The Author and His Times
William Shakespeare was born on April 23, 1564 in Stratford, England.
His father worked selling leather and grains, and was a town official.
He was the third child out of eight children. His mother, Mary, came
from a family of prosperous farmers and landowners. On November 28,
1582, he married Anne Hathaway. She was the daughter of a farmer
near Stratford. He had three children with her, two of them being
In the 1590’s, Shakespeare went to London and joined a touring theater company. He worked as a lead actor of this company called “The Lord Chamberlain’s Men.” By the late 1590’s Shakespeare had established himself as a writer. In 1599, he founded the Globe Theater with 6 other associates. The new theater was an open playhouse in London. Shakespeare and the other 6 called themselves “The King’s Men” starting 1603 with King James I permission. Shakespeare was able to establish himself both as a playwright and a poet during this time. Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616.
During Shakespeare’s time, most people died at a younger age and therefore grew up much more quickly than people of today. They got married younger than us, which explains why Paris, Romeo and Juliet are so young in the play.
Point of View
Macbeth is written in the third person objective. The characters do not speak directly to the audience but often give soliloquies. Through the dialogues of the characters, Shakespeare’s ideas on love, family duty, and marriage are seen. Focus generally follows Romeo and sometimes other characters that affect Romeo.
Form, Structure, and Plot
Romeo and Juliet starts off with a prologue that tells the general outline of the story foreshadowing future events. The prologue is followed by the rest of the play which is in 5 acts. Unlike some of Shakespeare’s other plays, most, if not all, of the main actions are onstage. The single plot is chronological and easy to follow. There are no flashbacks and no dream scenes. The attention is generally paid to Romeo as the focus follows him through the play.
Exposition - The exposition starts with the prologue and the first fight setting the stage and the mood of the rivaling families. The prologue states that these two families have been feuding for a long time and that two lovers will die because of it. The fight shows the extent of the feud.
Initial incident - The first incident that set the story moving happened at the party. Romeo meets Juliet and falls in love with her at first sight.
Rising action - The action starts to rise greatly at the balcony scene where each profess their love for each other. They decide to get married and plan it out. The rising action continues through the marriage, and the separation.
Climax - The climax is the inacting of the father’s plan. Juliet pretends to be dead, and Romeo does not know it and commits suicide.
Falling action - The action begins to fall after Juliet commits suicide after finding Romeo dead. It continues as both families find their children dead.
Denouement - Escalus tells everyone that the deaths are the result of their feuds and everyone feels guilty.
I did not believe that the characters in this play were very well established. While the interest in Macbeth came mainly from watching the main character and his mental development, it was not so in Romeo and Juliet. The interest in this story came mainly from the plot with character development a lesser importance than that. The mental states or psyches of these characters were not dealt with and the personalities of the characters were poorly developed.
Romeo - While being the hero of this play, I thought he was rather faulty. This character is renown for the great love he showed toward Juliet, but I did not see that love in the play. I saw something that was more like a crush. I could not put aside the fact that Romeo’s affection turned so swiftly from Rosaline to Juliet. I assume Romeo was a young teen, perhaps 15. I do not think his age was explicitly mentioned in the play. I assume he was rather well dressed since he was the son of a very powerful family in Verona. He is love-struck, determined, and faithful. His personality was not well established except that he really wanted Juliet and would do most anything to get her. He is faithful not in the sense that he was faithful to Rosaline, but that after he got Juliet, he stayed with her even to death. His function in the play is to fall in love with Juliet and serve as a part of the couple. He says about Juliet, “Did my heart love till now? forswear it, sight! / For I ne’er saw a true beauty till this night.” This shows how he immediately becomes lovestruck with Juliet at first sight.
Juliet - Less time is spent on Juliet, and she is less developed than Romeo. The play only shows her as a the object of admiration and not much of a character herself. She rarely does anything on her own but does what others say. Even so, she does not show a submissive character since while she is following the advice of others, she is rebelling against her parents, and she follows their advice mostly because she does not get a chance to make her own decisions. The play says that she is not yet 14, which means that she must be 13. She is beautiful and well dressed since she is also from a powerful Verona family. She is rebellious, kind, and loving. She shows her kindness in the way she is treated by the preacher, her nurse and others. While she does not do things for them per say, her kindness is shown in the way they treat her. She is loving in the passion and depth she falls for Romeo. Still, I believe while it has a lot of feeling, it does not have a lot of material behind the feeling. After all, what kind of love can a 13 year old show? She says, “Saints do not move, but grant for prayers sake ... Then have my lips the sin that they have took. ... You kiss by the book.” This shows Juliet to be much more witty than a typical 13 year old girl although it serves the purpose of the play.
Mercutio - Mercutio is Romeo’s best friend and is killed by Tybalt midway through the book. I assume he is about the same age as Romeo and appears much the same. He is quarrelsome, loyal, and sarcastic. In the play, he is involved in all of the fights showing his quarrelsome nature. He is very loyal to the Montegue cause fighting life or death on the side of Romeo. He is also sarcastic in many of the comments that he makes, for example, his comment about Romeo’s dream and queen mab. His quarrelsome nature brought him to his death at the hands of Tybalt. His purpose in the book is to serve as Romeo’s friend to fight on his side. It is him that takes Romeo to the party which resulted in his meeting Juliet. He says, “Ay, ay, a scratch, a scratch; marry, ‘tis enough. / Where is my page? Go, villain, fetch a surgeon.” Here, Mercutio shows his quarrelsome side and his sarcastic side. He’s sarcastic saying that his wound is only a scratch but also asks for a surgeon.
Tybalt - Tybalt is Juliet’s cousin. He is almost exactly like the Mercutio and can be considered the Capulet Mercutio. In age and appearance, I would assume him to be as old as Mercutio. His behavior is much the same and his personality is the same also. He shows the same quarrelsome nature as Mercutio and is the one that killed him. He says, “Romeo, the hate I bear thee can afford / No better term than this: thou art a villain.” This shows the great hatred there is between the families and the extent of the feud.
The play takes place in Verona, Italy during Shakespeare’s time, around the 1500’s. Since the play was performed long ago in a simple open theater, backdrops were not used and there were only a few props. Most of the scenery had to be imagined by the audience. Since backdrops could not be used to create mood and atmosphere, the atmosphere had to be created by the few props they used and by the acting of the actors. For example, the actors might have used swords and knives for the fighting scenes, but they probably could not change the backdrops between scenes or acts.
The greatest theme in this play is that of love. This play
is known for love as many phrases from this play have become famous for
the expressions of love. For example, The term ‘Romeo’ has become
universal for a lady’s man. The balcony scene is known as the place
where they two lovers professed their love for each other. This play
shows two lovers doing everything they could to be together despite their
feuding family, and also despite death.
This play also deals with the idea of fate like many of Shakespeare’s other plays. The fate caused by the circumstances of the feuding families predicted that these two would not be able to live together with the complete happiness of their families. The deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt resulted partly from the marriage, not to mention the deaths of Romeo and Juliet. It seems that although they did so much to stay together, fate would not allow it.
Shakespeare is often considered one of the world’s greatest playwrights, and has a style to back it up. He writes with poetic diction using eloquent words and phrases. He uses irony and drama to create and sustain suspense through the play. Shakespeare uses much figurative language and imagery.
Shakespeare write in a formal manner. While the play was meant to be performed and spoken, Shakespeare write the dialogue in a poetic manner. He often includes metaphors and imagery in his dialogues. However, the poetic speech often seems forced and difficult to understand. While not being as flowery as poems, it is much too flowery for everyday speech and often difficult to understand. In fact, most of the sayings of the characters seem much more educated than the characters and seems often out of character. His words and subject matter are sometimes lewd and intended for an audience of commoners. The vocabulary and writing style suggests and Shakespeare was highly educated in the English language. The words are carefully placed to fit an iambic pentameter rhythm.
He jests at scars that never felt a wound.
But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief,
That thou her maid art far more fair than she;
Be not her naid, since she is envious;
Her vestal livery is but sick and green
And none but fools do wear it; cast if off.
It is my lady, O, it is my love!
O, that she knew she were!
This soliloquy is given by Romeo during the balcony scene. Juliet is up in the balcony and Romeo is speaking in just a voice that Juliet can not hear. This passage uses a great deal of imagery as Shakespeare brings up pictures of the sun and moon. This passage is very poetic in the way that it is spoken. Although it does not rhyme, and the rhythm does not break from the iambic pentameter, the figurative language in this passage give if the poetic tone. This passage also shows some insight into Romeo’s feelings and the desperateness of his love.
What devil art thou, that dost torment me thus?
This torture should be roar’d in dismal hell.
Hath Romeo slain himself? say thou but ay,
And that bare vowel I shall poison more
Than the death-darting eye of cockatrice:
I am not I, if there be such an ay,
Or those eyes shut, that make thee answer ay.
If he be slain, say ay; or if not, no:
Bried sounds determine of my weal or woe.
Juliet says this when the nurse tells her that she has bad news. Juliet here brings up some imagery of hell. The tone and mood is desperate as Juliet is constantly expecting the worst. Her emotions are shown in the way she goes on and on about the way the nurse should answer in either ay or no. This shows her feelings to be much dependent on Romeo.
Where be these enemies? Capulet! Montegue!
See, what a scourge is laid upon your hate,
That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love.
And I for winking at your discords too
Have lost a brace of kinsmen: all are punish’d
The prince says this to Capulet and Montegue after they discover Romeo and Juliet dead in the vault. He has a harsh tone and reprimands them for their feud. The final words, “all are punish’d” caps the end of this dialogue with a harsh resounding meaning. It shows that he feels that the Montegue’s and Capulet’s brought this upon themselves. Although he cannot feel too sorry for them because of this, he does feel sorry for the loss of Romeo and Juliet, and also his own kinsman.
Passage 1 - This passage contains a lot of imagery. Most of the sentences are compound. It seems that Romeo has not thought out his entire speech, but thinks out each individual thought before he says it. The sentences are complete thoughts despite Romeo’s emotional mood.
Passage 2 - This passage is mostly continuous rambling. Juliet has not thought out what she is saying and continually strings together phrases upon more phrases. She repeats the same thing several time giving a distraught and desperate mood... but with a slight bit of hope that it was not Romeo.
Passage 3 - The sentences in this passage are short, terse, and concise. The prince has carefully thought out what to say and says it in the most impacting method possible. His meaning is clear and undeniable. By saying it in this way, he gives himself an air of authority.
Imagery is used frequently throughout the play. There are few images that recur throughout the play, but there are a few memorable ones in each particular scene. For example, at the party, Romeo and Juliet spoke of saints worshipping at a temple. Romeo at the balcony spoke of images of the sun and the moon.
Shakespeare uses much less symbolism in this play than in Macbeth. It seems as thought Shakespeare wrote this play merely for entertainment and not to be held up to as much scrutiny as it had in the past years. There is less attention to detail in terms of symbols than Macbeth. There are some symbols in here, however. The sword can be considered the symbol of violence. The poison could be considered the symbol of death. And the ‘holy palmer’s kiss’ the symbol of their love.
Shakespeare relies heavily on figurative devices during his play
and uses them a great deal.
Shakespeare uses metaphor in the discussion between Romeo and Juliet about the ‘holy palmer’s kiss’ which compares lips to palms.
Shakespeare uses no personification in this play, unless you consider Queen Mab a personification of dreams.
Shakespeare uses few allusions in this work. He does allude to several cities in Italy, and to the legend of Queen Mab. Beyond that, there are virtually no other allusions.
Shakespeare’s tone is tragic when dealing with the fate of the
two lovers. He does this by hinting through the expressions of love
how happy this marriage might have become. The tragedy is in the
fault of the families and their feud. Shakespeare’s tone toward the
feud is that he dislikes it thinking it childish. He shows this through
the admonitions of the Prince.
On a different note, when Romeo and Juliet get together, the tone changes and becomes very romantic. The imagery during these scenes add to the emotions and feelings of love.
Abr. Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?
Sam. I do bite my thumb, sir.
Abr. Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?
Sam. Is the law of our side, if I say ay?
Sam. No, sir, I do not bite my thumb at you, sir, but I bite my thumb, sir.
Gre. Do you quarrel, sir?
Abr. Quarrel, sir! no, sir.
Sam. If you do, sir, I am for you: I serve as good a man as you.
Abr. No better.
Sam. Well, sir.
Gre. Say “better”: here comes one of my master’s kinsmen.
Sam. Yes, better, sir.
Abr. You lie.
Sam. Draw, if you be men. Gregory, remember thy swashing blow.
This passage is humorous in the way you can feel the tension building while Sam seems ready to step down, until the question goes to their masters. I liked the little aside to Gregory asking about the law. I feel that the fact that Shakespeare did not write in iambic pentameter in these lines help the unprepared feeling of the situation.
Tyb. What, art thou drawn among these heartless hinds?
Turn thee, Benvolio, look upon they death.
Ben. I do but keep the peace: put up thy sword,
Or manage it to part these men with me.
Tyb. What, drawn, and talk of peace! I hate the word.
As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee:
Have at thee, coward!
This passage, happening after the previous, settles to a more serious mood with Tybalt giving some pretty serious comments. Anyone would be offended if someone told them, “...I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee.” Tybalt’s phrase, “... and talk of peace! I hate the word,” show his outright ruthlessness.
Jul. ‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man.
Juliet does some reflecting here on her present situation. She knows that she should not love a Montegue due to the feud, but also recognizes that the feud is nothing and that names mean nothing about the person.
Jul. Wilt thou be gone? it is not yet near day:
It was the nightingale, and not the lark,
That pierced the fearful hollow of thine ear;
Juliet says this to Romeo before he is to leave Verona as a punishment for his murdering Tybalt. Juliet knows that he must go soon, but tries to make excuses so that he can stay just a moment longer.