William Shakespeare was a poet and also wrote infamous plays. Most of his work is well known from early date to current. He was born in the year 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon, a town in England. William Shakespeare was able to attend Stratford Grammar School until the age of fourteen; there he studied Latin and Greek. William Shakespeare eventually left his family behind and arrived in London where he joined the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, which soon changed to The King’s Men in 1603. Shakespeare stayed a member of this company until he retired in 1610. As Shakespeare part owned the theatre and was also an actor and playwright, he made his fortune in these three ways. Shakespeare was alive during the late Renaissance, which is referred to as the Elizabethan era named after Queen Elizabeth I. Shakespeare’s plays are usually categorised into three genres: comedy, tragedy and history. Shakespeare used Greek tragedy as his preferred form of theatre. Greek tragedy is often very elaborate, extremely exaggerated and the continuously inevitable outcome of tragic death. This as you can see mirrors the significance of Shakespearean plays. They were performed in a huge outdoor theatre (Globe theatre), the actors all wore peculiar costumes and masks which give an impact on the Greek tragedy by being outlandish, and this exaggerates the drama which can cause more tension towards the tragedy.
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Romeo and Juliet (1595), is considered to be a tragedy play and was written in the early years of Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet is believed to have been written around 1595 and was written during a period when Shakespeare had found the strength of his writing. Originally Shakespeare’s plot of Romeo and Juliet came from an Italian tale by Arthur Brooke; which was written in 1562. Arthur Brooke’s version was called The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet. From this adaptation, Shakespeare heavily used Arthur Brook’s plot but expanded his own ideas to make his own infamous version of Romeo and Juliet. For example Shakespeare changed the age of Juliet from sixteen to fourteen. I believe this was to show the immaturity of love that was the result to hastily bring Romeo and Juliet to their death. Also it may have been because at Elizabethan era women were not allowed to be in theatre, only men were to play women. So to make Juliet believable Shakespeare may have wanted a young boy to fit the role. William Shakespeare’s witty use of dramatic structure has been cleverly thought out from the different themes of the play; such as comedy and tragedy in which sways back and forth to keep the audience captivated. From this play, he was recognised because of his dramatic skills, which makes Romeo and Juliet notorious. The timeline from the eighteen century till the current date, Romeo and Juliet have influenced many other stories. This could range from films, plays, musicals and other re-makes of Romeo and Juliet.
The story of the play is based on two young lovers that are famously referred to as ‘star-crossed lovers’. Form this label, this shows the inevitability of fate. Two adolescents pursue their love for each other secretly, despite their families hate towards one another that has been ongoing for decades. The opening scene of Romeo and Juliet immediately shows us that the theme of the play predominantly will be tragedy. Shakespeare shows us firstly a feud between the Montague family and Capulet family that has been ongoing for many years. A selfish feud between the family’s that could have been settled and also could have prevented from all the misfortunes. It is as if fate controls their love and not being able to control their own feeling is bound to have a devastating effect. It is not by coincidence that led them to their tragic death but because of the manipulation of timing and fate. The play consists of many themes other than tragedy, such as comedy, romance and death. The play is spilt into parts to represent tragedy, fate, conflict, family, love and religion. Tragedy fits into Romeo and Juliet due to the tragic death that occurs at the end of the play and because of this is considered to be tragedy. There are three topics to consider when looking at tragedy. Firstly, when one of the main characters has a tragic flaw that is shown through his persona that leads them to their death. In this play Romeo is the key character to play this persona. Another factor to consider is the character decides on choices that they cannot foresee and lastly fate.
Before the play begins there is a prologue, this already tells us that Romeo and Juliet is destined to end in tragedy. Also in the prologue oxymoron are used to create a dramatic impact to support the tragedy that will occur, ‘civil blood,’ The reference to Romeo and Juliet as ‘star crossed lovers’ hints that Romeo and Juliet were meant to die together because it was in their destiny. Therefore this is what fate has planned for their lives, as it was crossed through the stars (written in the stars), this already foreshadows the ending, the audience sympathises Romeo and Juliet as it is inevitable. Also further along the scene there is Prince’s speech, “If you ever disturb our streets again your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace,”  this also destined it to end in tragedy as it is out of their control as it foreshadows the fate of Romeo and Juliet as they are the ones who die and their families will live in peace, this again involves the audience as the foresee the tragedy which creates more sympathy.
Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy and therefore their fate is death. Kenneth Muir states that a form of tragedy is influenced by many factors. Whether it is an extreme play to a single poet he explained that ‘Romeo and Juliet are concerned primarily with one person; they end with the death of the hero’.  The two rival families are to blame due to not being able to come to peace. The play has a sense of tragedy throughout the story by the decisions made by Romeo and because of the judgments made by him; this affects the characters and the outcome of the events that will occur all through the play. The virtues of fate, impulsiveness, and death told through an engaging love story make Romeo and Juliet an outstanding tragedy. Fate plays an important role in making Romeo and Juliet an excellent tragedy. It was destiny that bought Romeo and Juliet together because the Capulet servant was not able to read the list of people who was meant to be invited to the party and had to ask assistance from the enemy Montague for help. Romeo and Juliet fell in love with one another as soon as their eyes met. Even though a love so powerful bounded by fate and destiny and yet they could not help that their families were feuding.
Friar John had no control the fate of Romeo and Juliet and could not help them. Romeo did not receive the letter that tells him Juliet is waiting for him at her grave. Unfortunate events occur that determine the fate of the ending for Romeo and Juliet. Romeo’s hastiness is the key fundamental flaw of the story. Due to quickly falling out of love with Rosaline and quickly falling into love with Juliet, Romeo does not think about the consequences that will arise. All of Romeo’s judgments have always been in a hasty manner which results to tragic flaws. The most tragic conclusion of the story is that Romeo heard that his beloved is dead and results to suicide. This would not have happened if Romeo was not in exile due to his fight with Tybalt. Again this would not have resulted to another tragic death.
Death is another theme that is connected to a successful tragedy. Mercuito dies after the brawl with Tybalt. Then to revenge Mercuito, Romeo murders Tybalt. Romeo is exiled then he discovered that his precious Juliet had been killed, he hastened to her tomb and kills Paris when he found him there. Romeo goes to visit Juliet’s grave and once he sees Juliet in despair he drinks the poison. Juliet wakes to see her beloved dead then commits suicide in the name of love. Lady Montague was so despaired that she died when she heard the news of the passing of her son. For a good tragedy to be successful, a requirement is for it to end with the downfall of the protagonist, and Romeo and Juliet follows the rule. The theory of what makes Romeo and Juliet a good tragedy is how Shakespeare makes the character very enjoyable to read and extremely absorbable to the characters. One has a sense of sympathy towards Romeo and Juliet and wishes that the outcome will result in happiness. Making Romeo and Juliet a tragedy has a great impact on making Romeo and Juliet a good theme.
In Act I, Scene V Romeo realises that Juliet is a Capulet, “Is she a Capulet? O dear account, my life is foe’s debt,”  this is suggesting that Romeo’s life is in his enemy’s hands. This foreshadows his life ending with Juliet who is a Capulet, his enemy. Tybalt swears revenge that he will kill Romeo, but it is ironic as it is Juliet who is ultimately responsible for Romeo’s death. This was a similar fate with Rosaline as she was too a Capulet. “My Grave is like to be my wedding bed,”  Juliet realises it will only end up in tragedy and she and Romeo were doomed at the start, she recognises her fate and accepts it which foreshadows the end. Conflict foreshadows tragedy within the play as it begins with a quarrel which is ironic because Romeo and Juliet is a love story, the effect of this that it makes the audience use to the fact that conflict and arguments is always shown throughout the play, this can also foretell the ending as a tragedy due to the consistency of arguments.
In the second scene Paris is a suitor to Juliet and asks for Capulet’s approval, this would cause conflict and tragedy as Juliet is already married, this makes the audience empathise with Juliet as they know this will cause problems. Romeo says, “Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight! For I ne’er saw such true beauty till this night.”  This suggests that he has fallen in love at first sight, which is tragic for him as he is in the same situation as he was before Juliet, which ended in heartbreak just as Romeo’s and Juliet’s relationship will end. We also see the language of conflict in this scene, for example, “this, by his voice, should be a Montague fetch me my rapier, boy”  . This shows that Tybalt is very angry with a Montague being at the party and wants to put his sword through him. This type of language suggests to an audience that fight with Tybalt will occur in the play only ending in tragedy. The family Montague and the family Capulet had been locked in a feud for years, even so that their servants fought on the street, ‘The quarrel is between our masters and
us their men.’  It is made clear to show that the two families hate each other and if any of the two families fall in love with each other it shall end in death and tragedy since it is forbidden. The tragedy of Tybalt’s death is another result of a family fight; this was a tragedy for all involved because Romeo was banished from Verona, and because he was banished, this makes it harder for Juliet to see him which causes more tension. ‘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!’  This suggests that even though Tybalt is dead he still wants to seek revenge and the violence is never ending which foreshadows the ending, it is also ironic as violence is the reason why the feud ends between families. Lady Capulet and the nurse put a lot of pressure on Juliet which forces her to marry Paris, which foreshadows her marriage. Juliet has no choice as it is the parents’ decision, in the Elizabethan era women were seen as less superior and therefore did not have a say in many things such as marriage. “It is an honour I dream not of.”  Here the audience already knows that she belongs to Romeo so they empathises her as she has to make a decision and either one ends in tragedy. In the prologue the family play a huge part for foreshadowing tragedy, “From ancient grudge,”  this informs us Romeo and Juliet could not escape their fate because of their family conflict, this makes the audience sympathise Romeo and Juliet as they are the ones that suffer for their parents’ issues. Also a ‘thorn’ is used to subvert a romantic image of rose to show the misery of love because a rose is something beautiful just as love is but the thorn is what causes pain and hurt, showing the misery of love. It questions love rhetorically and Shakespeare’s dilemma throughout the play contrasts freedom in love with false ideas of love, which predicts tragedy.
In Act I Scene V Romeo both share a sonnet, however they contrast with each other as they use paradoxes such as ‘sin and holy and unworthiest,’ this suggests how later a conflict will arise and occur between them as they have such different views and backgrounds. Shakespeare also uses religious metaphors to show how pure and sacred the love is, Juliet says, “good pilgrim” when talking to him she implies that she is devoted, it also shows her naÃ¯ve view of Romeo’s intention. Much imagery of religion is used such as stars, heaven, light, goddess and saints, they represent happiness holiness, innocence and purity, this reflects Juliet and her love for Romeo. In addition words like hand are palm are used which suggests the idea of praying, this is too linked with God and how it is up to fate, destiny and God, which the reader knows that Romeo and Juliet are doomed from the start so this foreshadows the ending. And also that fate and providence were under the control of God and due to the fact she lied to her parents and did not listen to them; she was destined to die as a punishment for disobeying her parents. Overall Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy because the hero is banished for committing murder and both the hero and heroine die unnecessarily and the families learned a lesson that they seemingly could learn only through grief. Romeo and Juliet were not allowed to see each other in public, despite the fact that they love each other. The fighting, the unnecessary killing and the death of both Romeo and Juliet at the end all make the play a tragedy.
Independent Research Skills, Annotated Bibliographies:
Muir, Kenneth, Shakespeare’s Tragic Sequence. (New York: Routledge, 2005)
Kenneth Muir explains that there are different and many aspects to think about when writing about a tragic poem and play. All the criteria’s that fellow the rule of Romeo and Juliet being a tragedy applies within. Elizabethan believed that tragedy had to consider the factor of the playhouses having a physical structure. Tragedy is formed by many different factors and different writers at different eras will be influenced by one another. Most writers seem to be inspired by the classics as well as Christianity. There were some that were greatly influenced by it that particular ones which work on writing of individual poets. Finally, every writer had to consider the crucial judgment that brings out the perfect execution of play. They would have to figure out how to express their full significance of what their story is portraying or how to express it to the full. William Shakespeare always has a successful tragedy play and has a powerful execution. This is due to the fact Shakespeare’s main character Romeo (the hero) dies, and he also Romeo’s beloved Juliet. The audience is sympathetic towards them which keep the readers captivated throughout the play. Many writers have been brought up as Christians and have been influenced by it, but it became dubious and Shakespeare did not want that to happen, therefore it was not surprising if Romeo and Juliet breaks that conventions. Some critics may even argue that Romeo’s and Juliet’s love for each other was regarded as sinful.
Berry, Ralph, Tragic instance: the sequence of Shakespeare’s tragedies. (London: Associated University Presses. 1999)
Ralph Berry states that labeling Shakespeare as a tragedy is somewhat a form of philosophy. Shakespeare development helps him be successful and it is controlled over time; it is like his own evolution. Ralph Berry ties Shakespeare plays or poems on society. He explains that Shakespeare writes in a chronologic manner and without any realization. Romeo’s epilogue to his death is connected on whatever society thinks their answer to their solution is. Ralph Berry believes that in post tragic society, people need someone to help them ease their way of life; for example someone to govern a country. Even though sometimes different people believe in different views, which can cause different conclusions. In the end the effective power takes over and decides the overall ending. What Ralph Berry is trying is imply is that tragedy transmits the final answer and society always gets through it. Just in Romeo and Juliet after the tragic events that occur, the outcome of the play is that both families make peace after a painful event.
Bloom, Harold, The Tragedies, Modern Critical Views. (New York: Chelsea House Publishers. 1985)
Harold Bloom implicates that tragedy is shown through the changes in language through the characters and not of the language itself. He believed that this was the originality of William Shakespeare. The representations of literature are shown through the change of speech and not because of what is said. For example in Romeo and Juliet the effect of poetry through language is very successful and it also gives a powerful identification, which is love. Also through the dialect between characters shows a distinction between drama and poetry. Drama shows the passion of human resulting in acts, where the point of poetry shows the reality of life. He explains that Shakespeare’s plays end in tragedy but has a moral outcome. Romeo and Juliet ends in a tragedy by death but their death reconciles both of the feuding families. Tragedy follows wherever Romeo goes. He is first infatuated with Rosaline Capulet but then sees Juliet and it was love at first sight. He always seems to be in love with the enemy when he knows it is not permitted. This foresees the destiny that the play will end in tragedy. There are criticisms that believe that Romeo and Juliet would not have worked or lasted if they were alive but Harold Bloom argues that it would not be a tragedy if the play did not have a tragic death.
Brooke, Nicholas, Modern Critical Views, Shakespeare’s Early Tragedies. (Norwich: Harper& Row Publishers. 1968)
William Shakespeare’s best plays were his tragedies, starting with Hamlet all the way through to Macbeth. The ending of a good play needs an evitable conclusion but Shakespeare make different plays with diverse tragedy. Nicholas Brooke explains that we need to break away from the norms of early tragedy to be able to link it with later tragedy. Shakespeare’s range from speech is from a prose, and he believed that the prose must have been very close to Elizabethan prose or common speech. Romeo and Juliet is a form of love sonnet that is to be acted out on stage. Although it is clear that tragedy is one of the themes in Romeo and Juliet but the main formality of the play is romantic tragedy. He talks about how Shakespeare wittingly changes the scenery by changing the tone in the scene before. The scene could be on love then the next scene could become of a serious tone and this is where tragedy would be linked. Also Shakespeare shows a hint of comedy as well as tragedy. This was shown in Mercutio’s character and his flamboyant death. After the death Mercutio that is when the tone of comedy disappears and tragedy can be seen.
Bayley, John, Shakespeare and Tragedy. (London: Routledge& Kegan Paul Ltd. 1981)
Different critiques from different generation see diverse views on William Shakespeare’s plays. They develop their own understanding to appreciate fully Shakespeare work. John Bayley discusses how Shakespeare uses character and context to make a successful tragedy. In Romeo and Juliet the destiny is already shown in the first lines of the play, so this foresees the play before hand. The dramatisation of the characters and role play an important part when planning to make Romeo and Juliet triumphant with the inevitable ending that is the perfect execution for a tragedy. The fact of Shakespeare’s idea of fact and the realism of the story reinstates his meaning of idea. Tragedy is shown so simplistically in the frame of Shakespeare work but it is the way the world of action he demonstrates it through language and action. John Bayley states that there is no real hero when it comes down to Shakespearean tragedy; it is his conscience that helps fulfills the play. The similarity of Greek tragedy and Shakespearean tragedy are shown through exaggerated and flamboyant occurrences.
Drakakis, John, Shakespearean Tragedy. (New York: Longman. 1992)
John Drakakis talks about the conception of violence and how violence and tragedy are linked. The staging of violence that was shown during the Elizabethan era was not very far from the idea of idealism from real life to acting on the stage. Tragedy was complex to show due to the stereotypes that was linked between good and evil, pure and corrupt. There does not need to be an evil character for tragedy to be shown. Shakespeare shows tragedy in a theatrical illustration that produces the representation of social construction. In Romeo and Juliet the play shows a view of sacrificial violence. This is where a hero or character will die in something that they believe in. Sacrificial violence is essential when writing a good tragedy. Articulating a sacrificial violence shows the violence beneath the human nature and the essentialism that makes tragedy good quality. The tragedy is shown by an outsider or a victim who is out casted due to evil doings; this is mirrored to Romeo and an inevitable ending that justifies a sacrificial violence.
Garner, Nelson& Sprengnether, Shakespearean Tragedy and Gender. (America: Indiana University Press. 1996)
Essays from different criticism are gathered to indentify what Shakespearean tragedy is. They examine Shakespeare’s tragic theme and evaluating the hero’s tragic representation. A tragic hero is blinded by lust and cannot resist the woman that he is subdued by. This is not only shown in Shakespearean tragedy but in Aristotelian genre.
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