 1948, pp. 49-63. Charlton (pp. 53-4) attributes Shakespeare's use of Fate to the influence of Brooke's Romeus, but it should be pointed out that, though Brooke sprinkles references to Fortune liberally (some forty times) and refers very occasionally and off-handedly to Fate (e.g. 859, 936, 1574, 1328, 1753, the last two being the stars), a reader gets very little sense in his poem of any significant operation of the kind of Fate Charlton is talking about in relation to Rom. In Brooke, Fortune is simply the inconstant goddess, who raises a man one day, casts him down the next, and may be expected to raise him again in the future (a continuing cyclical pattern; see Brooke 935-46, 1391-1412, particularly), and Brooke (2872-4) declares, through the Friar, that man has freedom of choice. His indiscriminate approach may be gathered from 1752-4: ' … out aloude he cryes / Against the restles starres, in rolling skyes that raunge, / Against the fatall sisters three, and Fortune full of chaunge'. For Brooke (935-8), Fate seems in general to represent man's enthralment to an inconstant Fortune. G. I. Duthie (NS, 1955) essentially accepts Charlton's view of the play.

31Shakespeare's Tragic Practice, 1979, pp. 22-51. P. N. Siegel (SQ 12 1961, 371) offers a useful list of those critics who see the play as a tragedy of Fate and those who discuss it as a tragedy of character.

32 Franklin M. Dickey, Not Wisely But Too Well: Shakespeare's Love Tragedies, 1957, pp. 63-117. Dickey makes 'fortune the agent of divine justice without absolving anyone from his responsibility for the tragic conclusion' (p. 64). W. H. Auden, in The Laurel Shakespeare, Gen. Ed. Francis Fergusson, 1958, pp. 21-39, gives a table listing all the wrong choices (and their consequences) made by each of the characters.

33'Romeo and Juliet', in Early Shakespeare, ed. J. R. Brown and B. Harris, 1961, pp. 123-43. See also

34 'Christianity and the religion of love in Romeo and Juliet', SQ 12 1961, 371-92.

35 'The unity of Romeo and Juliet', S.Sur. 34 1981, 93-104.

36The Mirror up to Nature: The Technique of Shakespeare's Tragedies, 1965, p. 111. Samuel Daniel in The Complaint of Rosamond (1592), a poem which influenced Shakespeare's play, states the conventional paradox (lines 407-13):

These presidents presented to my view,
Wherein the presage of my fall was showne:
Might have fore-warn'd me well what would
And others harmes have made me shunne
  mine owne;
But fate is not prevented though fore-knowne.
For that must hap decreed by heavenly
Who worke our fall, yet make the fault still

Compare Rom. 5.3.153-4, 260-1, where Shakespeare suggests the working of God's providence.

37 For Shakespeare's use of various rhetorical figures in Rom., see Sister Miriam Joseph, Shakespeare's Use of the Arts of Language, 1947; Harry Levin, 'Form and formality in Romeo and Juliet', in Shakespeare and the Revolution of the Times, 1976, pp. 103-20; Brooks, MND, pp. xlv-xlviii.

38 W. H. Clemen, The Development of Shakespeare's Imagery 1951, pp. 38, 63. See also

39 On the set lamentations following the discovery of Juliet's supposed death, see Commentary, 4.5.43-64, and supplementary note.

40 Clemen, Development, p. 64.

41 Mahood (p. 70) excuses 3.2.43-51: 'this is one of Shakespeare's first attempts to reveal a profound disturbance of mind by the use of quibbles'; and (p. 107) she defends 3.2.73-85: 'When Juliet feels at one with Romeo, her intonations are genuine; when she feels at odds with him, they should be unconvincing.'

42 As Levin ('Form and formality', p. 114) notes, however, 'The naturalness of their diction is artfully gained … through a running critique of artificiality.'

43Shakespeare's Imagery and What It Tells Us, 1936. Spurgeon (pp. 364-7) gives 'A detailed analysis of the subject-matter of the images' in Rom. Imagery study may be said to begin with Walter Whiter's A Specimen of a Commentary on Shakespeare, 1794 (see Commentary, 5.3 111-18). See also:

44 Spurgeon, Shakespeare's Imagery, p. 312.

45 He could have found it in Painter or a dozen other places, if he needed to find it anywhere.

46 Mahood (p. 65) calls attention to the 'play's central paradox of love's strength and fragility'.

47 Romeo and Juliet are also parted by dawn in 2.2 and 5.3, though in this last scene the parting becomes a final reunion.

48 In the orthodox religious view of the period the stars could 'influence though not directly determine [man's] choice' (D. L. Peterson, 'Romeo and Juliet and the art of moral navigation', in Pacific Coast Studies in Shakespeare, ed. W. F. McNeir and T. N. Greenfield, 1966, p. 35).

49 On the life-as-journey image in Rom., see W. C. Carroll, '"We were born to die": Romeo and Juliet', Comparative Drama 15 (1981), 54-71.

50 The reference to Tybalt was suggested to Shakespeare by Brooke (2660-70).

51 See Charlton, 'France as chaperone', pp. 43-59.

52The Palace of Pleasure, ed. J. Jacobs, 1890, 111, 28.

53 Benvolio's original function was suggested by an unnamed older friend in Brooke (101-40), who counsels Romeus to throw off his unrequited passion for a likewise unnamed lady (Shakespeare's Rosaline) and to haunt social gatherings where he may find a suitable substitute. Romeus accepts his advice and the friend is never heard of again. QI introduces a reference in 5.3 to Benvolio's recent death (see collation 5.3.211).

54 1.5 is curious in two other respects. In 1.2 Capulet specially invites Paris to attend his feast that evening in order to compare Juliet with other young marriageable girls, but Paris does not come. Again in 1.2, Romeo is urged by Benvolio to attend this same feast because the 'fair Rosaline' is among those invited; like Paris, Rosaline does not appear.

55Defence of the Epilogue (1672) in Essays of John Dryden, ed. W. P. Ker, 1901, I, 174.

56Johnson on Shakespeare, ed. Arthur Sherbo, in The Yale Johnson, 13 vols., 1958-, VIII, 1968, 956-7.

57 Mahood, p. 56. Miss Mahood adds: 'a conservative count yields a hundred and seventy-five quibbles'.

58Johnson on Shakespeare, p. 957.

59 Brooke considerably enlarged and improved the portrait of the Nurse that he found in Boaistuau. Some credit, therefore, belongs to Brooke's feeling for the character.

60 On this point see H. C. Goddard, The Meaning of Shakespeare, 1951, pp. 120-4.

61Shakespeare and Christian Doctrine, 1963, pp. 216-19.

62 Garrick (1748) was concerned by the Friar's failure to be more strongly admonitory at this point and, omitting lines 66-84, composed an eight-line speech to make good what he considered a deficiency.

63 Brooke's Friar, who is pictured, approvingly, as a kind of White Magician (569-72), is more cautious; he warns Romeus of 'A thousand daungers like to come' and 'readeth him refrayne: / Perhaps he shalbe bet advisde within a weeke or twayne' (598-600); he has to be talked into performing the marriage. Shakespeare's Friar is thus more immediately generous and co-operative, but less thoughtful and provident.

64 Juliet's passing suspicion (4.3.24-9; not in Brooke) that Friar Lawrence may have given her a poison instead of a sleeping potion suggests that she recognises the personal dangers inherent in the Friar's position.

65 See Commentary, 2.2.33-42.

66 T. S. Eliot (On Poetry and Poets, 1957, pp. 94-5) describes lines 133-5 as 'the dominant phrase of the whole duet', a duet in which 'Juliet's voice … has the leading part.'

67 On the maturation theme, see Marjorie Garber, Coming of Age in Shakespeare, 1981, pp. 165-70.

68 In only one speech does a flash of the later Juliet appear: 'And stint thou too, I pray thee, Nurse, say I' (59).

69 Neither Brooke nor Shakespeare gives Romeo's age, though Painter (p. 97), following Boaistuau, makes him 'of the age of .20. or .21. years'. Shakespeare's Romeo seems somewhat younger than this.

70 Brooke's Romeus also listens to reason following the slaying of Tybalt, when the Friar lectures him on the conduct befitting a man (1349-1482); only then does the Friar suggest a last visit to Juliet that night. Romeo is only restored to something like rationality by Friar Lawrence's promise of a visit to Juliet.

71 The Friar's 'Hold thy desperate hand!' (3.3.108) surely warrants the inclusion of the Ql SD: He offers to stab himself, and Nurse snatches the dagger away, even though the Nurse's role in the action may reflect an added piece of stage business. Capell, indeed, assigns the seizing of the dagger to the Friar, following the end of 108.

72 As with Hamlet, Shakespeare allows the change in Romeo to take place behind the scenes.

Michael Rustin (essay date 1985)

SOURCE: "Thinking in Romeo and Juliet," in The Good Society and the Inner World: Psychoanalysis, Politics, and Culture, Verso, 1991, pp. 231-53.

[In the following essay first presented in 1985 at a seminar at the Institute for Advanced Studies, Princeton, Rustin argues that the action of Romeo and Juliet is shaped by emotional forces, particularly that of romantic sexual love, on which the characters fail to consciously reflect.]

In a selective approach to [Romeo and Juliet], I seek to show how 'thinking' (that is, the capacity or incapacity to reflect on the forces unleashed by overwhelming emotions) is a central issue, perhaps the central issue. In Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare explores what happens when 'modern' emotions (in this case of romantic sexual love) are experienced and seek expression in a familial and social context which is largely unprepared for them. The tragedy shows almost all its participants being carried away by feelings they cannot think about—about which, indeed, they choose not to think, preferring precipitate action instead. Or, faced with the possibility of confronting and acting upon the truth, other participants choose the apparently safer path of deception and lies. Since the thunderstorms of adolescence (and the envies, jealousies and struggles for control which they evoke in older adults) remain disturbing in our own society, Romeo and Juliet remains almost as evocative as it ever was, since Shakespeare understood and gave shape to this particular moment of the life cycle at the point when it was first possible to experience it in its modern form. It is not a tragedy of evil or bad intentions: nearly everyone—parents, children, Friar, Nurse—means well; this is one reason why the play remains one of the best-liked and most-often-performed in the canon. Those on the stage seem to have feelings little different from those which members of the audience are liable to experience in the corresponding adolescent or adult roles, when faced with the impact of similar emotions, events, and social pressures.

Romeo and Juliet explores the historical conjuncture of two opposed conditions. On the one hand, the emergence of individuals with identities to some extent separate from those prescribed for them by family and social roles, and capable of intense and personal choices of love-objects. On the other hand, the persistence of a social code and structure of patriarchy in which fathers controlled the lives and especially the marriage choices of their children, particularly of their daughters. The play emerges at a historical transition point, in which both the emergent romantic individualist conception of sexual love of modern times and the authoritarian structures of patriarchal authority could be seen to exercise great power over the lives of representative dramatic figures.1 Both these structures are represented in Romeo and Juliet as fragile and unstable; hence the tragic outcome of the play. Patriarchical authority, at the level of both state and family, is weak, because of the feud of the two families and the uncertain authority of the Duke of Verona. The individual passions and desires of the son and daughter of the two leading families are shown as having some meaning and weight for their respective parents, but uncertainly so. Ultimately, family interest and authority are going to count for more, especially when these are both placed under severe external pressure.

The account of the play which follows attempts to show how these conflicting forces are represented. The primary interest of the account is not, as with earlier kinds of psychoanalytic writing, in the 'diagnosis' of the characters' inner states of mind, but rather in the way the action is shaped by emotional forces which are only fitfully and incompletely brought to consciousness. The title of this chapter arises from the Bion-influenced concern of current Kleinian psychoanalysis with thinking, but its contention is that Romeo and Juliet dramatizes a failure of thinking, of a still resonant kind.

What first strikes one in thinking about this play is how rushed and hectic it is. The action takes place within five days, and our attention is often drawn to what day, or time of the day or night, it is. On the first day, a Saturday, Romeo is in love with Rosaline, and his sadness and oppressed spirits are worrying his friends and his parents. 'What sadness lengthens Romeo's hours?' Benvolio asks him. But in the evening he is taken off to a party at the Capulets' house, and there he sees Juliet and falls instantly in love with her. The balcony scene takes place later that night. On the second day he secretly marries her, with the help of the Nurse and the Friar. But later, in the afternoon, there is an incident in which Tybalt kills Mercutio and is in turn killed minutes later (as it is shown on the stage) by Romeo. Romeo is then banished by the Prince, and after his night with Juliet he flees to nearby Mantua. On the third day (Monday) Juliet's father Capulet tells her that she must marry Paris, a kinsman of the Prince, only three days later, on Thursday. But when, on the next day (Tuesday), she pretends to consent to this, after visiting the Friar supposedly to obtain absolution for her earlier disobedience to her father, Capulet brings the wedding forward one day, to 'tomorrow', despite Lady Capulet's doubts. On Tuesday night, on the eve of her obligatory wedding (she is of course already secretly married to Romeo), she takes a potion intended to simulate her death, the plan being that Romeo will come and help her to escape when she awakes in the family tomb. Just to conclude the story, on Thursday morning in Mantua Romeo receives the false news that Juliet is dead. His response is swift action:

ROMEO: … get me ink and paper,
And hire post-horses, I will hence tonight.
                                         (V, i)2

When he goes to buy poison for his own death, he finds that the apothecary's shop is shut for a holiday, as shops often are when you need them in a hurry, and he has to knock him up. In the graveyard, on his way to die with Juliet, he meets Paris, her suitor, and 'is provoked', as he says, to kill him. He has failed to take in, on the journey, what his man has told him of Paris:

ROMEO: What said my man, when my betossèd
Did not attend him as we rode? I think
He told me Paris should have married Juliet.

He also fails to take in the evidence before him that Juliet might after all be alive:

ROMEO: … beauty's ensign yet
Is crimson in thy lips and in thy cheeks,
And death's pale flag is not advancèd there.
                                            (V, iii)

He kills himself:

ROMEO: O true apothecary:
Thy drugs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die.

Juliet wakes to find Romeo dead, and she is also impelled to act without delay:

JULIET: Yea, noise? Then I'll be brief. O happy
This is thy sheath; there rust, and let me die.
                                         (V, iii)

This headlong pace is not merely a consequence of dramatic convenience and compactness. The words of the play repeatedly draw our attention to the undue haste of what is happening. When Romeo asks the Friar in Act II:

ROMEO: … but this I pray,
That thou consent to marry us today.

the Friar replies:

FRIAR: Holy St Francis! What a change is
Is Rosaline, that thou did love so dear,
So soon forsaken?

Their dialogue concludes with Romeo exhorting:

ROMEO: let us hence! I stand on sudden haste.

The Friar replies:

FRIAR: Wisely and slow. They stumble that run
                                                          (II, iii)

Later in Act III the audience is made aware that Capulet's decision to insist on Juliet's marriage to Paris two days after Tybalt, his nephew, is killed is precipitate. Capulet tells his wife:

CAPULET: Wife, go you to her ere you go to bed;
Acquaint her here of my son Paris' love,
And bid her (mark you me?) on Wednesday
But soft! What day is this?
PARIS: Monday, my lord.
CAPULET: Monday! Ha! ha! Well, Wednesday is
  too soon,
A' Thursday let it be—a' Thursday tell her,
She shall be married to this noble Earl:
Will you be ready? Do you like this haste?
We'll keep no great ado—a friend or two;
For hark you, Tybalt being slain so late,
It may be thought we held him carelessly,
Being our kinsman, if we revel much.
                                     (III, iv)

Another dimension of this is that the normal boundaries of day and night are continually upset in the play. Romeo's father is worried about him:

MONTAGUE: Away from light steals home my
  heavy son,
And private in his chamber pens himself,
Shuts up his windows, locks fair daylight out,
And makes himself an artificial night.
                                           (I, i)

Capulet later decides not to go to bed at all on the eve of his daughter's intended wedding:

CAPULET: I'll not to bed tonight; let me alone:
I'll play the housewife for this once …
                                             (IV, ii)

and he spends the night hurrying the servants along in the kitchen. Then he has another burst of impatience when morning breaks:

CAPULET: … hie, make haste,
Make haste! The bridegroom, he is come
Make haste I say.

When they wake up after their night together, Romeo and Juliet dispute over whether or not it is morning, and time for Romeo to flee:

JULIET: Wilt thou be gone? It is not yet near
It was the nightingale, and not the lark,
That pierced the fearful hollow of mine ear …

and Romeo replies:

ROMEO: It was the lark, the herald of the morn;
No nightingale …
                                                     (III, v)

Very different experiences of the passage of time are represented in the play, by no means wholly corresponding with the conventionally opposed perspectives of youth and age. The sense of time remembered and anticipated by the Friar and the Nurse is contrasted with Romeo and Juliet's desperate immediacy of sensation and desire. The Friar's measured reflections on the coming of the day and the natural cycle of nature in Act II, as he collects flowers and herbs:

FRIAR: The grey-eyed morn smiles on the
   frowning night,
Check'ring the Eastern clouds with streaks of


The earth that's Nature's mother is her tomb,
What is her burying grave, that is her womb:

is interrupted by Romeo's unexpected arrival so early in the morning. The Friar notes the mental disorder which this signifies:

FRIAR: Benedicite!
What early tongue so sweet saluteth me?
Young son, it argues a distempered head
So soon to bid good morrow to thy bed:
                                    (II, iii)

In another scene the Nurse fondly remembers Juliet's childhood:

NURSE: 'Tis since the earthquake now eleven
I never shall forget it and she was weaned,
Of all the days of the year, upon that day:
For I had then laid wormwood on my dug,
Sitting in the sun under the dove-house wall.
My Lord and you were then at Mantua.

But Lady Capulet wants to get on with immediate business:

LADY CAPULET: Enough of this. I pray thee hold
  thy peace.

The Nurse insists on completing her train of thought:

NURSE: Peace, I have done. God mark thee to
  his grace,
Thou wast the prettiest babe that 'ere I
And I might live to see thee married once,
I have my wish.

But Lady Capulet gets to her urgent point:

LADY CAPULET: Marry, that 'marry' is the very
I came to talk of. Tell me, daughter Juliet,
How stands your disposition to be married?
                                      (I, iii)

Later, for the Friar, Romeo's banishment promises the eventual prospect of his happy return to Juliet and his reconciliation with the Prince. But the idea of separation from Juliet has, on the contrary, left ROMEO

FRIAR: There on the ground, with his own tears
  made drunk.
                                              (III, iii)

Romeo and Juliet can imagine each other as stars looking down from heaven:

ROMEO: … her eyes in heaven
Would through the airy region stream so
That birds would sing, and think it were not
                                        (II, ii)

but cannot bear even hours of separation. Troubled in a different way is their parents' sense of time. Their main experience of it is that there is little of it left to them. Their anxieties about this—and especially the Capulets'—have a major influence on the action.

Not only is time disordered in the play, but its customary properties are disrupted. The undue haste of Juliet's proposed wedding to Paris, so soon after Tybalt's death, is commented on. Paris understands that:

PARIS: These times of woe afford no time to
                                              (III, iv)

Juliet protests that she will not marry him:

JULIET: Now by Saint Peter's Church, and
  Peter too,
He shall not make me there a joyful bride!
I wonder at this haste, that I must wed
Ere he that should be husband comes to woo.
                                     (III, v)

And the Friar observes to Paris:

FRIAR: On Thursday, sir? The time is very

The action of Romeo and Juliet depends on many sudden and impetuous changes of mind. Romeo falls out of love with one woman and into love with another, in the course of an evening—almost in a moment. Capulet is at the beginning considerate of his daughter's feelings regarding the choice of her future husband:

CAPULET: But woo her, gentle Paris, get her
My will to her consent, is but a part.
And she agreed, within her scope of choice
Lies my consent, and fair according voice.
                                       (I, ii)

But later he peremptorily tells her to marry when and whom she is told to marry:

CAPULET: … mistress minion you?
Thank me no thankings, nor proud me no
But fettle your fine joints 'gainst Thursday
To go with Paris to Saint Peter's Church:
Or I will drag thee on a hurdle thither.
                                        (III, v)

In the Mantuan street Romeo at first refuses to fight Tybalt, feeling himself now to be kin to him following his secret marriage to Juliet. Mercutio, not understanding this, fights on his behalf, and Romeo's intervention leads to his death. 'Why the devil came you between us? I was hurt under your arm,' protests the dying Mercutio, and Romeo replies feebly, 'I thought all for the best' (III, i). Moments later, Romeo feels that he must avenge Mercutio, and his own reputation; he fights Tybalt and kills him.

The Friar, who has advised Romeo against marrying hastily, in fact then conducts his marriage to Juliet. The Nurse, who has abetted Romeo and Juliet's marriage and its consummation, then advises Juliet to forget about Romeo and to marry Paris as her father orders:

NURSE: Then since the case now stands as so it
I think it best you married with the County,
O he's a lovely gentleman!
Romeo's a dishclout to him:
                                        (III, v)

Romeo, told of Juliet's death, decides at once to return to Verona, against his servant's caution:

BALTHASAR: I do beseech you sir, have
Your looks are pale and wild, and do import
Some misadventure.
                                        (V, i)

The misadventure that follows is that Romeo buys poison to join Juliet in her grave.

What are the explanations for this precipitate and, as it turns out, catastrophic rush of events? We have already noted the disruption of time in the play, and I want to suggest that this is both cause and symptom of the disruption or preemption of thought. Space as well as time are at issue. The Chorus tells us that Romeo, 'Being held a foe, [he] may not have access / To breathe such vows as lovers use to swear' (Prologue, II).

Romeo risks death to visit Juliet:

JULIET: The orchard walls are high and hard to
And the place death, considering who thou
If any of my kinsmen find thee here.
                                     (II, ii)

Their courtship and its consummation take place at a masked party where Romeo should not be, outside her window, in the Friar's cell, and in Romeo's illicit presence in her bedroom on the night of their secret wedding. There is no place where they are able to be peacefully together, which can symbolically and actually contain their intense feelings. Night thus becomes the only 'place' where they can be and do what is forbidden to them by day.

One central aspect of all this confusion is clearly the nature of sexual passion itself, as it is depicted in the play. Love is represented as a madness, and Romeo's state of mind is the subject of worried comment by his mother and father, by his friends Mercutio and Benvolio, by the Friar, and later by his servant. Both Romeo and Juliet threaten to stab themselves if the Friar will not find a way for them to remain together after Romeo's banishment, and of preventing Juliet's forced marriage to Paris. Romeo describes himself as driven out of his mind towards the end—by grief, and guilt for the deaths he had caused. In the graveyard, he tells Paris to:

ROMEO: … live, and hereafter say,
A madman's mercy bid thee run away.
                                      (V, iii)

But I want to stress not so much the feelings of the lovers themselves as the absence in the play of any sufficient symbolic or social containment for them. Juliet says:

JULIET: … Romeo is banished:
There is no end, no limit, measure, bound,
In that word's death; no words can that woe
                                       (III, ii)

It is the understanding of why these feelings are too overwhelming for words or thought that most concerns me. In some of his later comedies Shakespeare shows that such sexual feelings, given a more hopeful imaginary setting, can have a more benign outcome. The dreams described by Mercutio in his Queen Mab speech become the forest of A Midsummer Night's Dream, in which the enchantments of love end happily. So our attention should be focused, in thinking about Romeo and Juliet, on the setting of these passions, as much as on the passions themselves.

One situation bearing on this in the action of the play is the weight of political power on everyone taking part. This is by no means attributable only to the quarrel of the two feuding families, the Montagues and Capulets. A third looming presence over the action is the interest of the Prince, and the fear of his power. The play may reflect a moment—still significant at the time when Shakespeare was writing—in which the English monarchy's authority over its most powerful aristocratic families, and its effective monopoly of the means of violence, is only just being consolidated, and we can see the play as a transposition of the experience of this situation into the fictional world of Verona and Mantua.

We initially see the effects of this impulsion to obey in the first scene. The servants of Capulet and Montague are cautiously going through the motions of quarrelling as their loyalties seem to require, while stopping short of actual violence, when Benvolio and Tybalt, kinsmen respectively of Montague and Capulet, come into sight and the servants decide that they had better make their fight more authentic. The pacific Benvolio's reaction is to tell them to:

BENVOLIO: Part, fools!
Put up your swords. You know not what you

But the servants had correctly anticipated Tybalt's attitude, and he immediately draws his sword on Benvolio.

We must understand that the Prince's threats to both houses after he has restored order are taken seriously:

PRINCE: On pain of torture, from those bloody
Throw your mistempered weapons to the
  ground …


If ever you disturb our streets again,
Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace.
                                    (I, i)

So when Mercutio, the Prince's kinsman, is killed by Tybalt, a Capulet, and Romeo is awarded only the comparatively lenient sentence of banishment, old Capulet is made fearful. The Prince takes reprisals against both houses for the death of his kinsman:

PRINCE: But I'll amerce you with so strong a
That you shall all repent the loss of mine.
                                        (III, i)

But it is a Capulet, not a Montague, who has killed the Prince's kinsman, and Capulet is seeking to restore his family's good grace with the Prince by bringing about Juliet's marriage to Paris, who is also the Prince's kinsman. Earlier, Capulet had put Paris off:

CAPULET: My child is yet a stranger to the
She hath not seen the change of fourteen
Let two more summers wither in their pride
Ere we may think her ripe to be a bride.
                                      (I, ii)

But in the new political circumstances, there can be no delay. The precarious authority of the Prince, who later blames himself for 'winking at your discords', is itself a cause of uncertainty. The climate of weak and disputed authority is reflected also in Tybalt's challenge to his uncle's authority at the party over the presence of Romeo and his friends, and even in Romeo's distance from his father. More important is the way violence keeps erupting, as the Prince says:

PRINCE: Three civil brawls, bred of an airy
By thee, old Capulet and Montague,
Have thrice disturbed the quiet of our
streets …
                                     (I. i)

Though there is a clear awareness of who ought to obey whom, and the Prince shows the capacity to exercise his due powers, in practice authority every-where seems to be precarious and unstable.

Such considerations of fear and policy are also the background to the Friar's and Nurse's respective changes of mind. The Friar's reason for supporting Romeo and Juliet's marriage is political. He says to ROMEO

FRIAR: But come young waverer, come go with
In one respect I'll thy assistant be:
For this alliance may so happy prove,
To turn your households' rancour to pure
                                       (II, iii)

Later, when he has already married Romeo and Juliet and yet is called on to conduct the marriage of Juliet and Paris, he is in a dangerous position, and the desperate expedient of counterfeiting Juliet's death is a possible means of escape for him as well as for her. Juliet suspects as much:

JULIET: What if it be a poison which the Friar
Subtly hath ministered to have me dead,
Lest in this marriage he should be
Because he married me before to Romeo?
I fear it is; and yet methinks it should not,
For he hath still been tried a holy man.
                                      (IV, iii)

We see the Friar genuinely concerned for the young people, and able to give them good advice, but also feeling compelled for political reasons to undertake risky actions—first the marriage of Romeo and Juliet, then the expedient of faking Juliet's death. He is able to maintain his friar's appearance of holiness and propriety even while concealing the truth. He reproves the Capulets for their intemperate grief at the loss of Juliet:

FRIAR: Peace ho, for shame! Confusion's cure
  lives not
In these confusions. Heaven and yourself
Had part in this fair maid—now heaven hath
And all the better is it for the maid:
                                        (IV, v)

while knowing that she is neither dead nor a maid. His panic-stricken flight from the graveyard finally contributes to Juliet's death.

The Nurse's about-face is also to be understood as a realistic adjustment to the dangers facing both her (as the abetter of Juliet's marriage) and Juliet herself. It is particularly disastrous for the young people that the understanding on which they depend from their older friends is betrayed under these various pressures. Juliet says as much after the Nurse has advised her to forget Romeo, and she begins to think of her own death:

JULIET: … Go counsellor,
Thou and my bosom henceforth shall be
I'll to the Friar to know his remedy;
If all else fail, myself have power to die.
                                         (III, v)

In this climate of authoritarian relationships and obligations, fears are rapidly converted into swift action. Norbert Elias's argument, in The Civilizing Process, that the development of thoughtfulness and complexity of affections in individuals historically depended on the removal of the threat of violence from everyday life is powerfully realized in this play, where the threat and fact of violence are very much present. The rapid conversion of fear into action overwhelms the space where reflection might other-wise take place. While sometimes this is commented on, as in the Friar's reproaches to Romeo, mostly it is dramatized in action. We learn of Capulet's fear and anxiety not because he tells us about it but through his fierce temper, rapid changes of mind, and manic excitement.

Another anxiety of Shakespeare's time which weighs heavily on all the participants in the action is the fear of death. We learn early on that the Capulets and Montagues are old ('A crutch, a crutch! Why call you for a sword?' cries Lady Capulet) and that theirs is an old quarrel. Romeo and Juliet are their parents' only surviving children:

CAPULET: Earth had swallow'd all my hopes
  but she;
She is the hopeful Lady of my earth.
                                      (I, ii)

Their anxiety is for their succession, both as natural parents and in regard to the fortunes of their houses, and this is stirred up by the deaths of Tybalt and Mercutio. In the end, Montague reports his wife's death from grief at Romeo's exile moments before he hears that Romeo has preceded him into the grave.

The graveyard and its spectres, after the deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt and the reported death of Juliet, are powerful images for both Romeo and Juliet, and Juliet terrifies herself at the thought of waking from her sleep there:

JULIET: O if I wake, shall I not be distraught,
Environèd with all these hideous fears,
And madly play with my forefathers' joints.

And pluck the mangled Tybalt from his
  shroud …
                                   (IV, iii)

These images generate terror, especially because of an inability properly to mourn the dead. Lady Capulet is full of feelings of revenge rather than grief for Tybalt, and Capulet and she are enraged by Juliet's apparently excessive sorrow. The plan to marry Juliet to Paris within three days seems in part motivated by the wish to displace one feeling with another:

LADY CAPULET: Well, well, thou hast a careful
  father, child;
One who, to put thee from thy heaviness,
Hath sorted out a sudden day of joy,
That thou expect'st not, nor I looked not for.
                                         (III, v)

Capulet seems to be in manic flight from mourning in his nocturnal preparations for the wedding day. Romeo and Juliet give no thought to the dead Mercutio and Tybalt during their night together, but we learn later that Juliet has her dead cousin much in mind, and Romeo, also oppressed by his guilt for the earlier deaths, rushes to join her in her supposed grave. An inability to mourn individuals in this play coexists with a state of terror and guilt for their deaths, and obsession with their physical realities.

Also at issue in the play is the capacity for understanding other strong feelings, and especially the passionate states of mind of Romeo and Juliet. They depend on the Friar and the Nurse for sympathy and understanding more than they do on their parents. Juliet is very young (not yet fourteen), and there is an implication that both she and Romeo live in a world of feelings which their parents do not at all share. But the Friar and Nurse are both weak in relation to these noble families, and it is hard for them to remain consistent and loyal either in word or deed in relation to the young people. Romeo and Juliet are also both adept at making the old feel deficient in feeling. Juliet says of her nurse, while she is waiting impatiently for her to return from ROMEO

JULIET: … yet she is not come.
Had she affections and warm youthful blood,
She would be as swift in motion as a ball;
My words would bandy her to my sweet love,
And his to me:
But old folks, many feign as they were
Unwieldy, slow, heavy, and pale as lead.
                                    (II, v)

Romeo takes a similar tone with the Friar, who is trying to advise him:

FRIAR: Let me dispute with thee of thy estate.

Romeo replies:

ROMEO: Thou canst not speak of that thou dost
  not feel.
Wert thou as young as I, Juliet thy love,
An hour but married, Tybalt murderèd
Doting like me, and like me banishèd,
Then mightst thou speak, then mightst thou
  tear thy hair,
And fall upon the ground, as I do now,
Taking the full measure of an unmade grave.
                                     (III, iii)

In other words, you can't understand. The distance of the parental relationships and the manipulability of their substitutes—both by the lovers and by more powerful external forces—is what leaves Romeo and Juliet so isolated and thus vulnerable to their own overwhelming feelings.

There is also a dimension of symbolic or cultural space whose destruction is dramatized in the play, and which helps to explain both its intense lyricism and its fateful consequences. This seems to be the meaning of the balcony scene where Romeo overhears Juliet's soliloquy about him. While this might seem like a romantic wish come magically true, Juliet is troubled by the impropriety:

JULIET: Thou knowest the mask of night is on
  my face,
Else would a maiden blush bepaint my cheek,
For that which thou hast heard me speak
Fain would I dwell on form, fain, fain deny
What I have spoke: but farewell compliment!

She goes on:

I should have been more strange, I must
But that thou overheard'st ere I was ware,
My true love passion …
                                          (II, ii)

There is reference here to the convention that such revelations of feeling should take place more slowly, so that trust can be established and a woman not give herself too easily. Or to put it more generally, as the Friar does, that lovers should not become committed to each other too quickly. Once their love has been openly declared, immediate marriage and its consummation seem to be required:

FRIAR: Come, come with me, and we will
  make short work;
For by your leave, you shall not stay alone
Till Holy Church incorporate two in one.
                                       (II, vi)

There seems to be in particular the idea that sexual desire, once experienced and acknowledged as such, is uncontrollable.

Improper self-disclosure is the topic of another exchange—between Juliet and Paris at the Friar's cell. Paris asks her:

PARIS: Come you to make confession to this
JULIET: To answer that, I should confess to
PARIS: Do not deny to him that you love me.
JULIET: I will confess to you that I love him.
PARIS: So will ye, I am sure, that you love me.
JULIET: If I do so, it will be of more price,
Being spoke behind your back, than to your
                                       (IV, i)

Juliet here asserts the proper boundaries between one kind of conversation and another, reminding us of how privacy has earlier been breached in the balcony scene. The failure to mourn Tybalt and the confusion of the time of his funeral with Juliet's wedding is a further invasion of ceremony which is enacted and commented on in the play. The disruption of due form is another aspect of the destructive isolation of Romeo and Juliet.

Finally, I would like to draw attention to the ways in which thinking is an explicit topic of Romeo and Juliet, and how its absence or perversion is pointed to as a chief source of harm. This is the topic of the Friar's reproachful speech to Romeo, when he denounces his 'unreasonable fury' and points to wit, or reason, as the essential attribute of a man:

FRIAR: Thy wit, that ornament, to shape and
Misshapen in the conduct of them both,
Like powder in a skilless soldier's flask,
Is set afire with thine own ignorance,
And thou dismember'd with thine own
                                      (III, iii)

Juliet's main appeal to her father is to listen to her:

JULIET: Good father, I beseech you on my
Hear me with patience, but to speak a word.

She is told angrily:

CAPULET: Speak not, reply not, do not answer

The Nurse intervenes:

NURSE: May not one speak?

and is told:

CAPULET: Peace, you mumbling fool!
Utter your gravity over a gossip's bowl,
For here we need it not.

Lady Capulet adds her own refusal:

LADY CAPULET: Talk not to me, for I'll not
speak a word.
                                                  (III, v)

There are still more violent attacks by Lady Capulet on truth, after the death of Tybalt:

LADY CAPULET: He is a kinsman to the
Affection makes him false, he speaks not true:
Some twenty of them fought in this black
And all those twenty could but kill one life.
                                       (III, i)

Misinformation is the immediate cause of Romeo and Juliet's tragedy, when Romeo receives the false news about her pretended death which was intended for everyone but him. Thus the recourse to deception initiated as a desperate expedient by the Friar with Juliet ends in disaster.

In contrast is the Prince, whose principal strength is his commitment to the truth. On his arrival after each of the two occasions of killing, he insists in measured tones on finding out what has really occurred before indulging in emotion:

PRINCE: Seal up the mouth of outrage for a
Till we can clear these ambiguities,
And know their spring, their head, their true
And then will I be general of your woes,
And lead you even to death. Meantime
And let mischance be slave to patience.
                                      (V, iii)

He recognizes his own share of blame, too. ('All are punished.')

My argument is that the flight from thinking into desperate action in Romeo and Juliet is a central aspect of the failure of the society it depicts to contain the feelings of the young hero and heroine in any sufficient form. The feud of the two families, which the Chorus describes as the main source of tragedy, seems in fact to be only one element in a larger story. We can see a certain kind of familial relationship, and a general climate of violence, in conflict with the youthful romanticism of the hero and heroine. Romeo and Juliet convert little of their experience into conscious thought, and differ from Shakespeare's later tragic heroes in their lack of acquired self-knowledge.

Romeo and Juliet find mental pain unbearable, whether it arises from separation or guilt. They seek escape from it in marriage, sexual embrace, physical action, drugs, and death, reactions to anxiety typical of adolescence. Romeo kills twice in a state of deep distress and confusion and, if we count Mercutio, is responsible for three deaths. This image of the young being unable to bear the feelings inside them is perhaps the most potent and resonant of the play, now many times repeated and elaborated in the history of what we call youth culture. Their tragedy reveals the incompatibilities between an idealized world of feelings—which must already have been a powerful presence in Shakespeare's world, and for his audience—and the sometimes unyielding and brutal qualities of actual Elizabethan life. This has also been transformed into a lasting image of misunderstanding between the generations.

In some of his later comedies Shakespeare explores similar situations—of conflict between youthful passions and patriarchal authority—in other ways, and he imagines other possible outcomes of it. The Forest of Arden, in As You Like It, the forest in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and the enchanted island in The Tempest, provide more benign and magical environments in which love can be pursued, not as the naked and instantaneous merger of two bodies and souls but as more sustained encounters and conversations. These later plays create a symbolic space—a literal place and time, more benign parents (Duke Senior and Prospero) and roles of make-believe (Orlando wooing Rosalind in her disguise as Ganymede) through which real persons can become known to each other. A symbolic containment is thus created by Shakespeare through which audiences, then and now, can imagine more hopeful outcomes of sexual feeling.

It should be evident that the method of analysis which I have used here is not based primarily on the psycho-analysis of character, but more on a response to the emotional states aroused in the reader by the action of the play as a whole. It is what the characters do and say in the here and now of the action, under the pressures which this play very vividly evokes, which conveys the play's meanings to us. This method is consistent with the emphasis within Kleinian and Bionian psychoanalysis on thinking about present feelings within the analytic relationship, as the main experience with which analysts and patients can work, rather than on the bringing to consciousness of past biographical events or states of mind.

I hope I have succeeded in showing that the concept of thinking, as a human capacity which depends on a certain kind of benign social environment, and on relationships of parental affection, is illuminating in understanding The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.


1The consequences of patriarchal and authoritarian family structures for emotional life and a sense of individual identity are explored in Lawrence Stone (1979). A different view of this transition to 'modern' family forms is taken by Linda Pollock (1983).

2All quotations are taken from The New Cambridge Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans, Cambridge University Press, 1984.


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Leonora Leet Brodwin (essay date 1971)

SOURCE: "The Classic Pattern of Courtly Love Tragedy," in Elizabethan Love Tragedy: 1587-1625, New York University Press, 1971, pp. 39-64.

[In the following excerpt, Brodwin discusses Shakespeare 's presentation of Courtly Love in the play and speculates on the allegorical meaning of the love between Romeo and Juliet as they "embrace the love-death. "]

Shakespeare's tragic masterpiece of Courtly Love was written in 1595,1 when the vogue of courtly sonneteering was at its height. In considering "the fearful passage of their death-mark'd love,"2 critics like E. E. Stoll have been at considerable pains to show that the love of Romeo and Juliet was the normal product of youthful innocence, that "not because there is anything wrong with them do the youth and maiden perish but only because 'love is strong as death,' and fate unfriendly."3 Granville-Barker has written with greater insight into the specific characteristics of the youth and maiden which have made their love "strong as death," but he, too, misses the fuller implications of this love.4 At the opposite extreme is Franklin Dickey who argues, from the vantage point of the Renaissance moralists, that Romeo and Juliet are afflicted with a love disease the evil consequence of which is death: "fortune has operated here to punish sin and … this avenging fortune is the work of heaven."5 While Dickey performs a service in stripping the play of its romanticism and showing that the quality of its love leads inevitably to death, he is untrue to the tone of the play. Romeo and Juliet is not a tract against Courtly Love, but a supreme expression of its spiritual mystique. Of this Paul N. Siegel is clearly aware for, in relating the play to the conventions of a courtly "Religion of Love,"6 he has indicated through the literary which tradition this extraordinary work must be approached and so come closest to an understanding of the precise nature of this love.

The love of Romeo and Juliet, while ever in fatal interaction with the feuding world of Verona, yet exists on a plane of experience totally divorced from its normal expectations. The capsular quality of this love, which can run its complete course without betraying its secret existence, is, in fact, the subject of much of the play's dramatic irony, Romeo's confidants patronizing his love for Rosaline while his true love for Juliet is flowering and Juliet's father bustling about her marriage while still believing that it is an honor that she dreams not of. While this counter-pointing of the brawling, bawdy, festive, and practical world with the lovers' poetic night world is meaningful, the vitality of the naturalistic presentation tends to obscure the poetic symbolism. The quasi-comic treatment of much of the play puts readers on their guard against taking the lovers' utterances with too much seriousness, and the lovers' occasional playfulness seems to confirm the impression of youthful impetuousness, singing birdlike of its joy.

But if Shakespeare has endowed romance convention with an unusual naturalism, he, no less than the romancers, is vitally concerned with "the allegory of love." Though his lovers react with greater psychological realism to their dilemmas than do the cardboard lovers of romance, they follow as unquestioningly an implicit code of love and, in their poetic utterances, point to its symbolic implications. Although the psychological and symbolic levels are often interpenetrating, there are moments when the symbolism becomes completely divorced from naturalistic presentation. When, for instance, Romeo refers to Juliet as his "conceal'd lady" (III, iii, 98), the rhetoric of human love has been completely displaced by one appropriate to a mystical religion of love.

The tragedy which is to so transcend the ordinary conventions of romance begins with a caricature of them. Romeo's love for Rosaline has been "rais'd with the fume of sighs" (I, i, 197) and "nourish'd with lovers' tears" (I, i, 199). He has carefully conformed to all the prescribed rules of Courtly Love, spending the night with tears and making "himself an artificial night" (I, i, 147) with the coming of day. But this stylized behavior is not so different from the convention which allows Romeo and Juliet to fall irrevocably in love at first sight and for Juliet quite naturally to say: "Go ask his name.—If he be married, / My grave is like to be my wedding bed" (I, v, 136-7). These two loves are not different, then, in kind but in the quality of the poetry in which they are expressed, the earlier a patch-work of conventional Petrarchanisms, the later a profoundly mystical exploration.

Through this conventional behavior, however, suggestions of character do emerge. Romeo is a youth in search of an infinitely thrilling love, a love for which he is prepared to face suffering and even death. Though the indulgence of his feelings for Rosaline causes him to feel slightly ridiculous—"Dost thou not laugh?" (I, i, 190)—he cherishes "the devout religion of mine eye" (I, ii, 92) and longs to put it to the test. Hitherto sinking passively "under love's heavy burthen" (I, iv, 22), he is suddenly jarred from a purely imaginative to an active role by the suggestion that he compare his beloved's beauty with that of others at the Capulet feast.

Although he had only wished to view his love and prove the constancy of his heart, a sudden premonition of the danger of thus venturing into the enemy's camp elicits from him his first profoundly personal utterance:

… my mind misgives
Some consequence, yet hanging in the stars,
Shall bitterly begin his fearful date
With this night's revels and expire the term
Of a despised life, clos'd in my breast,
By some vile forfeit of untimely death.
But he that hath the steerage of my course
Direct my sail! On, lusty gentlemen!
                            (I, iv, 106-13)

In this speech the character of Romeo emerges from the role of conventional courtly lover to reveal a deeper quality of doom.7 In terms of the action Romeo rightly fears that in so venturing to see Rosaline he may be forfeiting his life to fate, for it is from Tybalt's recognition of him at the feast that the fatal consequences of his exile are to issue. But however eager he was to nourish his "lover's tears," the prospect of possible death for the love of Rosaline is another thing. Suddenly faced with this prospect, he recognizes that such death would be a "vile forfeit." If he nonetheless continues his fatal voyage, it is no longer the desired sight of Rosaline but the challenge of fate which spurs him on. If fate has marked him out, he will not be "fearful" but hold his "despised life" in as much contempt.

Although it was earlier acknowledged that his immediate love for Juliet was a stock romance convention, this crucial speech, which just precedes his first sight of Juliet, may suggest a motivation for the fatal urgency with which he approaches his love. As he is risking his life in the name of a love which has not inspired him to the point where he can consider his life's loss as more than a "vile forfeit," his need for a truly inspirational love becomes urgent. Having accepted fate's challenge, he is now concerned to transmute this "vile forfeit" into a glorious surrender.

And this inspiration comes to him at the radiant sight of Juliet:

O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear—
Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear!
                                   (I, v, 46-9)

Where Rosaline's beauty had left him in the utter darkness of an unhappy human love, Juliet's beauty, because it seems to him too precious for the usages of life, can truly illuminate the night. From this first encounter, however, Romeo conceives of his lady not as an ordinary mortal but as a symbol of divine beauty, which, in the "touching," can make him "blessed" (I, v, 53). His earlier premonition of death has been displaced by this intimation of heavenly blessing; but the close association of these two in "this night's revels" is significant.

From what has just been shown, we can see the way in which Shakespeare invests a stock convention of romance, that of love at first sight, with suggestions of both human motivation and symbolic implication. And what he has done for Romeo he does in lesser measure for Juliet: if Romeo meets Juliet at a fateful moment in his life, the same is true for her. She had just been informed by her mother that she must "think of marriage now" (I, iii, 69). And, although she had said that "it is an honour that I dream not of (I, iii, 66), she is forced for the first time to consider marriage as a real and imminent possibility. In doing so, her maiden heart gains a new susceptibility which will cause her to look at men differently this night: "I'll look to like" (I, iii, 97).

As Romeo had come to the feast to behold Rosaline, feeling that in venturing thus into the enemy's camp he was forfeiting his life to fate, so does Juliet come to inspect the man to whom her parents would like-wise have her dedicate her fate. Both, however, instead of looking where they had intended, seem compelled to make a last desperate comparison before their fate is irrevocably sealed. Under a similarly fatal urgency, Romeo finds in Juliet's radiant beauty the inspiration he had been seeking; and Juliet suddenly finds herself inspired by Romeo's passionate prayers. This love at first sight, then, is not simply a submission to fate but a choosing of their fate. When Romeo learns that "my life is my foe's debt" (I, v, 120) and Juliet the same, they can therefore accept their fate with a commitment that redeems it from being a "vile forfeit."

Their love has been born in the heart of obstruction, and if their knowledge of this crucial fact was "muffled still," the passionate need by which they found each other out could "without eyes see pathways to his will" (I, i, 178-9). For this central obstruction to their love, rather than deterring their passion serves only to intensify it: "Temp'ring extremities with extreme sweet" (II, Pro., 14). Romeo had chanced such an extremity in coming to the feast and Juliet in choosing another than the one her parents had appointed before they were aware of the true extremity they had embraced, and, when they do become aware of the obstruction to their love, they accept its necessity without question. Though Romeo and Juliet marry, their marriage so approximates the adulterous union of night that it even borrows from the troubadours the traditional verse form of the aubade or dawn song, which celebrates the adulterous lovers' hour of parting. "More light and light—more dark and dark our woes" (IH, v, 36) is not the language of marriage but of lovers who "steal love's sweet bait from fearful hooks." (II, Pro. 8). The marriage of Romeo and Juliet, while it legitimizes that union which Gismund and Guiszhard stole without such sanction, in no way changes the obstructed situation which makes the necessity of their partings "such sweet sorrow" (II, ii, 186).

If their meetings can only take place in the night, night has for the lovers a special significance. They do not covet night for itself but because it is only then that the power of love can be truly illuminating. As has been seen, it is Juliet's radiance which first strikes Romeo.8 Again, as he stands beneath the balcony, she appears to irradiate the night:

But soft! What light through yonder window
It is the East, and Juliet is the sun!
… her eyes in heaven
Would through the airy region stream so
That birds would sing and think it were not
 O, speak again, bright angel! for thou art
As glorious to this night, being o'er my head,
As is a winged messenger of heaven …
                     (II, ii, 2-3, 20-2, 26-8)

Juliet converts the terrors of night to glory. It is for this reason that Romeo can say:

I have night's cloak to hide me from their
And but thou love me, let them find me here.
My life were better ended by their hate
Than death prorogued, wanting of thy love.
                                   (II, ii, 75-8)

In a night containing Juliet's love, death need not be dreaded and is far preferable to his otherwise uninspired life. He eagerly ventures into the night since it is only in "the dark night" that Juliet's "true-love passion" (II, ii, 104-6) can be revealed. But if Juliet's love robs death of its terror, it nonetheless is in intimate association with death. As Juliet informs Romeo, in a statement loaded with symbolic as well as practical meaning, the place where she abides is "death, considering who thou art" (II, ii, 64). Though Romeo faces a practical danger in approaching thus close to her feuding kinsmen, it is also true on the symbolic level that the approach to a Juliet who is heavenly "light" and "bright angel"—that is, to a love object beyond the mortal condition—must ultimately be made by way of death.

Realizing that the way to his "bright angel" is barred by his name, Romeo exclaims:

Call me but love, and I'll be new baptiz'd;
Henceforth I never will be Romeo.…
Had I it written, I would tear the word.
                            (II, ii, 50-1, 57)

Though Romeo feels that the receipt of Juliet's love would be a rebirth for him, the rebirth in the heavenly love which Juliet represents requires not simply the tearing of his name but of the mortal self which that name identifies. Yet however much it may be symbolic of death, he embraces the night in which the infinitude of Juliet's love has been disclosed as a "blessed, blessed night!" (II, ii, 139).

As Juliet symbolizes a divine love to Romeo, even answering him with a celestial accent, so he assumes a similar role to her. In Juliet's invocation to night, the full implications of this worship of night are revealed:

Come night; come, Romeo; come, thou day in
For thou wilt lie upon the wings of night
Whiter than new snow upon a raven's back.
Come, gentle night; come, loving, black-
  brow'd night;
Give me my Romeo; and when he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.
                            (III, ii, 17-25)

Romeo is a creature of night, and, as such, Juliet coaxes night to loan her Romeo until such time as he shall die and be returned to night, arguing that when such a true lover should be returned by death he would impart a special glory to the love of night. Though night and death are here seen to be interrelated and Romeo in their power, it is yet his special virtue to irradiate their darkness. As Juliet had emblazoned the night for Romeo, so he to her is "day in night." While disdaining "the garish sun," that which exhibits all the concreteness and limitations of terrestrial life, it is not the annihilating darkness of night in itself which they worship but the special radiance of the limitless which shines for them in the heart of darkness. If night is symbolic of death, death itself is but the other face of the Infinite.

Romeo's catechism of love concludes on such a note of infinite aspiration:

I am no pilot; yet, wert thou as far
As that vast shore wash'd with the farthest
I would adventure for such merchandise.
                            (II, ii, 82-4)

He had earlier accepted fate's steerage of his sail to whatever death might chance; now that his fate is revealed to him in the person of Juliet he eagerly embarks on the fearful passage to that "farthest sea." In Juliet's pledge of infinite love, her love becomes one with that same sea:

My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.
                            (II, ii, 133-5)

And Romeo will prove a "desperate pilot" (V, iii, 117) as he navigates his "seasick weary bark" (V, iii, 118) to the port of his infinite desire. The "vast shore wash'd with the farthest sea" where the symbolic Juliet abides is, as she had told him, death to him; but he sees it only under the aspect of eternity. It is, however, the eternity enclosed in the instant of love's fulfillment, an instant for which death is a small price:

    But come what sorrow can,
It cannot countervail the exchange of joy
That one short minute gives me in her sight.
Do thou but close our hands with holy words,
Then love-devouring death do what he dare—
It is enough I may but call her mine.
                            (II, vi, 3-8)

Using conventional love rhetoric, Romeo rightly describes their meeting as one of enemies: "I have been feasting with mine enemy, / Where on a sudden one hath wounded me / That's by me wounded" (II, iii, 49-51). From the perspective of life, they are each other's true enemies, for their love's fulfillment means their death. If the love of Romeo and Juliet aspires to the Infinite and tends to clothe the other in symbolic garments, they remain for all this convincingly real characterizations and, on their non-allegorical dimension, undergo the natural conflicts that such a "death-mark'd love" must occasion.

Juliet had reminded Romeo of the danger in pursuing her love, but she soon begins to perceive that her acceptance of his love is likewise dangerous to her. And with this recognition, reason arises to stop the head-long plunge:

Although I joy in thee,
I have no joy of this contract to-night.
It is too rash, too unadvis'd, too sudden;
Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be
Ere one can say 'It lightens.'
                                          (II, ii, 116-20)

It is not this contract, however, but her own "true-love passion" which has, with such sudden rashness, left the shore of enduring content. The need to overcome the internal resistance to her love causes it to develop into an even more reckless passion than Romeo's. Whereas he was content with the mere exchange of lover's vows, she insists upon a binding consummation of their love from which there can be no release but death.

No such doubts arise to divide Romeo's spirit. It is the Friar who must reply to his "sudden haste" (II, iii, 93), "Wisely, and slow. They stumble that run fast" (II, iii, 94). But even the Friar is caught up by the impetuosity of the lovers' infinite longings to "make short work" (II, vi, 35). While Romeo has shown no hesitation in pursuing his love, he soon finds it not such a simple matter to tear his name. However fully his spirit may assent to the aims of his love, his human situation does cause some resistance to it.

This is fully brought out in the duel between Romeo and Tybalt. Romeo first counters Tybalt's overtures in the conviction that he is "new baptiz'd" by love. With Mercutio's death on his hands, however, Romeo realizes that he is a Montague still and that, in wishing to deny this fact, he had proved false to himself: "O sweet Juliet, / Thy beauty hath made me effeminate / And in my temper soft'ned valour's steel!" (III, i, 118-20). Juliet had called her place "death, considering who thou art," and now Romeo once again has a premonition that, being Romeo, his pursuit of love into the enemy's camp will prove fatal: "This day's black fate on moe days doth depend; / This but begins the woe others must end" (III, i, 124-5). And again he accepts his fate and challenges Tybalt. Having killed him and understood that the consequences will be disastrous, however, his old fear arises once more and causes him to cry out: "O, I am fortune's fool!" (III, i, 141). As before he had feared, when accepting fate's challenge, that his "untimely death" would be a "vile forfeit," so, now that fate lowers once again, the prospect of his death seems inglorious. The Prince will immediately ask: "Where are the vile beginners of this fray?"(III, i, 146). And this is Romeo's fear, that his death will not be a glorious martryrdom for love but the vile execution of a street brawler. Even so, he would prefer vile execution to banishment: "Ha, banishment? Be merciful, say 'death'; / For exile hath more terror in his look, / Much more than death" (III, iii, 12-4).

In his discussion of the implications of banishment, the essential quality of his love is again revealed:

'Tis torture, and not mercy. Heaven is here,
Where Juliet lives.… More validity,
More honourable state, more courtship lives
In carrion flies than Romeo. They may seize
On the white wonder of dear Juliet's hand
And steal immortal blessing from her lips …
                       (IH, iii, 29-30, 33-7)

Although viewed from one aspect, the place where Juliet lives is death, from another it is "Heaven," the source of purity and "immortal blessing." In the "courtship" of this "immortal blessing" Romeo sees the only basis for "validity" and "honourable state." "Death, though ne'er so mean" (III, iii, 45), would be preferable to the continuance of a meaningless life, exiled from even the possibility of "immortal blessing," this indeed a fit symbol of hell: "'banished'? / O friar, the damned use that word in hell; / Howling attends it:" (III, iii, 46-8).

The Friar had said: "Affliction is enamour'd of thy parts, / And thou art wedded to calamity" (III, iii, 2-3). The Friar's philosophy is always directed toward worldly well-being, and, from this perspective, in marrying Juliet Romeo has become "wedded to calamity." But to the Friar's advice, Romeo replies: "Hang up philosophy! / Unless philosophy can make a Juliet" (III, iii, 57-8). Romeo sees "more validity" in "courtship" than in wordly philosophy.

Exiled from his love, he sees no alternative but to "fall upon the ground, as I do now, / Taking the measure of an unmade grave" (HI, iii, 69-70). Juliet, likewise, does not distinguish between his exile and his death. Thinking he is dead, she says: "Vile earth, to earth resign; end motion here, / And thou and Romeo press one heavy bier!" (HI, ii, 59-60) Learning he is exiled, she nonetheless exclaims: "I'll to my wedding bed; / And death, not Romeo, take my maidenhead!" (III, ii, 136-7). Rejecting her life as "vile earth," she immediately leaps to the thought of lying with Romeo in death. Like Romeo, she is "wedded to calamity," and in her decision to fulfill her wedding not with Romeo but with death, the meaning of this wedding becomes clear. It becomes yet clearer after the wedding's earthly consummation. Romeo's alternatives, "I must be gone and live, or stay and die" (IH, v, 11) exist not only for this dawn but for as long as their love shall last. A premonition of this causes Juliet to see even the departing Romeo "as one dead in the bottom of a tomb" (III, v, 56).

If they are "wedded to calamity," however, it is partly because Juliet accepted his love so absolutely in the face of extreme obstruction. It is, in fact, the extreme passion generated by the impossible position she has created for herself that proves to be fatal. As Lady Capulet informs Juliet: "thou hast a careful father, child; / One who, to put thee from thy heaviness, / Hath sorted out a sudden day of joy" (III, v, 108-10). It is also Paris' understanding that "his wisdom hastes our marriage / To stop the inundation of her tears" (IV, i, 11-12). Without knowing its true origin, Capulet recognizes her passion as a danger to her well-being, one which, he tells her, "without a sudden calm will overset / Thy tempest-tossed body" (III, v, 137-8). In Capulet's figure, Juliet's passion is once again compared to the sea, but here the voyage on its waves is shown to be as dangerous for the "bark" (III, v, 134) of Juliet's mortal body as it is for Romeo's "seasick weary bark." But Juliet is now "past hope, past cure, past help!" (IV, i, 45)

Though Juliet hopes for a more positive solution to her plight, she herself can think of none other than death: "I'll to the friar to know his remedy. / If all else fail, myself have power to die" (III, v, 243-4). If this is not as immediate an impulse to death as she experienced upon thinking that the unknown Romeo might be married, or that he be dead, or upon learning that he was exiled, she does accept it as a final means by which to preserve the deathless integrity of her love. Though Juliet does not desire death, she does befriend death at every opportunity in which the imperfections of life would cause her to be untrue to the infinite purity of her love. And so, given the flawed nature of life, her absolute commitment does make her "star-cross'd" (I, Pro., 6). Having placed her "faith in heaven" (III, v, 207), above the contingencies of her mortal existence, it is no wonder that "heaven should practice stratagems / Upon so soft a subject" (III, v, 211-2). The Friar is shortly to tell her grieving parents: "Heaven and yourself / Had part in this fair maid; now heaven hath all, / And all the better is it for the maid" (IV, v, 66-8). As long as both heaven and earth have part in Juliet, both will continue to practice stratagems against the other to her greater distress.

The Friar's strategem to preserve life with honor through a counterfeit death is, however, most interesting. Here, as always when we encounter a long-standing romance convention accepted without question, we may expect to find allegorical meaning. Although Juliet earnestly hopes that through this device she will be able "to live an unstain'd wife to my sweet love" (IV, i, 88), its allegorical suggestion is that the only remedy by which she can preserve her faith is death itself. And, indeed, it is this device which proves fatal. It is, moreover, symbolically accurate that the Friar's stratagem should be doomed to failure since it is not a remedy native to life but "A thing like death to chide away this shame, / That cop'st with death himself to scape from it" (IV, i, 74-5). Since the battle is to be fought on death's home ground, it will hardly be able to cope with heaven's stratagems. The counterfeit death, not being a real alternative, can only delay this eventuality. It is a dramatic forestalling device which symbolically illustrates the "death-mark'd" quality of this love.

It does, however, permit a more telling view of Juliet's feelings toward death than does her actual death scene. If in her earlier poetry she had conceived of death as something "so fine / That all the world will be in love with night," she now reveals a profund "terror of the place" (IV, iii, 39). No matter how amorous death may have been in her imagination—"I'll to my wedding bed; / And death, not Romeo, take my maidenhead!"—when the reality presents itself, she shows no love but rather a "horrible conceit of death and night" (IV, iii, 38). The exuberant vitality of life is still strong within her and struggles to the end. Perceiving that the Friar's potion, whether through malice or mischance, might lead to her death, she hesitates in accepting the now apparent horrors of "death and night" until a hallucination depicting Romeo's mortal danger speeds her act. Then only does her love's truth surmount her terror of death to seek a deathless union: "Romeo, I come! this do I drink to thee." (IV, iii, 59) Although Romeo's feelings concerning death will prove even more complex than Juliet's, he, too, will amorously embrace a death for which he feels not love but profound abhorrence. But if the lovers are not in love with death, they are so in love with their passion's power to transcend death that they rush to its embrace. Though Juliet had hoped that she would find Romeo with her upon awakening from "this borrowed likeness of shrunk death" (IV, i, 104), in her hallucinated state she drinks what she believes to be poison to join him in death.

The Friar's original plan for her is, however, matched by Romeo's dream:

If I may trust the flattering truth of sleep,
My dreams presage some joyful news at
I dreamt my lady came and found me dead
(Strange dream that gives a dead man leave to
And breath'd such life with kisses in my lips
That I reviv'd and was an emperor.
                                   (V, i, 1-2, 6-9)

Beginning with the fact of his death, his joyful dream pictures him being revived to richer life by Juliet's kisses. Once again he experiences that infinite rebirth in love by which he feels "new baptiz'd." But well may he "trust the flattering truth of sleep" which tells him that he can only experience this joyous reunion with Juliet through death. The "joyful news" presaged by this dream is the apparent fact of Juliet's death, claimed by Balthasar as well as the Friar to be the state of highest felicity: "she is well, and nothing can be ill. / Her body sleeps in Capel's monument, / And her immortal part with angels lives" (V, i, 17-9). While seemingly an ironic conclusion to his expectations, the news proves to be fully consistent with the thematic development of ideas in the dream as well as in the whole preceding play. The "joy past joy" (HI, iii, 173) that Romeo has always anticipated in the company of Juliet is a joy beyond the compass of his mortal state.

Upon learning of Juliet's supposed death, Romeo resolves with conventional promptitude upon his own. But it is in his treatment of Romeo's confrontation with death that Shakespeare most fully illuminates the accepted conventions of Courtly Love. Though Romeo is dying in order to be united with Juliet, it is with a Juliet who has at last discarded all earthly vestiges to become pure symbol. And now the supreme symbolic function of Juliet becomes clear; she is the means which permits Romeo to confront his fate as a man with joy. If he has made "a dateless bargain to engrossing death" (V, iii, 115), this stead-fast commitment to something beyond all mortal contingency raises him above the normal human condition. Juliet had earlier said of him:

He was not born to shame.
Upon his brow shame is asham'd to sit;
For 'tis a throne where honour may be
Sole monarch of the universal earth.
                            (III, ii, 91-4)

As in his dream love made him an "emperor," so does the honor of his love make him the universal monarch, raise him to godhead. It is through love of a Juliet symbolically raised to divine status that he redeems his own divine birthright from the "shame" of mortality's yoke.

But the paradox of this desire for the Infinite is that it can only be fully embraced in death. It is important to note that nowhere does Romeo conceive of death as but a gateway to, in the words of Gismund, "the pleasant land of loue." Death for him is "love-devouring," "engrossing"; it is a final fact, but a finality irradiated by joy. It is the infinite freedom experienced in the ecstatic instant of self-annihilation. But to this note of ecstasy, Romeo now adds a deeper note of defiance: "Is it e'en so? Then I defy you, stars! … Well, Juliet, I will lie with thee to-night" (V, i, 24, 34). Romeo defies the stars and all mortal contingency by accepting the worst they have to offer, thereby transmuting it into a spiritual triumph.

The love-death as a defiance of fate becomes the dominant note as he approaches the tomb:

Thou detestable maw, thou womb of death,
Gorg'd with the dearest morsel of the earth,
Thus I enforce thy rotten jaws to open,
And in despite I'll cram thee with more food.
                                   (V, iii, 45-8)

Romeo here reveals what is probably his truest attitude toward death. Whereas before he had interpreted every symbolic identification of his love with death as a sign of its infinite glory, betraying no anxiety toward the actual fact of death, he now reveals a deep revulsion toward death. Far from glorious, death here is profoundly felt to be "detestable" and "rotten," and this not in reference to a death vilely brought about through insufficient inspiration or irrelevant accident but chosen by himself under the greatest of inspirations.

Why then, we may well ask, has he been so fatally hasty in choosing his present death? Paradoxical as it may seem, the source of his headlong rush toward death appears to lie not in a love of death but a horror of death so extreme that it has poisoned his life. Unable to accept the anxieties of a contingent mortal existence, he has advanced upon hateful death, daring it to do its worst. Rather than appear fearful of death and give death the victory, he triumphs over death by bringing it upon himself. Not in love of death, but, as he says "in despite I'll cram thee with more food." The ecstasy of self-annihilation at its profoundest level, then, is not due to a feeling of surrender to death but to the triumph of the unconquerable spirit over death, achieving the Infinite in its assertion of ultimate freedom.

It is in this spirit that he views not only his own approaching death but the death of Juliet:

I'll bury thee in a triumphant grave.
A grave? O, no, a lanthorn, slaught'red youth,
For here lies Juliet, and her beauty makes
This vault a feasting presence full of light.
                                   (V, iii, 83-6)

Juliet's irradiation of the night has been but a prelude to her radiance in death. When Romeo had earlier said that "her eyes in heaven/ Would through the airy region stream so bright/ That birds would sing and think it were not night," he did not think that such irradiation made the night less real but that it converted its terrors to glory. So is it now with death. To Romeo, Juliet has not outlived death but she has overwhelmed its horror in radiance. Romeo's exhilaration at the radiance of his love in death produces a "lightning" (V, iii, 90) of his antagonistic mood. In Juliet's triumph over mortality, Romeo sees his own, her excessive beauty in death proving an irresistible goad to his own triumphant conquest of death.

Seeing her deathlike state, Romeo arrives at his final and most complex view of death:

     Ah, dear Juliet,
Why art thou yet so fair? Shall I believe
That unsubstantial Death is amorous,
And that the lean abhorred monster keeps
Thee here in dark to be his paramour?
For fear of that I still will stay with thee
And never from this palace of dim night
Depart again. Here, here will I remain
With worms that are thy chambermaids. O,
Will I set up my everlasting rest
And shake the yoke of inauspicious stars
From this world-wearied flesh.
                            (V, iii, 101-12)

Although his first view of Juliet's radiance in death had blinded him to the detestable nature of death, his primary abhorrence of it reasserts itself. He now sees its abode not as a "feasting presence full of light" but as the "palace of dim night" in which feast only the worms. But such a vision, rather than causing a retreat from death, provides a truer support to his fatal desires by making him the more "world-wearied" and anxious to assert his own superiority to the oppressive forces of mortal existence. Romeo finally triumphs over death not through denying its abhorrent nature but through facing the ugliest facts of death and, "in despite" of them, shaking off "the yoke of inauspicious stars." But, since the courage to accomplish this defiant act has come to him only through the inspiration of Juliet's love-death, Romeo achieves a final synthesis of his double vision of death, seeing death as, at one and the same time, "amorous" and "the lean abhorred monster." Romeo's death rapture is the triumph of infinite love over the detestable facts of death, a triumph accomplished only through this clear perception of its abhorrent nature. The death to which he goes is not, as in his dream, one which "gives a dead man leave to think," but the utter finality, "A dateless bargain to engrossing death!" (V, iii, 115). It is this ultimate union with Juliet in "everlasting rest" for which he had bargained with his stars and which he now claims:

Come, bitter conduct; come, unsavoury guide!
Thou desperate pilot, now at once run on
The dashing rocks thy seasick weary bark!
Here's to my love! [Drinks.] O true
Thy drugs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die.
                            (V, iii, 116-20)

Romeo's love finds its supreme fulfillment only in "love-devouring Death." To gain that infinite freedom from mortality which Juliet, in her unearthly radiance, has ever represented. Romeo had adventured farther than "the farthest sea," his "weary bark" carrying him even to "engrossing death." And, despite the "bitter conduct" to this end, such death proves at the last infinitely desirable and Romeo transcends even his own defiance of death to die with a kiss.

Juliet's death speech has not the poetic grandeur of Romeo's but, as she was ever "light a foot" (II, vi, 16), so she has that "lighting before death" (V, iii, 90) of which Romeo spoke. Seeing Romeo dead, all previous fears are overcome and she moves to death with cheerful alacrity:

O churl! drunk all, and left no friendly drop
To help me after? I will kiss thy lips.
Haply some poison yet doth hang on them
To make me die with a restorative.…
Yea, noise? Then I'll be brief. O happy
This is thy sheath; there rest, and let me die.
                                   (V, iii, 163-9)

Meeting death with a kiss, she dies "with a restorative," the joyous restoration of her initial freedom from constraint and contingency.

The play ends on this final note of the redemptive quality of a death so amorously embraced. Romeo and Juliet had both embraced death as the redemption of their ultimate freedom from mortality's "yoke"; in so doing, their deaths prove to be redemptive as well for the living. In love with the infinite peace they could find only in death, they had spurned the world of strife that gave them being. Now, in the radiant light of their pure sacrifice, the petty futility of that strife is seen. Their deaths not only restore the peace of Verona but confer upon them the special glory of being forever upheld as the city's most shining example of admired virtue. The city immortalizes the "Poor sacrifices of our enmity." (V, iii, 304) who, almost as in a religious ritual, have vicariously atoned for the multiple sins of the populace. The example of their heroic transcendence of the compromises of life and the terrors of death illuminates the more humble path of the ordinary citizen as he attempts to justify, by a more consecrated life, the martyrdom of the gloriously "faithful" (V, iii, 302). Thus does Shakespeare conclude his great tragedy of a love that has throughout been vehicle and symbol of the "immortal blessing" conferred in the kiss of death. Though the character and reactions of the lovers have been explored in all their earthly reality, they, no less than Gismund and Guiszhard, have embarked on a spiritual journey which finds its promised haven only in a death transfigured by their religious devotion to the dictates of Courtly Love.

Romeo and Juliet is, like all great romance, deceptively simple. Although I have been primarily concerned with explicating its profounder complexities, the surface appearance of the lovers is itself revealing. Shakespeare's lovers move as unquestioningly through the ritual pattern of Courtly Love tragedy as do Gismund and Guiszhard. They accept the validity of the obstructing force and, although "passion lends them power, time means, to meet, / Temp'ring extremities with extreme sweet" (II, Pro., 13-4), they never attempt an open solution of their extremities. Whereas Gismund had at least broached the subject of marriage to her father, Romeo and Juliet are both dead before Capulet has the faintest inkling of their love. Combined with this unwillingness to contest the obstructing force is the unquestioning alacrity with which they move to death upon learning of the death of the other.

It is, in fact, this lack of essential questioning of the necessity for the obstructing force that constitutes the classic pattern of this form of love tragedy and which gives to the lovers a superficial appearance of being innocently "star-cross'd." But if this unquestioning behavior has marked the lovers of romance from the beginning of the genre, so do we find romance conventions being used throughout the genre as the vehicle for presenting profounder allegorical meaning. The more human qualities of Shakespeare's lovers may sometime shrink from and cry out against their hopeless position and the dictates of their love, but in their actions they finally do accept both. It is in these actions, combined with the symbolic import of the love poetry, that the allegorical meaning of this love emerges. It would seem that, in the mystique of Courtly Love, the redemptive power of love arises from a passive assent to the necessity of the obstructing force which is then transcended in a self-sacrificial love-death. It is because Romeo and Juliet never questioned the validity of the obstruction that divided and destroyed them that they can become the "poor sacrifices of our enmity" and redeem the living. In the less pure Courtly Love tragedies which are to follow, this circle of redemption dwindles to the extent that the necessity of the obstructing force is actively and openly contested. And this extent is itself determined by the degree of faith the lovers have in their love. The greater the faith in the redemptive power of Courtly Love, the less do the lovers concern themselves with contesting the opposing values of society and the more eagerly do they embrace the love-death.

In the two Elizabethan tragedies thus far considered, the truth and value of Courtly Love has been assumed as the greatest perfection of the human spirit. But it is only in Shakespeare's tragedy that the death of courtly lovers has a cathartic effect upon the living. In this high moment of Elizabethan enthusiasm, the pure sacrifice of life for such infinite love has seemed to provide a meaning for life. But as the Elizabethan age draws to its ominous close, this power of love's inspiration fails. In the years to follow, love's sacrifice provides no meaning for the living and, in losing this meaning, loses also the power to inspire an answering ardor or to rise to its death in unstained radiance. It is only in this exuberant-with-life Elizabethan moment that the purity of "a dateless bargain to engrossing death" can be inspirational—and this moment ceases to be "ere one can say 'It lightens.'"


1 The outer limits of composition may be set as 1591-7. Here and throughout this study, I have, in the interest of uniformity, adopted the dating given in the Annals of English Drama: 975-1700, by Alfred Harbage, rev. S. Schoenbaum (Philadelphia, 1964). In the few cases where I have preferred another dating, I have indicated my reasons in notes.

2 Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, in Works, ed. George Lyman Kittredge (Boston, 1936), Prologue, 1. 9. All further references are to this edition.

3 Elmer Edgar Stoll, Shakespeare's Young Lovers (New York, 1937), p. 8.

4 See Harley Granville-Barker, Prefaces to Shakespeare: Second Series (London, 1946), pp. 52-4 and passim.

5 Franklin M. Dickey, Not Wisely But Too Well: Shakespeare's Love Tragedies (San Marino, California, 1957), p. 94.

6 See Paul N. Siegel, "Christianity and the Religion of Love in Romeo and Juliet," SQ, XII (1963), 371-92.

7 For a similar interpretation of this speech, see Granville-Barker, pp. 52-3.

8 Caroline Spurgeon, in Shakespeare's Imagery (Cambridge, Eng., 1958), traces the same pattern of "light" imagery, seeing it, however, as primarily "building up a definite picture and atmosphere of brilliance swiftly quenched" (pp. 315-6).

Ronald B. Bond (essay date 1980)

SOURCE: "Love and Lust in Romeo and Juliet," in Wascana Review, Vol. 15, No. 2, Fall, 1980, pp. 22-31.

[In the essay below, Bond argues that Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy concerned with the intensity of youthful love and its consequences.]

In his survey of precursors to Shakespeare's most popular early tragedy, Geoffrey Bullough argues that Shakespeare has significantly recast the story of Romeo and Juliet so as to transform its moral purpose almost beyond recognition. Prior to Shakespeare's dramatic version of the story, Luigi da Porto had said that the tale was meant to disclose "'What great risks and what rash deeds lovers will commit in the name of love,'" Bandello had said that his story meant "'to warn young people that they should govern their desires and not run into furious passion,'" and Brooke had said that he presented "a couple of unfortunate lovers, thralling themselves to unhonest desires," though the poem itself belies this claim.1 Nonetheless, Bullough maintains, Shakespeare's version is so different that "only a blind critic could regard 'These violent delights have violent ends' as the moral text of the play."2 Bullough is right, of course. Plays, particularly Shakespeare's, rarely have such simplistic credos, rarely have moral texts, and Romeo and Juliet, with its delicate orchestration of "voices" that comment on love, from the tittering Nurse to the raucous Mercutio to the droning Friar himself, is certainly no exception. But the most prominent commentators on love in the play are Romeo and Juliet, and if we concentrate on them, Bullough's derision of readers who see a residue of moral admonition in the play's treatment of the young lovers has to be challenged. And it is not just the haste of Romeo and Juliet that is at issue. It is the very nature of their love for each other.

Take Romeo's preference of Juliet to Rosaline. The text suggests unequivocally before Romeo goes to Capulet's fête that the change will be the replacement of one amatory object for another. He is to forget Rosaline by "giving liberty unto [his] eyes" (I.i.225-226).3 Benvolio elaborates sententiously on the merits of this substitution trick:

Tut, man, one fire burns out another's
     One pain is less'ned by another's anguish;
Turn giddy, and be holp by backward turning;
     One desperate grief cures with another's
Take thou some new infection to thy eye
     And the rank poison of the old will die.

The imagery here suggests not so much that the poison of love will be purged as that one infection will supplant another. Romeo, of course, offers the predictable disclaimers, boasting that his eye will never be "unattainted": "When the devout religion of mine eye / Maintains such falsehood, then turn tears to fires" (I.ii.90-91). He attends the party confident that no new lady can tip the "crystal scales" (I.ii.98) of his eyes. Thus, when Romeo falls under Juliet's spell, the penny drops, and Shakespeare emphasizes the irony with some systematic echoes of Act One, Scene ii in the language of Romeo's first expressions of delight with Juliet in Act One, Scene V.4 These echoes, which need not be rehearsed, can be used, precisely as they are used by Romeo, to differentiate Juliet from her peers at the party and to set her apart from Rosaline. But they do not suggest any change in Romeo, for the same images occur to him when he lights on Juliet as before, when he was courting Rosaline. One poison displaces another; "young affection" is the heir to "old desire" (Prologue to Act II. 1-2). Still an adherent of the devout religion of the eye so susceptible to love-juice, the doting Romeo might well have said "What's in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet" (II.ii.43-44).

Perhaps one of the best commentaries on the nature of Romeo's love is found in Sonnets 46 and 47 which enlarge on a dialectic between what might be called ocular and cordial love. In Sonnet 46, the difficulty of distinguishing between the claims of the eye and the claims of the heart is resolved by a jury of thoughts. The verdict is delivered "As thus: mine eye's due is thy outward part, / And my heart's right thy inward love of heart." Although this poem counts two separate ways of loving, it nonetheless implies the need for a balance between superficial and essential love. An even happier resolution to the "mortal war" between eye and heart is achieved in the following poem, where the reciprocity of two sorts of love is declared at the outset: "Betwixt mine eye and heart a league is took, / And each doth good turns now unto the other."5 These sonnets corroborate Shakespeare's consignment of "eye-love" to a position at best concomitant with "heart-love" in other early plays such as Love's Labor's Lost and A Midsummer Night's Dream.6 Moreover, they epitomize an issue that recurs constantly in Shakespeare, from Viola's "Fortune forbid my outside hath not charmed her" to Desdemona's "I saw Othello's visage in his mind." In short, whether we call the alternative love of the heart, love of the mind, spiritual love or platonic love, it is corporeal love, ocular love, that the canon tends to treat with suspicion.7

To return to the play, do we not see captured in the lovers' duet upon first meeting a lovely, lyrical expression of unadulterated love?

If I profane with my unworthiest hand
     This holy shrine, the gentle sin is this;
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
     To smooth that rough touch with a tender

Does not the religious imagery of veneration, begun here and sustained through the following sonnet, redeem their love? The answer lies in the fact that Romeo's affection for Rosaline had taken the same form: this is still the devout religion of his eye. This is still an incomplete and imperfect love that only briefly receives sanctuary in the holy language in which the sensuality is couched. As witty as the conclusion is, the verbal exchanges that interrupt the exchange of kisses emphasize the contagion of sin:

JULIET: Then have my lips the sin that they
  have took.
ROMEO Sin from my lips? O trespass sweetly
          Give me my sin again.

We may recall Benvolio's injunction about welcoming new infection.8

The religious language, then, should not obscure the sensuality ascribed to the first meeting of the lovers. The palming in which they engage, however dissembled with coy puns on "palmers," is not altogether different from the paddling "with the palm of his hand" that Iago mistakenly sees in Cassio's courtesy toward Desdemona (Othello, II.i.249-50), nor is it altogether different from the handy craft that Leontes myopically sees in the "paddling palms and pinching fingers" of Hermione and Polixenes in The Winter's Tale, (I.ii.115), she "virginally / Upon his palm …" (I.ii.125-126). The kissing is likewise suspect, no staged version of the ecstasy that Castiglione terms "the opening of or entry to the souls", but rather, perhaps, such a clamorous smack as Petruchio tenders Kate upon their wedding day.

What we face, as the affection of Romeo and Juliet proceeds, is a compressed version of the gradus amoris, the steps toward illicit love which involve a succession of senses. The sequence begins with sight, the religion of the eye, and then entails conversation, touching, kissing, and finally, intercourse (visus, alloguium, tactus, osculum, factum). As L.J. Friedman has shown, this topos enjoyed considerable currency in medieval European literature, appearing as the stages by which the Lover attains the object of his desire in the Roman de la Rose and appearing, too, as the five fingers of luxuria in Chaucer's Parson's Tale.9 In the sixteenth century, Ronsard alludes century, to the topos, as does Spenser who bases the group of Malecasta's knights in the Castle Joyous on these elements of unchaste love.10 Seeing, touching, and kissing are prelude to factum, and we need not be guilty of Iago's "honesty" to acknowledge that an eye that will be fed and a hand that will be dallied with are "an index and obscure prologue to the history of lust" (Othello, II.i.252-253).

Does Romeo's love for Juliet change? Is there triumphant ecstasy in the lovers' deaths? Many critics think so, and even Paul Siegel, who is very much aware of the degree to which passionate love is central to the play, asserts that we confront the "transcendence of love at the very end," and a cosmic love that vindicates the sexuality of the lovers precisely because it established concord in the wake of discord.11 More emphatically, A.C. Hamilton remarks that "the tragic lovers must die to triumph in their love" and Leonora Leet Brodwin maintains that, for the lovers, death is "the infinite freedom experienced in the ecstatic instant of self-annihilation."12 The text, I propose, does not bear out these neo-Romantic views, which make Romeo and Juliet forerunners of Heathcliff and Catherine.

What we glimpse at the end is no ethereal love, no exaltation of the power of love to defy the dictates of parents and philosophers, no apotheosis of the lovers. Rather, we see lovers rapturously devoted to the flesh. Death here is amorous, and as paramour takes Juliet's maidenhead upon a grave which is her wedding-bed. Moreover, Romeo dies with a recapitulation of the gradus amoris upon his lips:

                    … Eyes, look your last!
Arms, take your last embrace! and, lips, O
The doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss

A dateless bargain to engrossing death!
                     … Thus with a kiss I die

Visus, tactus and osculum culminate in factum, as the moment of death is eroticized in a dramatic enactment of the clichéd pun on "die." Similarly, when Juliet dies, she kisses Romeo's lips that she might be infected—and restored—with the poison on them; this exchange parallels the initial commerce in kisses with its talk of sin and purging. In her final moment of abandon, she stabs herself with Romeo's dagger: "this is thy sheath [Latin: vagina]; there rust, and let me die" (V.iii.170). The badinage of Gregory and Sampson at the beginning of the play has anticipated the climax by establishing the phallic nature of swords. For Juliet too, then, the final assertive action is the factum, the "doing" memorialized in Ben Jonson's epigram, however remote it is from "filthy pleasure."13

From the extremities of the play, from Romeo and Juliet's first and last encounters, let us turn to the middle, their courtship. Although—or perhaps, because—Romeo and Juliet are actually on stage together for only 330 lines of the play,14 Shakespeare underscores their yearning for physical proximity. The desire for his lover's presence is especially marked in Romeo, and Shakespeare demonstrates his increasing keenness to be physically with Juliet by using a leitmotiv: Romeo constantly expresses his envy of the things closest to her.15 The first declaration of such envy occurs at the end of Romeo's speech on seeing Juliet in her balcony:

See how she leans her cheek upon her hand!
O that I were a glove upon that hand,
That I might touch that cheek!

This wish to caress Juliet modulates at the end of the scene to a more suggestive expression of repressed sexuality, when Juliet wishes Romeo gone.

And yet no farther than a wanton's bird,
That lets it hop a little from her hand,
Like a poor prisoner in his twisted gyves,
And with a silken thread plucks it back again,
So loving-jealous of his liberty.

ROMEO I would I were thy bird.
JULIET: Sweet so would I.
Yet I should kill thee with much cherishing.

This moment of "sweet sorrow" has an uncanny resemblance to Catullus' poems on Lesbia's sparrow, which the poet longs to be so that he can play cosily in his lady's lap.16 But the most pointed articulation of Romeo's desire for physical intimacy with Juliet comes when he receives news of his banishment. Not only will the cats, the dogs and the mice enjoy her, he says, but even the carrion flies will occupy a position he will be denied:

                         They may seize
On the white wonder of dear Juliet's hand
And steal immortal blessing from her lips,
Who, even in pure and vestal modesty,
Still blush, as thinking their own kisses sin;
But Romeo may not, he is banished.
Flies may do this, but I from this must fly;
They are freemen, but I am banished.

This grotesque conceit has more impact if we recognize and flies as being a common symbol for lechery17 and if we see the passage, accordingly, as reflecting in a tarnished mirror the anguish that banishment brings a man who would risk all for what "one short minute gives me in her sight" ( Ultimately, at death, Romeo does cross the gaping gulf that separates him from Juliet as he resolves to stay "Here, here … / With worms that are they chambermaids" (V.iii.108-109). When the Friar asks if Romeo be a beast, not a man, he conjures up an image of the passionate lover that Romeo's speeches in this vein do little to dispel.

A second aspect of the lovers' courtship is the intrusive fact of Romeo's banishment.18 Since critics and actors alike have found very difficult Romeo's maudlin, deliquescent reaction to his necessary isolation from Juliet (III.iii), we can speculate anew on how Shakespeare conceives of this turn in the action. Akin to the suggestions made thus far on the nature of love in the play is the possibility that Shakespeare took from his sources an opportunity to force upon the lovers the problem of absence, a problem that pervaded medieval and Renaissance treatments of love.

In brief, absence poses a problem for carnal love. As Aquinas notes, "desire implies the real absence of the beloved, whereas love remains whether the beloved is absent or present."19 This topic was the basis for major philosophical disquisitions, the most significant of which is probably Sperone Speroni's.20 But it is also an issue raised by Petrarch and his followers, poems on absence constituting one of the themes shared by the sonnets of Sidney, Shakespeare and Spenser, for example. Of Petrarch's use of the antithesis between presence and absence, Robert Durling makes this generalizing remark: "Absence is an experience of scattering, presence one of synthesis; the image of Laura in the memory is a principle of integration."21 Later treatments of the congé d'amour similarly console separated lovers with the suggestion that the image of the one grows more intense in the heart of the other during a term of absence. Thus Astrophel says:

        Tush absence, while thy mistes eclipse
               that light,
    My Orphan sense flies to that inward
Where memory sets forth the beames of love.
    That where before hart loved and eyes did
    In hart both sight and love now coupled
United powers make each the stronger prove.22

Even in a popular Elizabethan ditty, the heart offers refuge to love threatened by absence:

Absence heere thou my protestation,
         Against thy strength,
         distance and length,
doo what you dare, For alteration,
For hartes of truest mettall,
Absence dooth ioyne, And time dooth settle.23

On the other hand, if love is so carnal that it depends exclusively on sensual gratification, if the lover is unable to wed cordial love with ocular love, then absence presents an insoluble difficulty. Nowhere are the various aspects of this problem and its solution more deftly and succinctly explored than in Donne's familiar stanzas from "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning":

Dull sublunary lovers' love
    (Whose soul is sense) cannot admit
Absence, because it doth remove
    Those things which elemented it.
But we by a love so much refined
    That our selves know not what it is,
Inter-assured of the mind,
    Care less eyes, lips, and hands to miss.24

With "eyes," "lips," and "hands," we are returned to just the elements of Romeo's love for Juliet. Given the logic of Renaissance thinking about love and absence, Romeo's inability to brook his banishment and his inability to entertain even slightly the notion that absence makes the heart grow fonder are quite explicable.25 With the farcical reiteration of "banished" and "banishment" in Act III.iii, Shakespeare qualifies the growing sense of doom by linking implicitly Romeo's melodramatic hysteria to the immaturity and instability of the love into which he has fallen.

The play then impresses upon us the intensity of youthful love, at once joyful and desperate, while at the same time it shows us that the lovers themselves are obtuse to the consequences of their infatuation with each other, tragically innocent, despite their forebodings, of the dictum that "violent delights have violent ends." Just as the older generation, who are "heavy and pale as lead" (II.v. 17) fail to recognize love's full power, even vicariously, so the young lovers fail to put on the knowledge of love with its power. This unexalted "expense of spirit" makes Romeo and Juliet a touching tragedy.


1Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, ed. G. Bullough, I (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1966), 276, 271 and 284.

2 Bullough, I, 277.

3 Quotations are from William Shakespeare: The Complete Works, ed. Alfred Harbage (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1969).

4 Romeo's speech at I.v.44-53 alludes to I.ii.88-89 and 94-95, and I.i.216ff.

5 For pertinent commentary, see Shakespeare's Sonnets, ed. Stephen Booth (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1977), pp. 208-211 and 489-491.

6 For discussion of this point, see C.S. Emden, "Shakespeare and the Eye," Shakespeare Survey, 26 (1973), 129-137.

7 Although Ficino locates the origin of intellectual love in the eyes ("Amor itaque omnis incipit ab aspectu"), Shakespeare does not use sight in the neo-platonic manner. For Ficino, see Commentarium, trs. Sears Jayne (Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 1944), p. 193.

8 In Brooke the first kiss occurs after Romeus and Juliet have been married. See Bullough, I, 306.

9 "Gradus Amoris," Romance Philology, 19 (1965), 167-177. Friedman traces the topos to Achilles Tatius and Ruffinus, and attributes its transmission to Pomponius Porphyrio's Commentarii in Q. Horatium Flaccum (pp. 171-172).

10 See Alfred Adler, "The Topos Quinque lineae sunt amoris used by Ronsard in Amours (1552), CXXXVI," Bibliothéque d'Humanisme et Renaissance, 15 (1953), 220-225 and Spenser, The Faerie Queene, III. 1.45. The bibliography on Spenser's use of the gradus amoris (or quinque lineae sunt amoris as it is sometimes called) is extensive: A.H. Gilbert, "The Ladder of Lechery, The Faerie Queene, III,i, 45," MLN, 66 (1941), 594-597; James Hutton, "Spenser and the 'Cinq Points en amours'," MLN, 67 (1942), 657-661; Alastair Fowler, "Six Knights at Castle Joyous," SP, 66 (1959), 583-599; Mark Rose, Heroic Love: Studies in Sidney and Spenser (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1968), pp. 90-93. In commenting on the ladder of love, Hutton makes some interesting observations on As You Like It, V.ii.32-36.

11 "Christianity and the Religion of Love in Romeo and Juliet," Shakespeare Quarterly, 12 (1961), 371-392.

12 A.C. Hamilton, The Early Shakespeare (San Marino, California: The Huntington Library, 1967), p. 212; Brodwin, Elizabethen Love Tragedy 1587-1625 (London and New York: University of London Press and New York University Press, 1972), p. 58.

13The Complete Poetry of Ben Jonson, ed. W.B. Hunter, Jr. (New York: W.W. Norton, 1968), p. 269.

14 See the introduction to Twentieth Century Interpretations of Romeo and Juliet, ed. Douglas Cole (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1970), p. 11.

15 This is a typical strategy of the lustful lover in Renaissance lyric poetry. For examples, see Astrophel and Stella, #59; Shakespeare, The Sonnets, #128; and, most incredibly of all, Barnabe Barnes' Parthenophil and Parthenophe, #63, where the speaker wishes to be his lover's urine.

16 Giuseppe Giangrande, in "Catullus' Lyrics on the Passer," Museum Philologum Londiniense, 1 (1975), 137-146 has discussed the obscene double-entendre which Catullus exploits in this poem (passer equals mentula). Renaissance philologists, such as Politianus, Muretus and Vossius, were aware of the innuendo (p. 138). Renaissance poets, unmentioned by Giangrande, thought of the sparrow as lecherous: see Skelton, Philip Sparrow, 115-142; Sidney, Astrophel and Stella, #83 and Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, III.ii.164-5. I conjecture that the "wanton's bird" to which Juliet refers is the sparrow. (I owe the reference to Giangrande's article to my colleague in the Classics Department, Dr. John Yardley.)

17 See Donne's "The Canonization," 1.20: "Call her one, me another fly."

18 A.C. Hamilton usefully compares banishment scenes in 2 Henry VI (III.ii.339-401) and Two Gentlemen of Verona (III.i.170-173) with the one in Romeo and Juliet (pp. 208-212). His emphasis, however, differs considerably from mine.

19 Quoted by Brodwin, p. 21.

20 The reference is to Dialoghi published in 1544 in Venice. For a brief mention of this work, see John Freccero, "Donne's Valediction: Forbidding Mourning," in Essential Articles for the Study of John Donne's Poetry, ed. J.R. Roberts (Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1975), p. 291.

21Petrarch's Lyric Poems: The 'Rime sparse' and Other Lyrics (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1976), p. 21.

22The Poems of Sir Philip Sidney, ed. W.A. Ringler, Jr. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962), p. 23 (#88).

23Lyrics from English Airs, 1596-1622, ed. Edward Doughtie (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1970), pp. 144-145. Doughtie assigns this lyric to John Hoskins, though it is sometimes attributed to Donne.

24Donne: Poetical Works, ed. Sir Herbert Grierson (London: Oxford University Press, 1967), pp. 44-45.

25 In Brooke, Romeus must struggle hard to teach Juliet how to bear his absence with patience. When she finally is consoled, she says "But sure where so you go, your heart with me shall tary still / As signe and certaine pledge, tyll here I shall you see" (ll . 1690-91). See Bullough, I, 329.

26 Cf. Franklin M. Dickey's remark that Romeo's rhetoric is "almost comic in its extravagance": Not Wisely But Too Well: Shakespeare's Love Tragedies (San Marino, Calif.: The Huntington Library, 1956), p. 109.

Marjorie Garber (essay date 1981)

SOURCE: "Women's Rites: 'As Secret as Maidenhead'," in Coming of Age in Shakespeare, Methuen & Co. Ltd, 1981, pp. 116-73.

[In the excerpt below, Garber discusses sexual growth in Romeo and Juliet and argues that there are fundamental similarities between the play and the myth of Cupid and Psyche.]

Walled enclosures play an important role in Measure for Measure, from the cloisters of St Clare and the duke's adoptive monastery to the 'moated grange' which walls up Mariana, Angelo's jilted fiancée, and Angelo's own establishment, so tellingly described by Isabella:

He hath a garden circummured with brick,
Whose western side is with a vineyard
And to that vineyard is a planchèd gate,
That makes his opening with this bigger key.
This other doth command a little door
Which from the vineyard to the garden leads.
There have I made my promise
Upon the heavy middle of the night
To call upon him.
                            (IV. i. 28-36)

Just as Mariana's grange is the emblem of her enclosed virginity, so Angelo's garden is the counterpart of his. In a startling—but not inappropriate—reversal of roles, Isabella is entrusted with the phallic key; Angelo himself exhibits a double perversity, first by insisting on denying his sensual nature (more unusual and unnatural perhaps in a man than a woman), then by veiling his lust under the continued guise of the reluctant virgin. The entire dramatic action of the play becomes, at least in one sense, the freeing of the individual from the walled enclosure, no matter how defined or how enforced. Moreover, if we call to mind Freud' s association of beheading with symbolic castration, we may observe that the severed head of the prisoner Ragozine, produced in counterfeit for that of the expectant father Claudio, once again suggests how close Viennese events have come to answering Pompey's blunt inquiry: 'Does your worship mean to geld and splay all the youth of the city?' (II. i. 228-9).

But perhaps the best known of all walled garden encounters in Shakespeare is that dramatic moment in Romeo and Juliet more usually described as the 'balcony scene' (II. ii). 'The orchard walls are high and hard to climb,' as Juliet points out (63), and Romeo, though he stands in the posture of a Petrarchan suitor gazing up at his unattainable lady, has already crossed the first barrier by entering the garden at all. The orchard as a dramatic locale appears three times more in the play, each time in direct connection with the courtship, marriage and consummation of the lovers. In II. v. Juliet impatiently awaits the Nurse's message, announcing the time and place of the marriage. The Nurse, who has early expressed her eagerness to see Juliet 'married once' (I. iii. 61)—and perhaps more—hastens to fetch a ladder, 'by the which your love / Must climb a bird's nest soon when it is dark' (II. v. 74-5). In III. ii. Juliet appears alone on the balcony overlooking the orchard, and speaks her moving lines of sexual longing to the 'love-performing night':

                    Come, civil night,
Thou sober-suited matron all in black,
And learn me how to lose a winning match,
Played for a pair of stainless maidenhoods.…
O, I have bought the mansion of a love,
But not possessed it; and though I am sold,
Not yet enjoyed.
                            (10-13, 26-8)

Significantly, there are two maidenhoods to be lost; in her view Romeo is as virginal as she. The image of the 'mansion' provides yet another interior space which must be entered and 'possessed'. The implicit reversal of Freudian categories—Juliet is the possessor, Romeo associated with the mansion—emphasizes their interchangeability, and calls attention to Juliet's remarkable forthrightness and self-knowledgeability in sexual desire.1 The final orchard scene (III. v.) shows us Romeo 'aloft' on the balcony with Juliet. The sundering of the sexual barrier between the lovers finds its counterpart in the conquest of the physical barriers which have kept them apart.

Both balcony and orchard now disappear as dramatic loci, and are replaced by another kind of enclosure, the tomb. The womb-tomb symbolism of the play, articulated by Friar Lawrence but present throughout, is too well known to need further documentation. Capulet's lament, 'Death is my son-in-law, Death is my heir; / My daughter he hath wedded' (IV. v. 38-9) particularizes and personifies the image, as does Romeo's more elegant and lyrical version of the same fantasy:

                     Shall I believe
That unsubstantial Death is amorous,
And that the lean abhorrèd monster keeps
Thee here in dark to be his paramour?
                            (V. iii. 102-5)

We have noticed other instances of this figure, in which death replaces or displaces marriage, but the situation in Romeo and Juliet is in some respects unique, suggesting yet another dimension of Shakespeare's treatment of sexual rites of passage. To understand why this is so, it will be helpful to return to the balcony scene (II. ii.) and in particular to Romeo's explanation of his presence in the garden.

When Juliet expresses surprise at his presence, he replies that 'with love's light wings' he was able to mount the wall, for 'what love can do, that dares love attempt.' This is not the first time in the play that Romeo has been directly linked with the persona of 'love'. It is he who proposes a prologue to the intended masque at the Capulet ball, only to be told by Benvolio that such a practice is out of date: 'We'll have no Cupid hoodwinked with a scarf, / Bearing a Tartar's painted bow of lath' (I. iv. 4-5). He declines to dance in the mask, saying that his 'soul of lead' keeps him to the ground. 'You are a lover,' Mercutio replies. 'Borrow Cupid's wings / And soar with them above a common bound.' (I. iv. 17-18). As so often happens in this play, a verbal cliché applied to Rosaline becomes a vivid and literal metaphor when Romeo meets Juliet.

The association of Romeo with 'love', Cupid or Eros, the god of desire, is augmented by other details of the balcony scene. Repeatedly we are reminded that the scene is played in darkness and that Juliet cannot see the man who stands below her window. Her very appearance and her unguarded words poured out to the receptive night suggest that she is sure she is alone. The speech is both soliloquy and apostrophe, summoning in fancy one who must in reality be far away.

        Romeo, doff thy name;
And for thy name, which is no part of thee,
Take all myself.

Suddenly, shockingly, out of the darkness comes a reply:

        I take thee at thy word.
Call me but love, and I'll be new baptized;
Henceforth I never will be Romeo.
                            (II. ii. 47-51)

Juliet's response is telling: 'What man art thou, that, thus bescreened in night, / So stumblest on my counsel?' (52-3). He has just said his name—and offered to replace it with the name of 'love'. But Juliet, stunned and taken aback, can register at first only an alien presence in the darkness. Recognition, when it comes, occurs by stages and emphasizes not his hidden figure but his revealed voice. 'I know the sound. / Art thou not Romeo, and a Montague?' (59-60). Her surprise is natural and persuasive; in effect her incantation has come true. Yet repeatedly the scene draws attention to the darkness. Twice she warns that if her kinsmen 'do see thee, they will murder thee', and he rejoins that 'I have night's cloak to hide me from their eyes' (75). Love, the blind, has led him there. 'He lent me counsel, and I lent him eyes' (81). Can she see him? Or does 'night's cloak' hide him from her sight as well? The language she uses is suggestively ambiguous. 'Thous knowst the mask of night is on my face'—'knowst', not 'seest'. And the business transacted between the lovers in this scene is entirely aural and verbal: Juliet's reverie, and Romeo's interruption of it; his attempt to swear by 'yonder' moon (which both of them can see); her suggestion that he swear by himself, 'Which is the god of my idolatry' (114); the exchange of vows; her repeated summonings, and his replies: 'Romeo!—My sweet?' (168), and, again, 'Hist! Romeo, hist! O for a falc'ner's voice / To lure this tassel gentle back again!' (159-60). Moreover, Romeo's reply to this last call is itself significant, in line with the Cupid figures we have already noticed.

It is my soul that calls upon my name.
How silver-sweet sound lovers' tongues by
Like softest music to attending ears!

Once again we may notice the emphasis upon hearing and speaking, rather than beholding, the beloved. But the identification of Juliet with 'my soul' not only recalls the contrasting 'soul of lead' produced by love for Rosaline, but also brings to mind a myth which seems structurally related to this scene and to the play as a whole: the myth of Cupid and Psyche.

The myth is briefly recounted: Psyche, the youngest of three daughters, was so beautiful that she was compared to Venus herself, arousing Venus' jealousy and enmity. She therefore instructs Cupid, or Eros, to cause Psyche to fall in love with the ugliest of men. Psyche is led to a cliff top, following the instructions of an oracle, which predicts that she will be taken by a snake-like monster. The procession which leads her to the peak thus resembles that of a funeral. But she is rescued by the West Wind and taken to a palace by Cupid, who, against his mother's orders, has fallen in love with her. He takes Psyche for his wife, but will not let her look at him, coming to her only at night and in darkness. Persuaded by her two jealous sisters (who have been permitted to visit her), Psyche fears that her husband may be a monster, and one night when he is sleeping she lifts a lamp to look at him. She sees, of course, a remarkably beautiful youth. But a drop of oil falls on his shoulder, waking him, and he leaves her in anger. The rest of the tale involves the three seemingly impossible tasks set her by Venus, the last of which is to visit Hades and bring back a casket of beauty from Persephone. She achieves this last task, but (again prompted by curiosity toward the forbidden) she opens the casket, which contains not beauty but a deathly sleep. Now Cupid, convinced of her sincere repentance, persuades Jupiter to make her immortal, and she reawakens and is married to him.

The story of Cupid and Psyche is told by Apuleius in The Golden Ass, which had been published in London in 1566 in the English translation of William Adlington. Shakespeare would therefore have had access to it in his own language, as well as—probably—in the Latin original. Apuleius, a neo-Platonist, may indeed have been offering an allegory of what his modern translator, Robert Graves, calls 'the progress of the rational soul toward intellectual love',2 but psychologists have found other aspects of the myth equally fascinating and suggestive. Freud points out that Psyche is a kind of love-and death-goddess: 'Her wedding is celebrated like a funeral, she has to descend into the underworld, and afterwards sinks into a death-like sleep.'3 A Jungian interpretation offered by Erich Neumann sees the myth as essentially 'a rite of initiation'4 in which Psyche is awakened from 'the darkness of unconscious and the harshness of her matriarchal captivity and, in individual encounter with the masculine, loves, that is recognizes, Eros'.5 According to Neumann the casket of beauty that Psyche must steal is 'the beauty of the glass coffin, to which Psyche is expected to regress, the barren frigidity of mere maidenhood, without love for a man (as exacted by the matriarchate)';6 in just this way Friar Lawrence offers to 'dispose of Juliet 'among a sister-hood of holy nuns'. The happy ending of the story Neumann describes as

The feminine mystery of rebirth through love. In no goddess can Eros experience and know the miracle that befalls him through the human Psyche, the phenomenon of a love which is conscious, which, stronger than death, anointed with divine beauty, is willing to die, to receive the beloved as the bridegroom of death.7

Here again there are congruences with Romeo and Juliet, in the semi-divine Rosaline, the conscious love stronger than death, the image of love as a bridegroom.

Bruno Bettelheim, associating the story with what he called the 'animal-groom' cycle of fairy tales, sees the funeral procession as an emblem of the death of maidenhood, and Psyche's curiosity about her mysterious husband as a reaching out toward mature knowledge, putting aside mere narcissistic pleasure. He singles out for special attention the fact that 'the groom is absent during the day and present only in the darkness of night … in short, he keeps his day and night experiences separate from one another.'8 In Bettelheim's view, the myth describes a movement toward maturity on the part of Cupid as well as Psyche. The objective, which each must come to accept, is 'to wed the aspects of sex, love, and life into a unity'.9 He remarks, as well, on the 'timely' message of the tale: 'Notwithstanding all the hardships woman has to suffer to be reborn in full consciousness and humanity … this is what she must do.'10 Psyche, as the mortal partner and the one forced to undergo privation and hardship, is properly viewed as the protagonist, with whose thoughts and feelings the reader will associate his own.

I would like to suggest that when viewed in this context the resemblances between Romeo and Juliet and the myth of Cupid and Psyche are both striking and fundamental. In both there are an unseen lover and a love relationship which is possible only in darkness. Both describe the passage of a woman from paternal domination to sensual submission and thence to individuation through pain and sacrifice. Both offer a vivid image of the marriage with Death, and in each the entire pattern is capable of being viewed as one of initiation for the woman. I do not—and would not—contend that Shakespeare consciously borrowed from the legend, either from Apuleius or through folkloric sources. But what I do suggest is that certain congruences are arresting and persuasive, that the myth of Cupid and Psyche represents a basic, underlying pattern of human maturation and, specifically, of sexual growth, and that, however derived, this pattern is clearly present and significant in many of Shakespeare's plays.


1 Imogen will speak of 'The innocent mansion of my love, the heart' (Cymb. II. iv. 68).

2 Apuleius, The Transformations of Lucius, Otherwise Known as The Golden Ass, Robert Graves (trans.) (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1951), translator's introduction, p. xix.

3 Sigmund Freud, 'The theme of the three caskets' (1913) in James Strachey (ed. and trans.), The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, XII (London: Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1958, rpt. 1962), p. 300n. The footnote attributes this observation to Otto Rank.

4 Erich Neumann, Amor and Psyche: The Psychic Development of the Feminine, A Commentary on the Tale by Apuleius (New York: Bollingen Series, Princeton University Press, 1956), p. 112.

5 Neumann, p. 78.

6 Neumann, p. 118.

7 Neumann, p. 125.

8 Bruno Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1976), p. 294.

9 Bettelheim, p. 294.

10 Bettelheim, p. 295.


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Marjorie Kolb Cox (essay date 1976)

SOURCE: "Adolescent Processes in Romeo and Juliet," in The Psychoanalytic Review, Vol. 63, No. 3, Fall, 1976, pp. 379-92.

[In the following essay, Cox argues that Romeo and Juliet is "a story of the impact of adolescence, a process which each of the principal and secondary characters must deal with in himself or in those close to him," rather than a story of star-crossed lovers ruled by fate.]

Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is commonly considered to be the story of two lovers caught in circumstances beyond their control: the feuding of their two houses. The play has been criticized as not tragic in an Aristotelian sense on the grounds that the outcome does not grow out of flaws in the main characters but results from fortuitous happenings. The thesis of this paper is that Romeo and Juliet is more profoundly a story of the impact of adolescence, a process which each of the principal and secondary characters must deal with in himself or in those close to him. The tragedy is indeed not Aristotelian in the strictest sense, not a result of pathology in Romeo or Juliet, but it is close in that it grows not out of fortuitous circumstances but out of the difficulty all the characters have in dealing with adolescent processes.

M. D. Faber4 sees the play as the story of the inability of the ruling families of Verona to allow their children to individuate because of the families' stake in defensively maintaining their merged family identities. This is an interesting point, but I have trouble fitting some aspects of the play into it, disagree with some of his interpretations, and so feel more comfortable with my thesis, which has a broader base. I think the feuding has a different character. For example, in the very first scene, after a brawl breaks out among the servants of the two houses, old Capulet and Montague enter, roused by the clamor.

Capulet.… Give me my long sword, ho!
Lady Capulet. A crutch, a crutch! why call
  you for a sword?
Capulet. My sword, I say! Old Montague is
And flourishes his blade in spite of me.
Montague. Thou villain Capulet!—Hold me
  not, let me go.
Lady Montague. Thou shalt not stir one foot
  to seek a foe.
                                   (I, i, 72-77)

This scene has more the farcical character of two old men trying to recapture their phallic potency but effectively restrained from hurting themselves at it by their women. No Coriolanuses here, and defense against individuation does not seem the issue.

Throughout the play the feuding has more the character of the phallic competitiveness of youths, each eager to assert that he is more of a man than the others. As Peter Blos expresses such an experience,

The boy, in overcoming the feminine remnants of his negative oedipal position, turns to over-compensatory devices which make him appear belligerently affirmative of his male powers and prerogatives. Furthermore, he turns to male group or gang affiliations.2a

There is no evidence that any of the women in the play abet the feuding or participate in it—that is, it is not a shared family project. The skirmishes are always started by the young men over some trivial offense, imagined or real, and they invoke the "family" quarrel to justify their aggression. Capulet and Montague each say at different points throughout the play that they do not really want to continue the old quarrel. "Who set this ancient quarrel new abroad?" asks Montague sternly in Act I, scene i. '"Tis not hard, I think, / For men so old as we to keep the peace," says Capulet ruefully in scene ii. In scene v Capulet protects Romeo, who has come to his party uninvited and poorly disguised; Capulet shows liking and respect for him:

Capulet. Content thee, gentle coz [Tybalt], let
  him alone.
He bears him like a portly gentleman;
And, to say truth, Verona brags of him
To be a virtuous and well-govern'd youth.
I would not for the wealth of all this town
Here in my house do him disparagement:
Therefore be patient, take no note of him:
It is my will.
                                  (I, v, 66-73)

When Romeo and his pals who have crashed the party with him try to sneak out unnoticed, Capulet, with gentle humor, goes over to them, pretending not to know who they are, and urges them to stay: "Nay, gentlemen, prepare not to be gone" (I, v, 120). He is amused at their embarrassed haste to depart, which is quickened by his attention to them, but does not want to cause them further embarrassment by exposing them. Is this the behavior of a man dominated by a blood feud?

The sparring in the streets of Verona has more the character of an adolescent competition between rival football teams or slum gangs, a rivalry that sometimes becomes contagious and embroils the elders too. That the Prince holds the elders accountable for the violence does not contradict this: part of the role of the elders is to maintain order among those for whom they are responsible. In Romeo and Juliet the elders are caught up in the complex, powerful thrust toward adulthood of their adolescent charges without understanding it or being able to help them channel it constructively. The street-fighting is a manifestation of adolescent turmoil that sets the background for the play.

In the beginning, Romeo has suddenly changed his behavior, to the mystification of his father. He is seclusive, has been spending much time by himself, as is evidently not usual with him. He seems to be brooding, is seen with tears in his eyes for no apparent cause, prefers darkness to sunlight, and has kept his family strictly out of his activities, not revealing the reason for his changed behavior, to his father's consternation. A therapist presented with such symptoms might initially consider the possibility of severe depression or schizophrenic decompensation. But as it turns out, Romeo is merely in a phase of normal adolescence: He appears to be dealing with the upsurge of sexual feeling in himself by distancing himself from the incestuous objects of his childhood and directing his love impulses toward an object who is conveniently unattainable: the lady Rosaline, who won't have him. She is a sort of adolescent transition object to him—not quite his mother, but not yet his mature object choice.

Rather than enjoying her, he painfully but deliriously experiences the intensity of his own thwarted libidinal feelings. Blos writes,

One may describe this phase of adolescence in terms of two broad affective states: "mourning" and "being in love." The adolescent incurs a real loss in the renunciation of his oedipal parents.… The working through of the mourning process is essential to the gradual achievement of liberation from the lost object.… The aspect of "being in love" … signals the advance of the libido to new objects.2b

But Romeo's early "being in love" has this quality:

Object relations lead automatically to transient identifications, and this prevents object libido from being totally drained by deflection onto the self. The object hunger of this phase can assume overwhelming proportions; any object, real or imaginary, may serve as a hold on the object world.2c

Such an adolescent manifestation can appear pathological to an outsider, but one hopes for a little more understanding from a father, and Montague shows none. In his opinion,

Black and portentous must this humour prove,
Unless good counsel may the cause remove.
                            (I, i, 137-138)

Any Elizabethan audience would recognize from the description of Romeo that he is probably undergoing the pangs of despised love, of the courtly variety, but Montague does not recognize it and he has no intuitive understanding of adolescent turmoil. Interestingly, Romeo's friend Benvolio, to whom old Montague is confiding, is equally mystified by Romeo's mood—interestingly because, as Benvolio, another adolescent, describes himself, he is behaving similarly. That is, Benvolio is able to tell Montague that Romeo has been roaming about in the small hours because he himself has been doing it, with "a troubled mind," and Benvolio sensitively avoided an encounter with Romeo at that time because he too wanted to be alone, by implication to nurse in solitude the interesting new thoughts and feelings he too was having. It often does not occur to an adolescent that his intrapsychic processes might be similar to others'; he may feel alone and unique and thus distance himself from another going through the same thing. Blos writes, "The adolescent does experience the outer world with a unique sensory quality which he thinks is not shared by others."2d

But in adolescence there is apt to be more sharing among peers than between them and their parents, because of the adolescents' need to separate from their parents and forge their own identities, and their wish for support in this from peer approval. Thus the cause of Romeo's strange behavior, which he kept so secret from his family, he expresses readily when asked by Benvolio: He is in love. And he enjoys putting his state into words; he revels in describing it, defining it, defining himself through it, intensifying his affectual experience with each new metaphor, creating a "self-induced But then, ego state of affective and sensory intensity."2e But then, suddenly oversensitive might be having on Benvolio, he asks apprehensively, "Dost thou not laugh?"

Benvolio, relating only to Romeo's seeming sadness and certainly not laughing, says, "No, coz, I rather weep." Though Romeo has dramatized his plight as if it were a sad one, he is almost exulting in his mourning, so he responds to Benvolio in innocent surprise, "Good heart, at what?"

If Romeo is obviously already in adolescence proper at the outset of the play, Juliet, in her first scene, appropriately with her mother and her nurse, behaves like an obedient little girl just removed from latency. This scene, in which Lady Capulet tells of the proposal that Juliet consider the prospect of marrying Paris, reveals how, like Montague, these two adults are unable to allow for the existence of adolescence or to help their adolescent child appropriately. Lady Capulet has long ago essentially turned over her mothering role to the nurse, so she and Juliet approach each other almost as strangers. Juliet addresses her mother formally, and Lady Capulet evidently feels awkward at the thought of being alone with Juliet because she hastily requests the presence of the nurse. There is abundant evidence through the play that the nurse has been a warm and loving mother to Juliet during Juliet's infancy and childhood, giving the nurturing that was needed. But is this same nurse suitable for an adolescent Juliet?

Throughout the play the nurse, past her own sexual prime, vicariously enjoys the prospect of her charge going to bed with a man; she constantly encourages Juliet toward this end without regarding the consequences. One often finds such wishes in mothering figures behind the promiscuity of adolescent girls, the child's promiscuity being an expression of the adult's wish. This is not to say that Juliet's love and marriage was such an acting out—she was too mature and differentiated to act out the nurse's wish—but the nurse's advocacy of a quick union for her own vicarious gratification facilitated the match with Romeo when it might have been delayed to the advantage of both. This nurse was hardly a suitable duenna. Also, she did not understand the complexity of mature object love such as Juliet came to feel for Romeo, but only lust. One good-looking, young, rich man was interchangeable with another; thus she later advised Juliet to abandon Romeo and marry Paris when Romeo's future seemed problematical. This inability to understand and value mature object choice, a chief goal of adolescence, prevented the devoted old nurse from being supportive to Juliet in her worst crisis. Juliet's final aloneness results partly from that failure.

For both Lady Capulet and the nurse the developmental period of adolescence does not exist. Both see children passing directly from childhood into marriage, with no moratorium, no period of developing their own identity or learning to cope with adult roles, deal with libidinal and ego needs on a higher level than latency. Lady Capulet herself had no adolescence, having become a mother when younger than Juliet. How can she help her daughter through a state she hasn't experienced? And how can she gain the confidence of a daughter to whom she has made herself a stranger? Moreover, Lady Capulet doesn't assert the leadership that parenthood requires. This shows in the facts that she turned the mothering of Juliet over to the nurse in Juliet's childhood, that now she continues Juliet in the same care though it is inappropriate, and that she cannot even silence the nurse effectively when the nurse is bawdy in young Juliet's presence. It is Juliet who finally tactfully silences the nurse. It appears that Juliet is the only adult present in this scene. We begin to be prepared for her desperate decision to drink the drug, when there is no one to whom she can turn for help but the wellmeaning friar.

Others beside Romeo, Juliet, and Benvolio must cope with intrapsychic adolescent processes in themselves. Mercutio, Romeo's best friend, handles his upsurge of libido by mocking it. He is a wit, a clown, with Queen Mab externalized as the culprit libido. His loyalty and interest are in his male peer group; in preadolescent fashion he considers women bizarre and lustful phenomena, and he tries repeatedly to win Romeo back from them by ridicule of his attachment. He says to Romeo,

             … We'll draw thee from the mire
Of this sir-reverence love, wherein thou
Up to the ears.
                              (II, iv, 41-43)

and later, after friendly verbal sparring with Romeo,

Why, is not this better now than groaning for love? now art thou sociable, now art thou Romeo; now art thou what thou art, by art as well as by nature: for this drivelling love is like a great natural, that runs lolling up and down to hide his bauble in a hole.

(II, iv, 86-91)

As Blos writes, such a boy

behaves hostilely toward girls, he belittles them, and tries to avoid them.… The castration anxiety which brought the oedipal phase to its decline reappears and forces the boy into the exclusive company of his own sex.2f

One might say that Mercutio, delightful as he is, shows signs of at least temporary fixation at a latency level of development out of fear quite possibly of women. Romeo, by contrast, who enjoys the imaginative Mercutio in general, can't tolerate Mercutio's obscene talk of women and so tries to shut him up whenever he reaches that point. For Romeo, as for Juliet, love and lust join, and lust without love degrades the object and the self. Thus when Romeo finds the true object of his love, he must leave behind Mercutio along with his primary loyalty to the preadolescent male peer group. In a double sense Mercutio is slain by Romeo.

Another adolescent is Juliet's hot-headed cousin Tybalt, who starts duels with any of his male peers on little provocation, interpreting almost any interaction on their part as a challenge to his honor. He is proud of his dueling ability, builds his life around this gentlemanly skill, its vocabulary, costumes, and practice. Mercutio describes Tybalt as

More than the prince of cats, I can tell you. O, he's the courageous captain of compliments. He fights as you sing prick-song, keeps time, distance and proportion; rests me his minim rest, one, two, and the third in your bosom: the very butcher of a silk button, a duellist, a duellist; a gentleman of the very first house of the first and second cause: ah, the immortal passado! the punto reverso! the hai!

(II, iv, 19-23)

One way of handling adolescence is to throw oneself into the development of a particular skill, as Tybalt did, as a means of providing some grounds for regaining the self-esteem that is undermined by developmental changes and the loss of comfortable latency roles before consolidation of adolescent ones. A skill as phallic as playing with swords would also help to reassure Tybalt he was adequately masculine, a "real man," when elders like Capulet were still treating him as a child. Tybalt directs his hostility more toward Romeo than toward anyone else, even before Romeo meets Tybalt's cousin Juliet. Perhaps Tybalt envies Romeo's greater manliness. An added reason is the humiliating chastisement Tybalt received from his uncle Capulet over Tybalt's objection to Romeo's presence at the party. Tybalt may be displacing to his peers some of the hostile rebelliousness he feels toward the overwhelmingly authoritarian father figure, Capulet, feeling more competent to deal with them. And he may feel jealous that Capulet praises Romeo instead of him. It is the day after his chastisement by Capulet that Tybalt sets about to fight Romeo. Tybalt is an adolescent who has taken refuge in a particular role in which he has confidence, feels adequate, and probably finds an outlet for libido which is fused with aggression. Unfortunately, adolescent passions sometimes run to extremes and his sport is deadly.

There is one last secondary character who, though his age is not clear—he could be thirty—may be adolescent: Paris, the ideal son Capulet never had and the choice of Capulet for marrying his only child. Paris, well-born, wealthy, handsome, well-mannered, and so deferential to Capulet in spite of his superior status that he will not speak a word with Juliet without Capulet's consent or, later, without her encouragement. The fact that it is unclear whether or not he is adolescent is material: Paris is the prototype of the person who developmentally has never passed through adolescence, has never forged an individual identity, never allowed himself to experience the sturm una. drang required to develop it. We see nothing behind his seeming perfection; he allows himself to become the perfect instrument of old Capulet's plans and appropriately dies unfulfilled at the tomb of his betrothed, who never loved him.

It has been said that old Capulet was the chief obstacle to a match between Romeo and Juliet, and this because he was overinvested in his only daughter and could not let her go, let her individuate, as giving her a free choice of husband would necessitate, but could only let her marry if he chose the man, becoming in a sense by proxy her husband. I don't know; there are such fathers and they do inhibit the psychic growth of their children by refusing to let them moderate their early Oedipal attachment. There is no question that Capulet's final insistence that Juliet marry Paris right away whether she wants to or not contributes to the tragedy, but why does he do it? In his first scene with Paris he recognizes the importance of Juliet's choosing her own partner:

But woo her, gentle Paris, get her heart;
My will to her consent is but a part;
An she agree, within her scope of choice
Lies my consent.
                              (I, ii, 16-19)

There is a radical change between this tone and his speech disowning her for refusing in Act III:

An you be mine, I'll give you to my friend;
An you be not, hang, beg, starve, die in the
For, by my soul, I'll ne'er acknowledge thee.
                                           (III, v, 17-19)

I think the answer to the contradiction is that Capulet is a firm, controlling leader who may rationally want to allow others autonomy but is finally controlled by his own controlling character structure. This quality that probably served him well in obtaining high status and much wealth in Verona is not adaptable to his role as father to an adolescent girl. Now he has much reason for anger, too; he has worked hard to obtain a good match for Juliet out of his love for her; he thinks he has done excellently by her, and her rejection of his plan feels like lack of appreciation. His insistence on his control may be reinforced by a need to compensate for the waning of his physical powers mentioned earlier. The adolescence of children is apt to be especially threatening to such parents because the parents see the adolescent search for individuation and separation from infantile attachments as rejection or threats to their own adequacy or autonomy. There is apt to be a headon clash, as here, though the child may not want one or feel able to handle it.

Romeo and Juliet unwittingly contribute to their own tragedy not by "tragic flaws" or pathology in themselves but by manifestations of the normal vicissitudes of adolescence. They have so many of these attractive characteristics that I will pick out only a few more for examples. First there is Romeo's sudden, total change of object choice the moment he lays eyes on Juliet. When Romeo comes to Friar Lawrence asking to be married right away to Juliet, whom he met the night before, having totally forgotten Rosaline, whom he professed to love madly earlier that day, we are inclined to say with the good friar, "Holy Saint Francis, what a change is here!" In an adult such a rapid change of object choice might indicate weak object cathexis or ambivalence and a likelihood that the new object will be abandoned equally quickly. But this is not necessarily true in young people, in whom the coalescence of a mature object choice may show itself suddenly.

Juliet's search to determine whether she can trust Romeo, and her demonstration of her own trustworthiness, expressed with delightful frankness, constitute a basic step in object choice. She says to Romeo,

Dost thou love me? I know thou wilt say
And I will take thy word: yet, if thou
Thou mayst prove false.

In truth, fair Montague, I am too fond;
But trust me, gentleman, I'll prove more true
Than those that have more cunning to be

O, swear not by the moon, th'inconstant

Do not swear at all.
                            (II, ii, 90-112)

She balances realistic initial skepticism with a healthy ability to learn to trust Romeo.

From the moment he meets Juliet, Romeo shows a proclivity to action that does not result from the poor impulse control of a chronically weak ego—Romeo was described as a "well-govern'd youth" earlier and initially resists considerable provocation to fight Tybalt. His tendency to leap into action, common in adolescence, appears only after he falls in love with Juliet. It is part of the adolescent process in him, not part of his basic character structure. He no sooner leaves the Capulet party than he leaps over a wall to find Juliet again. Mercutio is no sooner dead than Romeo is off to avenge him by killing Tybalt himself. Having just met, Romeo and Juliet must marry immediately, and once married they must consummate their love that very night, though Romeo has been banished from Verona on pain of death. His final actions—immediately going off for poison on learning of Juliet's death, then taking it as soon as he reaches her, symbolically joining her—are natural results of this proclivity. It is inconceivable that someone of this nature could bide his time and slowly, diplomatically persuade his parents and old Capulet to let him marry Juliet with their blessing. Ironically, as mentioned earlier, Capulet has shown great respect and liking for young Romeo and little for the feud, so he might have been receptive eventually. It is also inconceivable that on Mercutio's death Romeo should have left it up to the Prince, executor of the law of Verona, to punish Tybalt. Lastly, it is inconceivable that Romeo could have tolerated a quiet, inactive, introspective mourning period lasting months, slowly learning to decathect the object of his love and repair her loss.

Both Romeo and Juliet totalize their feelings about each other, so that each means everything on earth to the other. Though this might seem to have the character of the very early infant's object tie to the mother, here I think it stems more from a combination of the coalescence of a mature genital object choice plus the adolescent tendency to totalize, to see things as all black or all white, to throw themselves totally into one experience, one project, one mood. Given this, it is difficult to conceive that either, seeing the other dead, could have picked up life without the other.

Finally, mature object choice requires giving up infantile object ties. Romeo and Juliet each do this slowly during the course of the play: Romeo separates from his family, then from his early fantasy object, Rosaline, then from his close male friends; Juliet from father, mother, and nurse. But instead of the broad vistas life might ideally offer adolescents on reaching this more mature stage, Romeo and Juliet's brief future was lived out within the stifling, lonely confinement of the tomb.

It has been said that Romeo and Juliet is a story of courtly love in the Medieval tradition, like Tristan and Iseult. Certainly the play can be read on other levels than the one described in this paper, and there are resemblances between it and courtly love: Romeo and Juliet fall in love at first sight; Romeo extravagantly idealizes Juliet ("Beauty to rich for use, for earth too dear!"—I, v, 46); their commitment to each other is total; they are separated by external obstacles; and their love ends in death by their choice. Moreover, audiences' enjoyment of the suffering in Romeo and Juliet was probably similar to their enjoyment of the suffering in tales of courtly love. However, there are fundamental differences that seem to me to outweigh the similarities: Courtly love has more the character of a mystical merger or symbiosis, each lover loving being in love and suffering for it as an ultimate, transcendental experience, rather than loving the object per se. There is a total spiritual commitment to the love which often excludes physical consummation. It cannot thrive in marriage, which requires that the lovers recognize and accept each other as he is. The love object in courtly love is often remote, unreal, and unattainable, like Dante's Beatrice and Petrarch's Laura. Such a love has more the character of a "twin narcissism," as Denis de Rougemont3 expresses it, than a true genital love.

By contrast, Romeo and Juliet go through a very fast but otherwise normal process of getting to know and trust each other; each is represented as a full, realistic human being. They talk to each other. There are repeated human touches to their courtship, like their lighthearted, clever repartee at the Capulets' party, when they play at flirting; Juliet's annoyance with Romeo's conventionally extravagant romantic language; and Romeo's playful promise to stay and be killed for Juliet's sake after their night together, since she is entreating him not to leave so soon. Unlike courtly lovers, they marry as soon as possible and, after thus legitimizing their love, consummate it.

The fact that Shakespeare did not intend Romeo's love of Juliet to be an example of courtly love is shown in his counterpointing it with Romeo's love of Rosaline, which is. Like the courtly lover, in the opening scene Romeo is immersed in his agony at his love's unattainability; he meditates on it in solitude, locking fair daylight out; he enjoys expressing it to Benvolio. But he does not interact with Rosaline during the play; we do not meet her; from what he says we have not the foggiest notion of what she is like as a person, and quite probably neither has he. It is the experiencing of a transcendental passion that he is after, not the lady. Shakespeare is gently making fun of such a state and uses it to heighten the impact of Romeo's sudden later fall into true object-related love on meeting Juliet.

The forebodings of death that Romeo and Juliet express throughout the play have been attributed to unconscious longings for death. I think, rather, that the forebodings reflect their increasing awareness that the world around them does not support the development of their love. The culmination of the death imagery occurs not by coincidence when, before drinking the potion, Juliet feels most abandoned by her parents and her nurse. Fear of dying is often the psychic expression of a feeling of abandonment.

Just as King Lear might be interpreted as Shakespeare's exploration of man's struggle to come to terms with old age, Romeo and Juliet can be seen as his exploration of the struggle to come to terms with adolescence. Ultimately it is not the bumbling friar's delayed letter that sends the two lovers to their premature deaths, nor a social structure imposed on the young by their elders, but a terrible lack of acceptance and understanding on the part of each adult character as to what adolescence requires of them, and the inability of those in the throes of adolescent processes to resolve their fate in any other way because to do so would be an abrogation of the processes themselves.

If Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet primarily as a tragedy of miscarried adolescence, why in his prologue and epilogue did he speak of blood feuds and star-crossed lovers? The answer may be that Elizabethans were not aware of the developmental stage of adolescence. It had not been conceptualized. One moved directly from child-hood to adulthood. Only in recent decades has adolescence been defined and studied. But whether or not the phase was recognized, children did pass through it with or without the support of an understanding society, and someone as brilliantly observant as Shakespeare could see the effects. There were no role expectations specifically for parents of adolescents. Lady Capulet, married at thirteen and a mother at fourteen, as was common in her day, had never been allowed an adolescence herself and was passing this pattern on to her daughter. Capulet was trying to be the best father he knew how to be, but, never having heard of the developmental tasks to be accomplished during adolescence, he conceived good fathering of a fourteen-year-old girl to be marrying her off to her advantage, deciding for her as he had when she was a child. The behavior of both Capulet and Lady Capulet conformed to the social expectations of the day, but those expectations were woefully inadequate. Romeo and Juliet were star-crossed only to the extent that they could not choose which age to be born into. But then, we have our own problems trying to create an environment in which adolescents can reach adulthood safely and well. Perhaps we should not criticize the Veronese too harshly.


1 Aries, P. Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life. Transl. R. Baldick. New York: Random House (Vintage Books), 1962.

2 Blos, P. On Adolescence. New York: Free Press, 1962, pp. (a) 109; (b) 100-101; (c) 90-91; (d) 93; (e) 99; (f) 60.

3 De Rougemont, D. Love in the Western World. Transi. M. Belgion. New York; Harper & Row, 1956.

4 Faber, M. D. The Adolescent Suicides of Romeo and Juliet. Psychoanalytic Review, Vol. 59, No. 2, 1972, pp. 169-181.

5 Shakespeare, W. The Complete Works. Cambridge Edition text, ed. W. A. Wright. New York: Doubleday, 1936.

A. K. Nardo (essay date 1977)

SOURCE: "Romeo and Juliet Up Against the Wall," in Paunch, Vols. 48-9, September, 1977, pp. 126-32.

[In the following essay, Nardo argues that Romeo and Juliet fail to make the transition from adolescence to sexual maturity and marriage because societytheir parents, friends, and mentorshave neglected to properly instruct them.]

While critics debate the reasons for Romeo and Juliet's failure as a tragedy, acting companies continue to revive and audiences to enjoy Shakespeare's drama of adolescent love. Unperturbed by what has been called its blurred focus, viewers seldom ask whether the family feud or fate or the lovers' youthful impetuosity causes the tragic suicides. Although the play may not follow the "rules" of tragedy, it must have psychological validity to have retained its popularity, at least with audiences if not with critics.

A central psychological issue in Romeo and Juliet, as M. D. Faber noted, is adolescent separation from parents in order that the adolescent may eventually become a parent—a theme "not of an age, but for all time" (and all ages). In this early tragedy, unlike Shakespeare's comedies and romances, the process of separation is aborted: the families can never be renewed by grandchildren, for the lovers end the play in a tomb, not on their way to a bridal bed. But the psychological situation of the play is more complex than Faber's paradigmatic scenario of overly-possessive parents whose narcissism maintains the feud and thwarts both adolescents' attempts to transfer love from within the family to mates unsanctioned by the family. On the contrary, each lover confronts a unique problem of separation, and each copes differently with a society where more than parental narcissism and rancor threaten the lovers' regenerative powers.

Capulet seems to think, albeit mistakenly,.that the feud is over when he tells Paris, "'tis not hard, I think,/For men so old as we to keep the peace,"2 and the brawls, in fact, are not carried on by the elders during the course of the play. Montague has only one significant speech, which he devotes to concern for his love-sick son, not to hatred for his ancient enemy. More fully characterized, Capulet praises Romeo, controls the fiery Tybalt, and passes over his nephew's death with "Well, we were born to die." Indeed, he seems to forget the feud in his concern that his "old accustomed feast" not be marred by strife and that the twenty cooks for Juliet's wedding ("no great ado") "Look to the baked meats."

The feud erupts only when cocky servants vaunt their ability to "push Montague's men from the wall and thrust his maids to the wall" and when Mercutio plans to teach a fencing lesson to one of the "antic, lisping, affecting fantasticoes" who fight "by the book of arithmetic." Hot-blooded young men who must prove their virility are the sparks that invariably kindle the flames of the "ancient grudge." Once ablaze, however, the elders feed the flames, calling for the swords they had used as young bloods who could wear "a visor and could tell/A whispering tale in a fair lady's ear," but also take part in their families' civil war. Things have not changed much since their day, for a young man of Verona still asserts his manhood by brawling in the streets or being a "mouse-hunt" with the proper degree of salacious savoir faire.

Among these young sports, love is a matter for lighthearted bawdry and should not be taken seriously: one must "Prick love for pricking." Mercutio prefers a duel of wits with its boyish comraderie to being "stabbed with a white wench's black eye; run through the ear with a love song." And the Capulet servants, Sampson and Gregory, might salute either men or maids from the house of Montague with "Draw thy tool" and "My naked weapon is out." But the cynicism and bawdry that pervades the play does more than provide a salty corrective to Romeo's Petrarchan twaddle and the lovers' mutual adoration. To the youths who rekindle the feud on a point of honor, sex, aggression, and violence are inextricably united: phalluses are swords, maidenheads are to be cut off, and the way to anger a man is

To raise a spirit in his mistress' circle
Of some strange nature, letting it there stand
Till she had laid it and conjured it down.
                                 (II, i, 24-26)

An atmosphere where sex and aggression are routinely linked certainly does not nurture innocent lovers who "kiss by th' book." Nor does the company Romeo keeps. His parents do not threaten his love; his boon companions do. In ridiculing Romeo's boyish adoration of Rosaline, Mercutio sounds a note of jealousy and fear that wedding bells might be breaking up that old gang of his. He leads the love-sick Romeo to Capulet's ball, "conjures" him drunkenly afterward, asks for him the next day, and chides him for giving his pals "the slip." After revelling in a skirmish of wit with his presumably redeemed friend, Mercutio exclaims,

Why, is not this better now than groaning for love? Now art thou sociable, now art thou Romeo; now this drivelling love is like a great natural that runs lolling up and down to hide his bauble in a hole.

(II, iv, 83-87)

Mercutio has no interest in hiding "his bauble in a hole"? Romeo thinks not: "He jests at scars that never felt a wound." Norman Holland, however, disagrees:

He jests at scars that fear to feel a wound—a certain kind of wound, the kind that comes from real love that would lay him low, make him undergo a submission like Romeo's. Mercutio's bawdry serves to keep him a noncombattant in the wars of love; it enables him to make allies of his companions, notably Romeo, against his own emotions.3

Or perhaps Mercutio has already felt a wound and is merely whistling in the dark when, on the way to crash a party to which he was invited, he cries cavalierly,

Give me a case to put my visage in.
A visor for a visor! What care I
What curious eye doth quote deformities?
Here are the beetle brows shall blush for me.
                            (I, iv, 29-32)

At any rate, when challenged by Tybalt, Romeo is torn not between his family and Juliet, but between loyalty to "the boys" and their code of honor and love for his lady. When Tybalt turns from Mercutio to greet Romeo with "Here comes my man," Mercutio asserts confidence in Romeo's ability to prove his virility in the established ritual: "Marry, go before to the field, he'll be your follower!/Your worship in that sense may call him man" (III, i, 55, 57-58). But Romeo chooses effeminate love; Mercutio dies for manly honor; then lover turns avenger:

My very friend, hath got his mortal hurt
In my behalf—my reputation stained

                   O sweet Juliet,
Thy beauty hath made me effeminate
And in my temper soft'ned valor's steel!
                            (III, i, 108-109, 111-113)

Thus Romeo fails in his attempt to separate himself from his loyalty to masculine friends and their code, not, as Faber sees it, from narcissistic intrafamilial love.

Ultimately, of course, Romeo's and Juliet's entire society betrays them: the Prince, who has winked at their parents' discords; Montague, who does not understand his adolescent son; Capulet, who chides his seemingly dead daughter for murdering his solemnity; the Nurse, Juliet's surrogate mother who counsels sensuality and bigamy; the Friar, the lovers' "ghostly father" who resorts to sleeping potions and deserts Juliet in the tomb; and even their peers, who see sword-play and sex as proving grounds for virility. Certainly Romeo and Juliet are not simply innocent victims, but their society has failed to teach them how to become adults.

Yet, despite abandonment by her mother, father, nurse, friar, and even her husband, the child bride becomes a woman in five short days. Whereas Romeo fails in psychologically separating from his masculine milieu, Juliet swears to "no longer be a Capulet." She proclaims she would rather hear that her mother and father were dead than that her husband was banished; she prepares to risk death rather than betray her marriage vows at her parents' bidding; and she acts her dismal scene, of taking the potion, alone.

Whereas Romeo and "the boys" may prowl at night through sycamore groves, crash parties, visit friars at dawn, and wander the streets exchanging words and blows, Juliet's sphere is limited to her father's home, the Friar's cell, and her tomb. Summons of "Juliet!" echo throughout the play—calling her to hear her parents' plans for her marriage, cutting short her first kiss, sending her to bed after the ball, summoning her from the balcony tryst, hurrying her to part with her husband after the wedding night, and finally attempting to awaken her from her death-like sleep. All the hustle and bustle in the Capulet household and the flurry of skirmishing in the streets merely serve to emphasize her imprisonment—a confinement as symbolic of her gender as are the young bloods' swords. An orchard wall and a balcony separate Romeo from his new-found love; only a rope ladder allows him access to his wife's bed; and he must use a mattock and a wrenching iron to join her in her tomb:

Thou detestable maw, thou womb of death,
Gorged with the dearest morsel of the earth,
Thus I enforce thy rotten jaws to open,
And in despite I'll cram thee with more food.

Juliet's love and spirit are, however, not imprisoned. She freely gives Romeo a love as deep and boundless as the sea: "the more I give to thee./The more I have, for both are infinite." No coy mistress, she brushes aside Romeo's finely phrased vow "by yonder blessed moon" and proposes marriage. No chaste Rosaline, she longs for her wedding night with a sexual frankness untainted by the influence of the Nurse's comic bawdry:

              Come, civil night,
Thou sober-suited matron, all in black
And learn me how to lose a winning match,
Played for a pair of stainless maidenhoods.

O, I have bought the mansion of a love,
But not possessed it; and though I am sold,
Not yet enjoyed.
                            (III, ii, 10-13, 26-28)

But Death is to become Juliet's final lover, as Romeo, her parents, and she herself foretell. Lamenting his daughter's presumed death to her appointed husband, Capulet. cries,

O son, the night before thy wedding day
Hath Death lain with thy wife. There she lies,
Rower as she was, deflowered by him.
Death is my son-in-law, Death is my heir.
                             (IV, v, 36-39)

Capulet speaks more truly than he knows, for Juliet kills herself with her husband's phallic dagger, and her last words, "This is thy sheath; there rust, and let me die," describe the sexual consummation of her marriage to Death. But the manner of Juliet's death is predetermined in the opening scene of the play where the confusion between a life-bringing "tool" and a death-dealing "weapon" mirrors the sterility of the entire society. Verona cannot renew itself through a wedding between its young lovers, and Death is Capulet's only heir because, imprisoned in her womb-like tomb, Juliet has finally been thrust to the wall by the phallic sword her society has exalted.


1 M. D. Faber, "The Adolescent Suicides of Romeo and Juliet," The Psychoanalytic Review, 59 (Summer, 1972), p. 169.

2 William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, ed. John E. Hankins, in William Shakespeare: The Complete Works, gen. ed. A. Harbage (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1969), p. 862. I, ii, 2-3. All further quotations from the play are from this edition.

3 Norman N. Holland, "Mercutio, Mine Own Son the Dentist," in Essays on Shakespeare, ed. Gordon Ross Smith (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1965), pp. 11-12.

Irene G. Dash (essay date 1981)

SOURCE: "Growing Up: Romeo and Juliet," in Wooing, Wedding, and Power: Women in Shakespeare's Plays, Columbia University Press, 1981, pp. 67-100.

[In the following excerpt, Dash provides a detailed examination of Juliet's character, whom she describes as an adolescent struggling to gain self-knowledge.]

In Kenneth MacMillan's ballet of "Romeo and Juliet," Juliet enters carrying a rag doll, a symbol of youth, demonstrating the attachment of a young girl to toys and the world of childhood.1 Taking a hint from the debates that have persisted concerning the play, particularly those centering on Juliet's fewer than fourteen years, the choreographer dramatizes her youthfulness through symbol and gesture. Along with the doll, the movements—jerky, exuberant, and impulsive—establish Juliet's age. To demonstrate the transition to womanhood, gesture, symbol, and movement shift. The turn of her head, the carriage of her body, the supple, soft intensity of arms and legs when she leaps and weaves through space reveal the developing maturity. Watching this ballet, where artists in another medium recapture the essence of Shakespeare's portrait though they lack verbal language to express the depth of thought, uncertainty, and the adolescent's groping toward self-knowledge, one remains aware of Shakespeare's intention as he insistently repeats for all to remember: Juliet is not quite fourteen.

Simone de Beauvoir defines a girl's adolescence as a difficult time because it causes a dichotomy between "her status as a real human being and her vocation as a female." Until adolescence the girl has been able to think of herself as "subject, active, free." But then at adolescence "her erotic urges and the social pressure to accept herself as a passive object" conflict with this sense of self-sovereignty.2 When, therefore, the choreographer portrays Juliet as this young person still attached to symbols of childhood, he captures the essence of that freedom, that sovereignty, which de Beauvoir describes and Shakespeare projects through Juliet's actions and language.

Critics, adaptors, and producers of the play have had difficulty with Juliet's age. Some have explored its relevance to the age of maturity of women in Shakespeare's time.3 Others have attributed her extreme youth to the dramatist's carelessness when borrowing from his major source, the 1561 poem, "The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet." There, the poet Arthur Brooke writes: "scarce saw she yet ful xvi. yeres."4 The nineteenth-century editor, Richard Grant White, proposed another theory. He believed that Shakespeare had neither intentionally nor carelessly altered the number, but had found "xvi" transposed to "xiv" in the edition that he read.5 Those who wrote for the stage or produced the tragedy rejected the fourteen years for other reasons. They believed either that an older Juliet would be less likely to offend accepted mores of their own time or that the actress playing the role seemed unfit to act a fourteen-year-old. Even today, many directors continue to excise all references to age, so that in their productions Juliet becomes an attractive young woman of indeterminate age.

Nor have historians arrived at a consensus about the accepted age for marriage in the England in the 1500s.6 Lawrence stone, for example, in his recently published, exhaustive study of the family, sex, and marriage during the period, offers conflicting evidence. Preferring not to generalize, he notes that, as a result of social stratification, one group will have a "totally different set of familial values and behaviour patterns" from another and therefore no simple linear or cyclical model will work for consistent analysis of the period. Although he finds that "the evidence about the age of marriage for the upper landed classes" is difficult to ascertain, he estimates that "daughters married on the average at about twenty in the late sixteenth century," and notes the general belief that "childbirth was excessively dangerous for very young girls."7

Because Shakespeare told us nothing about the ages of the Princess of France and her women, nor about the ages of Kate and Bianca, except that Kate was the elder sister—all women for whom he provides suit-ors—the emphasis on Juliet's age suggests a determination to explore the responses of a teenage girl to the process of growing up and to the meaning of marriage. "Her spontaneous tendency is to regard herself as the essential," de Beauvoir writes of the adolescent. But adolescence is also a time when the young girl is moving toward self-repression and conformity. She is "supposed not only to deck herself out, to make herself ready, but also to repress her spontaneity and replace it with the studied grace and charm taught her by her elders."8 Struggling to understand the adult world she is about to enter, Juliet demonstrates the arrogance and uncertainty so characteristic of her age. Sometimes she exudes the confidence of youth before adopting the strait jacket of role. And as she mimics her elders, learning from her two female mentors, she also exercises her sense of herself as the essential against them.

Unusual among Shakespeare's women characters, Juliet has both her mother and the Nurse as adult women role models. Although ultimately both women fail her—victims of the generation gap as well as of adjustment to roles in a male-dominated world—at first they offer strength and solid support as she approaches maturity. Eager to learn and grow, Juliet in her first scene, confident of herself as a person, listens, questions, and complies.

Shakespeare introduces her in a particularly characteristic teenage action. Whereas characters in the plays frequently stroll onto the stage speaking, Juliet does not appear until called by the Nurse: "God forbid! Where's this girl? What, Juliet!" (I.iii.4). Although surely the young woman knows the voice of her nurse who has been calling to her since infancy, the answer, "How now, who calls?" also marks the teenager's response, challenging the caller, wanting to know more. For Juliet is well aware that the Nurse would not disturb her unless someone else were seeking her. When she discovers that her mother is the caller—the person intruding on her privacy—Juliet immediately responds: "Madam, I am here, / What is your will?" (5-6). Through the formality of her address—"Madam"—to her mother and the question that follows, Shakespeare quickly sketches a teenage reaction. No conversation, no warmth, no joy at seeing her mother are present, simply the query and the unstated: "You must have a reason for being here. You would not otherwise be disturbing me."

Their opening scene establishes the formality and the distance between them. Lady Capulet's confusion in her subsequent speeches suggests that she is uncomfortable in exchanges with her daughter. Intending at first to speak privately with Juliet—"This is the matter. Nurse, give leave a while, / We must talk in secret" (I.iii.6-7)—the mother changes her mind. Intimidated perhaps by her daughter's teenage reserve, with its slight touch of arrogance, Lady Capulet invites the Nurse to remain, "Nurse, come back again, / I have rememb'red me, thou s' hear our counsel" (8-9). The older woman's presence may assure a more cordial acceptance of Lady Capulet's proposal.

The mother then launches the subject of marriage and illustrates the accuracy of de Beauvoir's observation that, "the daughter is for the mother at once her double and another person."9 First Lady Capulet speaks of Juliet's age—"a fortnight and odd days" shy of fourteen, a "happy time," a time for marriage, a time of sexual readiness:

… younger than you,
Here in Verona, ladies of esteem,
Are made already mothers. By my count,
I was your mother much upon these years
That you are now a maid.

Lady Capulet's first thoughts of marriage are of her own pregnancy and childbirth. The idea of Juliet's liking the man who will be her husband comes second. Since the drama is a love story, this inverted sequence of associations foreshadows the tragedy to follow. And it characterizes the duality of the mother's attitude toward her daughter. Saddling the child with her own destiny, Lady Capulet's sequence allows her to lay "claim to her own femininity" and, in the language of de Beauvoir, to revenge herself for it.10

Samuel Johnson observed that Shakespeare's "characters are not modified by the customs of particular places; … or by the accidents of transient fashions or temporary opinions: they are the genuine progeny of common humanity, such as the world will always supply, and observation will always find."11 Although the setting is Verona, the relationship of a teenage daughter with her elders—her mother, father, and Nurse—has a universality not limited to a particular place.

Juliet's feelings toward her mother seesaw between dependence and independence, between hostility and cordiality. Balancing the spontaneous, negative reaction to her mother's unexpected appearance is Juliet's later receptivity when her mother asks, "How stands your dispositions to be married?" (I.iii.65). Here Juliet graciously acquiesces, "It is an honor that I dream not of (66). Her answer encourages Lady Capulet to become more expansive. After that first reference to her own early pregnancy, she now turns to the subject of love in marriage dismissing that earlier, more pragmatic emphasis on sexual readiness.

As critics have long noted, her description of Paris, Juliet's prospective suitor, abounds in Petrarchan clichés:

Examine every married lineament,
And see how one another lends content;

This precious book of love, this unbound
To beautify him, only lacks a cover.

The heaviness of the rhyme and the use of the book metaphor throughout this lengthy passage betray its artificiality. Comparing Paris' love to an unbound book, she also instructs her daughter to look at Paris' face, "Read o'er the volume" (81). There, assuredly, the daughter will "find delight writ… with beauty's pen" (82). Of this speech, Alexander Pope writes: "In the common editions here follows a ridiculous speech, which is entirely added since the first."12 Pope's comment is an explanation for his complete excision of the lines.

David Garrick, the actor-manager and dramatist, whose version of Romeo and Juliet prevailed in the second half of the eighteenth century and during most of the nineteenth, altered this scene.13 He had promised to eliminate "as much as possible, from the Jingle and Quibble" in the play. And so he accepted Pope's judgment. Lady Capulet's speech disappeared. With it, however, went a perceptive insight into the mother's character and the example Juliet was to try to follow in her subsequent speech. When finally her mother phrases the question, "Speak briefly, can you like of Paris' love?" Juliet reveals an aptitude for imitation by punning on the word "look":

I'll look to like, if looking liking move;
But no more deep will I endart mine eye
Than your consent gives strength to make it

These subtleties that help define Juliet were absent from the theater.

Exchanges between Juliet and the Nurse further develop Shakespeare's portrait of the adolescent who seeks models for her actions but also regards herself as "the essential." Having been invited to remain, the Nurse breaks the intensity of the meeting between mother and daughter. The garrulous older woman disturbingly interjects her own comments. Juliet listens to her mother asking the Nurse to refrain from interrupting. "Enough of this, I pray thee hold thy peace" (49), Lady Capulet dictates ineffectually. For a moment the daughter sides with the mother, learning her position vis-á-vis the Nurse. "And stint thou too, I pray thee, nurse, say I" (58), Juliet requests. The prattling ceases. Despite its brevity, the exchange establishes the strength of the daughter, the confusion of the mother, and the intimacy between the Nurse and her young charge.

Shakespeare adds one further contrast between Juliet's two mentors that Garrick, again taking a hint from Pope, omits.14 The scene closes with Lady Capulet formally reminding Juliet that "the Country [Paris] stays" (104). But it is the Nurse who has the final words, "Go, girl, seek happy nights to happy days" (105). The differences become less sharp in Garrick's version as all three women silently exit together.

The father's relationship with Juliet is perhaps the most complex of the three. Although father and daughter do not speak with one another until their bitter confrontation in Act III, we hear his genuine concern for her early in the play. Like the mother and Nurse, he too stresses Juliet's age but has a different feeling about it. He resembles the father in Brooke's poem who protests that his sixteen-year-old daughter, Juliet, is "too young to be a bryde."15 Shakespeare, who changed Juliet's age, kept the father in the same mold as the father in the poem. For Capulet in the play also complains:

She hath not seen the change of fourteen
Let two more summers wither in their pride,
Ere we may think her ripe to be a bride.

Paris, Juliet's suitor, merely glances around him: "Younger than she are happy mothers made" (12). But Capulet rejects this conclusion, realistically countering": And too soon marr'd are those so early made" (13). Thus stressing Juliet's age and her father's early concern for her future, the poet explores not only the problem of adolescent development but also different parental responses to it.

In The Winter's Tale, the Shepherd, another father, offers a simple solution to the difficulties of handling an adolescent—in this case a son. "I would there were no age between ten and three-and-twenty, or that youth would sleep out the rest," says that comic character (III.iii.59-61). But Capulet, trying to protect his daughter, seeks no refuge in wishful thinking. When, later on, she challenges his authority and wisdom, he then throws up his hands in despair and acts the autocrat. Unlike the Shepherd, Capulet insists on a realistic solution: Juliet must marry the man her father chooses. Suddenly her age becomes unimportant. Between the time of these two strongly held positions of the father, his daughter grows from child to woman and his single male heir has been murdered. Capulet's altered behavior reflects his response to a new situation. Cultural, religious, and social pressures on a father's attitudes also impinge upon his daughter. Love and protectiveness of the female child yield to familiar perceptions of woman as property and procreator. The father who, in Act I, sought to postpone his daughter's marriage, must in Act III think of legality and inheritance. He must replace his murdered male heir, his nephew Tybalt, and Juliet must furnish the progeny. Or, at least, she must have a husband who will provide the male heir, preventing the property from being lost. Unfortunately, by this time, she is already married to someone else.

Growing up an obedient daughter whose sense of her own worth was never in conflict with her parents' aims for her, Juliet faces an unanticipated dilemma, one based on her awareness of the meaning of her own sexuality and on her desire to control her own body. Whereas she could easily accept her mother's suggestion of marriage to Paris in Act I, when Juliet discovers her own inner drives, she must reject her parents' choice. Retaining her sense of herself as "essential," she has married Romeo, failing to conform to the pattern of compliant daughter. But her disagreement with her parents is painful and one which she seeks, for a short moment, to escape, returning to the more open, relaxed relationship of child to parent.

As I noted earlier, language of address is one manifestation of the striving toward adulthood. Juliet's use of the formal "Madam" when speaking to her mother persists throughout the first three acts. After the wedding night, however, the word "mother" creeps into Juliet's vocabulary. First it appears in indirect address to the Nurse. The new bride asks if it is her "lady mother" who calls (III.v.65). But "mother" then disappears. The more formal "Madam" functions almost chorally as daughter interrupts mother. Staccatolike, the word punctuates the flow of Lady Capulet's message—the plan for a hasty marriage between Juliet and Paris: "Madam, I am not well" (68), "What villain, madam?" (79), and finally, the rather arrogant command, "… tell my lord and father, madam, / I will not marry yet" (120-21).

Juliet then turns to her father. Her knowledge of his love for her has given her strength and courage to dismiss her mother. When, to her surprise, she discovers his adamant insistence on her total obedience, she falls to her knees, imploring: "Good father, I beseech you on my knees, / Hear me with patience but to speak a word" (III.v. 158-59). Calling him "father," she temporarily rejects the formal pattern of speech adopted in her groping toward adulthood. Condemned to poverty and the streets if she disobeys, she attempts to revive the close relationship implied in the early scenes of child to parent.

Only after she discovers her father unyielding does she for a moment break the barrier she has built through language and try to communicate with her mother. Hoping to create a bond between herself and this distant, formal woman, Juliet begs: "O sweet my mother, cast me not away!" (III.v.198). But her mother, like the Nurse later on, fails Juliet. Although together they represent two aspects of the nurturer, they can offer neither help, nor comfort, nor understanding for they have accepted the constraints of their roles as women in their society. But Juliet, still too young to have suppressed the sense of personal freedom in order to conform, seeks to retain the independent spirit nurtured during her years growing up.

In creating this teenager, Shakespeare alters the materials of his source to give her added stature. Critics tell us that her fourteen years make her less culpable than was Brooke's heroine of sixteen. But Shakespeare seems less concerned with culpability and more with personal initiative. Although younger than Brooke's heroine, Shakespeare's character has an option not permitted her prototype. Brooke's lovers have been married for a month or two—"The summer of their blisse, doth last a month or twayne"16—before the fatal duel between Romeo and Tybalt. Shakespeare shifts the sequence of events so that Juliet's decision to consummate the marriage occurs after Tybalt's death. The risks involved in marrying Romeo are no longer simply those connected with displeasing her parents. Since Romeo has already been condemned to banishment—or, if he remains in Verona, to death—Juliet may no longer dream of an easy solution. Realistically, she knows that there will be no parental acceptance of this marriage. Ironically, the sexual drive that Lady Capulet hoped she might awaken in her daughter now leads to a decision never anticipated by the parents. By marrying Romeo at this time, Juliet is also consciously rejecting the husband already chosen for her. Thus on several levels, Shakespeare's Juliet exhibits personal initiative and independence.

The contrast with Brooke's poem extends to the portrait of Paris and the timing of his offer of marriage. Unlike Shakespeare, Brooke does not have the parents propose Paris as a husband for Juliet until after Romeo's banishment. Tearful, weeping, the young girl seems to be sliding quickly into a depression. The poet paints a vivid portrait of the inconsolable bride. To maintain her price as a marriageable commodity as well as to prevent her complete decline, the parents quickly betroth her to Paris. Shakespeare establishes the engagement at the play's opening, thus adding an element of tension at the start.

Finally, in sharp contrast with the hero and heroine of Brooke's poem, Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet share the decision about their future action. Although Shakespeare's Juliet momentarily protests that she will accompany her husband, she realizes that the haste of his departure allows no time for such a plan. Brooke's Juliet, however, develops a long well-reasoned argument for accompanying Romeo.17 Resisting her pleas, he reminds her of the difference in age between them and warns her that they could both be punished:

I, as a ravishor, thou, as a careles childe,
I, as a man who doth defile, thou, as a mayde

Brooke stresses the relative ages of the lovers and their comparative responsibilities in the eyes of society. Shakespeare decllines to offer moral judgment on the lovers, presenting instead the dilemma facing two adolescents. For the text of the play implies that Romeo, too, is young. Friends, parents, and particularly Friar Lawrence, comment on his immaturity before his first stage entrance. From his father, we hear that the sorrowing son, walking with downcast eyes, closes the daylight from his room, making himself "an artificial night" (I.i.140). When Romeo enters, he reveals the source of his sorrow: love. "In love?" (165), queries Benvolio. "Out" (166), responds Romeo. "Of love?" (167) his friend persists. "Out of her favor where I am in love" (168). Thus at our first meeting with this hero, his heart is heavy with unrequited love for the "fair Rosaline."

When, after meeting Juliet, Romeo rushes to the Friar's cell early in the morning to speak of his love, the Friar asks, "God pardon sin! Wast thou with Rosaline?" (II.iii.44). Romeo answers, "Then plainly know my heart's dear love is set / On the fair daughter of rich Capulet" (57-58). The Friar, who last heard him yearning for Rosaline, voices the general skepticism about such a rapid shift of affection.

Holy Saint Francis, what a change is here!
Is Rosaline, that thou didst love so dear,
So soon forsaken? Young men's love then lies
Not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes.

The exclamation, with its reference to Saint Francis and its heavy stress on rhyme, not only breaks the tone of the solemn pledge of the previous scene, the famous balcony scene, but arouses suspicion in the audience of the dependability of Romeo's love. The whole dialogue, including the Friar's lengthy description of Romeo's earlier pose of total dedication to Rosaline—"Jesu Maria, what a deal of brine / Hath wash'd thy sallow cheeks for Rosaline!" (69-70)—reminds us that the two lovers brought different backgrounds to their discovery of mutual love in one another. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the great nineteenth-century poet and critic, rationalized this well: "It would have displeased us if Juliet had been represented as already in love or as fancying herself so;—but no one, I believe, ever experiences any shock at Romeo's forgetting his Rosaline, who had been a mere name for the yearning of his youthful imagination, and rushing into his passion for Juliet."19

In fact, many did blame Romeo. In the eighteenth century, Cibber eliminated Rosaline.20 When Garrick wrote his version in 1748, he retained Rosaline, however in 1750, in response to popular demand, he eliminated all references to her when he revised his text. He also weighted the scene with a moral message. Thus, the speech that delightfully rhymes "brine" with "Rosaline" becomes:

Holy Saint Francis! what a change is this!
But tell me, son, and call thy reason home,
Is not this love the offspring of thy folly,
Bred from thy wantonness and thoughtless

Instead of the Friar mocking the Petrachan convention that true love springs from the lover's eyes but not his heart, Garrick's Friar reprimands Romeo and introduces the word "wantonness." Warning Romeo against overemotionalism, the Friar continues:

Be heedful, youth, and see you stop betimes,
Lest that thy rash ungovernable passions,
O'er-leaping duty, and each due regard,
Hurry thee on, thro' short liv'd, dear bought
To cureless woes, and lasting penitence.22

Although passionate, this Romeo cannot be accused of swiftly jumping from one love to another. For with all references to Rosaline excised, his sincerity is assured. He becomes a much more acceptable romantic hero, one audiences can acclaim and critics praise. Later versions, including one by Henry Irving, follow Garrick's pattern.23 Either through revision or excision, they omit the pointed references to Rosaline and Romeo's too recent infatuation with her. Altering the plot to retain the ball scene, Garrick provides new motivation for Romeo's attendance. No longer does the youth desire to gaze at Rosaline; instead he yearns to see the face of Juliet once more.24 He is a young man of great constancy. Writing of Garrick's version, William Hazlitt, the nineteenth-century critic, commended the change because it narrowed the canvas and "assisted the concentration of interest."25 It also placed the lovers on a more equal footing of first commitment.

Shakespeare's intention, however, was to show Romeo's immaturity at the opening of the play so as to reveal his growth as well as Juliet's as the drama progresses. The young man's extreme outbursts of passion for Rosaline provide the perfect foil. For he mistakes the worship of Rosaline's beauty for real love. The audience listening to him mooning because of her detects the extreme self-awareness of the adolescent in many of those early speeches.

After he meets Juliet, much of the pretentiousness and affectation disappears from Romeo's speeches, as critics have generally noted. Although his language is never as simple as hers, it takes on an intensity and a new directness that convince us of his sincerity. We therefore accept his expression of love for Juliet as true, and that for Rosaline as specious. If, like the eighteenth-century audiences, we have some slight lingering doubt about Romeo, that too may reflect the dramatist's intention of elevating Juliet to the position of major character, the one who evokes our greatest concern. Dramaturgically and psychologically, Rosaline serves an important function. Not only does she help us differentiate between Romeo and his friends, but she establishes Romeo's interest in a serious commitment to a woman. He, like Juliet, has been primed for their first meeting. The unrequited love he thought he felt for Rosaline astonishingly meets acceptance from Juliet who has also been prepared for their meeting by having been told to consider "liking" Paris and then marrying him. The young woman who at fourteen might not have entertained the possibility of marriage so soon, as hinted by her line, "It is an honor that I dream not of (I.iii.66), is prepared to "look to like" when she meets Romeo at the ball.

"When a [female] child comes under their care, women apply themselves to changing her into a woman like themselves," de Beauvoir writes.26 Juliet has listened to her mother and Nurse speak of the joys of marriage, has been told of her physical ripeness, and is ready to enjoy this new adventure, with little sense of its final cost. MacMillan's ballet elegantly conveys Juliet's readiness. Having entered exuberantly with that rag doll, she playfully teases the Nurse until interrupted by the appearance of mother, father, and suitor. Told of the ball that evening and of the future plans for her marriage, she play-acts a grown young woman until the adults leave. Then she bursts into ecstatic joy and grabs the doll, intending it for her confidant. But the Nurse interrupts; the time for dolls is past. She touches Juliet's breasts, the signs of the girl's becoming a woman. Following the Nurse's gesture, Juliet raises her own hands, fingers outspread, to her breasts. She discards the doll. The ballet crystallizes the statement of Juliet's age. Margot Fonteyn, the great ballerina, even at the age of forty projected the illusion of youth through gesture, movement, and symbol. An actress, too, should be able to achieve this magic on the stage.

The ballet illustrates the importance of the interpreter's vision and the impact of contemporary cultural mores on character definition. Like Garrick's version, MacMillan's work invites comparison with Shakespeare's. Whereas the portrait of Juliet captures the essence of the original, that of Romeo is flawed. The choreographer's hero is more of a man about town than the dramatist's, and at first he is much more difficult to distinguish from his peers, Benvolio and Mercutio. The play opens with a street brawl between the servants of the Montagues and the Capulets that culminates in bloodshed and the edict of the Prince forbidding further fighting. This precedes Romeo's lovesick entrance. The ballet opens in the marketplace where Romeo, after briefly following Rosaline until she exits, participates in a large choral street number and dances unperturbedly, joyously, with one of the street whores. Whereas in the drama we know Romeo immediately, because his attitudes toward women distinguish Shakespeare's Romeo from his friends, in the dance we have to search for the lead.

One of them, Benvolio, is the first of the trio to enter. A minor character, he nevertheless provides a contrast missing from the ballet. Unlike the disconsolate Romeo, this cousin and friend believes women unworthy of men's tears. Having promised old Montague that he would unearth the source of Romeo's melancholy, Benvolio discovers it to be love of Rosaline and quickly decries his cousin's weakness. Women must not have such power. Surely there are other women around who will serve as well. As a cure, Benvolio insists:

Compare her face with some that I shall show,
And I will make thee think thy swan a crow.

The Romeo of the drama ardently protests:

When the devout religion of mine eye
Maintains such falsehood, then turn tears to

Romeo's intensity and seriousness alert the audience to his character even though his feelings for Rosaline evaporate when Juliet appears. The ballet fails to transmute Shakespeare's vision of Romeo into dance when it introduces the three young men as interchangeable. In the play, Benvolio is not Romeo's equal.

The contrast between Romeo and Mercutio is even greater. Unlike Benvolio, who hopes to cure Romeo by showing him a world of women more beautiful and more attractive than Rosaline, Mercutio aims to cure through pure frolic. Women are toys, playthings. This attitude glitters throughout the Queen Mab speech. Describing a fairy "no bigger than an agot-stone" (I.iv.55), Mercutio delights the mind with the exploits of this fantasy creature.

… she gallops night by night
Through lovers' brains, and then they dream
  of love;
O'er courtiers' knees, that dream on cur'sies

This is the hag, when maids lie on their
That presses them and learns them first to
Making them women of good carriage.
This is she—
                            (I.iv.70-72, 92-95)

Romeo halts the outburst of over forty lines when the fairy "no bigger than an agot-stone" becomes a hag and the images decline from the purely fanciful to the sensual. Sounding much like Juliet in her directive to the Nurse in Act I, scene ii, Romeo interjects: "Peace, peace, Mercutio, peace!" Although we are conditioned by society to admire a hero like Mercutio—the brash, imaginative male who, incidentally, denigrates women—Shakespeare creates this portrait to define through contrast a more gentle, sympathetic, youthful Romeo.

Of a certain age and temperament, he is modeled on a more human, frail frame. He is not the young man who, having sowed his wild oats, decides to settle down when he sees Juliet—as implied by the ballet. Whether or not he has had prior sexual experience we cannot be certain from the text although, in the manner of boastful youths, he, Benvolio, and Mercutio vie with one another (Il.iv.), quip for quip, and bawdy line for bawdy line. As may be expected, Mercutio triumphs. Romeo's more tentative approach becomes apparent through contrast. Nor is Romeo the perfect hero who, falling in love at first sight, has never previously thought himself enamored.

When Romeo and Juliet meet for the first time, they express the uncertainties of youth as well as its enthusiasm and brash confidence. Their speeches, each in turn, follow sophisticated adult patterns. Bantering with one another, Romeo gallantly refers to Juliet's hand as a "holy shrine" and she responds by punning on the meaning of palm in a playful exchange that continues until Romeo twice kisses her:

ROMEOIF I profane with my unworthiest hand
This holy shrine, the gentle sin is this,

My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender
JULIET:Good Pilgrim, you do wrong your hand
  too much,

For saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do
And palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss.

In 1854 Richard Grant White, the Shakespearean scholar, observed of the above dialogue: "I have never seen a Juliet upon the stage who appeared to appreciate the archness of the dialogue with Romeo in this scene."27 But then White had probably never seen any but a derivation of Garrick's version of this scene. Prejudiced against Juliet by what he saw, the critic then continued: "And when Romeo fairly gets her into the corner, towards which she has been contriving to be driven … how shyly the pretty puss gives him the opportunity to repeat the penance."28 White found Juliet a scheming young woman. His comments illustrate the impact of the staged work on his evaluation of the total play for he combines his recollections of the theatrical experience with his responses to the literary text. Cutting for the stage affects the audience's and the critic's response. White's first observation also tells us about the production. Although Garrick's was considered the best version of Romeo and Juliet between 1680 and 1875, it differed from Shakespeare's text in this scene. Charles Beecher Hogan asserts that Garrick's version "with slight modifications … was used as late as 1875 by Charles Wyndham. It does not appear to have been abandoned until Irving's production … in 1882."29 However, an undated promptbook at the Folger Library hints at a later date, possibly as late as the beginning of the twentieth century.30 Devoid of any reference to Rosaline, stripped of Juliet's bright banter, and reduced to the exchange of two kisses preceded by a few words, Garrick's text creates a very different young woman. His scene reads:

ROMEO If I profane with my unworthy hand
This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this.
JULIET: Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand
  too much,
For palm to palm is holy palmer's kiss.
ROMEO Have not saints lips, and holy palmers
JULIET: Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in
ROMEO Thus then, dear saint, let lips put up
  their prayers.

At this point the Nurse terminates the conversation by telling Juliet that her mother "craves a word" with her.

What had been an intellectual exercise in Shakespeare's drama—an extended rally in the use of metaphor—becomes primarily an exchange of kisses in Garrick's. Absent is Juliet's archness, a definite part of Shakespeare's portrait.

By the close of this fifth scene, Juliet still tends toward "quibbles." But her comment in the original, "My only love sprung from my only hate! / Too early seen un-known, and known too late!" (I.v.138-39), has an intensity that rescues it from being a mere play on words. Because Juliet herself recognizes what she is doing, she tosses off the explanation to the Nurse, "A rhyme I learnt even now / Of one I danc'd withal" (142-43). Rhetorical devices disappear from her speech when she believes herself to be alone.

At the opening of the balcony scene, unaware of any listener, she expresses her feeling in clear, intense language. Gone are the heavy rhyme and the punning heard in her conversations with Lady Capulet and later with Romeo. Instead, carefully chosen words express Juliet's feelings and describe the problems she anticipates:

O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I'll no longer be a Capulet.

Unlike Kate in The Taming of the Shrew, whose intentions must be gleaned from watching her behavior with a variety of people, Juliet unburdens herself to the audience in several soliloquies during the course of the drama. One imagines Shakespeare saying: "Here, these are her words; these her secret thoughts. Figure her out if you can. My objective is to delineate a teenage girl, a complex individual." She combines many contradictory qualities. She has a sharp well-developed mind, and yet she is innocent and naive. She has faith in the future and an uncompromising standard of moral rectitude. And yet she is also a pragmatist. Dynamic and idealistic, she believes life holds infinite promise. Juliet's words and actions reveal this depth and intensity as well as faith. Unfortunately, productions falter when they attempt to present a young Juliet, perhaps because too often men refuse to understand that a fourteen-year-old girl may exhibit all of these qualities. Most recently, this failure by the director explains the weakness of the BBC television production of the play.32 In that, Juliet is positively fourteen but has neither the independent spirit nor the sensitivity of Shakespeare's character. A girl with a high, squeaky voice, she appears to be somewhat of a ninny in the early scenes. This destroys the unity of the characterization because Juliet's later, strong actions then appear inconsistent with that earlier portrayal.

Not only directors, but critics, too, have difficulty with this idea of a strong, idealistic, teenage girl. Although they may recognize that Shakespeare created several strong adult women in his plays, women whose models must have existed in the Elizabethan world, they fail to see that strong girls must have lived in the world of Shakespeare's time as well. Strong women do not emerge fully grown without a childhood. Robert Orastein, the Shakespearean scholar, in a recent work writes:

Whatever homilists said about the frailty and waywardness of women, Shakespeare … depicted robust, strong-minded, and independent women who are unwilling to suffer any indignity at the command of their lords and masters. Although such dramatic portraits were idealized, there were many women of like spirit in Elizabethan society who refused to accept the dependent, submissive roles which were conventionally prescribed for their sex.33

The critic is far less sanguine about the world that fostered teenagers like Juliet, for he continues: "Anyone as thoughtful as Shakespeare understood that women were trained from childhood to docility" (italics mine).34 What Ornstein fails to accept is what de Beauvoir describes about the upbringing of a young girl and what Shakespeare's play, although written more than three centuries earlier, seems to illustrate. An observant recorder of human behavior (and the father of two daughters) the dramatist probably knew that very young women savor independence. Like boys, girls too believe in themselves as "subject," to use de Beauvoir's word for central or primary. Only later, when these girls grow older and become aware of their own sexuality and of societal pressures to conform, do they accept the role of "Other," of "inessential," relinquishing that more "spontaneous tendency … to regard [themselves] as essential." According to de Beauvoir, when the girl becomes a young woman, she finally accepts the idea of becoming the "inessential" because she perceives docility as the only way to accomplish her destiny.35 Shakespeare's insistence that Juliet be fourteen, rather than sixteen or eighteen, indicates his wish to catch that wonderful, struggling age before docility begins.

Characteristic of such teenagers are quick shifts in language.36 Complex patterns of speech, learned from the adult world, give way to direct questions, as we observe in Juliet's balcony scene with Romeo. When she asks him, "What man art thou that thus bescreen'd in night / So stumblest on my counsel?" (II.ii.52-53), she once again sounds like the daughter who challenged her mother with: "What is your will?" (I.iii.6). And when, during the encounter in the garden, she asks, "How earnest thou hither,… / The orchard walls are high and hard to climb" (II.ii.62-63), her question is direct, counterpointed against Romeo's more expansively decorated language: "With love's light wings did I o'erperch these walls" (66). As they continue, the solid basic statements of Juliet are juxtaposed against the flowery words of Romeo. Only when she must respond to his flattery does a sudden change of tone occur. Admitting that a maiden blush would "bepaint" (86) her cheek were it daylight, she stubbornly insists: "Fain would I dwell on form, fain, fain deny / What I have spoke" (88-89). Not merely a young woman falling in love, she is still very much a teenager wondering how things happen, asking questions, and calling on her own good sense to help her resolve problems. Dissatisfied with his answer, she asks again: "By whose direction foundst thou out this place?" (79). Once more he evades the question, "By love" (80). This antithesis between Romeo's extravagant language—"My life were better ended by their hate, / Than death prorogued, wanting of thy love" (77-78)—and Juliet's directness continues until Romeo needs confirmation of her love with a sworn oath.

Shakespeare then raises the question posed in Love's Labour's Lost: What drives a man to insist on a vow to confirm a promise? For Romeo, long after he has overheard her outspoken avowal of love, queries, "O, wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?" (125). Wondering at his meaning, she asks what he could wish "tonight." Does the directness of her question explain his answer? "Th' exchange of thy love's faithful vow for mine" (127)? Or is he wondering whether her words resemble his own less than binding vow when he thought himself in love with Rosaline? In response to his question, Juliet rationally reminds him: "I gave thee mine before thou didst request it" (128). Earlier she had rejected the timelessness of oaths:

… I will take thy word; yet, if thou swear'st,
Thou mayest prove false: at lovers' perjuries
They say Jove laughs.

Despite her youth and naiveté, she resembles the women of Love's Labour's Lost, skeptical about the value of oaths. She is willing to accept Romeo's word as honest proof of his intention. On the other hand, a realist, she believes oaths must be translated into action. And if his word says "love," she understands that love should be accompanied by marriage. Did her Nurse teach her this? More likely, she took her mother's words literally.

Promising to "look to like" before marrying Paris, Juliet finds Romeo instead. The erotic urges that de Beauvoir writes of have been stimulated by the wrong man, but Juliet still thinks as "subject, active, free," a fact which disturbs some critics. After her soliloquy, her words and actions reveal that she has not relinquished self-sovereignty. Her statement to Romeo, "If that thy bent of love be honorable, / Thy purpose marriage, send me word tomorrow" (143-44) springs from this same sense of individuality. Although she insists

… if thou meanest not well,
I do beseech thee—

To cease thy strife, and leave me to my grief

she little fears that he means "not well." Has she not heard his promise of love, his insistence on swearing, his wish to exchange oaths with her? With the confidence of youth and without the passivity proscribed for the adult woman, she maps out the logical plan for action, based on the mutuality of their love.

Comparing the future for a young man and a young woman, de Beauvoir writes: "The young man's journey into existence is made relatively easy by the fact that there is no contradiction between his vocation as human being and as male."37 Although the feud between the families poses a problem for Romeo on his journey into adulthood, his conflict is one superimposed on his life; hers is essential and part of her inevitable development as a female in society. Her tragedy grows out of the conflict between her "vocation as a human being" and as a woman. Because of her extreme youth, she has not yet learned to renounce self-sovereignty. Her vocation as a human being is to become transcendent, to fully realize the self, to strive for worlds unknown. She refuses to "become the inessential," to relinquish the ego.38 Even when she thinks of exchanging her name for Romeo's love, she does not seem to anticipate a loss of personal sovereignty. Therefore, while she resembles the women of France in her sense of self-worth and in her skepticism about the validity of oaths, she does not resemble them in her attitude toward marriage. To her, marriage does not mean a loss of self-sovereignty. In fact, she initiates the idea. To retain their sovereignty, the women of France decline the offer of a world-without-end bargain by men who originally considered love and women impediments to learning. Juliet faces no such hostility from her suitor. And, because of her extreme youth, she has not yet learned to relinquish the initiative. Unabashedly, she proffers marriage.

Attitudes toward marriage vary perceptibly in this play, depending on the character and his or her background, age, sex, and experience. In some cases, the point of view shifts with the role although the character remains the same. Thus Capulet views marriage from two different perspectives—a father's and a husband's. In the latter role, he is a man of little vision, a conventional character who reminisces about the days of his youthful escapades before he was married. He bustles around the house, directing preparations for the wedding. Stuffy, self-important, he betrays his egotism when, sending his wife to announce to Juliet their plans for her hasty marriage, he asks: "How now, wife? / Have you delivered to her our decree?" (III.v. 137-38). With that word "decree" he engraves his role as master—of his home, his wife, and his daughter. And yet, he believes himself a concerned father.

Had he not tried, at first, to challenge acceptable patterns in his society by withholding his daughter's hand until she was older? And then, when he capitulated, had he not defended his actions with a lengthy explanation of how Juliet's welfare had been central to him?

Day, night; hour, tide, time; work, play;
Alone, in company, still my care hath been
To have her match'd.

Breaking down time into its component parts, Capulet stresses his all-encompassing dedication to finding her the proper husband. And yet he fails her. Communication between them falters and is finally destroyed. Like so many exasperated fathers of teenagers, he demands compliance to what seems to him a reasonable demand. He neither hears, nor listens. When Juliet, on her knees, attempts to dissuade him—"Good father, I beseech you on my knees" (III.v. 158)—he is deaf to her pleas, accusing her of "chopped-logic" and disobedience. Finally, he threatens to disown her, to cast her on the streets, to expose her to poverty. All this is part of his concept of marriage, and of a daughter's role as wife-to-be.

Nor is Lady Capulet capable of hearing or identifying with Juliet. Well-trained in the role of helpmate, she repeats her husband's message in more moderate language. "Do as thou wilt, for I have done with thee" (203) the mother exclaims to her daughter. De Beauvoir writes of the "complex relations of mother to daughter … the mother is at once overweeningly affectionate and hostile toward her daughter."40 Shakespeare exposes some of this antagonism when Lady Capulet explodes, "I would the fool were married to her grave!" (140). Whatever temporary truce existed between them in the scene before the ball has evaporated. Dramaturgically, the line is a foreboding of the ending although the mother, of course, has no such intense feeling. Nevertheless, hostility permeates their relationship. Did this woman who was a mother at fourteen ever sparkle with enthusiasm and passion? Has marriage been reduced to childbirth and a classic ceremony about which one says "The County Paris … / Shall happily make thee there a joyful bride" (114-15)? The two modifiers, "happily" and "joyful," are positive recommendations from a very unimaginative, joyless woman who, if she ever resembled Juliet, is positive testimony of the calming, oppressive effect of marriage on a woman.

Appearing to offer Juliet a healthy attitude toward marriage, the Nurse lacks any sense of moral values.

Shuttling easily from praise of Paris to praise of Romeo to praise of Paris again, she considers all men attractive, particularly those who become Juliet's suitors. Nourishing Juliet's easy acceptance of her own sexuality, the Nurse demurs from any deeper commitment. Love in marriage is irrelevant. Religious scruples must not interfere with the joyous sexual experience. In his source, Shakespeare found the Nurse acting the bawd on the wedding night, hurrying the lovers, who are engaged in conversation, into the bridal bed. Instead of giving her that role in his play, the dramatist awaits a more dramatic moment to expose her limitations and to lift Juliet to a plane of terrible aloneness. Distraught at her father's ultimatum, she begs for advice and hears to her horror the Nurse's pragmatic recommendation:

I think you are happy in this second match,
For it excels your first; or if it did not,
Your first is dead, or 'twere as good he were
As living here and you no use of him.

Physical proximity becomes the final measure for a successful marriage. Incredulous, Juliet repudiates this mentor, seeking counsel from the Friar, who also has a limited vision of marriage. He fancies himself a hero in joining the lovers, foreseeing the end of a feud and laurels for his wise political gesture.

Only Romeo and Juliet approach the ideal of marriage, albeit briefly. Critics have noted that Shakespeare presents a new vision here. He alters the traditional pattern, where romance exists in one category and tragedy in another, by combining the two—probably a revolutionary change at the time.41 Rather than the marriage of convenience or the love relationship that culminates joyously in comedy, Romeo and Juliet ends in tragedy, a seeming contradiction. Shakespeare is also thought to have created a new ideal: the love marriage.42 Discarding his source, he forges a relationship of great mutuality between the lovers, one that begins with her challenge, "If your thoughts be honorable," and ends in her farewell: "My lord, my love, my friend!" (III.v.43).43 The ideal of marriaged created by this play remains, perhaps because the protagonists are destroyed so quickly. Or, perhaps it remains because the mutuality born of youth and an equal sense of the I, the ego, of both partners has not yet shifted so that he becomes the I and she the Other, in de Beauvoir's terms. Could this ideal have survived time? Could Juliet have sustained her perspective or would she, like her mother, have succumbed to societal pressures? Shakespeare allows no time for these questions to be answered. The play's strength lies in its poetry and the individuality of its two principal young people who, in a world of cynicism, have not yet felt the full pressure of that environment. But the play's uniqueness lies in its portrait of a young girl who remains strong during her swift growth to womanhood.

Critics have had difficulty with this concept. Some resemble Harley Granville-Barker, the dramatist-actor-producer whose life spanned the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Although they agree on the importance of Juliet's being accepted as a fourteen-year-old, they have strange notions of what a fourteen-year-old girl is like. Do they retreat to their own notions of fourteen-year-old girls, those mysterious, ethe-real beings that peopled their own youths? Or do they incorporate that idea with a larger one that encloses all women in a shell of Otherness? Granville-Barker's estimate of Juliet combines his responses to woman-kind in general with his pity for the fate of a child bride whose life is cut short:

One day a child, and the next a woman! But she has not grown older as Romeo has, nor risen to an impersonal dignity of sorrow. Shakespeare's women do not, for obvious reasons, so develop. They are vehicles of life, not of philosophy. Here is a life cut short in its brightness; and it is a cruel business, this slaughter of a child betrayed.44

Irving Ribner, the contemporary critic, worries less about Juliet's age and more about the necessity for a single hero in a tragedy. Unlike Granville-Barker, Ribner admits that women have the capacity for growth. Nevertheless, he too believes Romeo the more logical protagonist, observing:

Both Romeo and Juliet mature greatly as the play unfolds, but to demonstrate the particular progress of the human life journey, Shakespeare concentrates upon Romeo. The exigencies of drama required that he concentrate upon one figure, and Romeo, of course, was the natural one.45

A close examination of the division of lines and speeches suggests that Shakespeare sought to give equal weight to the fortunes of the two principals. According to the Concordance, Romeo has approximately 19 percent of the lines and Juliet 17 percent.46 But statistics prove illusory when a work of literature is being judged for its emotional and psychological effect. Since Romeo tends to longer, more expansive speeches, the division of lines merely records that fact. It does not record the intensity of the speeches, or the impact of the total characterization on the observer. Although the role of Juliet may present difficulties for an actress who is herself older than fourteen, it nevertheless offers a range and lyricism that makes it an enviable part. Juliet moves the audience, not with "pity for a child betrayed" but with admiration for a courageous person attempting to fight her destiny as a woman. She is recognizable as a person caught in a web—a tragic figure who expresses a human predicament.

Although Romeo matures during the play, Shakespeare uses several devices to weight the tragedy in favor of Juliet as the major figure. He retains Rosaline from the source; he emphasizes Romeo's irrationality; and, in the scenes in which they can be compared, he gives the lines of greater depth and beauty to Juliet. Probably one of the sharpest contrasts is that between Romeo's response to the news of his banishment and Juliet's to the news of her forthcoming marriage to Paris. In the scene in the Friar's cell, when learning of his banishment Romeo throws himself on the floor and threatens suicide. Faced with a far more complex challenge—bigamy rather than banishment—Juliet, although considering suicide herself, seeks advice, listening hopefully for some solution.

The scenes between Romeo and the Friar, and Juliet and the Friar illuminate the contrast. In the former, we hear:

ROMEO …"Banished"?
O friar, the damned use that word in hell;
FRIAR: Thou fond mad man, hear me a little
ROMEO O, thou wilt speak again of
FRIAR: I'll give thee armor to keep off that
Adversity's sweet milk, philosophy,
ROMEO Yet "banished"? Hang up philosophy!
                      (III.iii.46-47; 52-55; 57)

Their conversation continues with this intensity until me Nurse's arrival. The decision to proceed with plans for the wedding night, with its offer of only momentary solace, calms Romeo. In contrast, Juliet—alone, rejected by her parents, ill-counselled by the Nurse, and even forced to speak politely to Paris before hearing the Friar's advice—retains control of herself. To the Friar's offer of sympathy, she responds with a warning:

Tell me not, friar, that thou nearest of this,
Unless thou tell me how I may prevent it.

Anxious to allow him no opportunity for advice resembling the Nurse's, Juliet continues at length, disclosing the alternatives she has considered so as "to live an unstain'd wife" (88) to her sweet Lord. Prompted by the desperate tone of Juliet's decision, the Friar offers another alternative: a potion that will stop the warmth and breath, thus seemingly the life, in her veins. When Juliet agrees, the Friar approvingly asserts in one of the more ironic lines in the play:

And this shall free thee from this present
If no inconstant toy, nor womanish fear,
Abate thy valor in the acting it.

Throughout the play Shakespeare introduces the word "womanish" in the Friar's speeches. When this man of the cloth unthinkingly warns a woman against being womanish, he reveals his insensitivity. Because of his subsequent actions in the tomb scene, his lines here have a great poignancy. He is directing Juliet to take a most unusual potion and picturing to her the moment of her awakening. She is womanish indeed in the deepest sense of the word—in love, and married, and seeking to remain true to the man she has married. If, however, womanish is to be interpreted as fearful and cowardly, then the Friar, who may have chosen his vocation in order to be unwomanish all his life, ultimately proves himself cowardly at the one moment when his courage is tested. Anxious to leave the tomb, worried about the magnitude of his own responsibility, he urges Juliet: "Come go, good Juliet, I dare no longer stay" (V.iii.159). Instinctively "womanish," according to his own definition of the word, he flees, and must be considered directly responsible for Juliet's suicide when, no restraining hand present and abandoned by the Friar, she believes herself without an alternative.

Courage and directness of action more truly characterize Juliet than Romeo. Compared with his thrashing about on the floor of the Friar's cell in self-pity, she moves on her own behalf. Later, going to the Friar for help and warning him against suggesting acquiescence to marriage with Paris, she reveals strength and determination. The loss of her parents' and Nurse's support intensifies Juliet's tragedy by stressing her terrible aloneness. Although Romeo's parents know nothing of his attachment, either to Rosaline or to Juliet, they are unconcerned about his marrying, fail to connect his melancholy with thoughts of love, and are never in open conflict with him. Juliet's parents, on the other hand, assert their right to determine her husband from the moment the play begins. When she chooses another, she must confront their anger and hostility. Once again Shakespeare stresses the challenge to a woman to govern her own life. Juliet, like Kate and Bianca, must accept the husband of her parents' choice. She is expected to be compliant chattel in a good business arrangement. Whereas the feud magnifies Juliet's problem and leads to tragedy, it also asserts Shakespeare's awareness of the humanity of women.

He not only contrasts the strain that parents impose on sons and daughters, but compares the responses and the sense of personal commitment of the two lovers to each other. Fearing the unadvisability of their sudden contract, Juliet exclaims:

It is too rash, too unadvis'd, too sudden,
Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be
Ere one can say it lightens.

Romeo fears merely that "Being in night, all this is but a dream" (140). She seems more aware of the far-reaching effects of this agreement. Her lines indicate insight into her own actions and forebodings about the outcome. Another comparison occurs in their actions moments after the wedding. Romeo proves unable to withstand the societal pressure to conform despite his knowledge that participating in the duel with Tybalt must be disastrous. Invoking the word "effeminate" to his own attempts at maintaining the peace, he challenges Tybalt after Mercutio's death. Loyalty to family and male code of honor prevail over reason. His mind fails to govern his action.

In comparison, Juliet, in the scene in which she hears of Tybalt's death, wrestles with the unexpected dilemma. For a moment she wonders whether she has been duped into marrying the wrong man. The list of epithets that spout from her mouth—"Beautiful tyrant! fiend angelical! / Dove-feather'd raven! wolvish ravening lamb!" (III.ii.75-76), passionately linking opposites in this series of pictures—reveals a sharp imagination and an intensity of spirit. Although, upon hearing the news, she momentarily exclaims "O serpent heart, hid with a flow'ring face! / Did ever dragon keep so fair a cave?" (III.ii.73-74), she quickly relents. When the Nurse, following Juliet's lead, derides Romeo, Juliet vehemently reprimands her:

Blister'd be thy tongue

Upon his brow shame is asham'd to sit;
For 'tis a throne where honor may be

Choosing her husband over mother, father, and family, Juliet decides:

Why followed not, when she said, "Tybalt's
Thy father or thy mother, nay, or both,
Which modern lamentation might have

… "Romeo is banished"!
There is no end, no limit, measure, bound,
In that word's death.
                        (III.ii.118-20, 124-26)

Despite these examples of Juliet's strength and of her struggle to control her own future, critics have been reluctant to accept her as the major tragic protagonist. Some, like Ribner, have theorized that if there is to be a single protagonist, Romeo should be the choice. Others have even suggested that "the two great protagonists of the drama are the two families" and that the lovers are "only part of the design."47 Since we are deeply involved with the Capulets—Juliet, Tybalt, Lord and Lady Capulet, and the Nurse—and only peripherally aware of the Montagues, this seems a questionable proposal. The families function as they relate to Juliet and her parents. The only other major character in the play, Mercutio, is friend, not family, to Romeo, and is distant enough to enunciate the final ominous curse, "A plague a' both your houses!" (III.i.106).

Michael Langham, Artistic Director of the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario, from 1956 to 1968, offers an interesting analysis of the closing moments of the play and then suggests still another alternative. He reminisces about his directorial approach:

A theme which the passage of years now reveals as significant to me, and which I ignored in my previous interpretation, is a favorite of Shakespeare's—learning responsibility through adversity, learning the answer to the time-honoured question asked by bewildered parents, "Where did we go wrong?" This, I now realize, is the dramatic meaning, well prepared for throughout, of the play's long final movement following the lovers' deaths.48

Langham then admits that he cut a great deal from the ending where the people in authority, the Prince as well as the parents, ask themselves, "Where did we go wrong?"

Langham, of course, was following a tradition going back to the eighteenth century when the last act was greatly altered and much of the material after the death scene was omitted. Like Langham's production the ballet, too, closes with the death scene. There, however, one can almost forgive MacMillan because, working in another medium, he strives to capture the major feeling of the play and successfully retains the centrality of Juliet. His closing scene is devoted to a long dance in which Romeo, clasping the dead Juliet, dances with her, reluctant to accept the finality of her death. It is a remarkable tour-de-force on the part of both dancers—the man playing Romeo as he swirls her through a series of turns; the woman dancing Juliet, the lifeless corpse.

Langham's observation, however, while it reminds us of the long speeches of the Friar and the shorter comments of the Prince and Montague, again seeks to divide the play equally between the two young people. I believe he is right in noting that the parents would tend to ask themselves, "Where did we go wrong?" Yet this obscures the difference in responsibility between the parents of Romeo and those of Juliet. It overlooks the deep involvement of Juliet's parents in precipitating her dilemma, and it fails to accept the greater intensity of her problem.

One can cope with banishment; bigamy and the prospect of rape in marriage are more threatening for a woman. Although Clifford Leech, a contemporary critic, writes, "Juliet knows that the man is possessed by the woman while he merely penetrates her"; women know that this is a male myth to justify the invasion of the inner, private personal space of a woman without consent.49 Turning upside down what "Juliet knows," this critics distorts the meaning of the play and deprecates the importance of sexual chastity and fidelity to this young woman. I agree with Philip Edwards, the distinguished contemporary scholar, when he says that "Juliet, after all, is the truest being in the play as well as the most important."50 For while the feud between the families leads to the death of Tybalt and the banishment of Romeo, the decision of the parents to catapult Juliet out of childhood into marriage with little thought of her responses as a person leads to the ultimate tragedy.


1 Kenneth MacMillan, Romeo and Juliet.

2 Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, p. 314.

3 Ann Jennalie Cook, "The Mode of Marriage in Shakespeare's England," pp. 126-32.

4 Arthur Brooke, "The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet," in Geoffrey Bullough, ed., Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, 1:334, line 1860.

5 Richard Grant White, ed., The Works of William Shakespeare, 10:34.

6 Among contemporary historians, Peter Laslett, in The World We Have Lost and Lawrence Stone, in The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800 disagree. Laslett observes that "the average age of these Elizabethan and Jacobean brides was something like twenty-four," p. 82. He then suggests that "there is the possibility that Shakespeare was deliberately writing a play about love and marriage amongst boys and girls," p. 84. Stone rejects several of Laslett's ideas, including the observation that "noble bridegrooms were about five years younger than their brides in the first half of the seventeenth century," p. 692n6. Nor is Stone convinced that there are sufficient statistics on the age of menarche before the nineteenth century to provide any conclusions, p. 693nl4.

7 Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, pp. 20, 46. There was also the belief that children of early marriages were likely to be weaklings.

8 de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, p. 314.

9Ibid., p. 262.


11 Samuel Johnson, Johnson on Shakespeare, 7:62.

12 Alexander Pope, ed., The Works of Mr. William Shakespear, 6:259.

13 Folger Prompt Rom 39. I want to thank Harry W. Pedicord for generously permitting me to read in manuscript his chapter on Romeo and Juliet for the edition of Garrick's Adaptations of Shakespeare, 1759-1773.

14 Pope places these lines in small type at the bottom of the page.

15 Brooke, "The Tragicall Historye," line 1860.

16Ibid, line 949.

17Ibid., lines 1601-7.

18Ibid., lines 1651-52.

19 Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Literary Remains, 2:152.

20 Theophilus Cibber, Romeo and Juliet.

21 Folger Prompt Rom 39, p. 27.

22Ibid., pp. 27-28.

23 Folger Prompt Rom 12.

24 Both Thomas Otway, in The History and Fall of Caius Marius, and Theophilus Cibber, in his version of Romeo and Juliet, eliminate the Rosaline interest. In Otway's work, Marius Junior (the Romeo character) is smitten with love for Lavinia (the Juliet character) from the beginning of the play and waits in the garden to see her, pp. 17-18. In Cibber's work, old Mountague says to his son at the beginning of the play, "No, Juliet is not for thee—Sighs thou Boy? / At that, unlucky Name, thou changest Colour" (p. 6). Romeo, after accepting the fact that Juliet is a member of a hated family, nevertheless exclaims, "Oh! Juliet, there is musick in thy Name …" (p. 7). Garrick borrowed from both predecessors. In fact, Cibber accused Garrick of plagiarism.

25 William Hazlitt, New Writings: Second Series, p. 129.

26 de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, pp. 262-63.

27 Richard Grant White, in Horace Howard Furness, ed., A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare, 1:81.

28Ibid., 1:82.

29 Charles Beecher Hogan, Shakespeare in the Theatre, 1701-1800, 1:405.

30 Folger Prompt Rom 17.

31 Folger Prompt Rom 39, p. 19.

32 BBC-TV and Time-Life Television co-production, Romeo and Juliet.

33 Robert Ornstein, "Bourgeois Morality and Dramatic Convention in A Woman Killed with Kindness, " p. 130.


35 de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, p. 314.

36 Harry Levin, "Form and Formality in Romeo and Juliet," in Shakespeare and the Revolution of the Times, and M. M. Mahood, Shakespeare's Wordplay. I profited from the excellent analyses of the language in these works.

37 de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, p. 314.


39 Although this is the text of the Second, Third, and Fourth Quartos, the editors of The Riverside Shakespeare prefer the Hoppe arrangement which reads "Day, night, work, play, / Alone.…" See pp. 1093, 1097 for further discussion. I have adopted the Q2 version, found also in J. A. Bryant, Jr., ed., Romeo and Juliet (III.v. 178-80).

40 de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, p. 262.

41 Levin, "Form and Formality," p. 108.

42 Germaine Greer, The Female Eunuch, p. 219.

43 This is the text of the First Quarto. The Riverside Shakespeare reads: "Art thou gone so, love, lord, ay, husband, friend!"

44 Harley Granville-Barker, Prefaces to Shakespeare, 4:87.

45 Irving Ribner," 'Then I Denie You Starres': A Reading of Romeo and Juliet," p. 276.

46 Marvin Spevack, A Complete and Systematic Concordance to the Works of Shakespeare, vol. 3.

47 "Introduction," George Ian Duthie, in John Dover Wilson and George Ian Duthie, eds., Romeo and Juliet, pp. xxv, xxvi.

48 Michael Langham, "Director's Preface," p. xxv.

49 Clifford Leech, "The Moral Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, " p. 66; Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape, passim.

50 Philip Edwards, Shakespeare and the Confines of Art, p. 77.

Works Cited

Folger Prompt Rom 1. Mary Anderson. Lyceum Theatre. London: W. S. Johnson, 1884.

Folger Prompt Rom Fo 1. Typescript. Henry Jewett, producer-director. Boston Opera House, 1915.

Folger Prompt Rom 3. Title page lacking. [Booth-Hinton edition, 1868.] New York, Booth's Theatre.

Folger Prompt Rom 12. No proper title page. [pp. 105-245 of a Works.] Henry Irving, actor and manager. London. Lyceum Theatre, 1882.

Folger Prompt Rom 13. Adapted by David Garrick. Romeo and Juliet. Revised by John Philip Kemble. Theatre Royal, Covent Garden. London, 1811. Charles Kean, actor and manager. Haymarket Theatre, 1841.

Folger Prompt Rom 17. French's Standard Drama No. XLII. New York: T. H. French; London: Samuel French, n. d. Robert B. Mantell, actor.

Folger Prompt Rom 33. Altered by David Garrick. Theatre-Royal, Drury-Lane. London: W. Lowndes, and S. Bladon, 1793. William B. Wood, actor and manager. Philadelphia. Chestnut Street Theatre, 1804.

Folger Prompt Rom 35. Adapted by David Garrick. Romeo and Juliet. Revised by John Philip Kemble. Theatre Royal, Covent Garden. London, 1811. Marked by J. P. Kemble (ca. 1815).

Folger Prompt Rom 39. With alterations, and an additional scene by David Garrick. London: Tonson, 1763. [3d edition].

BBC-TV and Time-Life Television co-production. Romeo and Juliet. WNET-Thirteen, March 14, 1979.

Bryant, J. A., Jr., ed. Romeo and Juliet. New York: New American Library, 1964.

Cibber, Theophilus. Romeo and Juliet. London: C. Corbett, 1748.

Garrick, David. Romeo and Juliet. London: Tonson, 1748.

Garrick, David. Romeo and Juliet. London: Tonson, 1750. [2d revised edition].

Langham, Michael. "Director's Preface." In Romeo and Juliet. Edited by Kenneth Weber. Toronto: Festival Editions of Canada, 1970.

MacMillan, Kenneth, choreographer. Romeo and Juliet. Music by Sergei Prokofiev. Filmed by Paul Czinner Productions for Poetic Films, 1966.

Otway, Thomas. The History and Fall of Caius Marius. London, 1680.

Wilson, J. Dover and George Ian Duthie, eds. Romeo and Juliet. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1955.

Zeffirelli, Franco, dir. Romeo and Juliet. Verona Productions. Paramount Pictures, 1968.

Language And Imagery

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Philip Edwards (essay date 1980)

SOURCE: "The Declaration of Love," in Shakespeare's Styles: Essays in Honour of Kenneth Muir, Cambridge University Press, 1980, pp. 39-50.

[In the following excerpt, Edwards examines the inadequacy of words to express love and the central characters' distrust of language.]

Romeo. Ah, Juliet, if the measure of thy joy
Be heaped like mine, and that thy skill be
To blazon it, then sweeten with thy breath
This neighbour air, and let rich music's
Unfold the imagined happiness that both
Receive in either by this dear encounter.
Juliet. Conceit, more rich in matter than in
Brags of his substance, not of ornament.
They are but beggars that can count their
But my true love is grown to such excess,
I cannot sum up sum of half my wealth.
               (Romeo and Juliet, II,vi,24-34)

This essay examines Shakespeare's use of a very ordinary idea: that in expressing love words may be inadequate or treacherous. There are several occasions in the plays when there is a rather formal declaration of love, or a demand for it as in the passage from Romeo and Juliet above, and almost always on these occasions one or other of the partners shows a distrust of language. The need to make or receive a verbal profession of love seems as constant as the doubt about its value. Shakespeare exploits and varies the commonplace notion that there is a gap between words and feelings with a good deal of subtlety, and to attend closely to what he is doing in each play is to come closer not only to the individuality of the characters but to the quality of the play itself. And in the long run we sense the scepticism of a great master of language about the reliability of his own verbal stock-in-trade as the true voice of feeling.

Act II, scene vi of Romeo and Juliet is the short scene in which the two lovers come to Friar Lawrence's cell for their secret wedding. Juliet enters 'somewhat fast, and embraceth Romeo', as the first quarto puts it. Romeo greets her with the words quoted above. His speech is a ceremonious demand for a formal statement of their shared happiness, and it seems important to him that she should thus certify the extent of her love for him. The word 'blazon' (1. 3) is not dominated by the heraldic sense, as the OED makes clear; it interacts with the verb 'blaze' to have a meaning something like 'proclaim in fitting words'. It has to do with public, even defiant utterance, and it has to do with description—as in the 'eternal blazon' which the Ghost in Hamlet is prohibited from making. The 'imagined happiness' (1. 5) is tricky for us, wrongly suggesting that which is only in the mind, or foreseen, rather than that which is real and present. The easiest paraphrase is 'the happiness within', or 'the happiness in our thoughts'. The idea of an interior region where things are truly experienced and registered but not expressed in words is very important in what we are examining. So too is the image of a quantity of love heaped up like wheat (11. 1-2) in that interior storehouse, reflecting the richness of giving and receiving spoken of in Luke 6.8.

The interior experience or possession is what Juliet calls 'conceit' (1. 7): that which one has a conception or inner knowledge of. It is 'more rich' (1. 7) both in quantity and in value. That is to say, what is within is bigger than the words available to express it, and the substance is weight-for-weight more valuable than the words. We are taken aback, surely, when conceit 'brags of his substance' (1. 8) because the last thing we expect in this context is the notion of boastful assertion. We could accept a word meaning 'is proud of, but it is hard to make 'brag' mean only that. Schmidt in his Shakespeare-Lexicon remarks that Shakespeare uses the word with an apparently favourable meaning only twice, here and earlier in this same play (concerning Romeo; I,v,65-6):

              Verona brags of him
To be a virtuous and well-governed youth.

The best we can do for 'brag' is to let it mean 'speaks proudly of, and it leaves us with a puzzle because conceit's pride ought properly to be silent pride. Juliet refuses to meet Romeo's request that she should 'unfold the imagined happiness' in words. That inner awareness which she calls 'conceit' knows and values its true possessions, but scorns words, which are ornamental decoration. Once conceit brags of its substance it seems to have strayed into the treacherous world of words. There are always difficulties in using speech to express the virtues of inarticulacy; but 'brags' seems to me an unfortunate word.

In the next three lines (9-11) Juliet's argument changes course. She has claimed that what matters is what one has: speech is only decoration. In saying 'They are but beggars that can count their worth' she turns towards the cliché later used by Antony, 'There's beggary in the love that can be reckoned'; that is, not that language is irrelevant or inessential, but that it is inadequate. Now this cliché is the commonest figure of speech for expressing a great emotion—'words fail me'—and is constantly used for effect by experienced orators. By quite a slight alteration of course, Juliet softens her refusal of Romeo's demand. What she has so far said is a gentle rebuke for believing in the value of spoken declarations. But then, essentially, she makes the declaration: 'my true love is grown to such excess, /I cannot sum up sum of half my wealth.'

There is a history to Romeo's demand which helps to explain Juliet's intricate answer. In the balcony-scene (II,ii) Juliet comes out unaware of Romeo's presence and tells the night of her love, speaking of 'that dear perfection which he owes', and ending 'Romeo, doff thy name; … Take all myself (11. 47-9). In speaking to herself she has spoken the truth; there is no question of the deceitfulness of language. She says later, 'Thou overheardst, ere I was ware, / My true love's passion' (1. 104). When language is social communication, things are different.

Fain would I dwell on form, fain, fain deny
What I have spoke.
                                          (11. 88-9)

She has, unwittingly, broken through that language which is given us to disguise our thoughts and confessed her love to him. Her desire is that he should do the same. 'Dost thou love me?' she asks; and of course the emphasis falls 'Dost thou love me?' But at once her anxiety about the treachery of language shows itself.

            I know thou wilt say ay,
And I will take thy word; yet, if thou
Thou mayst prove false; at lovers' perjuries
They say Jove laughs. O gentle Romeo,
If thou dost love, pronounce it faithfully.
                                   (11. 90-4)

Everyone observes in this wonderful scene the contrast between the directness and straightforward simplicity of Juliet's language and the showiness of Romeo's conceits. He is only bantering when he constantly turns aside her direct questions with elaborate evasions, but, playful or not, his tendency to project the situation on a screen by verbalising it connects with his ceremonious demand in II,vi that Juliet should 'blazon' their love. Juliet craves for something as simple and informal as her own unguarded admission. It is unfortunate that Romeo, charged to 'pronounce it faithfully', begins with an elaborate protestation.

Romeo. Lady, by yonder blessed moon I vow,
That tips with silver all these fruit-tree tops—
Juliet. O swear not by the moon, th'
  inconstant moon,
That monthly changes in her circled orb,
Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.
Romeo. What shall I swear by?
Juliet.                     Do not swear at all;
Or, if thou wilt, swear by thy gracious self,
Which is the god of my idolatry,
And I'll believe thee.
Romeo.             If my heart's dear love—
Juliet. Well, do not swear. Although I joy in
I have no joy of this contract tonight:
It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden.
                                    (11. 107-18)

It is scarcely possible to think of a 'contract' without the words in which it is expressed; it is a mutual exchange of vows of love. And this it is which Juliet suddenly shirks. It is surely the feeling that there is something wrong with the words that makes Juliet feel that the agreement is wrong. The beautiful image which follows, of the bud of love ripening to a flower 'when next we meet', suggests perhaps a maturing of language too, so that next time love and the avowal of love would fuse into one.

Romeo, however, is unwilling to relinquish this moment of verbal contract, this pronunciation which will seal their love:

Romeo. O, wilt leave me so unsatisfied?
Juliet. What satisfaction canst thou have to-
Romeo. Th' exchange of thy love's faithful
  vow for mine.
                                 (11. 125-7)

The laugh which this exchange properly gets in the theatre enhances rather than obscures his earnestness. Juliet is willing to repeat her vow at this; she yearns as much as he does for the troth-plight which she distrusts.

My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep: the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.
                                (11. 133-5)

But the Nurse interrupts before Romeo has another chance of declaring his love. When Juliet comes back she has turned from the assurance of words to the assurance of deeds, the marriage ceremony. Next time they meet, as we have already seen, Romeo immediately returns to the declaration of love. The grand manner in which he puts the demand must surely make Juliet shrink just a little from being drawn into that arena of protestation which made her unhappy for a moment on the previous occasion. Her sensitivity that one whose affection she does not question might coarsen their love by a misuse of language leads her to reject as inessential the kind of pronouncement which Romeo would like. She is able, however, to turn her comment on the poverty of language into a pretty enough, if commonplace, avowal of love. She has good sense enough to compromise; knowing that if language could tarnish love, silence might do worse.

Edward Snow (essay date 1985)

SOURCE: "Language and Sexual Difference in Romeo and Juliet," in Shakespeare's "Rough Magic ": Renaissance Essays in Honor of C. L. Barber, University of Delaware Press, 1985, pp. 168-92.

[In the essay below, Snow suggests that the language in Romeo and Juliet is "intricately concerned not with the opposition between passion and the social order but with the difference between the sexes. "]

Romeo and Juliet is about an experience that transcends "a common bound." The play emphasizes the opposition between the imaginative vision its protagonists bear witness to in love and the truth of a world whose order must be enforced at passion's expense. And though events bring Romeo and Juliet together in this experience, language suggests how radically they share it. When they first meet "palm to palm" at the Capulet's ball, for instance, their antiphonal responses generate a perfectly formed sonnet. The moment is emblematic of the erotic relationship as the play views it: two exposed, vulnerably embodied selves reaching out tentatively across sexual difference and social opposition, while their imaginations mingle in an intersubjective privacy that weaves its boundaries protectively around them. And later, when Romeo is admiring Juliet from below her balcony, still hidden from her view, her first words appear inside one of his lines of blank verse, as if his imaginative response to her were the generative matrix from which her own desiring self emerges:

Romeo. See how she leans her cheek upon her
O that I were a glove upon that hand,
That I might touch that cheek!
Juliet.                   Ay me!
Romeo.                         She speaks!
O, speak again, bright angel …

Juliet's language, in turn, once it acquires a momentum of its own, conjures up Romeo's actual physical presence, even though she herself is absorbed in purely subjective imaginings:

Juliet. What's in a name? That which we call
  a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for thy name, which is no part of thee,
Take all myself.
Romeo. (appearing to her) I take thee at thy
Call me but love, and I'll be new baptiz'd;
Henceforth I never will be Romeo.

The play is full of tricks like these that make Romeo and Juliet's language seem like a medium in which their relationship takes form as well as an instrument for bringing it about. The most pervasive of these devices are the elaborately matched images and turns of phrase that link their separate speeches. Romeo tells Juliet that he has "night's cloak" to hide him from her kinsmen (2.2.75); a few moments later she informs him that "the mask of night" is on her face (2.2.85). The effect is of two imaginations working in the same idiom, in touch not so much with each other as with similar experiences of self and world. Juliet's "Come, night, come, Romeo, come, thou day in night" (3.2.17) communicates with Romeo's "It is the east, and Juliet is the sun" (2.2.3) at a purely transcendental level: both responses are spoken in isolation, yet they are tuned to the same imaginative frequency, and imply the existence of a single world of desire encompassing the two lovers' separate longings. This sense of communication taking place at a level beyond conscious awareness, and bridging distances that desire itself is helpless to overcome, is especially powerful in the final scene, where the phrases of Juliet's grief for Romeo echo and uncannily transform those of his for her.

These subliminal correspondences do more, I think, to convince us that Romeo and Juliet are appropriately fitted to each other than anything which passes directly between them. Yet the matched speeches that create this sense of fit also measure the differences it subsumes. The very devices which implicate Romeo and Juliet in a shared experience, that is, also focus our attention on a difference in the way each experiences that experience. The boundary between Romeo and the cloak of night he draws around him to hide himself from men's eyes is not the same as the one between Juliet and the mask of night she looks out from in a spirit of uninhibited self-disclosure: the shared metaphoric experience embraces two very different habits of being. In one sense, these differences are purely idiosyncratic: they are what make Romeo Romeo and Juliet Juliet. But they also have to do with what makes one male and the other female. Such, at least, is what I hope to suggest in this study of the separate worlds of desire that appear within the union between Romeo and Juliet. Though I will be dwelling in what follows on differences, I don't mean by doing so to call the relationship itself into question; indeed, it seems to me that the more acutely we become aware of them, the less vulnerable the play's romanticism becomes to the charges of sentimentality, immaturity, or rhetorical superficiality that are often brought against it. And though I will be claiming that these differences consistently favor Juliet's imaginative world, I don't mean to suggest that the critical perspective they imply belittles ROMEO on the contrary, his experience in love now seems to me poignant and phenomenologically complex where once it seemed merely facile and self-indulgent. What I would like to suggest, however, is that the language of Romeo and Juliet is most intricately concerned not with the opposition between passion and the social order but with the difference between the sexes: and that its subtler affirmations have to do not with romantic love but female ontology.


The imaginative universe generated by Romeo's desire is dominated by eyesight, and remains subject to greater rational control than Juliet's. His metaphors assemble reality "out there," and provide access to it through perspectives that tend to make him an onlooker rather than a participant. There is a kind of metonymic fascination in his language with parts and extremities, especially when viewed from a distance, against a backdrop that heightens the sensation of outline and boundary. Juliet "hangs upon the cheek of night / As a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear" (1.5.45-46); he swears "by yonder blessed moon … That tips with silver all these fruit-tree tops" (2.2.107-8); a ladder of rope will convey him to "the high top-gallant" of his joy (2.4.190); he looks out of Juliet's window to see that "jocund day / Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops" (3.5.9-10). Contact with Juliet tends to be a matter of reaching out, and gently touching, while the idea of union with her generates imagery of parts securely fitted to each other rather than wholes merging and boundaries dissolving: "See how she leans her cheek upon her hand! / O that I were a glove upon that hand, / That I might touch that cheek!" His imagination fixes objects in stable Euclidean space, and keeps them separate and distinct, even when entertaining fantasies of metamorphosis. In the world it generates, change can occur when two things exchange places, or when one thing displaces another, but places and things themselves do not seem to be subject to alteration: "Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven, / Having some business, do entreat her eyes / To twinkle in their spheres till they return. / What if her eyes were there, they in her head?" (2.2.15-18). The sense this metaphor betrays of transformation as something temporary and provisional haunts Romeo's world, and makes (as we shall see) the growth he experiences in love problematical in a way that Juliet's is not.

Direct apprehensions of process are thus difficult to come by in the world of Romeo's metaphors. If Juliet appears to be alive in the tomb, it is because "beauty's ensign yet / Is crimson in thy lips and in thy cheeks, / And death's pale flag is not advanced there" (5.3.94-96). "Poeticizing" beauty and death in this way keeps them separate and masks the erotic and generative links between them. It also transforms them from realities known in the flesh to "ensigns" that signal conventionally encoded meanings to a distant viewer. Romeo tends to hypostatize feelings in much the same way. When he does imagine himself in the world rather than "looking on" (1.4.38), it is usually by picturing himself as an object in space that is "moved" by external forces. At one point he may "sink" under love's heavy burden (1.4.22), and at another "o'erperch" walls with the help of "love's light wings" (2.2.66), but in both instances the metaphors make him an object that remains separate from and unchanged by disembodied emotional forces acting on him from without. Even time becomes in his language a spatial dimension he moves through as an essentially unchanging object. His favorite metaphor is the sea-journey, with himself more often the ship than the pilot ("He that hath the steerage of my course, / Direct my sail" [1.4.112-13]; "Thou desperate pilot, now at once run on / The dashing rocks thy sea-sick weary bark" [5.3.117-18]). Time can move him from place to place, bring him near his goal or buffet him about, but (so at least his language implies) it rarely works any inner transformation on him, and it remains (again, in his language) the enemy rather than the element of his will.

This is not to deny that Romeo changes during the course of the play, nor that he has several positive experiences of time along the way. The issue here is not so much what happens to him as the way in which his language admits what does happen to him into consciousness. One thing that haunts Romeo throughout the play is a certain disjunction between life and the forms in which he is able to make it present to himself. Thus while his language tends to make him an onlooker to the world, the plot and mis-en-scène stress his kinetic involvement in it—leaping and climbing the Capulet walls, fighting with Tybalt, making love to Juliet, riding back and forth between Verona and Mantua, forcing his way into Juliet's tomb, and always, it seems, on his way to or from somewhere when we encounter him.2 (With Juliet, as we shall see, it is just the opposite: her freedom of movement in the actual world is severely restricted, yet her imagination places her at the center of a dynamic, expanding universe, and seizes uninhibitedly on the sources of gratification that come within reach.) His dream of Juliet—one of his "happiest" temporal experiences—is an example of how the present-at-hand is changed into something remote and elusive when his language reaches out to possess it:

If I may trust the flattering truth of sleep,
My dreams presage some joyful news at hand.
My bosom's lord sits lightly in his throne,
And all this day an unaccustom'd spirit
Lifts me above the ground with cheerful
I dreamt my lady came and found me dead—
Strange dream, that gives a dead man leave to
And breath'd such life with kisses in my lips
That I reviv'd and was an emperor.
Ah me, how sweet is love itself possess'd,
When but love's shadows are so rich in joy!

In reflecting on a present happiness, Romeo translates it into an anticipation of future joy. (Juliet does exactly the opposite: when she anticipates the future—most notably while awaiting Romeo and before drinking the Friar's potion—her imagination makes it present, and she rushes in to fill it.) A change he experiences in the here and now becomes imaginatively intelligible to him as the harbinger of something still "at hand" in a future mystified by desire. His interpretation of the dream's content repeats this process. The dream itself is a beautiful expression of the revivification Romeo has already undergone in his relationship with Juliet. But he interprets it as an auspicious "sign" of what the future holds in store for him. And projecting it out of the present into the imminent future transforms it from a metaphor of the consummated relationship into an ironic foreshadowing of its tragic conclusion ("I will kiss thy lips, / Haply some poison yet doth hang on them, / To make me die with a restorative" [5.3.164-66]).3

Even when Romeo embraces the happiness which the presentness of Juliet's love bestows on him, he does so in terms of a potentially tragic future: "but come what sorrow can, / It cannot countervail the exchange of joy / That one short minute gives me in her sight. / Do thou but close our hands with holy words, / Then love-devouring death do what he dare, / It is enough I may but call her mine" (2.6.3-8). This tendency to think of love as moments of satisfaction rather than a process of growth, and hence to experience happiness within it against a backdrop of apocalyptic loss, is something Romeo shares with the male protagonists in Shakespeare's darkest treatments of love and sexual desire. Compare, for instance, Othello's joy at being reunited with Desdemona on Cyprus, especially in the light of her reaction to his expression of it:

Othello.                If it were now to die,
'Twere now to be most happy; for I fear
My soul hath her content so absolute
That not another comfort like to this
Succeeds in unknown fate.
Desdemona.               The heavens forbid
But that our loves and comforts should
Even as our days do grow!

It doesn't follow from the similarity that Romeo's love for Juliet is just another manifestation of the masculine pathology Othello acts out in his marriage with Desdemona: indeed, the example of Othello should make us appreciate all the more the positive significance of Romeo's unthreatened responsiveness to the energies sexual desire releases in Juliet, and his continued devotion to her after their relationship has been consummated. But there is a suggestion that Romeo is a "carrier" of attitudes that are agents of tragedy in Shakespeare, and that Juliet's love only partially redeems him from them.


Juliet, however, is the locus of affirmative energies that can't be contained within a tragic frame of reference. Her imaginative universe, in contrast to Romeo's, is generated by all the senses, and by a unity of feeling that is more than just the sum of their parts. Her desire generates images of whole, embodied selves, and extravagant gestures of giving and taking: "Romeo, doff thy name, / And for thy name, which is no part of thee, / Take all myself (2.2.47-49); "That runaways' eyes may wink, and Romeo / Leap to these arms untalk'd of and unseen!" (3.2.6-7). She manages to be both subject and object in love without inner conflict or contradiction: "O, I have bought the mansion of a love, / But not possess'd it, and though I am sold, / Not yet enjoy'd" (3.2.26-28). The imagination that formulates desire this way tends to produce images of inwardness and depth rather than distance ("My bounty is as boundless as the sea, / My love as deep" [2.2.133-34]). Thus where Romeo tells her to "look" out her window at the "envious streaks" that "lace the severing clouds in yonder east," she in turn tries to convince him it is the nightingale that "pierc'd the fearful hollow" of his ear (3.5.1-10).4

Juliet's sensations tend in general to be more "piercing" and ontologically dangerous than Romeo's. Her imagination inhabits a Blakean universe, where perceptual experience spontaneously invades and emanates from the self, instead of becoming the structuring activity it is for Romeo, even when he is most enraptured. Even vision is for her an armed faculty that penetrates the field of perception instead of gazing into it from a wistful distance: "But no more deep will I endart mine eye / Than your consent gives strength to make it fly" (1.3.98-99). One of the things that makes Juliet so formidable is the almost eager willingness with which she is able to give herself over to the dynamic, shelterless force-field of emotions and sensations into which desire plunges her, and experience herself as both the object and the generative source of its metamorphic energies. (In this she is the opposite of Blake's Thel.) Submission to its imperatives becomes for her a "prodigious" coming-into-selfhood: "My only love sprung from my only hate! / Too early seen unknown, and known too late! / Prodigious birth of love it is to me / That I must love a loathed enemy" (1.5.138-41). Out of the self experienced as object ("Prodigious birth of love it is to me") an "I" springs, impelled by the necessity that is also its motive force. (In the Nurse's recollection of Juliet's weaning, she is similarly an "it" from which an "I" emerges, again through an assent to sexual necessity. The generative imagery is, as we shall see, a defining characteristic of Juliet's world.) Her language makes love and hate particularized emotions that both possess and are possessed by her ("my only love," "my only hate"), and characterizes the relation between them as an irreversible transformation that locates the place where the self gives birth. In Romeo's parallel utterance, however, they remain abstract tokens that can be manipulated from a distance, in conventional Petrarchan fashion: "Here's much to do with hate, but more with love. / Why then, O brawling love! O loving hate! / O any thing, of nothing first create! / O heavy lightness, serious vanity, / … / This love feel I, that feel no love in this" (1.1.176-82). The result is a kind of objectified "I," adrift in an experience its language can't specify (" … that feel no love in this"), and lacking the imperative that moves Juliet.

In a sense this comparison is unfair to Romeo, since his speech occurs before he has fallen in love with Juliet. Yet the counterpoint between the passages seems to insist on it. The Petrarchan side of Romeo it emphasizes, moreover, never entirely disappears from the play. His response to the revelation that Juliet is a Capulet contrasts similarly to hers that he is a Montague: "Is she a Capulet? / O dear account! my life is my foe's debt" (1.5.117-18). His language of reckoning counterpoints her generative imagery; she speaks of imperatives springing from within while he refers to a life held in thrall. Even at the end of the play it is still basically his old self that grieves for Juliet, though with a depth of feeling he would have been incapable of before falling in love with her. His language there, as we have seen, manipulates the opposition between death and beauty in much the same way it did the one between love and hate earlier. And there is the same note (though more poignantly sounded) of a self adrift in experience, partially baffled in its attempts to make received ideas and conventional language express what it is feeling: "How oft when men are at the point of death / Have they been merry, which their keepers call / A lightning before death! O how may I / Call this a lightning?" (5.3.88-91).

Romeo's and Juliet's "I"s are in fact elaborately contrasted in the course of the play, largely through a series of matched passages that explore the relationship between vision, will, and instinct. In the opening scene Romeo and Benvolio together bemoan (as if it were a shared male attitude) the fact that desire is not subject to rational, visual control, and that the actual experience of love involves a turmoil and violence at odds with one's views of it:

Benvolio. Alas that love, so gentle in his
Should be so tyrannous and rough in proof!
Romeo. Alas that love, whose view is muffled
Should, without eyes, see pathways to his

Romeo tends in general to regard vision as an instrument controlled by the conscious will, and hence as the faculty that locates the place of the "I" ("When the devout religion of mine eye / Maintains such falsehood, then turn tears to fires" [1.2.88-89]; "Eyes, look your last!" [5.3.112]). His language tends to make perceptions into possessions and assertions of will: "I'll go along no such sight to be shown, / But to rejoice in splendor of mine own" (1.2.100-101). At the same time it allegorizes instinctual promptings so that they become external to the self—either a blind, alien will or a friendly "counsellor" to whom Romeo lends his own eyes (2.2.80-81).

Juliet's "I," however, is linked more closely by the play of the text with a capacity for assent than with the organs Othello will later term the "speculative and offic'd instruments" of rational will:

Nurse. "Yea," quoth my husband, "fallst upon
  thy face?
Thou wilt fall backward when thou comest to
Wilt thou not, Jule?" It stinted and said "Ay."
Juliet. And stint thou too, I pray thee, nurse,
  say I.

As Juliet's character unfolds, it becomes evident that this capacity to say "Ay" to necessity involves more than just a woman's learning to "bear" male oppression (1.4.93). It also signals a willingness to surrender the conscious self to the impersonal forces that stir within it. Her "falling backward" will likewise involve a kind of ontological trust in sexual experience and the world which opens with its relinquishments. Against connotations of guilt, subjection, and tragic punishment, it poses the idea of a fall backward into innocence, the reversal or updoing of an original fall.

Juliet's capacity to answer to imperatives that address her from realms beyond the reach of the individual will is central to Shakespeare's conception of her. The motif is asserted in her first entrance: "How now, who calls?"; "Madam, I am here, / What is your will?" (1.3.5-6). On the surface she expresses a deference to parental will that her own erotic willfulness will replace, and hence provides us with a touchstone for measuring her growth during the course of the play. But her words also suggest a capacity to hear the forces that call to the self from beyond it, and paradoxically to become manifest in answering to their demands. Even when Juliet aligns herself obediently with her parent's wishes, her words manage to articulate a more enigmatic relation between self and will: "I'll look to like, if looking liking move" (1.3.97). It hardly matters whether looking moves liking or liking moves looking in this elusive reply: it seems to regard the willing self as a spontaneous interaction between rational, premeditated intentions and instinctual reactions, rather than associating it with one or the other. (In Blake's terms, she looks through her eyes, while Romeo looks with his.) As a result she is less susceptible to the conflict Romeo articulates between what is experienced in love and what is known as love. She is able to accept the blindness of love as proper to its element ("if love be blind, / It best agrees with night" [3.2.9-10]), and welcome the disruptive energies in which it engulfs the self. Her apostrophe to night, with its intense anticipation of the sexual act, is addressed as much to the impersonal force of Eros as it is to ROMEO "Come, gentle night, come, loving, black-brow'd night, / Give me my Romeo" (3.2.20-21). This capacity to embrace sexual experience in all its strangeness (cf. 3.2.15), and still admit it into the self as something intimate and gentle, makes Juliet not only a potentially redemptive figure for Romeo but a touchstone for Shakespeare's subsequent explorations of the polarities of erotic love.

Juliet's desire, then, functions as an erotic reality-principle that counteracts a wistfulness ingrained in Romeo. The images generated by Romeo's desire tend to wind up in a subjunctive, conditional space ("What if her eyes were there, they in her head?"; "O that I were a glove upon that hand, / That I might touch that cheek"), and a part of him always seems more interested in entertaining them as figures of the imagination than in realizing them. Juliet's images, however, exist in an urgently desired future, and are charged with an erotic energy that makes the experience they invoke present and actual in her imagination. It seems no paradox that the desire for Romeo she expresses in her apostrophe to night should culminate in an image that sublimates an experience of orgasm, even though she is anticipating her first sexual encounter: "Come, gentle night, come, loving, black-brow'd night, / Give me my Romeo, and, when I5 shall die, / Take him and cut him out in little stars" (3.2.20-22).6

Even when Juliet's language seems to place her in the same imaginative world with Romeo, there is often a contrast between the tendency of his metaphors to keep love distant and remote, and hers to bring it up close, and make it possible.7 Romeo's preoccupation with the light of beauty, for instance, isolates the object of his desire, and mystifies the distance that separates him from it ("It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night," "What light through yonder window breaks?"). When Juliet has recourse to the idea, however, beauty's light becomes an enabling force that emanates from the consummated relationship: "Lovers can see to do their amorous rites / By their own beauties" (3.2.8-9). Their matching images of black-white contrasts differ in much the same way. Romeo's evokes a purely visual experience—a stable figure-ground relationship that again defines an object of desire, and isolates it in the distance: "Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear! / So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows, / As yonder lady o'er her fellows shows" (1.5.47-49). Juliet's, on the other hand, is a sensually experienced image, and it sublimates the physical contact of an achieved sexual relationship: "Come, night, come, Romeo, come, thou day in night, / For thou wilt lie upon the wings of night, / Whiter than new snow upon a raven's back" (3.2.17-19).

Finally, as this last example suggests, Juliet's language of desire is more extravagantly metamorphic than Romeo's. Even when Romeo's imagination plays with the idea of cosmological change, it operates within the grid of the mundane world, and according to its logic: "It is the east, and Juliet is the sun" (2.2.3). Juliet's images, however, loosen the boundaries that fix the rational universe in place, and draw it into a state of continual flux: Romeo is both night and day in night, she both waits for him in the night as he wings his way toward her and is herself the winged night on whose back he lies like new snow—all in the space of two lines. The boundaries between self and world, subject and object, active and passive, male and female become similarly fluid in her imagination, as we shall see in more detail later in this essay. Her figures also (to use a Nietzschean term) transvalue the world more radically than Romeo's. When he places Juliet's eyes in the vacancies left in the heavens by two truant stars, he imagines that they "Would through the airy region stream so bright / That birds would sing and think it were not night" (2.2.21-22). The reversal effected within this characteristically subjunctive fantasy is temporary, and grounded in illusion: the birds sing in the night not because Juliet's brightness has caused them to change allegiances but because it deceives them into thinking night is day, and in doing so triggers their normal routine. In Juliet's companion image, however, the world is permanently transfigured, and the inversion of values that accompanies the change is a matter of conscious erotic commitment: "Give me my Romeo, and when I shall die, / Take him and cut him out in little stars, / And he will make the face of heaven so fine / That all the world will be in love with night, / And pay no worship to the garish sun" (3.2.21-25).


The impression, then, is of two distinct modes of desire—one reaching out, the other unfolding—exquisitely fitted to each other, but rarely meeting in the same phenomenological universe. Wherever the language the two lovers exchange most emphatically suggests a sharing of experience, close inspection reveals difference and often, in Romeo's case, poignant estrangement. Always, it seems, there is a lack in Romeo that corresponds to an overflowing in Juliet. Consider the parting remarks that Shakespeare has so carefully fitted together across separate moments near the end of the balcony scene:

Juliet. Good night, good night! as sweet
  repose and rest
Come to thy heart as that within my breast.

Romeo. Sleep dwell upon thine eyes, peace in
  thy breast!
Would I were sleep and peace, so sweet to

Juliet wishes for Romeo (as both the lover who desires him and the "saint" who intercedes for him) out of her own sense of well-being—with an intuition, perhaps, that what is "within" her must somehow "come to" him. When she parts from Romeo, she takes with her a love that is a source of "sweet repose and rest," and her instinct is to wish for him the same inner experience in her absence. Romeo, however, can only take this as being left "unsatisfied" (2.2.125). Superficially this may be a joke by the Mercutio in Shakespeare: it suggests that Romeo's idealized romanticism masks ordinary sexual desire. But in a deeper sense Romeo really doesn't seem to know what he wants, and when pressed by Juliet to specify what would satisfy him, has to fall back on the notion of an exchange of "vows." His desire seems to originate in a need that is prior to Juliet, and it has to be sustained in language rather than in some burgeoning inner place. In Juliet's case, however, love intrudes into a waiting latency of self and will ("I am here, / What is your will?"; "I'll look to like if looking liking move"), and she experiences it as a "prodigious birth" that once engendered grows of its own accord, and thrives as much on Romeo's absence as on his presence. When she prepares to part from Romeo before her first exit in the balcony scene, her images evoke the generative rhythms of nature ("This bud of love, by summer's ripening breath, / May prove a beauteous flow'r when next we meet" [2.2.121-22]); they anticipate not "satisfaction" but the flowering of what will have been gestating during the interim. Shakespeare suggests just how prodigious this birth in Juliet is going to be by having her "next meet" Romeo only three lines later, when she returns to inform him of feelings that have already grown from images of ripening buds and beauteous flowers into a desire for marriage conceived as a radically human form of commitment and risk-taking:

Three words, dear Romeo, and good night
If that thy bent of love be honorable,
Thy purpose marriage, send me word to-
By one that I'll procure to come to thee,
Where and what time thou wilt perform the
And all my fortunes at thy foot I'll lay,
And follow thee my lord throughout the

But where Juliet experiences genesis and gestation, Romeo is haunted by a sense of emptiness and unreality. While Juliet's love is ripening offstage, Romeo stands alone, anxiously luxuriating in the dreamlikeness of what is happening to him: "O blessed, blessed night! I am afeard, / Being in night, all this is but a dream, / Too flattering-sweet to be substantial" (2.2.139-41). And when Juliet exits again after sharing with him "their" plans for marriage, he again becomes "one too many by [his] weary self':8

Juliet. A thousand times good night! (Exit)
Romeo. A thousand times the worse, to want
  thy light.
Love goes toward love as schoolboys from
  their books,
But love from love, toward school with heavy

His metaphor describes love as relief from a state of boredom and oppression that returns when the loved object is "withdrawn" (2.2.130). Unlike Juliet's passion for Romeo, which becomes a reality-principle of its own capable of generating value and direction, Romeo's for Juliet remains to some extent an attempt to escape from a reality he finds oppressive, and it is attended (so, at least, his language here would suggest) by feelings of truancy as well as resolve.

It is thus characteristic of Romeo that his attempt to wish Juliet the kind of "good night" she earlier wished him should turn into a longing to be where she is (ontologically as well as physically) that simultaneously expresses his own unrest ("Would I were sleep and peace, so sweet to rest"). In the process he turns one phenomenological universe into something very like its opposite. Her world of whole selves and embodied feelings ("as sweet repose and rest / Come to thy heart as that within my breast") becomes in his language a realm of personifications and part objects that he gazes into from a wistful distance. More importantly, the "repose and rest" that Juliet experiences within, as the very condition of her desire for Romeo, becomes a state of quiescence lying passively "upon" her. Juliet's own imagination later adapts itself to this transformation as she anticipates their sexual union: "Come night, come, Romeo, come, thou day in night, / For thou wilt lie upon the wings of night / Whiter than new snow upon a raven's back" (3.2.17-21). But in doing so she activates Romeo's images: concrete, tactile sensations take the place of personified abstractions, and his quietly fitted surfaces are drawn into a ceaselessly metamorphic flux. The death Juliet inflicts upon herself is likewise a violently erotic consummation of his wish to "rest" quiescently in her breast: "O happy dagger, / This is thy sheath; there rest,9 and let me die" (5.2.169-70). This last transformation is, as we shall see, paradigmatic of the exchange of loves that takes place between Romeo and Juliet: his gentle desire to be "pillowed for ever" (to use Keats' Romeo-like language) on a breast he associates as much with maternal comfort as sexual desire becomes "in" her a violent thrust aimed at the quick of being.

These differences are present in every scene between Romeo and Juliet, and culminate in their separate, elaborately linked deaths. When Romeo forces his way into Juliet's tomb, he is still seeking through union with her the "rest" that eludes him: "Here, here, will I remain / With worms that are thy chambermaids; O, here / Will I set up my everlasting rest" (5.3.108-10). This conjuring with the word "here" echoes his complaint at the beginning of the play of being "out" of the place where he is "in" love: "I have lost myself; I am not here; / This is not Romeo, he's some other where" (1.1.197-98). It also recalls his decision after leaving the Capulets' ball to "turn back" to Juliet in order to "find out" the "centre" of his "dull earth" (2.1.2). His language in the tomb is like a final incantation designed to overcome whatever it is that enforces this distance from himself as well as Juliet. He seems to want to conjure up with words the experience of being in place, the simple "I am here" (1.3.5) that Juliet begins with, and Romeo instinctively associates with her.

Juliet, however, emerges from the experience Romeo wishes to arrive at. (Weaning structures her desire in the same figurative way that search for the peace-giving breast does Romeo's.) By the time she returns to consciousness in the tomb, her initial "I am here" has grown through time into something fuller and more complex: "I do remember well where I should be, / And there I am" (5.3.149-50). And though she wakes effortlessly into the experience of self-coincidence Romeo labors to attain in death, her voice locates it not "here" but "there." She is already "some other where," though in a very different sense than Romeo. Her awakening in the tomb is one of the rare instances, in fact, when her words "turn back" toward their center. Usually the "here" is for her imagination a backing for ventures outward, into the world and across ontological thresholds—not, as it is for Romeo, a goal in which to "set up" an "everlasting rest." Her similarly self-referential "there" when she kills herself a few moments later—"O happy dagger, / This is thy sheath; there rest, and let me die"—unlooses the voice that says "me" from the body that houses it (like a final weaning), and launches it toward an altogether mysterious silence. When she does use "here" in the final scene, the word refers not to where she is but to what's "out there": "What's here? A cup clos'd in my true love's hand? / Poison, I see, hath been his timeless end" (5.3.161-62). It thus becomes an index of both her openness to the present-at-hand and her access to things that happen in her absence.

Romeo can never quite manage to make Juliet and the situation in which he finds her "here" in this way during the final scene, in spite of his conjurings with the word. He remains incapable of the kind of seeing that grasps things as hers does. He is too self-conscious in his grief, and too anxious (in both senses of the word) to materialize in language a death that feels "unsubstantial" to him, to risk the spontaneous responsiveness that comes naturally to her: "Eyes, look your last! / Arms, take your last embrace! and lips, O you / The doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss / A dateless bargain to engrossing death!" (5.3.112-15). Juliet, on the contrary, merely says "I will kiss thy lips," and then does so (a far cry from her initial "What is your will?"), and registers her surprise with "Thy lips are warm"—a simple tactile observation that goes straight to the heart of grief.


Juliet's "I do remember well where I should be, / And there I am" is a response to an immediate dramatic situation; but the total fabric of the play's language, concerned as it is with constitutive interchanges between the speaking self and the world in which it finds itself, lends the utterance an epigrammatic clarity and resonance.10 Like a combination of the Cartesian cogito and the Freudian wo es war, soil ich werden, it articulates an experience of self-coincidence that is both arrival and return—in the present moment, to the body—from a realm closed to consciousness. And the pattern of motifs that it consummates suggests that it is something Juliet grows into during the course of the play. We have already seen how it complicates her initial "Here I am"; it also expands the "Ay me" she first utters in the balcony scene. There she is an unelaborated self (and self-affirmation) on the brink of the experience of sexual desire that will cause it to flower. By the final scene it has been filled out by a "remembering well" that enables her to venture over the threshold between life and death, consciousness and unconsciousness, the self and the non-self, and find herself where she "should be" when she returns.11 (Cleopatra's "I have / Immortal longings me" is another "I me" filled out with temporal experience that allows it to cross over and internalize this threshold.)

Though it is Romeo who triggers this flowering in Juliet—the Nurse tells her in their first scene together that "women grow bigger by men" (1.3.95)—echoes in the language of the play suggest that this "remembering well" is an ability she inherits from the Nurse herself: "That shall she, marry, I remember it well … I never shall forget it … I warrant, and I should live a thousand years, / I never should forget it" (1.3.22-47). It involves what seems in Romeo and Juliet a uniquely female capacity to "grow bigger" in the element of time—to assimilate, nurture, and in Juliet's case prodigiously transform the happenings of life. The repetitions of the Nurse's reverie about Juliet's weaning issue from an involuntary memory conceived in female rather than male terms—not a chamber of sealed vessels inaccessible to consciousness (this Proustian notion of the past is congruent with Romeo's sense of life as a series of "encounters" [cf. 2.5.29] that pass him by) but a vast interconnectedness in which the self peacefully dwells. Her recollections circle around a natural cataclysm and around human separation and loss—an earthquake, Juliet's weaning, the deaths of "Susan" and her husband—yet they open on an interior space where no real harm can come to the self or the things it cherishes. (Its opposite is the partially repressed realm of phallic violence that haunts the soldier's dream and Mercurio's reverie: "Sometime she driveth o'er a soldier's neck, / And then dreams he of cutting foreign throats, / Of breaches, ambuscadoes, Spanish blades, / Of healths five fadom deep; and then anon / Drums in his ear, at which he starts and wakes, / And being thus frighted, swears a prayer or two, / And sleeps again" [1.4.82-88].) Her daughter and her husband are alive in her memory, not mourned but loved. The tremors of an earthquake survive as the shaking of a dove-house wall, bidding her to "trudge."

Juliet's "fall" becomes an occasion for merriment, and though the crude male jest is at her expense ("Thou wilt fall backward when thou comest to age"), the man who makes it "takes her up," and tenderly reassures her.12

The Nurse's memory weaves13 all this eventfulness into a matrix of primary female experience (birth, lactation, weaning, marriage, maidenheads and their loss) from which Juliet emerges, standing high-lone and saying "Ay." Juliet will be weaned again in the course of the play, this time from the fate the Nurse holds out to her as a woman as well as the one Lady Capulet urges upon her as a wife.14 Her initial weaning ushers her into a world of "day" the Nurse seems to think of as hers and Juliet's privileged domain, even though she happily acknowledges the presence of her husband and Juliet's parents at its periphery, the latter away at Mantua, the former there to take up Juliet when she falls.15 The Nurse's reverie conjures up the idea of a woman's life as a vast biological cycle, a succession of archetypal experiences so intimately in touch with natural, generative time ("Sitting in the sun under the dove-house wall") that it really does seem plausible to think of living a thousand years. Sexuality is for her a source of pleasure, and the thought of it presides over her happy acquiescence to this realm and the woman's lot Verona prescribes for her. But for Juliet it becomes a passion—the source of a willfulness and a metaphysical desire that from the point of view of society and perhaps even nature are essentially transgressive. Her element will prove to be the night, and she herself the epitome of things violent and brief. Yet we are made to feel, I think, that Juliet's link with the primary realm of the Nurse continues unimpaired beneath her movement away from it during the course of the play. The Nurse's temporal rootedness and uncomplicated belief in the goodness of sexual experience are incorporated by Juliet's radical will as a voice prompting and giving its blessing to her ventures into the unknown: "Go, girl, seek happy nights to happy days" (1.3.105).16

Indeed, the notion of a "voice within" that summons and directs Juliet develops into a full-scale motif during the course of the play, and the Nurse is intricately associated with it. The Nurse first "calls her forth" from off-stage, and when she appears, asking "Who calls?" the Nurse replies, "Your mother." Later, at the end of the Capulet ball, when Juliet and the Nurse remain alone together onstage, an anonymous offstage voice calls Juliet's name (Q2's stage direction reads, "One calls within, 'Juliet'"), and it is the Nurse who answers with "Anon, anon!" By the time of the balcony scene, the original situation has come full circle: Juliet, alone onstage with Romeo, hears the Nurse's voice summoning her from offstage, and refers to it as "some voice within" that she now says "anon" to. (Later in the scene this offstage summons and Juliet's response break into her address to Romeo, and are in turn assimilated by it.) This sequence appears to establish the Nurse as the generative "mother" of Juliet, and as a transmitter of the voices that call to her both from "within" and "beyond."17 It also implies an identification or symbiosis between them that Juliet is in the process of growing away from. Its severance appears to be complete when Juliet dismisses the Nurse from her breast ("Thous and my bosom henceforth shall be twain"), and then fails to respond to her voice as it attempts to wake her for her marriage with Paris. (The Nurse's increasingly panicky address is a medley of all the calls Juliet has previously answered: "Mistress ! … Juliet! … Why, lamb! why, lady! … Why, love, I say! madam! … I needs must waken her.…") Yet
there are suggestions that this apparent repudiation of the Nurse is really a sign that her mediating function of waking Juliet to the voices within has been fulfilled. Thus Juliet, abandoned to her own resources when the Friar deserts her in the tomb, is able to hear the off-stage "noise" that frightens him away as if it were personally calling to her,18 and answers "Yea" (rather than "anon") to it—another convergence of obedience and affirmation in her that issues in an impulsive act of will.

Juliet thus seems to enjoy a smooth passage from the realm of the "good Nurse" (2.5.21, 28, 54) directly into the strangeness of sexual experience. The Nurse's free associations, her husband's jest, and the play of coincidences combine to weave a background for her in which sex is connected with weaning and saying "I." And sexuality does seem a matter of individuation for Juliet—individuation that is instinctively connected with affirmation. She emerges into sexual desire (in her two balcony scenes, literally standing "high-lone"), and experiences it as a means of action and a source of bounty, not, as it tends to be for Romeo, the longing for a lost self or distant object.

Needless to say, this is not how the patriarchal order that urges marriage on Juliet intends things to turn out. Marriage for a woman, as Lady Capulet's presence throughout the Nurse's reverie reminds us, is supposed to be a passage from daughter to wife and maid to mother that elides the realm of autonomous female sexuality and the powers associated with it. The notion of the sexual initiation legitimized by the institution of marriage as an unsexing of women is punningly suggested by a series of remarks about the "making" and "marring" of mothers and maids;19 it is blatantly underscored by Sampson's equation of deflowering and capital punishment: '"Tis all one; I will show myself a tyrant: When I have fought with the men, I will be civil with the maids; I will cut off their heads." Some editors follow Q4 in emending Q2F's "civil" to "cruel," on the grounds that the act of violence Sampson describes is scarcely a civil one. But the same male logic that makes the taking of a woman's maidenhead a beheading makes it the civil act par excellence (as we see in the case of Desdemona): by it her autonomy and her sexual will are taken from her, and she is positioned within the social order, subject to her husband and the rules of married chastity.

The Nurse's and Lady Capulet's counsels come from opposite realms, then, one where women grow by men, the other where a woman is marred by being "made" matron and maid at once. (Lady Macbeth, in taking upon herself her husband's ambitions, makes herself into a diabolical version of what Lady Capulet represents by negating in herself what the Nurse embodies: "Come, you spirits / That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, / … Come to my woman's breasts, / And take my milk for gall.…") Yet both counsel the same thing, and there is a sense of collusion between them as they do so. Their very presence together before Juliet is emblematic of a social arrangement that contrives to divorce the sexual aspect of motherhood from the figure of the wife, and confine it to a domestic sphere where it will serve rather than threaten the male order that depends on it. But precisely because the female "knowledge" the Nurse embodies is excluded from the realm of male power, there is a sense that Juliet can inherit it in some magically direct way ("were not I thine only nurse, / I would say thou hadst suck'd wisdom from thy teat" [1.3.67-68]), free of the divisions which found that realm and the repressions that maintain it. Her sexuality seems to issue spontaneously from a core of primary identifications, and in a form more potentially disruptive to the male order of things than the anxious phallic assertiveness ("My naked weapon is out") which produces "rebellious subjects" (1.1.81) within it.

Romeo and Juliet is full of a sense of how social prerogatives based on the oppression of women place the men who enjoy them at a disadvantage in the realm of primary experience. Sampson reasons that since "women, being the weaker vessels, are ever thrust to the wall," he will "push Montague's men from the wall, and thrust his maids to the wall" (1.1.15-18), even though he himself has just admitted that the place nearest the wall is the superior position. And the image of the maid thrust against the wall by Sampson's gross assaults, the object not even of sexual lust but deflected male rivalry, is somehow balanced by that of the Nurse "Sitting in the sun under the dove-house wall," alone with Juliet in the world of women, enjoying there the backing of an elemental realm whose existence Sampson, with his insecure phallic readiness to give and take offence, will never even remotely intuit. Mercutio, for whom the "sociable" is an antidote to "groaning for love" (2.4.88-89), likewise perceives woman's position in love as analogous to her position in the civil order, and the sexual act as a means of subduing her to it: "This is the hag, when maids lie on their backs, / That presses them and learns them first to bear, / Making them women of good carriage" (1.4.92-94). Yet the bearing women are expected to endure in society is matched in the realm of ontological experience by a power to bear, and bear fruit, that men are denied by a code that regards submission as "dishonorable [and] vile" (as Mercutio terms Romeo's "calm" reaction to Tybalt's challenge), and defines freedom as a matter of keeping one's neck "out of collar" (1.1.4-5). Juliet's apostrophe to night suggests, moreover, that woman's sexual place is where the imagination thrives. The climax of her speech sublimates an intoxicating sensation of floating weight-lessly in a void that encompasses the sexual act, while at the same time being oneself its ground and bearing the whole of it ("For thou wilt lie upon the wings of night / Whiter than new snow upon a raven's back"), that seems accessible only from beneath. She is the one in a position to take in sexual experience, and witness the epiphany that occurs at the moment of relinquishment: "Give me my Romeo, and, when I shall die, / Take him and cut him out in little stars, / And he will make the face of heaven so fine …" Romeo's imagination, by contrast, does not seem open to the sexual act in the way Juliet's is, and though his experience in love can't be reduced to Mercutio's travesty of it as "a great natural that runs lolling up and down to hide his bauble in a hole" (2.4.91-93), its horizons do seem limited by his desire to rest in Juliet's breast.

Similar ironies govern the socially instituted discrepancy between Romeo's and Juliet's approaches to love. We first encounter Romeo not being addressed by the "intergenerational"20 will of the Montague family (as we might expect had Shakespeare wished either to portray the love relationship as symmetrical or explore it primarily within the division between the two families),21 but adrift in the unsupervised realm of male adolescence. Yet the liberty to "inquire" he enjoys there has resulted in a mind full of knowledge about love (obviously acquired, as Juliet remarks, "by th' book") that betrays the absence of any felt connection with the source of instinctual wisdom Juliet draws from. He also enjoys a freedom of movement and the company and support of friends, while she is confined within the family places (hall, bedroom, tomb) and isolated from anyone with whom she might share her experiences as a young woman. But as a result she is the one who seems most capable and at home in the solitude that is love's element ("My dismal scene I needs must act alone"), and the one who provides the impetus and inner direction of their relationship once Romeo initiates it. His social advantages also create transitional conflicts that Juliet is spared. The male bonds that form in adolescence involve phallic allegiances against women and the threats of impotence, emasculation, and effeminacy posed by the actual sexual relation—hence Mercutio's almost compulsive eagerness to generate collective sexual ridicule of the Nurse, and his mockery of a "fishified" Romeo ("without his roe, like a dried herring") who is only "Romeo" (Mercutio insists) when he is "sociable" and not "groaning for love." These attitudes persist, moreover—as the opening scene makes clear—in the adult world, and hence make the conflict Mercutio articulates between social identity and sexual relatedness not just a passing adolescent stage but a permanent male dilemma.22 Romeo is of all Shakespeare's romantic or tragic heroes the one least inhibited by these male bonds and the cultural values that reinforce them. When the play opens he is already disaffected with society, and too narcissistically self-absorbed to feel the pull of friendship. And when he falls in love with Juliet, he positively relishes the submissive role of fitting himself to her will. Yet Mercutio has to die (so the plot seems to tell us) before Romeo and Juliet's relationship can be sexually consummated, and Mercutio himself blames his death on Romeo's betrayal—for "coming between" Mercutio and Tybalt, to be sure, but also, one feels, for allowing something to come between the two of them. Shakespeare thus manages to make the presence of a bad conscience about sexual love that is endemic to masculinity felt in the background of Romeo's experience, and the one short moment that Romeo falls back into it plunges him and the entire play into tragedy: "O sweet Juliet, / Thy beauty hath made me effeminate, / And in my temper soft'ned valor's steel" (3.1.113-15).


It is not surprising, then, that Romeo lacks Juliet's temporal and positional assurance (Mercutio's "Where the devil should this Romeo be?" matches her "I do remember well where I should be, / And there I am"), considering what his male background provides for him. Even the Friar, whose place in Romeo's life corresponds to that of the Nurse in Juliet's, can only provide the counsel of someone who has abdicated from the flow of human experience and the disruptions that mark it. His presence as a "ghostly confessor" (2.6.21) introduces into the background of Romeo's love the idea of male celibacy, with its reservations about the legitimacy of sexuality ("So smile the heavens upon this holy act, / That afterhours with sorrow chide us not!" [2.6.1-2]), and its attempt to avoid the alternations of love and grief and attachment and separation which the Nurse's memory transforms into a steady state of well-being. The Nurse, remembering "Sitting in the sun under the dove-house wall," evokes a nature in which earthquakes and weanings magically correspond; the Friar speaks from his "cell" of a nature permanently arrested at the maternal breast, and elides all the "partings" through which life passes on its way from birth to death: "The earth that's nature's mother is her tomb; / What is her burying grave, that is her womb; / And from her womb children of divers kind / We sucking on her natural bosom find" (2.3.9-12). The Nurse's reverie evokes the feeling of being immersed in temporal process, and suggests an ability to communicate with the impersonal forces that dictate the "times" of human life ("Shake, quoth the dovehouse; 'twas no need, I trow, / To bid me trudge"). The Friar, on the other hand, thinks of time as the "plot" of an unknowable, otherworldly will, and his actions embody a half-guilty attempt to manipulate its "accidents" ("A greater power than we can contradict / Hath thwarted our intents").23

Romeo and Juliet mirror these differences, in death as well as life. The noise that frightens the Friar from the tomb triggers, as we have seen, Juliet's final "Yea": it seems to signal her to "be brief much as the earthquake bid the Nurse to "trudge." Romeo, however, resolves to "defy" the "stars" when he hears of Juliet's death, and must force an unwilling death to take him: "Thou detestable maw, thou womb of death, / Gorg'd with the dearest morsel of the earth, / Thus I enforce thy rotten jaws to open, / And in despite I'll cram thee with more food" (5.3.45-48). Buried in these metaphors of grief is a fantasy of oral retaliation against the withdrawn, depriving maternal breast. It does not so much enter Romeo's psyche as take its place in the haunted male background which the gentleness of his own love stands out against but never entirely exorcises. When he enters the tomb, he similarly leaves behind him troubled images of sexual experience like those that will later possess Othello's deranged imagination: "Alack, alack, what blood is this, which stains / The stony entrance of this sepulchre? / What mean these masterless and gory swords / To lie discolor'd by this place of peace?" (5.3.140-43).

Once inside the tomb, where a few moments later Juliet will wake into a remembering well, Romeo grows forgetful, and reality begins to feel dreamlike to him: "What said my man, when my betossed soul / Did not attend him as we rode? I think / He told me Paris should have married Juliet. / Said he not so? Or did I dream it so? / Or am I mad, hearing him talk of Juliet, / To think it was so?" (5.3.76-81). Grief may be the immediate cause of this distraction, but the feeling of being adrift in a temporal element that undermines the will and robs consciousness of its experience is deeply characteristic of Romeo. Even when he is happiest in love he tends to regard what is happening to him as a series of winged, half-unreal moments, and reaches out for them with language in an attempt to hold and lengthen them. For Juliet, however, time is a metamorphic principle that animates her from within. The goals Romeo aims for as havens from temporal flux and the "weariness" it causes are for her charged thresholds of being. Even her impatience for their love's future is that of the bud for the flower, not, as it is for Romeo, that of a schoolboy for recess.24

These differences are especially pointed in the images with which Romeo and Juliet conjure up ideas of the life-in-death that persists in the tomb. His personifications of the "state" of death are a denial of time, process, and substance: death becomes a jealous lover (or would-be lover) who "keeps" Juliet in thrall, while worms attend on her as chambermaids. The unhappy imagination that creates this image is, in spite of the love that charges it, an enemy of the will in Juliet that tells Romeo's "happy" dagger to "there rest, and let me die." Juliet, on the contrary, anticipating the future into which the Friar's potion will cause her to wake, thinks of the tomb as a place of real, historical time, where physical process continues in the absence of life: "an ancient receptacle, / Where for this many hundred years the bones / Of all my buried ancestors are pack'd, / Where bloody Tybalt, yet but green in earth, / Lies fest'ring in his shroud" (4.3.39-43). Her imagination then proceeds to enliven this place with a scenario that makes crossing over into it all the more urgent: "O, look! methinks I see my cousin's ghost / Seeking out Romeo, that did spit his body / Upon a rapier's point. Stay, Tybalt, stay! / Romeo, Romeo! Here's drink—I drink to thee." (4.3.55-58). Romeo's subsequent "Here's to my love!" (5.3.119) is, by contrast, nostalgic, not directional. It is a static gesture with which he fixes himself in the scene of his own death, not a crossing over to Juliet.

The language of the final scene measures these differences in minute detail. Romeo's resolve to "remain" in the tomb ("here, here will I remain, / With worms that are thy chambermaids") is, again, an attempt to conjure up the scene of his death, and prolong it into eternity; Juliet's is an active refusal to "come away" with the Friar, who "dare[s] no longer stay." And Romeo's emphasis on staying with Juliet ("I still will stay with thee, / And never from this palace of dim night / Depart again") is undercut when a few moments later she tenderly chides him for having left no poison to help her "after." He thinks of death as an "everlasting rest," but she perceives it as a "timeless end," and resolves in her own death to "be brief." In these last instances, especially, Juliet's language is both more realistic and metaphysically resonant than Romeo's. "Timeless end" is a ruthless tautology spoken by someone for whom life is time; yet it simultaneously evokes an afterlife more mysterious and sub-lime than the eternity Romeo's consciousness is equipped to understand. "After" is a spatio-temporal pun: it refers both to Juliet's crossing-over to Romeo and the situation in which he has "left" her. Both meanings gently underscore the limits of Romeo's imagination: able only to die into the scene of consciousness, not cross over or escape by extinguishing it, and unable to make room or provision there for a live Juliet, in spite of his concern for her. His desire to remain forever and hers to be brief epitomizes the difference between them, a difference that in spite of their fit assigns them separate meanings and destinations. The gold statues erected at the end of the play might almost be symbolic realizations of the state Romeo aspires to in death, but they fail utterly to capture Juliet. Though he sees her in the end as a beauty that makes the tomb "a feasting presence full of light," she associates herself in death with the sudden illumination of the lighting, that active principle "which doth cease to be / Ere one can say it lightens." Romeo leaves behind a letter that acknowledges the audience present at the scene of his death, and its attempt to avoid being misunderstood evokes the problematical, compromised endings of such characters as Lucrece, Hamlet, and Othello. Juliet, however, is content, regardless of how we measure her, to "measure [us] a measure and be gone" (1.4.10). In doing so she becomes a rare un-questioned center of value in the otherwise turbulent world of Shakespeare's tragedies.


1 All quotations are from The Riverside Shakespeare, e d. G. B. Evans et al. (Boston, 1974).

2 For an acute discussion of the kinesthetic dimension in Romeo and Juliet, and on bodies in general in Shakespeare, see Michael Goldman, Shakespeare and the Energies of Drama (Princeton, 1972).

3 Other critics have interpreted this dream differently. Norman Holland offers a traditional psychoanalytic reading that stresses the mechanism of "reversal" in "Romeo's Dream and the Paradox of Literary Realism," Literature and Psychology 13 (1963): 97-103; for a summary see his Psychoanalysis and Shakespeare (New York, 1964), pp. 265-67. Majorie Garber discusses an evolution within the dream from simple prediction to metaphorical or mythic truth in Dream in Shakespeare: From Metaphor to Metamorphosis (New Haven, 1974), pp. 44-47. Both critics, like Romeo, interpret the dream by referring it to future events.

4 Here, as elsewhere in this texture of contrasts, a difference between distant objects and inner depths also involves a difference between seeing and hearing. Even the larger dramatic structures that shape the plot contribute to the impression of different hierarchies of the senses operating in the two central characters. Thus in both their first two encounters, at the Capulet ball and in the balcony scene, Juliet is for Romeo first an object that then speaks, while he is for her first a voice that then becomes manifest.

5 Although Q2 and F both read "when / shall die," many editors substitute Q4's "when he shall die," usually on the grounds that "I" makes Juliet sound inappropriately selfish. But "he" deprives the image of its orgasmic connotations (which are anything but egocentric), and in doing so eliminates the climax toward which the erotic energy of the entire speech builds. The Q4 reading is actually more like something we would expect from Romeo than Juliet: it absents Juliet from the final image, and fixes Romeo in a spectacular but lonely "Roman" apotheosis. (The New Arden Romeo and Juliet alludes to the climax of Ovid's Metamorphoses, where Caesar is transformed into a "goodly shining starre.") In the Q2F reading, however, Juliet "takes" Romeo with her in her "death." (There is an analogous difference in the final scene, as we shall see, between Romeo's desire to fix himself in a static, "everlasting" death, and Juliet's to follow him or take him with her into mortality.) She identifies what she experiences at the moment of sexual climax as his transformation, and hence posits at the extreme limit of privacy ("when I shall die") a paradoxical sharing of experience. The orgasmic connotations of the Q2F reading, moreover, allow Juliet a kind of survival with Romeo in the afterlife of the final image, as the pantheistic "all the world" into which her erotic feelings for him burst. This merging of self and object in the feeling of desire is at once the most intense selfishness and the most extreme selflessness: whatever ethical discomfort it may arouse, it is truer to the paradoxes of Juliet's desire than Q4's more conventional mythic altruism.

6 Here again Romeo's imaginative impulses are at odds with his physical actions. In the events of the play, it is he rather than Juliet who most often acts to close the physical distance between them—approaching her at the ball and touching her hand, returning to the Capulet house and climbing the garden wall outside her balcony, scaling a ladder of rope to consummate their marriage in her bedroom, riding back to Verona when he hears of her death, and breaking open her tomb to be with her there.

7 Lady Macbeth, whose invocation to Night is a twisted recollection of Juliet's, operates similarly within her husband's mental universe: pressing for the realization of the deed his imagination conjures up as a possibility, and dwells on at arm's length in compulsively subjunctive terms.

8 This is Benvolio's description of the feeling of his own by which he "measured" the "affections" of a solitary, retiring Romeo (1.1.128). The behavior that introduces us to Romeo's idiosyncracies, then, is something by which one adolescent male recognizes himself in another.

9 I have departed from the Riverside text which, following Q2 and F, reads "There rust, and let me die." Ql has "Rest in my bosom. "Rust" makes a kind of sense, and is even consistent—as we shall see—with Juliet's ruthlessly materialist imagination. But in spite of Ql's inferior authority, internal evidence (such as Mercutio's description of Tybalt as a duelist who "rests his minim rests, one, two, and the third in your bosom") overwhelmingly favors "rest," and makes it by far the more resonant reading. Romeo commits suicide resolving to achieve his "everlasting rest" with Juliet, and the Friar tells her just before he runs away that "Thy husband in thy bosom there lies dead" (5.3.155). From the beginning the play's language develops the idea of a restless, unhoused male principle ("My naked weapon is out"; "this drivelling love is like a great natural that runs lolling up and down to hide his bauble in a hole") and a corresponding inner state of narcissistic oppression ("Griefs of mine own lie heavy in my breast, / Which thou wilt propagate to have it pressed with more of thine") that both become "happy" in Juliet's breast when they find their way there through the paradoxes of sexual exchange. "There rest" consummates this theme beautifully, while "rust" bitterly negates it. "Rust" also tends to confirm the male anxieties of Romeo's "O sweet Juliet, / Thy beauty hath made me effeminate, / And in my temper soft'ned valor's steel" (and look forward to their development in Othello's "Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them"), while "rest" grants them a reprise.

10 A gnomic quality tends to attach to the language of location and self-assertion in other plays by Shakespeare more or less directly concerned with ontological "world" and its possession / dispossession. King Lear, especially, is insistent in its epigrammatic use of such language: cf. France's "Thou losest here, a better where to find" (addressed to Cordelia), Edmund's "The wheel has come full circle, I am here," and Cordelia's own "And so I am; I am," followed immediately by her gnomic "No cause, no cause."

11 In doing so she passes effortlessly from the subjunctive realm where Romeo's imagination characteristically languishes ("should be") into the present indicative where hers flourishes ("There I am").

12 See Barbara Everett's beautiful essay, "Romeo and Juliet: The Nurse's Story," Critical Quarterly 14 (1972): 129-39.

13 I use the term "weaves" advisedly. The Nurse's reverie allows us to observe what a Jungian would call "the anima" at work processing the raw material of life, creating from an inchoate jumble of events the illusion of a continuous fabric of experience. Even at the level of language itself there is an impulse to take compounds apart in order to weave them more securely into the ongoing flow: "I'll lay fourteen of my teeth—/ And yet, to my teen be it spoken, I have but four—/ She's not fourteen" (1.3.12-14). Mercutio's Queen Mab speech, which is in so many ways a complement of the Nurse's reverie, exhibits a similar delight in creating wholes out of disparate components, yet its fragile constructions exist in a "Time out a' mind," and cannot altogether conceal the authorial presence of a destructive, arbitrarily malicious "animus": "Her waggon-spokes made of long spinner's legs, / The cover of the wings of grasshoppers, / Her traces of the smallest spider web …" (1.4.62-64).

14 The language of the play suggests, in fact, that it is the Nurse who has to be weaned from Juliet: "Go, counsellor, / Thou and my bosom henceforth shall be twain" (3.5.239-40).

15 Juliet assimilates this beneficent "taking up" as a kind of ontological constant in the background of her own essentially antitragic capacity for risk-taking. Romeo, on the other hand, knows it only as an "unaccustomed" feeling brought on by dreams and implemented by "thoughts": "If I may trust the flattering truth of sleep, / My dreams presage some joyful news at hand. / My bosom's lord sits lightly on his throne, / And all this day an unaccustom'd spirit / Lifts me above the ground with cheerful thoughts." Here, especially, the difference doesn't so much criticize Romeo as underscore the poignancy of his situation: having to invent and sustain at the level of fantasy and consciousness what is given to Juliet as the stable ground of experience.

16 This discussion of the Nurse's and Juliet's connectedness owes much to the current feminist appropriation of psychoanalytic object-relations theory: Nancy Chodorow's The Reproduction of Mothering (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1978), especially, should be felt in the background of my argument. It must be added, however, that although this perspective provides a rich context within which to understand what Juliet assimilates from the Nurse, it has practically nothing to tell us about the forces that propel Juliet away from the Nurse, into individuality and the undomesticatable "strangeness" of the erotic. Indeed, Shakespeare's portrayal of Juliet brings into focus the limitations of both sides of the current argument within psychoanalytic theory between models of the psyche that privilege object-relations and libido respectively.

17 The convergence of the two "withins"—the one beyond the world of the stage and the one beneath the conscious self—in Juliet's experience, and their manifestation to her as voice, suggest the nature of her extraordinary strength of will. (One might contrast Hamlet's equally auspicious summons from these two realms, and the confusion that the Ghost's off-stage voice generates from "beneath.") Romeo, on the other hand, must suppose controlling forces whose transcendent will remains silent and undisclosed ("But He who hath the steerage of my course, / Direct my sail").

18 The Nurse's own voice, first trying to wake Juliet and then calling for help upon discovering that she is "dead," had earlier prompted Lady Capulet to inquire, "What noise is here?" (4.5.17).

19 Cf. Lady Capulet: "Younger than you … Are made already mothers. By my count, / I was your mother much upon these years / That you are now a maid" (1.3.69-73); also Paris, "Younger than she are happy mothers made," answered by Capulet, "And too soon marr'd are those so early made" (1.2.12-13). The spoken language here labors to insinuate an identity of "mother" and "maid" (through the agency of a "making" that is also a "marring")—as if by being "made" a mother a woman were "made" into a "maid."

20 The term is from Nancy Chodorow, "Family Structure and Feminine Personality," in Women, Culture, & Society, ed. Michelle Zimbalist Rosaldo and Louise Lamphere (Stanford, 1974), p. 57.

21 Such assumptions (or conclusions) govern most criticism of the play's alleged dramatic immaturity or limitations. James L. Calderwood, for instance, attributes the play's less-than-total success to a "concentration on, almost celebration of, dramatic form [that] imparts to the play a highly rigid structure based on the division between Montagues and Capulets and lovers and society" (Shakespearean Metadrama [Minneapolis, 1971], p. 116), while Sigurd Burckhardt finds it limited by "a symmetry which, even though it is a symmetry of conflict, is comforting" (Shakespearean Meanings [Princeton, 1968], p. 264). It has been the contention of this essay, on the contrary, that Shakespeare establishes these conventional dramatic symmetries (in the opening prologue, for instance), only to move within and beyond them to asymmetries that are the "true ground" (5.3.180) not only of the play's "woe" but its generative energies as well. The story of the two "star-cross'd lovers" we are introduced to in the beginning has by the end become that of "Juliet and her Romeo."

22 See Coppélia Kahn, Man's Estate: Masculine Identity in Shakespeare (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1981), for a seminal discussion of the importance of this conflict throughout Shakespeare's work.

23 For a related distinction between the Nurse and the Friar as "mediators," see Richard Fly, Shakespeare's Mediated World (Amherst, 1976), p. 19.

24 I am indebted to Howard Tharsing for this formulation of Romeo and Juliet's temporal differences.

E. Pearlman (essay date 1994)

SOURCE: "Shakespeare at Work: Romeo and Juliet" in English Literary Renaissance, Vol. 24, No. 2, Spring, 1994, pp. 315-42.

[In the excerpt below, Pearlman examines the nature and extent of the revision Shakespeare made to the language of Romeo and Juliet, contending that he "revised in order to clarify mood, character, or metaphor. "]

By the time Shakespeare began to compose Romeo and Juliet, he had already established the practice of striking second and subsequent heats upon the muses' anvil. In Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare appears to have restructured two scenes (I.I and 4.3) during the process of composition and added the "fly" scene (3.2), with its striking anticipations of King Lear, after the play was drafted.1 He changed localities, reassigned speeches, and even introduced a new character (Launce) while rewriting The Two Gentlemen of Verona.2 There seem to be extensive revisions in both 2 and 3 Henry VI; an unusually clear instance is that Richard's vengeful speech on the death of the Earl of Salisbury (2.3.15ff.) has come down to us in very different but equally mature versions in the 1595 True Tragedie and in the Folio.3 Enigmas in the text of Love's Labour's Lost can be explained only by revision, and Berowne's great manifesto ("O we have made a vow to study, lords" [4.3.113ff.]) is erroneously printed in both its preliminary and improved forms.4

Although Romeo and Juliet is not regarded as a play subject to extensive revision, it has long been acknowledged that the authoritative 1599 quarto (Q2) was set not from a theatrical prompt-book or from a transcribed fair copy but directly from manuscript, and that it inadvertently preserves evidence of Shakespeare's changes and corrections.5 Textual investigators have collected a number of "false starts" in the verse and have hinted at other alterations. A cautious re-examination of the exiguous evidence, coupled with a degree of tolerance for uncertainty and conjecture, reveals that Shakespeare was hospitable to revision and experimentation. He can be found perfecting a line or phrase, re-thinking the architecture of the whole, and even importing into the play incidents that are extrinsic to its initial design. Romeo and Juliet may be more occasional, improvisational and perhaps even more collaborative than has generally been allowed.

The Most Excellent and lamentable Tragedie, of Romeo and Juliet (the 1599 "good" quarto, or Q2) retains vestiges both small and large of Shakespeare's progress. The most obvious appear almost as a stutter of the pen where a phrase is advanced only to be altered and replaced. In Q2, when Romeo embraces Juliet in the vault, he begins "Why art thou yet so faire? I will beleeve, / Shall I beleeve that unsubstantiall death is amorous" (5.3 102-03; sig. L3).6 Shakespeare apparently replaced the indicative "I will beleeve" with the interrogative "Shall I beleeve," so that rather than Romeo's answering his question, he now asks another. Romeo's disorientation and puzzlement are conveyed more clearly by the revision than by the draft. In another place, a first version seems to be followed by a second when Shakespeare expands one line into two. Friar Lawrence first succinctly proposes that once Juliet swallows the potion, she will "Be borne to buriall in thy kindreds graue." Inveterately long-winded, he then amplifies: "Thou shall be borne to that same auncient vaulte, / Where all the kindred of the Capulets lie" (4.I.III-12; sig. I3v). The friar's additions—"auncient vaulte" and "Capulets"—reinforce his point that the loss of Juliet is a blow to both tradition and family. In yet another case, a single thought seems to appear in two successive variant forms: "Earth hath swallowed all my hopes but she, / Shees the hopeful Lady of my earth" (1.2.14-15; sig. B2v).7 In this instance, the first of the two lines is far richer metaphorically and accords with the play's well-developed stratum of oral imagery (the attention to nursing and weaning; to poisoning; to the "rotten Iawes" [5.3.47; sig. L2] of the sepulchre in which Juliet is interred, etc.). The improved version may have been inserted above the original or in the margin and the superseded line imperfectly deleted. Vestiges such as these allow the inference that Shakespeare blotted and revised in order to clarify mood, character, or metaphor.

There is also a pattern of revision in passages in which Shakespeare indulged a 1590s fondness for flamboyant rhetoric. When, for example, Juliet discovers that the newly married Romeo has just killed her cousin Tybalt, she expresses her passion for his person and her hatred for his deed in a series of adjective-noun antitheses that echo the "cold fier, sicke health" (I.I. 178; sig. Bv) oxymora so memorably employed by Romeo. Juliet's extended apostrophe contains the two lines "Bewtifull tirant, fiend angelicali: / Rauenous douefeatherd rauē, wolvishrauening lamb" (3.2.75-76; sig. G2v). "Fiend angelicali" is right on the oxymoronic target, and "bewtifull tirant" comes close to the mark (although a more exact rhetorical congruence would seem to call for either "beautiful monster" or "democratic tyrant"), but the untidy conceits in the second of these two lines are far wide—both hypermetrical and repetitive—and modern editors have felt compelled to correct what the author left undone. Shakespeare not only puns on the noun raven—the corvid, and the verb raven—to consume greedily, but he also tried to contrast both the colors and appetites of the voracious raven and pale dove. Even Shakespeare did not find a compact phrase to handle so many variables. While the lamb that ravens down a wolf is as plainly oxymoronic as the angelic fiend, neither the "rauenous dove" of Shakespeare's first stab or the "douefeatherd rave" of his second (which modern editors print) is quite on target. The awkward manuscript phrase seems to have confused the Q2 compositor. If he had found a hint that a deletion was intended, he would surely have excised one or more words from the line, if only so that he would not need to compress so many letters into a small space (he was even compelled to use a "nasal macron" to indicate an absent "n" and to omit a necessary blank before the nonce coinage "wolvishrauening"). If, as it seems, the compositor meticulously reproduced exactly what his copy contained, then Shakespeare did not find a satisfactory locution while the manuscript still remained in his hands; the record of his indecision stands in the imperfect line.

Shakespeare faced a different but related perplexity in the scene in which domineering Capulet tries to bully his recalcitrant daughter into marrying Paris. A crucial part of Capulet's speech appears in edited texts so:

God's bread, it makes me mad! Day, night,
  work, play,
Alone, in company, still my care hath been
To have her matched.

These vigorous sentiments, the core of which is Capulet's triplet of opposed substantives (day-night, etc.), were printed in a less finely honed form in Q2.

Gods bread, it makes me mad,
Day, night, houre, tide, time, worke, play,
Alone in companie, still my care hath bene
To haue her matcht.
                                   (sig. II)

Capulet began by simply reciting a list of five items that are, roughly speaking, measurements of time: "day," "night," "hour," "tide" (in the sense preserved in "eventide" and "noontide"), and "time" itself. But the speech does not continue along the path on which it originally seems to have set out. Shakespeare appears to have returned to the beginning of the line and re-interpreted the first two words—"Day, night"—not as nouns at the head of a litany of similar terms, but as antonyms. He then began again and followed "day-night" with two more pairs of opposites—work-play, alone-in company—and by doing so provided Capulet with a more distinct mode of expression. The compositor dutifully followed Shakespeare's manuscript and printed both his initial undeleted and second efforts. But, misled by "houre, tide, time," he did not fully grasp the pattern at which Shakespeare had latterly arrived and he erroneously set the phrase (if it is possible to draw an inference from whimsical Elizabethan commas) that is punctuated in modern texts "alone, in company" as "alone in companie"—as if Capulet were confessing to be a melancholic, solitary even among the busy haunts of men. Q2 therefore preserves as if in amber the moment in which Shakespeare discovered that even old Capulet could speak in figures of contradiction. Moreover, the passage seems to be one on which Shakespeare continued to ponder even after the manuscript that eventually became Q2 left his hands. Ql preserves a more highly wrought rendering of these lines in which Capulet's first stumblings have been suppressed and his chain of pairs lengthened: "Day, night, early late, at home, abroad, / Alone, in company, waking or sleeping, / Still my care hath beene to see her matcht" (sig. HI).

The trail of Shakespeare's effort to refine his conceits is even more evident in the rhetorically complex passage in which brainsick Romeo laments his banishment from Verona and from his beloved. Friar Lawrence vainly attempts to instill a modicum of temperance in his young charge and patiently explains that Romeo should think himself fortunate that the penalty for duelling in the street, customarily execution, has been commuted to mere banishment. Romeo replies that Friar Lawrence's palliatives only "[cut] my head off with a golden axe" (3.3.22; sig. G3v). His complaint becomes increasingly imprudent and less logical as it gathers momentum. If heaven is where Juliet lies, Romeo contends, then to be separated from Juliet is to be sent to hell. A vision of damnation arises even with the thought of banishment: "O Frier, the damned vse that word in hell: / Howling attends it" (47-48; sig. G4). Romeo's logic, or illogic, is organized around a set of antitheses: on the one hand is Juliet, heaven, and mercy, and on the other hand, banishment from Juliet, torture, death, hell, damnation, howling. But the path from the elysian to the infernal did not prove easy for either Romeo or Shakespeare to negotiate. As Romeo, distraught, drops down the chain of being, from cat and dog, to mouse, to fly, so his language becomes more highly figured and artificial.

Tis torture and not mercie, heauen is here
Where Juliet liues, and euery cat and dog,
And litle mouse, euery vnworthy thing
Liue here in heauen, and may looke on her.
But Romeo may not. More validitie,
More honourable state, more courtship liues
In carrion flies, then ROMEO they may seaze
On the white wonder of deare Iuliets hand,
And steale immortali blessing from her lips,
Who euen in pure and vestali modestie
Still blush, as thinking their owne kisses sin.
                            (33-39; sig. G4)

Romeo juxtaposes the filth of the "carrion flies" to the "pure and vestal modesty" of his beloved. With the gaudy conceit in which Juliet's hand is grasped or her lips kissed by courting flies, Shakespeare dallies with absurdity (his personifications unintentionally evoke the memory of Launce's grieving cat "wringing her hands"8). Romeo's oratory, designed to give prominence to the flourishes of rhetoric, comes to an imperfect climax in Q2 when two separate pentameter lines appear in both initial and improved form:

This may flyes do, when I from this must flie,
And sayest thou yet, that exile is not death?
But Romeo may not, he is banished.
Flies may do this, but I from this must flie:
They are freemen, but I am banished.
                            (4-43; sig. G4)

… It appears that Shakespeare began with a weak pun on the word "fly"—"This may flyes do, when I from this must flie"—but was not satisfied that the opposition he sought was sufficiently emphatic. He therefore rearranged the words to supplement the pun with antimetabole: "Flies may do this, but I from this must flie." After composing, perhaps, an intervening transition, Shakespeare first drafted and then abandoned the curiously detached third-person observation, "But Romeo may not, he is banished." This phrasing, he seems to have recognized, diluted and weakened the daring comparison of Romeo to the fly. Shakespeare recast the line to emphasize the almost metaphysical yoking and also to introduce a paradox in which flies are granted the "freedom" of the city from which Romeo has been expelled: "They [i.e. flies] are freemen, but I am banished." After completing these complicated maneuvers, Shakespeare was able to bring the speech to conclusion without leaving behind further traces of revision. However uncongenial to modern sensibility, the garish fly-freeman conceit was devised with scrupulous attention to detail.9

Can it be mere coincidence that, in each of these three cases, Shakespeare paused at a moment of rhetorical exuberance? Unable to find the appropriate successor to "fiend angelicali," Shakespeare let stand the muddled ravenous raven. Setting out to create a litany of synonyms for time, he turned instead to a sequence of substantives in opposition ("day-night," etc). To give voice to Romeo's shattered emotions, he yoked the heaven of vestal Verona to the hell of carrion flies. The intricate rhetorical patterning that is the hallmark of Romeo and Juliet was not effortlessly achieved.


1 Stanley Wells, Re-editing Shakespeare for the Modern Reader (Oxford, 1984), p. 89; Eugene M. Waith, "Appendix E: The False Start in 4.4" in Titus Andronicus (Oxford, 1984), p. 211-12; Waith, Titus Andronicus, p. 40-41. Except for Romeo and Juliet, citations are to William Shakespeare, The Complete Works ed. Alfred Harbage (Baltimore, 1969).

2 Persuasively argued by Clifford Leech in the New Arden The Two Gentlemen of Verona (London, 1969), pp. xiii-xxi.

3 A. S. Cairncross, "Appendix III: Alternative Q Passage to ii.iii. 15-22" in the New Arden The Third Part of King Henry the Sixth (London, 1964), p. 180; Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, with John Jowett and William Montgomery, William Shakespeare, A Textual Companion (Oxford, 1987) (henceforth Tex Ox), pp. 179-208.

4 The redesign of Berowne's speech is sensitively analyzed by G. R. Hibbard, The Making of Shakespeare's Dramatic Poetry (Toronto, 1981), pp. 20-24. It has also been suggested that the Folio text of The Taming of the Shrew reveals evidence of revision. For a recent discussion, see Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, "No Shrew, A Shrew, and The Shrew: Internal Revision in The Taming of the Shrew, " in Shakespeare: Text, Language, Criticism, Studies in Honor of Marvin Spevack ed. Bernhard Fabian and Kurt Tetzeli von Rosador (Hildesheim, 1987), pp. 351-71.

5 A summary of textual scholarship on Romeo and Juliet is presented in Tex Ox, 288-90. Editions of Romeo and Juliet by Richard Hosley (New Haven, 1954), J. D. Wilson and G. I. Duthie (Cambridge, Eng., 1955), Brian Gibbons (London, 1980), G. Blakemore Evans (Cambridge, 1984) have all been drawn upon in this essay. Also invaluable are Harry R. Hoppe, The Bad Quarto of "Romeo and Juliet" (Ithaca, 1943) and G. W. Williams, The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedie of Romeo and Juliet, A Critical Edition, (Durham, 1964). To Tex Ox's comprehensive bibliography of textual studies of Romeo and Juliet should be appended Michael Mooney's "Text and Performance in Romeo and Juliet, Quartos 1 and 2," (Colby Quarterly 26 [1990], 122-32). See also

6 Citations from both Ql and Q2 Romeo and Juliet are drawn from Shakespeare's Plays in Quarto, ed. Kenneth Muir and Michael J. B. Allen (Berkeley, 1981), and are identified both by signature and by the line numbers in Gibbons' Arden edition. A complete list of "false starts" is provided by Evans, p. 208.

7 But see Williams, 104-05; Gibbons 1.2.14-15n.; Evans, 1.2.14 supp.note.

8The Two Gentlemen of Verona, 2.3.7.

9 Textual questions raised by this passage are elucidated by E. A. J. Honigmann, The Stability of Shakespeare's Text (London, 1965), pp. 130-32. See also and Perhaps this passage is one of those that provoked Richard Fly's complaint that Romeo and Juliet "is frequently impeded by verbiage and clotted by rhetoric" (Shakespeare's Mediated World [Amherst, 1976], p. 6).


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Robert Carl Johnson (essay date 1969)

SOURCE: "Four Young Men," in The University Review, Vol. XXXVI, No. 2, December, 1969, pp. 141-47.

[In the essay below, Johnson analyzes Benvolio, Tybalt, Paris, and Mercutio, focusing on their characterization, their roles in precipitating the tragedy, and their perception of events in the play.]

The cornerstone of A. C. Bradley's theory of tragedy is that "the calamities and catastrophe follow inevitably from the deeds of men, and that the main source of these deeds is character."1 A problem with Romeo and Juliet that critics often raise is that it is too much a tragedy of fate, that the star-crossed lovers are doomed from the start.

Shakespeare, however, has developed his play so that what at first glance might seem to be the workings of chance are instead the results of character. Besides Romeo Shakespeare distinguished between four other young men who contribute to the theme and plot of the play through their perception of what is happening. In all four cases the character's perception or understanding is limited, although occasionally each demonstrates keen insight.

Their understanding of the events, then, reflects upon the understanding of the action by the central characters. It is, of course, Romeo's limited knowledge that precipitates the tragedy.

It seems clear that the audience's understanding of the quarrel established in the first act is crucial to their reaction to the entire play. Although Romeo and Juliet see the feud as an insurmountable obstacle to their love, Shakespeare seems at pains to suggest that the feud is dying out.2 The opening scene introduces the feud through the comic discussions of the servants.

Benvolio tries to stop the brawl, referring to the servants as "fools," who "know not what [they] do." When Capulet calls for his old-fashioned sword, his wife cries out that a crutch is more appropriate. And similarly Lady Montague holds back her enraged husband. The scene of the two heads of the family being restrained at opposite sides of the stage by their wives is surely comic. Later when Paris and Capulet open the second scene, Capulet readily admits that it would not be difficult for Montague and himself to keep the peace. And Paris laments that they have lived at odds so long.

The most important factor in our interpretation of the influence of the feud upon the lovers, however, is Capulet's comment about Romeo at the ball. It is important that Romeo does not overhear Capulet, but the audience surely could expect, given this speech, that there is some hope for the love of Romeo and Juliet.

Content thee, gentle Coz, let him alone,
He bears him like a portly gentleman.
And to say truth, Verona brags of him
To be a virtuous and well-governed youth.
I would not for the wealth of all this town
Here in my house do him disparagement.
                            (I, v, 67-72)3

Thus later in the play Friar Laurence agrees to assist Romeo because "this alliance may so happy prove, / To turn your household's rancor to pure love." (II, iii, 91-92) The audience, if it recognizes the fact that the feud is waning, is ready to agree that the possibility of success exists.

In the course of the play Friar Laurence devises four plans, each one of which is defeated not so much by fate or chance as by a lack of knowledge or insufficient understanding. The four plans are (1) encouraging the marriage as a means of ending the quarrel, (2) sending Romeo into exile until things calm down, (3) giving Juliet a sleeping potion, (4) encouraging Juliet to escape from the tomb to join a nunnery. The last plan can be ignored for the most part, as it is a last minute attempt to salvage something from a desperate situation.

In the first act of the play Shakespeare introduces four minor characters (Benvolio, Tybalt, Paris, and Mercutio) who will make major contributions to the development of the tragedy. The four are about the same age and rank as Romeo, but they are deftly, albeit quickly, individually characterized. And it is the action issuing from these characterizations that helps precipitate the tragedy.

Paris is perhaps the least interesting of the lot, but he does present a minor tragedy in himself. Introduced early in the play Paris is briefly sketched as an honorable suitor for Juliet's hand.

In other circumstances, surely, Juliet would have found marriage with Paris satisfactory. With four speaking lines, Paris is introduced as a suitor for Juliet. He does not appear again in the play until act III, scene iv, when he is reintroduced as a wooer. In the interim between I, ii, and II, iv, Paris seemingly has successfully pressed his suit not to Juliet but to Capulet. Capulet apologizes that he has not made the proposal known to Juliet, but says he will do so that very night. Paris's persistence in advancing his suit is crucial at this point in the play, for it will spell the defeat of Friar Laurence's plan to have Romeo stay in exile until things calm down.

Still not having approached Juliet with his testaments of love, Paris seeks out Friar Laurence to perform the marriage rites. There he meets Juliet who must answer his protestations of love with ambiguous and ironic replies.

The happiness and expectation of Paris are countered by the obvious confusion Juliet now suffers. Rushing to seek the advice of Friar Laurence, she meets there the person who is now responsible for her plight. When Paris greets her with fond and affectionate phrases, Juliet is placed under a great strain. The audience is held in suspense; act III had ended with Juliet's resolve to seek the Friar's remedy, but she and the Friar must first fence with Paris before they can share their private thoughts.

The brief scene is effective in another way too, for it conveys to Friar Laurence the information about the impending Paris-Juliet wedding; thus Friar Laurence can acknowledge, when he and Juliet are finally alone, that he already knows of her grief. Shakespeare is preparing us for Paris's final contribution to the play. This scene suggests the sincerity of Paris's love and prepares the audience for the appearance of Paris at Juliet's tomb in the fifth act. When he first finds out about Juliet's death, Paris merely joins the choral lament at her bedside; there is no show of real emotion.

A different Romeo from the hysterical youth of act III comes to Juliet's tomb in the fifth act. He sees the act of dying with Juliet in a symbolic, ritualistic manner. He announces his intentions when he first hears the news of her death: "Well, Juliet, I will lie with thee tonight." (V, i, 34) He moves to his death with a singleness of purpose. The killing of Paris manifests Romeo's heightened stature and his concentration upon his central goal. He does not know it is Paris he kills; in fact for the purpose of Romeo's development it could be anyone. A guard, a passerby would serve equally well because Romeo kills Paris not as Paris but as an obstacle, as a hindrance. He warns the intruder to leave him alone, but Paris thinks that his comments are but wild conjurations.

Good gentle youth, tempt not a desperate
Fly hence and leave me. Think upon these
Let them affright thee. I beseech thee,
Put not another sin upon my head,
By urging me to fury.
                            (V, iii, 59-63)

Only after Paris is dead, does Romeo recognize him.

By using Paris in such a way, Shakespeare presents a minor tragedy that reflects upon Romeo's situation. Paris is not so much the victim of fate or circumstance (although one could claim it is a coincidence that he is at the tomb at this time), as he is the victim of his love of Juliet. Romeo rushes to his own death because he loves Juliet so intensely; Paris, too, is at the tomb because of his love for Juliet. In either case a less intense love would have made the tragedy impossible. Romeo's tribute to Juliet before he drinks the poison has been preceded by Paris's impassioned elegy.

Sweet flower, with flowers thy bridal bed
  I strew—
Oh, woe! Thy canopy is dust and stones—
Which with sweet water nightly I will dew,
Or wanting that, with tears distilled by
The obsequies that I for thee will keep
Nightly shall be to strew thy grave and
                            (V, iii, 12-17)

Both Romeo and Paris die in ignorance. Paris dies thinking Romeo has come to violate the grave and pleads with his foe in his last words to be placed beside Juliet. Romeo recognizes a kinship with Paris ("Oh, give me thy hand, / One writ with me in sour misfortune's book!" [V, ii, 81-82]) and dies ignorant, of course, that Juliet still lives. They both share a love and an ignorance that plunges them along their fated course.

But the real question of this scene is what does Shakespeare gain by using Paris in such a way. Are we more convinced that this is a tragedy of fate now that Paris also has died? I think that the effect is the opposite. Paris's death stems from two things—the love that he feels for Juliet and the insufficient knowledge or perception that both he and Romeo are victims of. It is a fitting end for Paris and one that parallels that of Romeo.

The character of Tybalt also helps to alleviate the emphasis upon fate. In the first scene Tybalt is established as one eager to fight with anyone, especially a Montague. It is in Tybalt alone that the quarrel lives on at a fevered pitch. When Benvolio tries to stop the brawl, Tybalt screams, "What, drawn, and talk of peace! I hate the word / As I hate Hell, all Montagues and thee." (I, i, 77-79) At the party Tybalt recognizes Romeo and wishes to challenge him then and there. Capulet is able to calm him for the moment, but the movement of the last part of Act I is crucial. Scene v opens with the servants' last minute preparations for the party. Then the maskers arrive and they dance.

Romeo spies Juliet and is immediately enthralled by her beauty. Tybalt recognizes Romeo's voice and is only prevented from challenging Romeo by Capulet's stern reprimand. Romeo and Juliet meet and after parting discover that they are separated by the fact that one is a Montague, the other a Capulet. The act ends therefore with a tension having been created between the development of the love of Romeo and Juliet and Tybalt's decision to revenge the insult of Romeo's having intruded upon the party.

Coupled with these alternatives is the possibility that Capulet may still be able to control Tybalt as he had done at the party. As the love between Romeo and Juliet develops, then, Shakespeare reminds us that not fate, but a hotheaded impetuous youth may interfere with their plans. Friar Laurence has no sooner consented to Romeo's request to marry, than Benvolio announces (II, iv, 6ff) that Tybalt has challenged Romeo.

The forces are joined in act III, scene i where the three young men are dismissed from the play, Mercurio and Tybalt by death. Benvolio, whose contribution to the play is over, never reappears after this scene and no character makes reference to him.

The death of Tybalt is the climax of the play. Shakespeare makes the death of Tybalt not the result of an accident but of a clash of characters. In Brooke's poem Romeus kills Tybalt because of anger over an insult. In Shakespeare, Romeo—because of his love for Juliet—can ignore the taunts of Tybalt, but because of his friendship with Mercurio, he must avenge the death of his friend. Just as he later kills himself for his intense love for Juliet he here kills Tybalt because of his love for Mercutio. The death of Mercutio brings Romeo to a point of crisis which he solves by avenging his friend's death.

This gentleman, the Prince's near ally,
My very friend, hath got his mortal hurt
In my behalf, my reputation stained
With Tybalt's slander—Tybalt, that an hour
Hath been my kinsman. O sweet Juliet,
Thy beauty hath made me effeminate,
And in my temper softened valor's steel!
                            (III, i, 114-120)

The death of Tybalt also produces a crisis in Juliet's attitude toward Romeo. When she learns that Romeo has slain Tybalt she bursts forth in a series of oxymorons to describe ROMEO "Oh, serpent heart, hid with a flowering face! / Did ever dragon keep so fair a cave? / Beautiful tyrant! Fiend angelical!" (III, ii, 73-75)

Her elaborate language reminds the reader of a similar set of oxymorons that Romeo spouted in the first act when he was depicted as the typical lover of the sonnets. But when the nurse agrees that Romeo is a villain, Juliet immediately turns upon her and her intense love for Romeo reasserts itself—"Oh, what a beast was I to chide at him!"(III, ii, 95)

It is crucial, then, that the deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt be explained not in terms of fate or chance, although there is an element of chance in Mercutio's being slain under Romeo's arm, but in relation to their characters. First Shakespeare must present Mercutio as one as eager to fight as Tybalt so obviously is, and second he must convince the readers of the friendship of Mercutio and Romeo. Third, in keeping with the motif of action in ignorance that runs through the play, Benvolio and Mercutio enter actIII unaware that Romeo is no longer infatuated with Rosalind; they act, therefore, with the limited knowledge of act I.

Mercutio resents Tybalt. When Mercutio hears that Tybalt has challenged Romeo, he mocks Tybalt, who has affected the new fashions in dueling. "Why is not this a lamentable thing, Grandsire, that we should be thus afflicted with these strange flies, these fashionmongers, these perdonamis who stand so much on the new form that they cannot sit at ease on the old bench? Oh, their bones, their bones!" (II, iv, 32-37). And Shakespeare has Mercutio ironically reveal his own disposition towards quarreling when he describes Benvolio in the opening lines of act III.

We have already witnessed Benvolio playing the role of peacemaker, so the description can not apply to him, and Benvolio himself counters the accusation, turning it back upon Mercutio: "An I were so apt to quarrel as thou art, any man should buy the fee simple of my life for an hour and a quarter." (III, i, 33-36) Minutes later Benvolio's point is given dramatic proof. Upset at Romeo's apparent cowardice before a man whom Mercutio had ridiculed previously and with whom he had just recently exchanged insults, Mercutio takes up Tybalt's gauntlet. We are prepared for such an action.

Benvolio escapes the bloody fray, but Shakespeare dismisses him from the play. He has made his contribution and there is nothing more for him to do. He is easy to dismiss, but his contribution to the play is a crucial one. Granville Barker sums up the basic impression that Benvolio makes: "Benvolio is negative enough, confidant to Romeo, foil to Mercutio. But there are such men; and Shakespeare endows him with a kindly patience, sharpens his wit every now and again to a mild irony, gives him a steady consistency that rounds him to something more than a shadow."4

But Benvolio's contribution is really rather crucial, for he rounds out Shakespeare's concept of the world from which Romeo and Juliet rise. First Benvolio has the practical function of providing essential information. In the first scene he tells Romeo's parents of the recent fight and gives the audience the first glimpse of Romeo's infatuation. Later in actIII he gives the Prince a true account of what has happened in the double slaying of Tybalt and Mercutio.

In other appearances he contributes to the basic norm of youth that Shakespeare utilizes as a contrast with Romeo. As the play opens, Romeo is a laughable departure from this norm; Benvolio and Mercutio can not take his love for Rosalind seriously and neither, of course, can the reader. Later Romeo and Juliet will rise above this norm, reflected later in the play not by Benvolio and Mercutio, but by the more mundane approach toward love suggested by Paris.

Benvolio immediately suggests that it is normal for youths to be occasionally moody and retiring. He has seen Romeo wandering alone when he himself has been driven forth by a troubled mind.

A troubled mind drove me to walk abroad,
Where, underneath the grove of sycamore
That westward rooteth from the city's side,
So early walking did I see your son.
Towards him I made; but he was ware of
And stole into the covert of the woo.
I measuring his affections by my own,
That most are busied when they're most
Being one too many by my weary self,
Pursued my humor, not pursuing his,
And gladly shunned who gladly fled from
                            (I, i, 127-136)

What the interview with Romeo thus points out is that although there are reasons why a troubled mind might cause one to wander abroad, Romeo's infatuation with his mistress is something that can and should be cured. Romeo has departed from the norm and Benvolio and Mercutio set out to bring him back. While they work in knowledge they are to be applauded, for Romeo's infatuation with Rosalind is not to be taken seriously. As Benvolio claims, one beauty will drive the other out, but Benvolio never learns how correct he is.

Thus it is Benvolio's idea to go to Capulet's party. The purpose is to accomplish exactly what does happen: exposed to other beauties, Romeo will soon forget Rosalind. When Mercutio joins the two friends he replaces Benvolio as the main scoffer at Romeo's love. The Queen Mab speech should be seen as part of this attack on Romeo's languishing in love. Mercutio is responding to Romeo's rejoinder to his comment that dreamers often lie: "In bed asleep, while they do dream things true." (I, iv, 53) After imaginatively describing the fairy queen, Mercutio lists the effect of the Queen's nightly journey: the lover dreams of love, lawyers of fees, soldiers dream of cutting necks. The point should be clear; the disposition of the person when awake determines the dream. Thus Romeo the lover when awake dreams of love when asleep.

When Romeo claims Mercutio talks of nothing, Mercutio admits as much and places his confidence in more stable stuff; he thus rejects the idea that dreams can foretell what will happen.

       True, I talk of dreams,
Which are the children of an idle brain,
Begot of nothing but vain fantasy,
Which is as thin of substance as the air,
And more inconstant than the wind, who
Even now the frozen bosom of the North,
And, being angered, puffs away from thence,
Turning his face to the dew-dropping South.
                            (I, iv, 96-103)

Romeo is no match for Benvolio and Mercutio in such wit exchanges; he has other things on his mind—Rosalind and a grim foreboding which he voices in the next few lines.

When Benvolio and Mercutio finally find Romeo the next morning after the party, they discover a new Romeo, one who is capable of winning a wit exchange. Mercutio draws a logical conclusion; Romeo is no longer in love. "Why is not this better now than groaning for love? Now art thou sociable, now art thou Romeo; now art thou what thou art, by art as well as by nature." (II, iv, 92-95)

Romeo has returned to the norm; he has left the world of love-longing. But Mercutio and Benvolio are only partially correct. He is no longer in love with love or infatuated with Rosalind, but neither has he returned to the norm suggested by Benvolio and Mercutio. Through his love for Juliet he transcends this norm.

Thus Mercutio participates in the quarrel scene in ignorance. He does not know what has happened to Romeo, but his actions are completely consistent with his character and his limited knowledge. It is only left for Benvolio to give an accurate account of the cause and results of the fray and the contribution of three of the four young men is over.

Two are dead, victims of their own impetuous nature; the third is dismissed from the play, his vision and interpretation of youth having been sufficiently established. It is left for Romeo and Juliet to transcend such a limited vision.


1 A. C. Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy (New York, 1964), p. 21.

2 See the discussion of the feud in H. B. Charlton, Shakespearian Tragedy (Cambridge, 1961), pp. 56-60.

3 Quotations are from G. B. Harrison, Shakespeare, The Complete Works (New York, 1952).

4 Harley Granville-Barker, Prefaces to Shakespeare (Princeton, New Jersey, 1947), II, 335. Arthur Colby Sprague offers a much more critical appraisal of Benvolio. "What, for instance, are we to make of Benvolio … ? We remember Benvolio, a little vaguely, it may be, as the companion of Romeo and Mercutio, with one or both of whom he converses. He listens while Mercutio holds forth on dreams or characterizes Tybalt as a duelist, and through the kind of attention he gives can enhance the effectiveness of these speeches." "Shakespeare's Unnecessary Characters," Shakespeare Survey, XX (1967), 75.

Barbara Everett (essay date 1972)

SOURCE: "Romeo and Juliet: The Nurse's Story," in Critical Quarterly, Vol. 14, No. 2, Summer, 1972, pp. 129-39.

[In the following essay, Everett studies the role of the Nurse and offers a detailed analysis of her speech from Act I, scene iii.]

The heroine of Romeo and Juliet enters the play late. Not until the third scene of the first act is she called onstage by her mother and her Nurse, who are also appearing here for the first time. The latter part of this scene is given to Lady Capulet's brisk and formal announcement of an offer for her daughter, with Juliet's timid and obedient response. All the earlier part of it is dominated by the Nurse, and her reminiscences of the past set the tone for the first appearance of the only three really important women in this romantic and domestic tragedy. Lady Capulet's conventional niceties make their point too, but it is the Nurse who holds the stage. Indeed, her 'moment' seems to have an importance in the play as a whole which has not been recognised. It demands to be looked at in a little detail. At Juliet's entry, mother and Nurse are discussing her age:

Lady C. She's not fourteen.
Nurse. I'll lay fourteen of my teeth—
And yet, to my teen be it spoken, I have but
She's not fourteen. How long is it now
To Lammas-tide?
Lady C. A fortnight and odd days.
Nurse. Even or odd, of all days in the year,
Come Lammas Eve at night shall she be
Susan and she—God rest all Christian
Were of an age. Well, Susan is with God;
She was too good for me. But, as I said,
On Lammas Eve at night shall she be
That shall she, marry; I remember it well.
'Tis since the earthquake now eleven years;
And she was wean'd—I never shall forget it—
Of all the days of the year, upon that day;
For I had then laid wormwood to my dug,
Sitting in the sun under the dove-house wall;
My lord and you were then at Mantua.
Nay, I do bear a brain. But, as I said,
When it did taste the wormwood on the nipple
Of my dug, and felt it bitter, pretty fool,
To see it tetchy, and fall out with the dug!
Shake, quoth the dove-house. 'Twas no need,
  I trow,
To bid me trudge.
And since that time it is eleven years;
For then she could stand high-lone; nay, by
  th' rood,
She could have run and waddled all about;
For even the day before, she broke her brow;
And then my husband—God be with his soul!
'A was a merry man—took up the child.
'Yea', quoth he, 'dost thou fall upon thy face?
Thou wilt fall backward when thou has more
Wilt thou not, Jule?' And, by my holidam,
The pretty wretch left crying, and said 'Ay'.
To see, now, how a jest shall come about!
I warrant, an I should live a thousand years,
I never should forget it: 'Wilt thou not, Jule?'
  quoth he;
And, pretty fool, it stinted, and said 'Ay'.
Lady C. Enough of this; I pray thee hold thy
Nurse. Yes, Madam. Yet I cannot choose but
To think it should leave crying and say 'Ay'.
And yet, I warrant, it had upon its brow
A bump as big as a young cock'rel's stone—
A perilous knock; and it cried bitterly.
'Yea', quoth my husband, 'fall'st upon thy
Thou wilt fall backward when thou comest to
Wilt thou not, Jule?' It stinted, and said 'Ay'.
Juliet. And stint thou, too, I pray thee, nurse,
  say I.
Nurse. Peace, I have done. God mark thee to
  his grace!
Thou wast the prettiest babe that e'er I nurs'd;
An I might live to see thee married once,
I have my wish.

The one detail in these rich ramblings that has earned examination is the earthquake. There were real earthquakes in England in the 1580s, and one in 1580 big enough to be long memorable; and some have hoped that the Nurse's allusion might date the play. But this is perhaps to fail to grasp the very special milieu set up in these passages. The Nurse's mind has its precision, but not one such as to make her sums trustworthy. There is even a slight oddity about the figures involving the infant Juliet, since to have been only just weaned, and to be only just 'waddling' about, at rising three years, seems backward even for rustic Tudor non-gentry babies. Mathematical computations clearly increase the Nurse's dither.

'Dither' may be said to be the point of this speech. We can look in it, that is to say, for human interests and purposes even if we cannot trust its figures; indeed, the figures may be there simply to divert us from looking for the wrong thing. The Nurse's speech is a highly original piece of writing. It is perhaps Shakespeare's first greatly human verse speech, so supple in its rhythms that its original text—the Good Quarto—prints it as prose. Indeed, this looseness of rhythm, when added to the idiosyncracies of the thought-processes as far as logic and mathematics are concerned, has increased the suspicions of some scholars about the authenticity of the whole; suspicions which can only be met by setting forth clearly a justification for it.

In part we can explain what the Nurse says here in terms of 'character' interest. In Brooke, the main source, the heroine's old Nurse holds forth to Romeus about Juliet as a small baby, and tells how she 'clapt her on the buttocks soft and kist where I did clappe', in a moment of coarse and genial humour that Shakespeare is perhaps remembering and adapting. And Brooke too has 'beldams' who

        sit at ease upon theyr tayle
The day and eke the candlelight before theyr
  talke shall fayle,
And part they say is true, and part they do
  devise …

The Nurse is a product of this comfortable and recognisable world. Shakespeare has taken Brooke's sketch of a conventional character-type and given it a dense human solidity; moreover, later in the play the Nurse will find herself in a further dimension, a moral context that defines and painfully 'places' her. In this, her opening speech, a mere something given by the story-situation is first and most massively 'rounded out', and there are also perhaps hints of that moral context to come. Her role as Nurse, her comfortable humanity, and her limitations of vision are all revealed in the references backward to Juliet's babyhood, and in the profuse mindlessness which is the medium of narration.

On the other hand, such a character need not have been quite as comical as the Nurse: and something important is contributed to Romeo and Juliet by the fact that she and her counter-poise Mercutio are each, in their opposed ways, exceptionally funny. She is a 'natural' and he is a 'fool', and this fact makes a good deal of difference to the way we respond to their two 'straight men', the hero and heroine of the play. Romeo and Juliet are two romantic children, but we take them—or should take them—absolutely straight; and we might fail to do so if it were not for the obliquity, or folly, that characterises their constant companions. That is to say, from the beginning what the Nurse has is more than personality: it is function; and by function she is a 'natural'. The presence of Bottom in A Mid-summer Night's Dream, a companion piece to this play, serves to suggest that the discourse of Shakespeare's fools and especially of his naturals will provide insight even—or most—where it appears to be failing to provide information. There is a kind of insight early achieved in the Shakespearean comic mode which can shift the comic up and away from the limits of the satirised or satirising and into a medium which is a form of truth; or perhaps one ought to say, which is another form of truth. If a fat middle-aged woman congenitally disposed to muddle is made, by function, into a fool licensed to speak profound nonsense, then she may undercut the rational and move into an area of more primitive and powerful (though more elusive and dangerous) utterance. The Nurse's speech is followed by Lady Capulet's thin and superficial conventionalities, and these latter help to intensify by retrospective contrast the crude depth achieved by the Nurse.

I would argue that the major function of the Nurse's speech is to provide a natural context for the motif of 'death-marked love' which governs the play. Such intimations of mortality as occur here hardly rise to tragic dignity. But it is commonly agreed that Romeo and Juliet makes tragedy out of the lyrical and comical. The Nurse's jokes operate well within that region of the 'painfully funny' which comes fully and deeply into being at the death of Mercutio. Indeed, one might call Mercutio's death-scene, with the astonishing death-blow given unheralded to the irresponsibly free and funny young man, a perfect match or counter-poise in a harsh vein to what is set forth here with a rough tenderness. What the Nurse says at this early point acts as a semi-choric commentary, helping to build up the background of suggestions which in the earlier part of the play act as an unconscious persuasion stronger than the explicit feud-motif in accounting for the catastrophe. It might be objected that this would demand an audience impossibly acute, able at once to laugh at the Nurse, relish her 'character', and respond to the more impersonal connotations of what she says. But it must be pointed out that for the original theatre audience this charmingly comical account of a marriageable girl's infancy was narrated on a stage hung everywhere with black. The reference to 'Juliet and her Romeo' at the end of the play certainly makes it sound a story already very familiar, almost fabulous; but even those not familiar with the tale could hardly fail to observe that a death was likely at some point to take place: that they were assisting at a tragedy. They could not be wholly unprepared to hear, at the very least, a touch of painful irony in the lines that close the Nurse's affectionate apostrophe:

Thou was the prettiest babe that e're I nursed;
An I might live to see thee married once,
I have my wish.

'Married once' just about covers Juliet's case. It seems worth while to look at the Nurse's speech in rather closer focus than it has received.

The passage falls into three sections: the first concerned with Juliet's age and birthday ('On Lammas Eve at night shall she be fourteen'), the second with the child's weaning and the third with the child's fall. First things first: the birthday. Lammas Eve is July 31st, and so an appropriate date (as the New Penguin editor has pointed out) for a heroine named from July. But there may be a particular resonance in the festival date, which is thrice repeated, with an effect as much of ritual as of wandering memory. The Christian feast of Lammas took the place of what was possibly the most important of the four great pagan festival days, the midsummer feast. 'Lammas' itself meant originally 'loaf-mass', the sacrament at which were offered loaves made from the first ripe corn, the first fruits of the harvest. One therefore might expect Lammas Eve to carry, for an Elizabethan consciousness, mixed and fugitive but nonetheless suggestive associations, both with Midsummer Eve and with harvest festival. Such associations would be appropriate. For Romeo and Juliet is a summer tragedy as its companion-piece, A Midsummer Night's Dream, is a summer comedy. Romeo and Juliet so consistently evokes different aspects of high summer, both inner and outer weather, that Capulet's 'quench the fire, the room is grown too hot' (at 1.5.29: apparently borrowed from the wintry season in which this part of Brooke's poem takes place) is often noted for its discordance with the general 'feel' of the play. We are told that the furious energies of the fighting, fornicating and witticising young men are in part to be explained by the season of 'dog-days': 'now is the mad blood stirring'. The relation of hero and heroine embodies a different, more tender aspect of summer: the lyrical sense of a time that 'Holds in perfection but a little moment' (Sonnet 15). In the balcony scene,

This bud of love, by summer's ripening breath
May prove a beauteous flow'r when next we
  meet …

but in the tomb,

Death … hath suck'd the honey of thy

Then at the end of the play, these 'midsummer' associations are replaced by an image in which the golden statues are something much more like first fruits:

As rich shall Romeo's by his lady's lie—
Poor sacrifices of our enmity!

A reference to Lammas, then, may carry a proleptic suggestion both of the fall that follows the midsummer equinox in the course of nature and of the sacrificial offerings of first-fruits. And there is a further point to be made, concerning Elizabethan idiom. The expression 'latter Lammas' was used to mean 'Never'—a time that will never come. The more sombre, if tender side of these hints is strengthened by the Nurse's references to Juliet's dead foster-sister, Susan.

                 Susan is with God:
She was too good for me.

In Shakespeare's time, so pitifully small a proportion of babies born survived their first six years that this reminder of a massive infant death-rate brings closer to Juliet the whole context of fatality. Not very many years will separate the deaths of the two girls. And the Nurse's 'She was too good for me' is one way of interpreting the meaning of the destruction of Romeo and Juliet themselves, and it is one that is offered as a possibility by the play as a whole.

It would be unwise to argue, from all this, that a perceptive mind ought to take the hint that Juliet is unlikely to reach or much pass the age of fourteen: or to urge that an audience ought somehow to feel consciously that the ludicrous argument about the precise extent of Juliet's past holds ironical premonitions of the absence of her future. But the twice-repeated 'Lammas Eve' line holds between its repetitions the dead Susan; and the conjunction of birthday with deathday lingers in the mind. The effect is not irrelevant to a tragedy in which Juliet reaches maturity with a suddenness and brevity both splendid and shocking.

To speak of maturity here is to bring up the whole question of Juliet's age, on which the passage turns in a more than merely nominal sense. The figure 'fourteen' is obtruded upon our attention so as to make it scarcely forgettable. Shakespeare is choosing an age which makes his heroine two years younger than the already very young heroine in Brooke's poem. In both stories the age of the heroine seems to have more to do with romance than with ordinary bourgeois reality.1 Marriage at sixteen or fourteen, let alone with Nurse's 'Now, by my maidenhead at twelve year old', cannot be taken as a reflection of ordinary Elizabethan facts of life. It may be that Shakespeare was availing himself of the notion of 'hot Italy', where girls matured far earlier than in his own cooler clime, but for that the original sixteen would presumably have served. It seems important that Capulet should give the impression that Juliet is a little young for marriage—

She hath not seen the change of fourteen
Let two more summers wither in their pride,
Ere we may think her ripe to be a bride

and that Lady Capulet should apparently contradict this later:

                     By my count,
I was your mother much upon these years
That you are now a maid.

Considering all this, we may say that Juliet's age is important, and that the question is brought up by Lady Capulet and elaborated by the Nurse as a way of giving a good deal of information about the play's heroine, though not exactly of a chronological kind. Shakespeare is utilising a characteristically poetic sense of time. On the one hand (he seems to insist) there is nothing abnormal about Juliet's marriage at her present age; on the contrary, given that we are moving in a romantic world, the event is a part of a great cycle—both natural and ceremonious or customary—that occurs generation after generation. On the other hand, the choice of an age slightly young even by romantic standards achieves the sense of extremity, of a painful too-soonness: Juliet is a 'rathe primrose', a 'fairest flower no sooner blown than blasted'. Juliet is so young indeed that the figure of fourteen seems to suggest a coming-to-maturity that accompanies the simple physical process of puberty itself: Juliet is at a threshold. (Such hints are paralleled in Romeo's case by the adolescent fits of passion, and the rapid change of affection, which characterise him). That Juliet is said—with some iteration—to be fourteen, is a way of establishing that she is at an early age for a natural process of maturity. Or, to put it another way, our sense of the tragedy entails both a sharp recognition of unripeness, of a pathos and gravity recognisably childish, and an acknowledgment that the grief experienced is itself 'full, fine, perfect'.

The fact that the tragic process involves a maturation brings us back to the Nurse's speech. The first of the two incidents she recalls concerns Juliet's weaning; which we may now call, in view of that movement to maturity involved with the whole tragic action, Juliet's first weaning. The interesting fact about the earthquake that ushers in this first movement of the narrative is not (or not only) that several such actually happened in England in the last decades of the sixteenth century, but that in this speech one happens at the same time as the weaning. This particular specimen is a poetic and not a historical event and it takes place within a context of its own. On the one hand there is the earthquake, a natural cataclysm of extraordinary magnitude, such as people remember and talk about and date things by: something quite beyond the personal—really un-stoppable: it shook the dovehouse. On the other hand, there is the dovehouse, symbol—as Shakespeare's other references to doves reveal—of mildness and peace and affectionate love; and there is the Nurse, 'Sitting in the sun, under the dovehouse wall'; and in the middle of this sun and shelter, framed as in some piece of very early genre painting, there is the weaning of the child. The most domestic and trivial event, personal and simply human as it is, is set beside the violently alien and impersonal earthquake, the two things relating only as they coexist in a natural span (or as recalled by the wandering mind of a natural); and because they relate, they interpenetrate. The Nurse's 'confused' thought-processes contemplate the earthquake with that curious upside-downness that is merely the reflex of those who communicate most with very small children and who speak as though they saw things as small children see them. Her 'Shake, quoth the dovehouse!' has not been quite helpfully enough glossed, presumably because few Shakespeare editors are sufficiently acquainted with what might be said to a very small child about an earthquake. It does not simply mean, as has been suggested, 'the dovehouse shook'; it allows the unfluttered dovecote to satirise the earthquake, as in a comical baby mock-heroic—to be aloof and detached from what is happening to it. Thus, if the dovecote gains a rational upper hand and superior tone over the earthquake, the same kind of reversal occurs in that the weaning produces an (if anything) even more formidable storm in the small child, a cataclysmic infant rage satirised by the unfluttered Nurse:

To see it tetchy, and fall out with the dug!
Shake, quoth the dovehouse. 'Twas no need, I
To bid me trudge.

In this last phrase a fairly simple dramatic irony and pathos will be evident. Since Juliet's marriage is the subject of discussion, it is nearly time for her to 'bid the Nurse trudge' once and for all. The situation recurs in the later scene in which the young woman shows that she no longer needs support:

Go, counsellor!
Thou and my bosom henceforth shall be
  twain …

and helps to bring out the different pathos of the un-natural which is also latent in the situation. And the two kinds of pathos meet and fuse when Juliet is finally forced to stand free.

I'll call them back again to comfort me.
Nurse!—What should she do here?
My dismal scene I needs must act alone.

But there is faintly but suggestively shadowed under this straightforward dramatic irony a different kind of irony. Throughout this whole first-act speech Shakespeare creates a poetic medium for which the Nurse's 'muddled old mind' is something of a subterfuge, as Clarence's drowning vision in Richard III justifies itself by the conventions of dream. Because the Nurse is stupid she stands outside what she sees, endowing it with a curious objectivity. She has no moral opinion or judgment on the events that, as she pensively contemplates them, detach themselves from her and animate themselves into a natural history of human infancy. Confused and unjudged, earthquake and weaning interpenetrate in the past, sudden event with slow process: the earthquake becomes necessary, a mere process of maturing, and the weaning of a child takes on magnitude and terribilitá, it shakes nature. The Nurse does not know the difference; and this not knowing becomes, in the course of the play, her innocence and her guilt. She has this in common, to Shakespeare's mind, with 'Mother Earth' herself, who is similarly unaware of vital differences:

The earth that's nature's mother is her tomb;
What is her burying grave, that is her womb.
And from her womb children of divers kind
We sucking on her natural bosom find …

The account of the weaning is less 'muddled' than so designed as to give the Nurse impressive associations such as recur much later and in the far more famous image, 'the beggar's nurse, and Caesar's'. The Nurse, lively and deathly as she is, with 'wormwood to my dug', is Juliet's natural context, the place she starts from (and Capulet's pun is relevant here: 'Earth hath swallowed all my hopes but she; she is the hopeful lady of my earth'). Bidding the Nurse 'trudge' is the effort, one might say, of the horizontal man to be a vertical one—the human move to surpass the mere milieu of things.

The Nurse's second anecdote adds a brief, ludicrous but nonetheless shrewd comment on that hunger for verticality, the perils of standing 'high-lone'. The ironic and pathetic notes of the earlier part of the speech modulate here into something brisk and broadly comic; hence the introduction of the 'merry man', the Nurse's husband, as chief actor—a replacement of surrogate mother by surrogate father, which explains the slight fore-echoes of the relationship of Yorick and the gravedigger with Hamlet. Yet even here there is more than the merely anecdotal. The iterations, like those in the first part of the speech, are not circumscribed by the effect of the tedium of folly; there are echoes of the wisdom of folly too.

"Thou wilt fall backward when thou has more
Wilt thou not, Jule?' And, by my holidam,
The pretty wretch left crying, and said 'Ay'

                  'Wilt thou not, Jule?' quoth he;
And, pretty fool, it stinted, and said 'Ay',

'Wilt thou not, Jule?' It stinted, and said 'Ay'.

Such iterations are as close to the rhythm of ritual as they are to tedium. And they are a reminder of the presence in this play of what Yeats called 'custom and ceremony', of the ordered repetitions that frame the life of generations:

Nay, by my maidenhead at twelve year old …

I was you mother much upon these years
That you are now a maid …

            I have seen the day
That I have worn a visor and could tell
A whispering tale in a fair lady's ear …

Now old desire doth in his death-bed lie,
And young affection gapes to be his heir …

This feeling for age-old process is perhaps caught up into a casual phrase of the Nurse's, a warm appreciation of the old man's unsubtle joke:

I warrant, an I should live a thousand years,
I never should forget it.

Involved with the husband's repetitions, one might say, is the rhythm of an existence unchanged in a thousand years. Under Juliet's particular gift, in the action that follows, for saying 'Ay' to a situation, lies any small child's easily-observed habit of hopefully saying 'Yes' to anything; and under that—so the Nurse's speech suggests—lies a resilience and resurgence in nature itself.

All in all, there is considerable density of reference in the Nurse's speech. And this density is not in itself affected by the explanation we find for it: whether we choose to talk of a tissue of inexplicit conceptions within the mind of the artist himself, or whether we like to think of it as some more conscious artistry that expects a more conscious response, does not matter. The degree of deliberation that ever exists on Shakespeare's part does not seem a fruitful critical issue: it contains too many questions impossible to answer. What one can say is that the Nurse's speech presents an image of Juliet's past that happens to contain, or that contains with a purpose, a premonitory comment on her future. It alerts and reminds the audience of what is to come as do the far more formally deployed curses of Margaret in Richard III. But here an interesting and important complexity occurs. Margaret's curses are choric and impersonal in function: she speaks almost as Clio, the Muse of History. But the Nurse is a character in a romantic tragedy, and approaches the impersonal only insofar as a fool may. The degree of impersonal truth in her account remains a lively question. To ask whether the natural is true might have seemed in itself a not unnatural question to an Elizabethan; for Edmund, who made Nature his Goddess, was an unnatural bastard who played his brother and his father false. Both the Nurse and her vision of things are (we might say) true but not necessarily trustworthy. It is for this reason that one may call her account 'the Nurse's story'; something that offers fascinating and rich glimpses of the centre of the play from an angle that is an angle merely. She presents the play's major subjects and events—love and death—in an innocent and natural language, that of earthquakes and weaning and a fall backward. In her first story the earthquake comes out of the summer heat randomly, but not meaninglessly, for the catastrophe has scale—is a date in nature: and so with love and death. A weaning is a stage, from milk to the stronger meat of existence; so also with love and death, if we take it that it is the death of eros in agape, and of youth in manhood which is in question. In her second reminiscence, the old man's joke reduces the complicated interwoven events of the play to a 'fall backward': and in the phrase, a childish accident, Adam's maturing sin, sexuality and tragic death are all involved. In the connotations of the phrase, a child's innocence and an age-old blame blend with the potent romantic and erotic myth of love and death as inseparable companions, and make it startlingly harmless: romanticism grows into 'something childish but very natural'.

Through 'It stinted, and said "Ay"' significance and appropriateness move, as through the whole of the Nurse's speech; and they are of a kind whose resonances are not easily pinned down. The action that follows certainly pins down the Nurse: what she comes down to is a randy and treacherous advocacy of bigamy. In this light we can look back and find her account of things, for all its humanity, lacking in full meaning and dignity. The Nurse's sense of 'need' ('Twas no need … To bid me trudge') does not cover a large enough human span, and the old man's consolations (' 'A was a merry man—took up the child') are clearly slightly outgrown even by an intelligent three-year-old. And yet something remains to be said. If we find some difference between the vision of Romeo and Juliet and that of Shakespeare's more mature tragedies, this difference might be in part put down to the effective predominance in the former of 'the Nurse's story'. Her speech establishes a natural milieu in which earthquake and weaning, a fall and a being taken up so balance that the ill effects of either are of no importance; and insofar as what she says relates to the rest of the play, it helps to suggest that the same might be true of love and death. And there seems to be a peculiar echo of her procedure in all the rhetorical doublings and repetitions of the play and especially in the paradoxes of the love and death speeches. The play's structural doublings, too, are curious, and perhaps deserve to be more often noted than they are. Romeo loves twice, once untruly and once truly; Juliet dies twice, once untruly and once truly. In any such doubling there is a point of contrast (the first love and death were illusory, the second real) but there is bound to be in implication a point of similarity also: if the first was mere game, so may the second be. Whatever the relation of the two in terms of logic, when acted out the doubled events create an imaginative equivalence.

This sense of a final equilibrium in which there is recompense for loss is in fact established as early in the play as possible, in its Prologue: which closes its doubling and paradoxical account of the feud with

The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to

By the end of the play it is possible to have a stubborn expectation, against all rationality, that love and death are going to 'cancel out', that Romeo and Juliet have been merely 'Sprinkled with blood to make them grow'. The image is horticultural (and is used by Bolingbroke at the end of Richard II). Such an image is not wholly inappropriate to a play in which Romeo lightly accuses the Friar of telling him to 'bury love' and the Friar sharply answers

              Not in a grave
To lay one in, another out to have.

The expectation that the young lovers will 'rise again' is fairly equivocally met. Their survival owes more to art than to nature: they are no more than golden statues. Yet Romeo and Juliet is one of the first of Shakespeare's many plays whose peculiar quality is to make distinctions between art and nature seem false: 'the art itself is nature'. It is perhaps no accident that Mercutio and the Nurse, the play's fool and natural, turn out to be the most fertile of storytellers.


1These remarks are indebted to Peter Laslett's discussion of the relatively late age of puberty and of marriage in Elizabethan bourgeois society in his valuable sociological study The World We Have Lost.

James C. Bryant (essay date 1974)

SOURCE: "The Problematic Friar in Romeo and Juliet," in English Studies, Netherlands, Vol. 55, No. 4, August, 1974, pp. 340-50.

[In the essay below, Bryant analyzes Shakespeare's depiction of Friar Laurence and concludes that the Friar is not, as some critics assert, the "voice of wisdom and moderation" regarding sexuality and marriage, but that he appears "impulsive, meddlesome in secular love affairs, deceitful … and apparently unfaithful to his canonical vows. "]

Friar Laurence has been traditionally called by critics the voice of wisdom and moderation in Shakespeare's drama of impetuous young lovers. For instance, George Ian Duthie1 sees him as 'a very worthy man', 'prudent', 'worldly-wise'; and G. B. Harrison2 sees him as 'sympathetically treated', 'grave, wise, patient'. Such a view of Friar Laurence is little altered after more than a century of critical studies.3 Perhaps it is the very security of this venerable interpretation that prompted the following statement by Mutschmann and Wentersdorf:

Shakespeare reveals no trace whatever of the wide-spread prejudices of non-Catholics in connection with this aspect of the life of the Roman Church. On the contrary; he does everything in his dramatic power to show his friars and nuns, their lives and customs, in an unequivocally favorable light.4

Yet Shakespeare's Friar Laurence deserves further examination in spite of the conventional statements handed down from one generation to another about his good intentions. This is not to disparage his worldly wisdom or his fundamental beneficence, but it may suggest that he is more problematic than most critics have recognized in the past. For in view of his questionable conduct in the drama, one senses the need to judge Friar Laurence as an ecclesiastic, perhaps as the stereotype of comical friars derived from medieval fabliaux and commedia erudita, rather than as an ordinary man of worthy motives.

Without attempting to enter the controversy over Shakespeare's use of ecclesiastical figures in the drama, one nevertheless would do well to recall the historical climate as well as Shakespeare's use of Arthur Brooke's poem. It should be recalled that Shakespeare's England was particularly hostile to friars and other representatives of Roman Catholicism, especially following Philip's abortive invasion of 1588. Consequently, an original audience in 1594 was conditioned by years of political propaganda from pulpit, stage, and published works to recognize in Roman Catholic sentiment a political threat to England and to the Reformation. What may have appeared innocuous enough on the stage was in real life often synonymous with political subversion. In Muriel St. Clare Byrne's words, 'Refusal to conform to the doctrines of the established Church became thereafter no longer heresy, but a refusal of loyalty to the State, the body politic'.5 In short, since Shakespeare wrote for a popular audience, it is therefore unlikely that he would compromise his popularity as a dramatist by making himself vulnerable to the ever watchful eyes of the Establishment. But rather than compile evidence in support of this side issue, one should consider instead the common sense advice of Kenneth Myrick to inquire first what were 'the instinctive religious beliefs' of the people for whom Shakespeare wrote his plays.6

An audience in 1594 would also have been aware of the literary convention which often used friars and other ecclesiastics as the butt of ribald humor. In certain ways, as shall be pointed out later, Shakespeare seems to depict Friar Laurence in that long standing tradition of the comical friar dating backward in time to the songs of the Goliards, the medieval fabliaux, and the Italian novellatori which frequently made the religious, particularly This is not to the friars, subjects of their broad humour.7 This is not to say, however, that Shakesphere expected the same kind of emotional response for his friar that would have been possible in England at an earlier date, as for example in some of the entertaining pieces about clerics by John Heywood. For by Shakespeare's time the polemical elements was too considerable to serve the cause of good-spirited humor merely. Moreover, Shakespeare in 1594 apparently saw no compulsion to follow the obvious derogation of some of his contemporaries: witness, for example, from Peele's Old Wives Tale (ca. 1591), 'a friar indefinite … a knave infinite'; from Marlowe's Faustus (ca. 1592) to Mephistophilis, 'Go, and return an old Franciscan friar; That holy shape becomes a devil best'; and from The Jew of Malta (ca. 1591), 'have not The nuns fine sport with the friars now and then?'. Shakespeare is more subtle. But by mildly discrediting the friar as an ecclesiastic, the result may have been as effective to an anti-papal audience as was Peele's commonplace derogation or Marlowe's bitter invective.

Part of the difficulty modern readers have in assessing Friar Laurence objectively lies perhaps in an insistence upon seeing him with myopic focus as a sympathetic man with good intentions. At this point, however, an inherited romantic sympathy for the man should be distinguished from any completely objective consideration of the friar as an ecclesiastic. For to sympathize with him as a man must at the same time be to suspend his role as a religious, sequestered from ordinary secular engagement and devoted rather to a life of piety. His function in the drama, then, would be as a well-meaning friend to Romeo more than as a representative of 'true felicity' and transcendental values. One expression of this problem becomes apparent in Joseph Kennard's comment:

Our short-sighted human wisdom speaks soberly and acts foolishly. And because Friar Laurence is not a saint, but just a man like our nextdoor neighbor, with all the weakness and warm feelings of real life, do we love him dearly.… Friar Laurence has quite forgotten that he is a friar, and we, too, are quite ready to forget it, and to see only the man fighting, not wisely, but with all his might against cruel misfortune.8

While one may easily appreciate the sentimentality of such an evaluation, there yet remains the problem of judgment by a standard which the man necessarily renounces whenever he assumes the vows of an ecclesiastic. To judge the friar merely as a 'nextdoor neighbor' who has 'quite forgotten' his holy calling is to restore to him a status of carnality and secularism which he—and presumably the Church—would have found abhorrent. Indeed it is this disparity between ought and is that lay at the root of the comic tradition of friars in the fabliaux and in the bawdy tales of Boccaccio and Chaucer as well as in the contemporary drama. One must assume, then, that Shakespeare's audience would have seen Friar Laurence as one who ought to be a 'ghostly sire' under the regula rather than as a 'nextdoor neighbor'. It is when he deviates from his spiritual function that he becomes problematic theologically.

Franklin M. Dickey's excellent examination of love in Shakespeare's plays reminds the modern student that passionate and doting love was the usual matter of comedy during the Renaissance, rarely of tragedy.9 By application of the Renaissance dicta of romantic love—dicta to which Shakespeare was undoubtedly committed—Dickey points out that Shakespeare treats love in the first half of the action as 'more comic than has been realized'.10 'No other tragedy', he writes, 'preserves the comic spirit for so long a time'.11 And although Dickey sees Friar Laurence in the traditional manner as a 'sweet old man'—the voice of Renaissance moderation to hasty and passionate young love—his conclusions about the comical aspects of Romeo and Juliet do not prohibit a view of the friar as an essential part of that comic spirit. Indeed, if Dickey's thesis is valid—and it is—Friar Laurence can be seen in relation to this concept of 'Love and the follies of lovers' as the substance of Elizabethan comedy.12 Moreover, it is significant that shakespeare's first borrowings from Arthur Brooke's tragic poem appear in a comedy, Two Gentlemen of Verona.13

If Shakespeare modeled the love comedy in Romeo and Juliet upon the commedia dell' arte, an alternative which Dickey suggests,14 then the dramatist would have been aware of a long Italian tradition of depraved friars as stock characters. For even in the early sacred drama (rappresentazioni sacre) some ecclesiastics tended to become caricatures, such as 'the friar sly and tricky'.15 And the Latin humanistic comedy of the early fifteenth century sometimes followed the tradition of derogating clerics for comic amusement. One example of this type is Janus sacerdos, which centers around a trick played upon a priest named Janus, 'a kindly old man but a pederast'.16 Perhaps the most notable stage friar in the comic tradition appears in Machiavelli's commedia erudita entitled Mandragola (1513-1520). His Fra Timoteo, sensual and lusty, is villainous, 'but always a comic figure and trusted by others to conduct the business of a Churchman'.17 But while Shakespeare's friar seems quite out of company with those cited in the Italian tradition, as far as moral depravity is concerned, nevertheless the tradition itself was too popular to be ignored by modern readers far removed as they are from contemporary associations of friars with moral depravity. It is quite possible that Shakespeare retains something of the comical friar tradition by implying a disparity between the cleric's holy commitment and his actual behavior in the drama rather than following a form thoroughly familiar and often over-worked by the time of his own writing. And if Friar Laurence lacks an obvious association with Fra Timoteo, he at least bears kinship with him in a thoroughgoing 'Machiavellian' philosophy that the end justifies the means—however they may conflict with civil, social, and canonic laws. Some evidence for Friar Laurence as a comical figure may be discerned by observing precisely what alterations the dramatist made from his immediate source.

When Shakespeare took up Arthur Brooke's didactic poem, Romeus and Juliet (pr. 1562),18 he found a Friar Laurence who was more sympathetically treated than the playwright elected to depict him, and this in spite of Brooke's Protestant denunciation of friars and their devious ways in the introductory 'To the Reader'.19

For while Brooke's introduction abhors both friar and lovers for 'abusing the honorable name of lawful marriage to cloak the shame of stolen contracts', the friar of the poem hardly merits Brooke's invective. The reader sees him first as an ordinary mendicant, 'barefoot' and wearing 'grayish weed'. Robert Stevenson's examination20 of Shakespeare's alterations from the source suggests certain points that should be considered. Among them is the observation that unlike most of the Franciscan order, Brooke's friar is a 'doctor of divinity' (line 568) who had won his degree at a university.21 What is more important, however, is that Brooke's friar is not merely a popular confessor but a revered and chosen counsellor of the Prince. Apparently it is his 'bounty' and 'wisdom' more than his easy penance which brings him general esteem in Verona.

The friar, however, is partial to Romeus, perhaps exceeding that professional relationship of 'ghostly sire' (spiritual guardian) to his youthful charge:

The friar eke of Verone youth aye likéd
  Romeus best.

But when 'with weeping eyes' Romeus asks him to perform the clandestine marriage, Friar Laurence hesitates with 'a thousand doubts' and discloses 'a thousand dangers like to come' (597-8). Vainly advising the lovers to wait 'a week or twain', he is at last won over 'by earnest suit' while professing the worthy motive of reconciling Capulet and Montague. When the nurse brings news to Juliet that she should go to shrift on Saturday, Brooke's anti-Romanist bias becomes more apparent in the nurse's comment than in anything the friar says:

An easy thing it is with cloak of holiness
To mock the seely mother, that suspecteth
  nothing less.

Following the pronouncement of banishment from Verona, Friar Laurence gives aid and comfort to Romeus and volunteers to act as liaison between the separated pair. And when Juliet is contracted to the County Paris, the friar considers his part in the plot and hesitates to proceed:

His conscience one while condemns it for a
To let her take Paris to spouse, since he
  himself had bin
The chiefest cause, that she unknown to father
  or mother,
Not five months past, in that self place was
  wedded to another.

He further hesitates to suggest the sleeping potion to Juliet, not from a prick of conscience, but because of his fear that she will fail and

              the matter publishéd,
Both she and Romeus were undone, himself
  eke punishéd.

Finally, he considers that it would be preferable to hazard his fame 'than suffer such adultery'—particularly since Romeus is his friend. With a reminder to Juliet that his 'fame or shame' rests upon her reticence, Friar Laurence proceeds to reveal the plan for further deception with a sleeping potion. Who knows, he muses, but that if the plan succeeds, he will reveal 'these secrets' himself, 'both to my praise' and to the 'parents' joy' (2170-1). When the ingenious plan fails, Friar Laurence flees 'in fear' from the tomb in order to avoid discovery; but after returning he confesses with repentance his part in the catastrophe: 'the sinfull'st wretch of all this mighty press' (2850). For penance the old friar voluntarily exiles himself for five years, while the nurse, for her part in not revealing the clan-destine marriage to Juliet's parents, is banished forever.

But Shakespeare makes of Friar Laurence a more complex and problematic figure. He reduces him from 'doctor of divinity' and Prince's counsellor to a mere popular confessor. Romeo is still his favorite, and when the distraught lover visits the cell at dawn, the exchange indicates mutual friendship:

F. Our Romeo hath not been in bed tonight.
R. That last is true. The sweeter rest was
F. God pardon sin! Wast thou with Rosaline?
R. With Rosaline, my ghostly father? No.

The friar's response seems indulgent on the surface, perhaps as though he believes a night with Rosaline were not really sinful. If so, Romeo senses the friar's carnal assumption; for addressing his friend as 'my ghostly father' has the effect of chiding the old cleric for a false and, in this case, unworthy conclusion.

If the friar is consistently the voice of wisdom and moderation in the play, he seems slow in giving good counsel to his pupil. For when Romeo asks him to perform the marriage rites, Friar Laurence consents immediately with none of the 'thousand doubts' and thoughts of 'a thousand dangers like to come' which caused Brooke's friar to urge delay. The famous warning in the drama,

These violent delights have violent ends,

is not spoken until after Friar Laurence has consented to the clandestine marriage in an earlier scene; and it is prompted by Romeo's urging for a brief ceremony. Apparently lacking the prudent wisdom of his original, the friar in the drama embarks readily upon a 'Machiavellian' course of action, the end of which is to reconcile the feuding houses:

For this alliance may so happy prove,
To turn your households' rancor to pure love.

It is only later that same day that Friar Laurence implies some possible doubt about his easy consent:

So smile the Heavens upon this holy act
That afterhours with sorrow chide us not!

He recognizes, as did the Renaissance generally, that violent, heated passion is dangerous: long love must be moderate. But this sound advice comes at the wrong time—too late—for Juliet is already at the door of his cell awaiting the rites. Upon her approach the friar seems perhaps to forget his holy office and instead becomes the man when he comments:

              Oh, so light a foot
Will ne'er wear out the everlasting flint.
                                   (II. vi. 16-17)

One could wonder about the psychological inference of vicarious indulgence when he responds to Juliet's greeting:

J. Good even to my ghostly confessor.
F. Romeo shall thank thee, daughter, for us

Could something of Pandarus' delight enter into his response? The friar, recognizing their burning passion and afraid perhaps to leave them alone because of it, proceeds with brief rites:

Come, come with me, and we will make short
For, by your leaves, you shall not stay alone
Till Holy Church incorporate two in one.

It is interesting to note, moreover, that unlike Brooke's friar who had heard from each of the lovers their free consent to marry before counselling:

          at length the wife what was her due,
His duty eke by ghostly talk the youthful
  husband knew,

Shakespeare's friar grants no premarital advice, nor does he explain the obligations attendant upon the sacrament of marriage. It is rather, as he says, 'short work'.

If it is as an ecclesiastic that Friar Laurence's problematic character becomes most evident, it follows that his final judgment must be by the standards of canon law to which he is necessarily committed by irrevocable vows. In this regard a primary consideration should be the friar's apparent disregard of canon law forbidding clandestine marriages. Robert Stevenson points out that during the sixteenth century both Anglican and Roman Catholic canons forbade the clergy to perform secret marriages.22 And, he states, to marry minors without parental knowledge or consent was considered a serious offence, incurring a penalty of suspension from clerical duties up to three years.23 According to Stevenson, Brooke softened the offence by making Juliet sixteen years old, 'an age considered the minimum suitable one if we are to trust the most popular of the marriage manuals published in England by any of the Tudor printers'.24 In Roman Catholic countries the minimum legal age with parental consent was early set by canon law at fourteen for male and twelve for females.25 Gradually, however, legislator enacted marriage regulations apart from canon law. Henry II of France, for example, decreed in 1556 that marriage contracted by a minor without parental constent was null and void.26 Yet while Luigi da porto's novella (pub. 1535) made Luigi da Guilietta eighteen and Brooke's poem made Juliet sixteen, Shakespeare—and this may be not without significance—deliberately reduces the age of his tragic female to not quite fourteen, over two years younger than the minimum legal age.27 That Shakespeare probably accepted sixteen as a minimum age may be inferred from Capulet's own words to Paris early in the play:

My child is yet a stranger in the world—
She hath not seen the change of fourteen
Let two more summers wither in their pride
Ere we may think her ripe to be a bride.

Nevertheless, Friar Laurence agrees to marry the lovers in the play without parental knowledge or consent and apparently in defiance of canon law forbidding clandestine marriage.

Before one can maintain that the 'sweet old man' was consistently the voice of wisdom in the drama, it may be a helpful corrective to recall that Brooke's friar was no obvious prevaricator: he merely told Juliet to take the potion home and drink it secretly. Shakespeare's Friar Laurence, however, causes Juliet to utter a deliberate lie in order to deceive her parents:

Hold, then, go home, be merry, give consent
To marry Paris.

Moreover, the friar further deviates from what one would expect of the religious by becoming himself a prevaricator when he offers 'consolation' at Juliet's apparent death. Friar Laurence counsels the grieving parents not to mourn, for Juliet has 'advanced Above the clouds, as high as Heaven itself'.28 One would expect that the function of the true is to speak truth. Indeed, in view of his questionable conduct in deviating from spiritual ideals, it would seem that only a romantic and sentimental argument can exonerate Friar Laurence from obvious deceit, hypocritical posing, and prevarication. It appears, rather, that like Fra Timoteo of the commedia erudita, Shakespeare's friar has adopted a 'Machiavellian' policy by employing wrong means to engender a good end. Understood in this way, Friar Laurence remains somewhat consistently in the tradition of the Italian stage friars—'sly and tricky'. This aspect of the friar's character at least occurs to Juliet before consuming the mysterious potion:

What if it be poison which the Friar
Subtly hath ministered to have me dead,
Lest in this marriage he should be dishonored
Because he married me before to Romeo?

Here Juliet recognizes that the friar's part in the grand deception would be enough to 'dishonor' him publicly. This fact, together with the stage tradition of no great trust in friars, would help to justify her natural fear.

But when Friar Laurence's good intentions miscarry, Shakespeare seems to strip the old man of his priestly role and make of him little more than a coward, totally unlike his original. That is, in Brooke's poem the friar's consolation at Juliet's catastrophic discovery of Romeo in the tomb is well delivered:

And then persuaded her with patience to abide
This sudden great mischance, and saith, that
  he will soon provide
In some religious house for her a quiet place,
Where she may spend the rest of life …
And unto her tormented soul call back exiléd
                            (2715-18, 2720)

But Shakespeare's friar, offering no spiritual consolation and in great fear of being discovered at the scene, attempts to hasten Juliet away, even before she has become fully aware of the cosmic irony which lay Romeo at her bier. His apparent concern is for his own safety:

              Come, come away.
Thy husband in thy bosom there lies dead,
And Paris too. Come, I'll dispose of thee
Among a sisterhood of holy nuns.
Stay not to question, for the watch is coming.
Come, go, good Juliet, I dare no longer stay.
                                (V.iii. 154-9)

When Juliet refuses to leave the tomb, Friar Laurence flees from the scene. One can only wonder at the friar's behavior at this point; for if his former acts of deception can be softened upon the basis of poor judgment, this stroke of apparent cowardice cannot. Moreover, since his equivocation intended a greater good, one would hopefully expect him to remain at Juliet's side in order to explain his part in the catastrophe. It is interesting, too, that in Bandello (1554) and in da Porto, Fra Lorenzo does not run away but remains in the tomb until taken captive. Dramatically speaking, Shakespeare's friar at this crucial part of the scene could raise serious questions concerning his intention in fleeing: Would he flee Verona without explanation for his part in the tragedy of his friend? Did he suspect that 'too desperate' Juliet would take her own life as she had earlier threatened, in which case his deceit would go undetected? The alternative seems to be that his sense of guilt makes him desperate to the degree that he forgets his spiritual function. The main difficulty with this alternative, however, is that the friar seems to suffer no sense of guilt under interrogation by the Prince. What seems likely is that he reverts to the baser quality of his temporal clay by leaving Juliet uncomforted and unconsoled in the tomb. At least the effect of his course of action seems to vitiate whatever worthy motives he presumed earlier; for whether judged as a mere man or as a cleric in this scene he fails utterly. When his escape is frustrated he is returned a captive, and with an apt announcement from the watch the friar's problematic character is complete:

Here is a friar that trembles, sighs, and weeps.
                                              (V.iii. 184)

At the last Friar Laurence undergoes interrogation by the Prince, but he utters only slight public acknowledgment for his guilt. In the poem, however, the friar explains that his willingness to marry the lovers was based on 'nobleness, age, riches, and degree' with an aim of reconciling the feuding houses. Yet though innocent of the murders of which he is initially suspected, he is aware that his sin is against Providence:

Although before the face of God, I do confess
Myself to be the sinfull'st wretch of all this
  mighty press.

In the play, Friar Laurence seems to justify his action without apparent realization of his poor judgment. One does not detect the tone of 'the sinfull'st wretch' in his protestations, but rather that of a blameless cleric:

I am the greatest, able to do least,
Yet most suspected, as the time and place
Doth make against me, of this direful murder.
And here I stand, both to impeach and purge
Myself condemned and myself excused.

After confessing his course of action to the assembly, he again implies inculpation:

          And if in ought of this
Miscarried by my fault, let my old life
Be sacrificed some hour before his time
Unto the rigor of severest law.

Moreover, unlike Brooke's friar who repented and exiled himself for five years, Shakespeare's friar apparently professes no such guilt and consequently undergoes no penance. Not even the orthodox Prince finds him culpable:

We still have known thee for a holy man.


In view of the evidence it becomes difficult to insist upon the traditional interpretation of Shakespeare's friar as 'grave, wise, patient'. And Elizabethan audiences may have recognized in him the vestige of stage friars from the Middle Ages whose disparity between holy ideals and worldly actions were the substance of comic ridicule. This is not to suggest that Friar Laurence is the coarse comic figure of some of his fictional contemporaries, but the portrait we have of him often recalls some of those secular foibles and human weaknesses of which friars in literature were traditionally suspect—deceit, whim, carnality, or hypocrisy. Moreover, it is likely that a highly anti-Roman Catholic audience in 1594 would have viewed Friar Laurence's meddlesome activity in a secular love affair with less sympathy than would later audiences more distant from pervasive religious animosity. For although modern readers are inclined to pardon the friar upon the basis of his personal appeal, his good intentions, and primarily because he favors the young lovers, those perhaps less romantic must pass final judgment upon him as a cleric of dubious conduct. As such he appears not wise, but impulsive, meddle-some in secular love affairs, deceitful to Juliet's parents, an equivocator, an instigator of prevarication, and apparently unfaithful to his canonical vows. Shakespeare makes him less the obvious stereotype of comical friars, but by discrediting his holy function in the drama the ultimate effect is similar: he is open in either case to ridicule. As a man he is inconstant and cowardly; as a cleric he is untrue to what his habit professes. It is significant, too, that some later Roman Catholics apparently recognized the problematic nature of Friar Laurence. For, as Stevenson suggests, the unsatisfactory characterization of Shakespeare's friar may have moved nineteenth-century librettists of Italian opera to replace Fra Lorenzo with a Lorenzo who was either a physician or a mere notary. For example, in operas sung at Madrid in 1828 (Julieta y Romeo) and at Mexico City in 1863 (Romeo y Julieta), Lorenzo is a physician and not a friar.29

It is possible, then, that Friar Laurence is best understood as a part of the traditional comic spirit of the passionate love story which ends unhappily. His intentions are good but his hasty consent to unite the lovers in clandestine marriage and his poor judgment and problematic behavior in attempting to maintain the deception are at least partly responsible for the tragic consequences from which good intentions alone cannot exonerate him as a cleric. But with a callous disregard for the lovers, one can say that the friar's end to reconcile Capulet and Montague has been successful, although at great cost. Moreover, since Shakespeare seems in some ways to discredit the cleric's ideal function by questionable conduct and doubtful means, one must consider the possibility that Friar Laurence's character in the drama is at least problematic and probably a mild derogation of friars in general according to commonplace Renaissance attitudes toward Roman Catholic clerics during the last decade of the sixteenth century. By understanding him in this way, Friar Laurence becomes in some significant ways the stereotype of the sly and meddlesome friar of the medieval literary tradition. That Shakespeare seemed to have something of this ancient tradition in mind can be inferred by his otherwise puzzling alterations of the friar from Brooke's poem. For, as it has been suggested earlier, Shakespeare's friar is less admirable, in some ways, and weaker than Brooke's. He is still real enough and sympathetically treated to a point, but he is seemingly deprived of those qualities one expects either in an admirable man or a dedicated clergyman. The result is a problematic figure who merits more than casual acceptance by traditional standards.


1 George Ian Duthie, 'Introduction', Romeo and Juliet, ed. J. Dover Wilson (Cambridge, 1955), pp. xix-xx.

2Shakespeare The Complete Works, ed. G. B. Harrison (New York, 1952), p. 6. Passages cited will be from this edition.

3 Theodor Sträter wrote of Friar Laurence: 'In his [Shakespeare's] hands the kind Italian monk becomes a large-minded ecclesiastic, a wise natural philosopher, a shrewd politician, who, in the full freedom of an enlightened mind, stands high above the turmoil of the passions and gives his help the worthiest aims', Die Komposition von Shakespeares 'Romeo and Julia' (Bonn, 1861), as quoted in A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet, ed. Horace Howard Furness (New York, 1963), p. 461.

4 Heinrich Mutschmann and K. Wentersdorf, Shakespeare and Catholicism (New York, 1952), p. 267.

5 Muriel St. Clare Byrne, Elizabethan Life in Town and Country, 7th ed., rev. (London, 1954), p. 159. Roman Catholics in England during the last decade of the sixteenth century were generally regarded as 'a politically disruptive element, as well as a religious sect' (p. 170).

6 Kenneth Myrick, 'The Theme of Damnation in Shakespearean Tragedy', SP, XXXVIII (1941), 222.

7 See Joseph S. Kennard, The Friar in Fiction (New York, 1923), p. 96.

8 Kennard, pp. 102, 105.

9 Franklin M. Dickey, Not Wisely But Too Well (San Marino, Calif., 1957), p. 5.

10 Dickey, p. 64.

11 Dickey, p. 66.

12 Dickey, p. 5. Shakespeare sees that 'love is folly, even if delicious folly' (p. 64).

13 R. Warwick Bond lists some of the borrowings in The Two Gentlemen of Verona (London, 1925), p. xxviii.

14 Dickey, p. 66.

15 Marvin T. Herrick, Italian Comedy in the Renaissance (Urbana, Ill., 1966), p. 8.

16 Herrick, p. 16.

17 Herrick, p. 84. Liguris, the parasite, says to Nicia: 'These friars are subtle, crafty, and understandably so, because they know both our sins and their own'.

18 Passages cited are from Brooke's 'Romeus and Juliet' Being the Original of Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet', ed. J. J. Munro (London, 1908).

19 Brooke seems to echo the Injunctions of Elizabeth in denouncing 'superstitious friars' as 'the naturally fit instruments of unchastity'. He also charges the young lovers with 'lust', 'using auricular confession, the key of whoredom and treason for furtherance of their purpose' (p. lxvi).

20 Robert Stevenson, Shakespeare's Religious Frontier (The Hague, 1958).

21 Stevenson, p. 31. He may be misleading here, for other Franciscans were university men of considerable reputation, e.g. Roger Bacon and Robert Grosseteste.

22 Stevenson, p. 32. He cites for reference (as a 'fully documented discussion of clandestine marriage and its penalties') the Encyclopédie Théologique, IX (Paris, 1844), pp. 507-15.

23 Stevenson, p. 32. See Constitutions and Canons 1604, ed. H. A. Wilson (Oxford, 1923), Canon LXII, fol. Lz.

24 Stevenson, p. 32. His reference is to Henry Bullinger, The Christen state of Matrymone, trans. Miles Coverdale (London, 1552), fol. 16v . 'In ch. 5 he stated that any marriage without parental consent was void, founding his case on Scripture and the "Imperyall lawe". Bullinger's treatise was nine times reprinted before 1575. John Stockwood in 1589 published a 100-page treatise proving all marriages without parental consent to be null and void' (p. 49, n. 47).

25 Edward Westermarck, The History of Human Marriage, Vol. I (New York, 1922), p. 387. In the 'Schwabenspiegel' the German Catholics could marry without parental consent at fourteen and twelve; and although the people generally opposed the canon law it was upheld at the Council of Trent. See II, 340. See also and

26 Westermarck, II, 340. 'According to the "Code Civil", a son under twenty-five and a daughter under twentyone could not, until 1907 [in France], marry without parental consent' (p. 341).

27 In view of Lady Capulet's determination to obey her husband's will, one must read with caution her testimony that ladies of esteem in Verona (younger than Juliet's thirteen years) were already mothers, and that Lady Capulet herself was 'by my count' Juliet's mother 'much upon these years' (I.iii.69-74).

28 In Brooke's poem the friar is not present at the 'death' scene of Juliet.

29 Stevenson, pp. 36-7.

Further Reading

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Bergeron, David M. "Sickness in Romeo and Juliet." CLA Journal XX, No. 3 (March 1977): 356-64.

Argues that the numerous images of unmitigated sickness in Romeo and Juliet form a pattern that reinforces the definition of the play as a tragedy.

Berman, Ronald. "The Two Orders of Romeo and Juliet." Moderna Sprak LXIV, No. 3 (1970): 244-52.

Argues that Romeo and Juliet is not a Christian play but an existential tragedy.

Carroll, William C. '"We Were Born to Die': Romeo and Juliet." Comparative Drama 15, No. 1 (Spring 1981): 54-71.

Remarks on the persistent association between birth, death, and love in Shakespeare's play.

Chang, Joseph S. M. J. "The Language of Paradox in Romeo and Juliet." Shakespeare Studies 3 (1967): 22-42.

Contends that Shakespeare's primary concern in the play is not love, rather, he exploits a situation centered on love to explore such themes as time, death, and immortality.

Cribb, T. J. "The Unity of Romeo and Juliet." Shakespeare Survey 34 (1981): 93-104.

Contends that Romeo and Juliet is "a unity founded not on 'poetry' … [or] realism … but on a particular set of values or ideas principally embodied in the lovers."

Draper, John W. "Patterns of Style in Romeo and Juliet." In Stratford to Dogberry: Studies in Shakespeare's Earlier Plays, pp. 101-16. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1961.

Correlates patterns of sound, sentence structure, metaphor, and wit with situation and character.

Greer, Germaine. "Juliet's Wedding." Listener 100, No. 2589 (December 7, 1978): 750-51.

Contends that Romeo and Juliet is about the honor of marriage, and not, as many believe, about the "sovereignty of juvenile passion."

Hamilton, A. C. "The Resolution of the Early Period: Romeo and Juliet." In The Early Shakespeare, pp. 203-15. San Marino, Calif.: The Huntington Library, 1967.

Discusses Romeo and Juliet in the context of Shakespeare's other works.

Hartley, Lodwick. '"Mercy but Murders': A Subtheme in Romeo and Juliet." Papers on English Language and Literature 1, No. 4 (Autumn 1965): 259-64.

Examines the thematic significance of Paris's murder.

Holland, Norman N. "Shakespeare's Mercutio and Ours." The Michigan Quarterly Review V, No. 2 (April 1966): 115-23.

Comments on whether or not critics and readers should think of characters in dramatic works as real people. Holland uses Mercutio from Romeo and Juliet as an example.

Kernberg, Otto F. "Adolescent Sexuality in the Light of Group Processes." Psychoanalytic Quarterly 49, No. 1 (1980): 27-47.

Examines the relation of Romeo and Juliet as a couple to the people around them.

Levenson, Jill L. "The Definition of Love: Shakespeare's Phrasing in Romeo and Juliet." Shakespeare Studies 15 (1982): 21-36.

Discusses Shakespeare's use of the Petrarchan sonnet in Romeo and Juliet.

Levin, Harry. "Form and Formality in Romeo and Juliet." In Twentieth Century Interpretations of Romeo and Juliet: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Douglas Cole, pp. 85-95. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1970.

Describes Romeo and Juliet as an experiment in tragedy, a form which had previously been reserved for such "serious" topics as legend.

McLuskie, Kathleen E. "Shakespeare's 'Earth-Treading Stars': The Image of the Masque in Romeo and Juliet." Shakespeare Survey 24 (1971): 63-9.

Analyzes Shakespeare's use of a masque as the vehicle for introducing the young lovers to one another and argues that the harmony in this scene works as a point of reference for the remainder of the play.

Moisan, Thomas. "Rhetoric and the Rehearsal of Death: The 'Lamentations' Scene in Romeo and Juliet." Shakespeare Quarterly 34, No. 4 (Winter 1983): 389-404.

Discusses the scene from Romeo and Juliet in which Juliet is mistaken for dead and mourned by her parents, nurse, and Paris. Moisan concludes that the closure offered in this scene is superficial.

Muir, Kenneth. "Romeo and Juliet." In The Sources of Shakespeare's Plays, pp. 38-46. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1978.

Examines the sources from which Shakespeare might have drawn for Romeo and Juliet and concludes that Shakespeare infused the story with the "quintessence of Elizabethan love-poetry" and displayed his "unequalled power for the dramatic presentation of character."

Muslin, Hyman L. "Romeo and Juliet: The Tragic Self in Adolescence." In Adolescent Psychiatry: Developmental and Clinical Studies, Volume X, edited by Sherman C. Feinstein, et. al., pp. 106-17. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982.

Psychoanalytic study of the play focusing on the character and actions of the two protagonists. Muslin contends that Shakespeare transformed a simple tale of lovers into a "complex psychological drama."

Nevo, Ruth. "Tragic Form in Romeo and Juliet." Studies in English Literature 9, No. 2 (Spring 1969): 241-58.

Describes the play as a "tragedy of chance" and concludes that the deaths of Romeo and Juliet are acts of "freedom and of fidelity; hence an affirmation of the reality, vitality, and value of their experience."

Rottenberg, Annette T. "The Early Love Drama." College English 23, No. 7 (April 1962): 579-83.

Remarks on the history of the romantic play in English literature through the sixteenth century.

Rozett, Martha Tuck. "The Comic Structures of Tragic Endings: The Suicide Scenes in Romeo and Juliet and Antony and Cleopatra." Shakespeare Quarterly 36, No. 2 (Summer 1985): 152-64.

Argues that in both Romeo and Juliet and Antony and Cleopatra Shakespeare employs comic strategies within a tragic context.

Smith, Marion Bodwell. "The War of the Elements: Imagery in Romeo and Juliet." In Dualities in Shakespeare, pp. 79-109. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1966.

Analysis of the play's imagery of the four divisions of matter—earth, air, fire, and water—which reinforces the theme of order in disorder.

Sutherland, James. "How the Characters Talk." In Twentieth Century Interpretations of Romeo and JULIET: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Douglas Cole, pp. 76-84. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1970.

Examines Shakespeare's blank verse in Romeo and Juliet in order to point out subtle differences in tone, intention, and emphasis.

Tanselle, G. Thomas. "Time in Romeo and Juliet." Shakespeare Quarterly XV, No. 4 (Autumn 1964) 349-61.

Discusses the numerous time references in Romeo and Juliet, noting that such references contribute to the play's imagery, characterization, and sense of foreboding.

Utterback, Raymond V. "The Death of Mercutio." Shakespeare Quarterly XXIV, No. 2 (Spring 1973): 105-16.

Discusses patterns of dramatic action in Romeo and Juliet and argues that Mercutio's death "introduces the forces and the pattern of dramatic action that lead to the tragedy of the lovers."

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Nashe as Monarch of Witt and Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet


Romeo and Juliet (Vol. 51)