Shakespeare’s view of tragedy is a mix of the classical ‘fate’ idea and his own, what would have been considered modern, ‘freewill’ view. In Romeo and Juliet he utilises both of these ideas as specific individuals and in combination. The plot is also a complicated one because we have to take so many factors into consideration in order to understand the complexities of the web in which Romeo and Juliet are trapped. The absence of sub-plots ensures that throughout the ‘two hours traffic’ involving the immediate problem subject: the feud, our attention is firmly fixed on the fate of the young lovers, and ultimately summons the theme: love conquers hate.
The first example of this is in The Prologue, which in itself is a classical precipitate. It reveals the story of the ‘star crossed lovers’ to the audience in advance. This understanding allows a synopsis of the actions of Romeo and Juliet: struggling to attain happiness without the knowledge that they are fated to fail.
Although this knowledge of their certain deaths adds pathos to the audience’s view of events, it gives the play, from the onset, a feeling of doom. This reflects the irony of the plays theme (love conquers hate) because The Prologue takes the form of a sonnet, which is a characteristic Elizabethan form of love poetry.
Another aspect of the play that is introduced in The Prologue is the sense of time. At first ‘ancient,’ ongoing and, as Romeo frets about Rosaline he complains that, the ‘sad hours seem long’ but as the play progresses this becomes frantic. Later Capulet complains that the years rush past too quickly; which enhances the feeling of inevitability already presented when the imminent death of the main characters is revealed. The sense of time passing too quickly is a idea often repeated, as the speed with which events happen is a important factor in the tragedy. When events happen so quickly, things are ‘too rash, too unadvised, too sudden’ and mistakes are easily made. The play feels hurried and characters are filled with haste: Romeo and Juliet rush into marriage, then Romeo is banished for a impulsive action, Capulet cannot wait to get Juliet married to Paris. But it is this concentration of time and action that intensifies the power of the story. The lovers are impelled inexorably through a sequence of events and this adds to the feeling that they are caught up in a fated succession of circumstances beyond their power to control. It is the pace and urgency of the play that makes the drama so compelling.
A different element relating to the time scale of the play is the timing and subsequent coincidence or events. Fate plays a hand in orchestrating that the servant with the guest list is illiterate. It therefore seems quite natural that he should seek to obtain help in reading the names- and that Romeo is there to assist with precisely that. During this scene Romeo and Benvolio speak to each other utilising verse, wit and puns, while the servant speaks in prose, as is fitting for his, lower, status. Notice that noble characters use prose when speaking to, or about ‘lower’ things. Here we should also note Peter scoring off Romeo by giving correct, but very limited, answers; to a disadvantage of his rhyming style of doggerel.
Nearer the end of the play, where Juliet is Life in Death, Romeo’s sharp humour and witticism is no help in the combatant of this last mysterious irony; intertwined with fatal timing and coincidence, which I construe to be the most deliberate act of fate displayed in the play; which is reminiscent of Romeo’s expression ‘I defy you, stars!’ as he feels no worse can befall him now. His speech in the tomb is full of word-play on lightning, which is a reminder of Juliet’s worry that their love is ‘too like the lightning’; this could be an interpretation of Shakespeare’s use of Pathetic Fallacy. This use is also present in the first and last of Romeo and Juliet’s meetings, where Juliet is again referred to as ‘the sun’ and ‘her beauty makes this vault a feasting presence full of light.’
This is very much in accordance with the cosmic theme that runs throughout the play from the very beginning; this theme is reiterated at the end of the play when the Prince condemns the feud and the elder family members’ foolish actions because ‘heaven finds means to kill your joys with love.’ The Prologue introduces the sense that the manipulation by a cosmic power and the workings of fate have a huge influential role in Romeo and Juliet’s lives; although it is Romeo that states his experience of feeling under Fates’ control more often. As he and his friends are on their way to the Capulets ball he expresses his suspicion that ‘some consequence yet hanging in the stars, shall bitterly begin his fearful date, with this night’s revels,’ He seems to foresee his own death here, which ends the scene with a sense of foreboding and a prophecy yet to be elucidated to the characters.
Although, Friar Lawrence is a character prone to a degree of conscious prophetic awareness, as is apparent in his attempt to persuade Romeo to be patient in his love for Juliet: because he is conscious that ‘these violent delights have violent ends.’ It is prophetic in that, the lovers’ passions are short-lived and Romeo and Juliet’s love does destroy them both. Throughout the play it is those with a high social status that bestow the prophetic commentary. Towards the end when Paris thinks Romeo has come to the vault to pursue the family feud by revenging himself on Juliet’s body, he interrupts Romeo and with, admittedly, unconscious irony tells him ‘thou must die.’ It is also here that he asks one of the play’s central philosophical questions: ‘can vengeance be pursu’d further than death?’
This is equally relatable to the religious aspect of the play which is significant in relevance because many images in the play stem from the key religious ideas of the time. Romeo and Juliet’s first meeting has to be sensational, their first words are a sonnet which they share and create: Romeo compliments her, and she shows her virtuous behaviour. Romeo It displays a beauty and formality which perfectly captures the awkwardness yet irresistibility of the moment. Its use of religious words isolates them from the rest of the scene and its bustling activity.
These words they then use are full of religious and heavenly overtones, yet the bulk of what they say concerns passion relating to the human body. Although they talk of lips and hands kissing and touching, and actually kiss each other, they also talk about ‘holy shrines’, ‘gentle sins’, ‘pilgrims’, ‘devotion’, ‘saints’ and ‘prayers’. This central image, of a pilgrim worshipping at a shrine, underlines the depth and devotion of their love- thus emphasising the spirituality of it. The suggestion of devotion is further reinforced when Juliet proclaims that Romeo ‘is the god of my idolatry’
The love they share is far from the Petrarchan expression of the emotion the audience will have already experienced. As is reinforced with their formal use of language, that has a dignified pace and stresses the sincerity of their love for each other. Although, Romeo’s language still seems exaggerated and forced, or repressed, it is as if he had not yet had time to completely shake off his fickle ‘love’ for Rosaline and somewhat studied manner; and capitulate to this newly found True Love, so it is that Juliet says he ‘kisses by the book’, rather than from his heart.
The subsequent discovery that each belongs to a rival family serves to make their love that much more poignant. Romeo, in particular, senses that his love for Juliet may have darker implications when he talks of their ‘prodigious birth of love.’
The setting of the play, which immediately heightens the possibility for disaster, is a vital tragic element. The play is full of examples of different kinds of conflict and disorder, and the feud between the Capulets’ and the Montagues’ is at the centre of it. The feud is also the ultimate cause of all the deaths in the play and Shakespeare shows, through these consequences, its futility. From the outset of the play we are made aware of this feud, as the ‘Two households both alike in dignity …From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,’ is the first thing that the prologue mentions.
The opening scene of the play itself emphasises this feud and the disorder it causes in Verona, creating a situation so serious that the prince threatens ‘your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace!’ if anyone disturbs the city again. The love of Romeo and Juliet is, therefore, set within the context of hate generated by the feud and the catastrophic end of it is a direct consequence of their society at war with itself. This makes their love at once tragic and beautiful, because it is love in opposition to the odds: the audience recognize from the very beginning that Romeo has no business to meet Juliet, a Capulet, let alone fall in love with her. It is apparent that Romeo knows this because he remarks ‘my only love sprung from my only hate.’ In Shakespearian times Italy was regarded as a wealthy, romantic country where extravagant loves could properly be located. Sixteenth-century Italian comedies were especially high spirited. They enjoyed the fun of sexual and social intrigue, particularly in the context of city life. Young men fall in love, often with wealthy heiresses. The nurse’s observation that ‘he that can lay hold of her (Juliet) shall have the chinks’ suggests a common enough motive for love at that or any time.
In such respects Romeo and Juliet is a typical example of the European comic tradition. And so it is entirely fitting that a immortal tragedy, with the wit and comic genius rarely found in successful tragedies, should take as its backdrop in ‘fair Verona’, in one of the homes of classical civilisation, where passion and heat coexist within society.
It is the long summer days that create passionate hot blooded Italians, that also create lethargic hot blooded men sick of monotony who easily have ‘the mad blood stirring’ and then street fighting in the heat of summer. Although it is those lest likely to be affected by it that can see this possibility: as is true here with Benvolio. This is a specific character role; although his name literally means well-wisher, throughout the play he displays a peace making quality.
In Romeo and Juliet it is the characters with eponyms with the most obvious roles to play, but the ones with characternym’s, character specific roles to play. It is Tybalt that is, a relatively one dimensional character in contrast with Mercutio and Benvolio, the member of the younger generation actively continuing the feud ‘talk of peace! I hate the word as I hate hell, all Montague’s and thee.’ his name is shortened to Cat or Tyb and these are references to his cat like qualities- he is lithe, ferocious and shows the deep hatred associated with the feud in a fiery, spitting and hissing dance of insults. Tybalt represents the ugliness that lies below the surface in this divided society, and the one opinion that wishes it to remain so. It is interesting to contrast the consequences of his death with those of Romeo and Juliet. His death and hatred of peace ensures that more deaths and unrest will follow; the lover’s death, that the killing comes to an end and that love and peace are restored.
The convenient way to understand characters is to consider their name, for example Mercutio: a mercurial person is eloquent, active, sprightly and changeable- attributes that are certainly evident in Mercutio. Although this highly charged compilation of redeeming qualities that create such juxtaposition with his fatal flaws: a sharp intellect that allows for boredom to be easily created.
Love is a strong influence in play to the extent that the death of Mercutio, Romeo’s dear friend, sparks off a chain of events that leads to the death of 5 of Verona’s finest young people.
It is his affection and companionship that means so much to Romeo that after his death there is no other option than for him to seek vengeance. Up to the moment of Mercutio’s death, the play might have been a comedy, but now due to Romeo’s extreme emotional temperament a tragic conclusion is inevitable.
His emotional state is immediately relatable to his impulsive and rash nature that allows his heart to overrule his head, along with his susceptibility to intense emotions, which could be considered a fatal character flaw or for depending on the evidence and outcome in question. My personal opinion is that Romeo is destroyed by fate and his impetuous haste, in the first instance to marry, has been his final undoing.
Juliet’s relationship with fate is different. At first she is young, innocent, naï¿½ve, passionate, self willed/stubborn although this stubborn streak quickly becomes inflexible and she is prepared to go to great lengths to get what she wants because she is determined to have her own way. In short her self will becomes independence, which becomes the courage to take the potion. Her relationship with fate is that she is the only daughter, of a wealthy father, and so it is accepted that her marriage is arranged, it is her sly obedience to her free-will that means she keeps to her previous wedding vows and ‘will not marry yet.’ I believe Juliet’s fatal flaw is this doggedness. Just as her fathers is that he will ‘not be foresworn’ and is a slave to his hubris rather than logic; although it is mentionable that at the end of the play he does succumb to this and also a catharsis and love for his previous enemy ‘o brother Montague’ and acknowledges their children’s’ secret love affair.
The masked ball is designed to cement a entirely different sort of love; fully engaged with the mischievousness of mystery, yet into it steals a interloper whose magical encounter with a Juliet redefines their original intentions. The audience are aware of the dangers all the time: the openly recognized brawl, the bitterness of Tyblalt, the perils of a Montague being discovered in the Capulet orchard, but juxtaposed against this backdrop, a beautiful love forms, blossoms and achieves immortality. It is the innocence and truth of this illicit love that has given the story its popularity across time. Although, in a wider sense, the play may be viewed as a representation of the perpetual conflict between love and hatred which enmeshes those foolish enough to fall in love.
Whose concluding foolishness is their marked passing into death. Romeo and Juliet die as direct consequences of the hatreds within the society in which they find themselves. They are powerless in a world which they are unable to influence, until they die. Their deaths make them permanent symbols of the power of love, which triumphs through all adversity, one that is destined forever to symbolize the nefariousness in all divided societies. Death may seem a morbid fascination to a modern audience, but the Elizabethans, with an average life expectancy much lower than that of today, were much more conscious of their mortality.
Their deaths are the inevitable outcome, so the play is a tragedy in a looser sense than a strict interpretation of Aristotle’s definition would indicate; this leads me to the conclusion that Shakespeare’s view of tragedy is a wholehearted mix of the classical ‘fate’ idea and his own modern ‘freewill’ concept.
Cite this essay
To what extent is Romeo and Juliet a good example of Shakespeare’s view of tragedy?. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/extent-romeo-juliet-good-example-shakespeares-view-tragedy-new-essay