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How is Romeo and Juliet an effective tragedy?

Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies. A tragedy could be defined as,

“A play, film or television program, or other narrative work that portrays or decipts calamitous events and has an unhappy but meaningful ending”

I think that this definition is true to the events that unfold in Romeo and Juliet.

Shakespeare’s language during the play is spoken in verse (by the main characters), giving pace to the play, with clever use of language, the audience see changes in the actor’s speech, speeding up and hightening the tension of the impending tragedy.

The story of Romeo and Juliet is one of two rival families, who have fought for centuries, and of how two people from each family fall in love, and die. Five main characters die, the most in any Shakespeare play. The tragedy is apparent from the outset, the audience are aware of the tragedy looming on the main characters, with a clever prologue.

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Romeo and Juliet is the most famous romantic plays ever performed, and possibly one of, if not the most famous tragedy presented on the stage.

To begin the play, the audience is presented with the prologue, which explains to the audience about the impending tragedy.

From the offset of the play, the prologue, setting the scene also tells the audience of what events will follow,

“From forth the fatal loins of these two foes

A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;”

The narrator describes to the audience of how two children born in to warring families will fall in love, and it will end in death.

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The prologue focuses on telling the audience that only the deaths of their two children will end the family feud, and nothing else. The prologue is written in poetic language giving the prologue the major effect it should have.

The play opens in what appears to be a fight between Capulet and Montague, opening the first act with this makes the audience aware that this war of families is constantly going on. This also shows that the feud plays a key part in the looming tradgety.

The family feud even involves the Prince of Verona, who gives a speech about how the feud is affecting the lives of the people of Verona, and he states that,

“If you ever disturb our streets again,

Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace”

This, of course is hinting on the impending tragedy, saying that, yes, there will be more trouble, and the price is death, or something close. The Prince states that banishment is a punishment for a fight. Banishment was considered to be a fate worse than death, and banishment plays an important part when the tragedy unfolds.

The audience are soon introduced to Romeo, the lead character, one of the two that the tragedy revolves around. Benvolio already says that Romeo has a troubled mind.

“See, where he comes. So please you step aside.

I’ll know his grievance, or be much denied.”

When the audience meets Romeo, he seems oblivious to the world around him.

“Is the day so young?”


“Sad hours seem so long.”

Show his loss of sense of time, and that something is bothering him, his lost love on Rosaline. Romeo’s flighty personality is a tragedy in itself, it gives him a “die for love” attitude, which is a vital emotion towards the end of the play.

The language Shakespeare gives Romeo is very over the top, which, at the beginning of the play seems full of despair and self pity, but, as the play progresses, the other characters match this language, showing that they are too in despair.

This is where the audience first meet Lord Capulet. With him is Paris. Paris is a key character in the tragedy, as he desperately wants to marry Juliet. Lord Capulet sees him as a decent man enough and agrees to a marriage, this is a tragic event as Juliet will be bound by what her father says, or be disowned.

Romeo learns from a servant of Capulet that there will be a party in the Capulet household. He and Benvolio invite themselves, where the tragedy begins.

The audience are now introduced to two very important characters, Juliet and the Nurse. In this scene Juliet is being pushed by her mother to marry Paris,

“Lady, such a man

As all the world – why, he’s a man of wax.”

It seems her whole family are pushing this marriage, that will be unavoidable soon, resulting in tragic events.

The Nurse is a very important character. She raised Juliet, as her mother was not around, and offers her advice and helps her. But she also plays a key role in the tragic events, delivering messages between Romeo and Juliet, so they keep in touch and even being present during their secret marriage.

Next, the Capulet party, where the two lovers meet, and the tragic events are set in to motion. The two meet, and Romeo rushes in, Juliet, although a little held-back, is more forward than her usual character, this will affect the tragedy as they both rush in to love and eventually marriage. But it is only after they both realise, the audience know it will end badly.

Romeo learns from the Nurse that Juliet is a Capulet,

“Her mother is the lady of the house,”

Romeo is shocked,

“My life is my foe’s debt”

The audience are now aware that the play will focus around these two characters trying to be together but failing just because the families are at war.

Juliet soon after learns that Romeo is in fact a Montague from the nurse also, responding with the famous line,

“My only love sprung from my only hate.”

The act ends, with Romeo leaving the party and Juliet going to her room, the audience anticipating the outcome of this tragedy.

Act two opens straight after the party, Romeo cannot leave Juliet, so returns, and again shows himself on Capulet ground, extremely dangerous, but this helps to display Romeo’s personality that he will do anything and is almost blinded by love, not thinking.

Romeo overhears Juliet speaking to herself, and, although Juliet’s personality is a lot more sensible than Romeo’s, she speaks of him,

” ‘Tis but thy name that is thy enemy,

Thou art thyself, though not a montague.”

Explaining that it is only his name keeping them apart, and if that wasn’t his name there would be no problem. As both of them are desperate, this will result in reckless actions, leading to the impending tragedy.

Romeo again shows his personality that will affect the tragedy with the line,

“My life were better ended by their hate,

Than death prolongu�d, wanting of thy love.”

In the next scene the audience are introduced to Friar Lawrence, a key character in the tragic events of the play. The audience meet Friar Lawrence giving a monologue about nature, giving the audience their impression, and also taking in to account that he was a priest, who had a high reputation in Shakespeare’s time, and many came to for advice and judging by the language Shakespeare gives him, he was a good man. It also shows him as a caring and helpful man, which will play a great effect towards the tragedy.

Romeo turns to Friar Lawrence for advice, which, at the start of the play seems harmless, but in later scenes, the audience sees the danger in it. The Friar questions Romeo about Rosaline,

“Wast thou with Rosaline?”

but Romeo simply replies with,

“I have forgot that name and that name’s woe.”

This shows Romeo’s personality of how ‘the girl he couldn’t live without’ had changed so suddenly, and he asks the Friar to marry them, even though they have just met. This rush in to marriage is a tragedy in itself. Romeo asks,,

“And all combined, save what thou must combine

By holy marriage.”

He is saying that he and Juliet are like one person, or at least they will be when the Friar marries them. Friar Lawrence tries to warn Romeo of his rush in to marriage, but he respects his wishes and agrees to marry them.

The Nurse encourages the marriage when she hears of it to both Romeo and Juliet, telling Romeo to care for Juliet, and pushing Juliet to marry Romeo and not Paris, this of course encourages a rushed marriage, and the fast marriage is a reason for the tragic events that take place.

Act 3 sees the tragic events start to take place. Tybalt is looking to duel Romeo, and as the Prince said at the beginning of the play, another fight would end in banishment. Romeo, having married Juliet in secrecy, knows that Tybalt is now his family too, but Tybalt is unaware, Shakespeare gives Romeo excellent dialogue for Romeo who says he will not fight Tybalt because he is family, but as Tybalt doesn’t know of the wedding, he interprets it as something else. Mercutio takes Romeo’s place in the duel, ending in tragedy as the first of five major characters die, Mercutio.

“A plague a’both your houses!”

Mercutio says that both the Montagues and the Capulets are to blame for his death, and that he has been almost ‘stuck in the middle’ of the two warring families.

The tragedy keeps going though, Romeo, full of anger fights Tybalt, and kills him, Tybalt being the second main character to die. Romeo, realising he will face banishment for a fight says,

“O I am fortunes fool!”

meaning that he is a victim of fate. Romeo is banished, the peak of tragedy.

Now all the events start to unroll, Juliet’s family are even more forcing on her marriage that she cannot refuse with Paris, Romeo is to be banished, while Juliet still wants to see him, a messenger is used to deliver messages, but the messenger is a part of the tragedy, causing the end result.

Juliet’s family make her take the drastic action of faking her own death, as they think Juliet marrying Paris will comfort the family over the death of Tybalt, and take Juliet’s mind off of her cousins death, when it is actually Romeo’s banishment making her upset, yet the language Shakespeare gave Juliet hides that the grief is for Romeo.

The wedding date is organised, this is a major part of the tragic evens as this is what causes Juliet to take drastic actions. She says,

“Delay this marriage a month, a week,

Or if you do not, make the bridal bed.”

Meaning that she’d rather die than marry Paris. Juliet’s whole family turns on her, saying she must get married or be disowned, even the Nurse. Juliet goes to Friar Lawrence for help and the real tragedy begins.

Friar Lawrence tells Juliet that she could fake her own death, this is of course the most crucial part of the play, and causes the end tragedy. Friar Lawrence trying to be helpful and kind, in a way causes the tragedy. The two of them agree on a plan that Juliet drinks a liquid that will make her appear dead for three days, Friar Lawrence will relay a message to Romeo who will come and take her away when she wakes. And, of course, everything that could go wrong, does. Juliet is doubtful of the potion, but knows it is her only hope of not marrying Paris, and being with Romeo.

Shakespeare’s language from this point onwards is a lot more fast-paced and dramatic, this adds to the effect of the tragedy and everything flows quickly.

Nurse is the first to find Juliet’s ‘dead’ body, along with Lady Capulet, who shows a tenderness and compassion towards her daughter that she doesn’t show in the past scenes.

“Revive, look up, or I will die with thee.”

This false-death is a tragedy for all the Capulet family members and Paris as they believe she is really dead and the wedding has changed to a funeral. Friar Lawrence, acting calm, saying her soul is in heaven is the only character in the play who knows the truth.

The audience now see Romeo again, banished, living in Mantua. He says that he is having happy dreams and that he thinks good news is on the way, but in fact, a mix-up of news will heighten the tragedy, fuelled by a desperate Romeo, had he taken a moment to think that could have prevented the final events of death.

“Well, Juliet, I will lie with thee tonight.”

He asks Balthazar, the messenger to prepare transport to Verona.

Romeo plans to commit suicide, in Shakespeare’s time, suicide was the worst sin to commit under the church and churches even refused to bury suicide victims. Shakespeare’s language is very fast-paced at this point not only to heighten the tragedy, but to portray Romeo’s desperation.

The Apothecary, although not a key character, provides Romeo with poison, but it is at the speed that all this happens that is such a tragedy. It is how quickly Romeo gets the poison and leaves for Verona, without even giving a thought.

Friar Lawrence now finds out that Friar John did not deliver the letter to Romeo, now the Friar is desperate, he hatches a new plan, but, the tragedy is that Romeo is too desperate, and the Friar will be too late. The Friar thinks Romeo knows nothing of Juliet, when Romeo thinks she is dead, for dramatic irony. The mix up will cost the lives of Romeo and Juliet.

The final scene is full of excellent language and tragic events. This is a long and complex scene that sees the end of the play. Three main characters die in this scene, a tragic number for the stage.

The final scene takes place in a churchyard, and within it, the Capulet tomb. Paris is seen with flowers, visiting Juliet’s tomb, where he and Romeo meet unexpectedantly, and Paris’ servant calls the watch, heightening speed and tension. Romeo, being desperate as he is, wastes no time with Paris threatens him with a fight, causing the death of Paris.

“tempt not a desperate man.”

The next part is also a tragedy in itself for the character Paris, he was only visiting to show that he loved Juliet, bringing her flowers, and he asks Romeo to bury him with Juliet.

“Open the tomb, lay me with Juliet”

Showing he genuinely cared for and loved Juliet, adding to the final tragic moments.

Romeo and Juliet are reunited. Romeo gives a monologue about Juliet and how he’s going to be with her soon, yet if Romeo had not rushed in to this, or even thought about it for a few more minutes, he would have seen Juliet wake, this is the ultimate tragic event in the play. And with the poison, Romeo dies.

Just mere minutes later… Juliet wakes. This shows the audience now that if Romeo had taken a moment to think, it wouldn’t have ended like this. And, of course Romeo has also just missed the Friar, who meets Juliet as she wakes, she now takes the role of desperation, refusing to go with the friar, she proceeds to kill herself.

Amongst the chaos, two warring families, fighting for generations see their two children, dead, in each other’s arms. The death of five people, Mercutio, Tybalt, Paris, Romeo and Juliet, finally make them realise that the fighting is stupid. They simply make-up like friends after a fight, yet the tragedy is that it took the death of 5 people, two, their own children who were madly in love to make the feud that should’ve ended years ago, end now.

The Friar and servants carry their statements, and the Montagues and Capulets put things right. The Prince at the end of the play tells the audience that this is the saddest thing you will see on stage.

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How is Romeo and Juliet an effective tragedy?. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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