Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy written early in the career of William Shakespeare about two young star-crossed lovers whose deaths ultimately reconcile their feuding families. It was among Shakespeare's most popular plays during his lifetime and, along with Hamlet, is one of his most frequently performed plays.
The internal evidence confirms this opinion that the tragedy was an early work of the poet, and that it was subsequently "corrected, augmented, and amended." There is a good deal of rhyme, and much of it in the form of alternate rhyme. The alliteration, the frequent playing upon words, and the lyrical character of many passages also lead to the same conclusion.
This is not to say we should use Romeo and Juliet as a warning of what could happen if teenagers disobey their pare nts, fall in love, and commit suicide. Rather, Shakespeare’s works allow students to observe behaviors and issues in a new light, which gives literary context and relevance to what they are already talking about, questioning, and experiencing . Returning to O’Donnell Allen, she rightly backs up her own decisions of using tough texts in the classroom. Tough texts like Romeo and Juli et are worth the trouble because : I f students are able to use civil discourse to engage in the ‘imaginative rehearsals’ that literature provides, they will reap a host of academic, emotional, social, and cultural benefits. At the same time that they are be coming more motivated, proficient, and critical readers , they are also learning to view both the characters they read and the classmates with whom the y interact more compassionately. (p. 31)
It could even be argued that Romeo and Juliet is the Young Adult (YA) literature of the Renaissance. If the play can, in fact, be considered YA literature, it is important to consider why adolescent students enjoy this type of literature. For starters, it is suited specifically for them — the characters are accessible r epresentations of the lives my students live everyday. YA literature harnesses a sort of power within the reader that allows them to identify with, live vicariously through, and grow alongside the characters they read. Stover goes on to say that “the pow er of literature [opens] us to new worlds and experience, new perspectives, new ideas, and new understandings of other people, places, and times” (p. 79). Because of Romeo and Juliet ’s power of language, theme, characters, perspective, etc., it can serve as an accessible piece of “fake” YA literature within the canon. The literary power of Romeo and Juliet can also lead to a better understanding of the self through the connections made while reading, watching, and discussing the play. Furthermore, it can lead to a greater understanding of the literature, which, combined with personal voice found through the connections to the literature, can lead to better academic writing as well .
Romeo and Juliet constantly play with language. They pun, rhyme, and speak in double entendres. All these word games may seem like mere fun, and they are fun. The characters that pun and play with language have fun doing it. But word play in Romeo and Juliet has a deeper purpose: rebellion. Romeo and Juliet play with language to escape the world. They claim they are not a Montague and a Capulet; they use words to try to transform day, for a moment, into night; they hide their love even while secretly admitting it. Other characters play with language too. In particular, Mercutio and the Nurse make constant sexual puns implying that while everyone is running around talking about high ideals like honor and love, sex and other base desires are at the root of human existence.
So language in Romeo and Juliet serves two opposing purposes. It allows some characters to escape the world into intense love, while it allows other characters to reveal that the world of love, honor, and high ideals are just masks people use to cover their animal instincts.
Because of their forbidden love, Romeo and Juliet are forced into conflict with the social world around them: family, friends, political authority, and even religion. The lovers try to avoid this conflict by hiding, by escaping from it. They prefer the privacy of nighttime to the public world of day. They volunteer to give up their names, their social identities, in order to be together. They begin to keep secrets and speak in puns so that they can publicly say one thing while meaning another. On the morning after their marriage, they even go so far as to pretend that day is night so they won’t have to part.
In this way, Romeo and Juliet shows the theme of the Individual vs. Society. These two individuals try their best to escape their many many obstacles. They try their hardest to go against society's roles for them: their seperation through their each one's family. Instead of conforming to society's roles for them, they try their hardest to be together. At the end, it seems as though they fail to do this, but they would both rather die than be without the other, so in a way they "stick it to" society in the end anyway.
As critic Bertrand Evans points out: "Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy of unawareness" more so than any of Shakespeare's other plays. "Fate, or Heaven, as the Prince calls it, or the "greater power," as the Friar calls it, working out its purpose without the use of either a human villain or a supernatural agent sent to intervene in mortal affairs, operates through the common human condition of not knowing. Participants in the action, some of them in parts that are minor and seem insignificant, contribute one by one the indispensable stitches which make the pattern, and contribute them not knowing; that is to say, they act when they do not know the truth of the situation in which they act, this truth being known, however, to us who are spectators." (The Brevity of Friar Laurence, 850) The idea that Fortune dictates the course of mankind dates back to ancient times. Those writers of the medieval world incorporated the goddess Fortune into Christianity and made her God's servant, responsible for adding challenges to our lives so that we would see the importance of giving up our tumultuous earthly lives to God.
By creating the awful fates of Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare notes the idea of Fate vs. Free Will. I think that in Romeo and Juliet, he evinces the idea that fate rules over free will. Due to their families differences and constant fighting, these two "star-crossed lovers" were doomed to die from the beginning. Their deaths were for a reason: to bring to light that the families' conflict was pointless.
Here Romeo, transformed into shimmering immortality, becomes the very definition of light, outshining the sun itself. However, despite all the aforementioned positive references to light in the play, it ultimately takes on a negative role, forcing the lovers to part at dawn:
Romeo. It was the lark, the herald of the morn,
No nightingale. Look, love, what envious streaks
Do lace the severing clouds in yonder east.
Night's candles are burnt out, and jocund day
Stands tiptoe on the misty mountaintops.
I must be gone and live, or stay and die. (3.5.6-11)
From this point on, darkness becomes the central motif. Romeo exclaims: "More light and light: more dark and dark our woes!" (3.5.36). And, as Peter Quennell writes, "...the beauty and brevity of love itself -- that 'brief light', doomed to quick extinction, celebrated in Catullus' famous lyric -- are set off by the 'perpetual darkness' of ancient Capulets' sepulchral vault" (Shakespeare: A Biography,150). The final indication that darkness has triumphed over light comes from The Prince: "A glooming peace this morning with it brings/The sun for sorrow will not show his head" (5.3.304-5).
The conflict between family and the individual is played out in the most extreme fashion possible in the play, as two children from warring families fall in love and have to choose between their families' expectations and their passion for each other. Romeo and Juliet choose passion. They abandon their loyalty to their parents and kinsman and lie to their relatives in order to protect their love. Ultimately, though, Romeo and Juliet can't escape the conflict that divides their families. Bad luck is partially responsible for Romeo and Juliet's deaths, but so is Romeo's obligation to avenge his friend's murder and defend his masculinity and family name. Juliet's father and mother, who try to push her into an unwanted marriage, are also to blame. Though we often think of family as a refuge and a place of security, in Romeo and Juliet, kinship is more often a source of danger and battle.
Family is huge theme in Romeo and Juliet. One big moral that appears at the end of it is that conflict is never as important as it seems. The only reason that these two teenagers ended up dead is because they had to hide their love. Both families never thought that their hostility toward eachother would result in their kin dying, but troubles like this never end positively. Conflict can always be resolved, but no one can be brought back from death.
Romeo and Juliet are two of the most famous lovers in history, but some people doubt that their historic love lives up to its reputation. Romeo starts the play infatuated with Rosaline, a gorgeous girl with no interest in him. His "true-love-at-first-sight" encounter with Juliet seems like it could be just another case of puppy love. The two lovers come from warring families, but their love overcomes their families' hatred. Their whirlwind romance, however, ends in tragedy when each thinks the other is dead and chooses to commit suicide rather than live alone. While Romeo and Juliet never doubt the power of love, other characters criticize love and reject is as simply infatuation or lust. Some people interpret the play as a cautionary tale on the dangers of young love. Others argue that Romeo and Juliet's love develops throughout the play from a giddy flirtation to something deeper, and that the play charts the path of a relationship from infatuation to real love.
The play is set in Verona, Italy, where a feud has broken out between the families of the Montegues and the Capulets. The servants of both houses open the play with a brawling scene that eventually draws in the noblemen of the families and the city officials, including Prince Escalus. Romeo is lamenting the fact that he is love with a woman named Rosaline, who has vowed to remain chaste for the rest of her life. He and his friend Benvolio happen to stumble across a servant of the Capulet's in the street. The servant, Peter, is trying to read a list of names of people invited to a masked party at the Capulet house that evening. Romeo helps him read the list and receives an invitation to the party. Romeo arrives at the party in costume and falls in love with Juliet the minute he sees her. However, he is recognized by Tybalt, Juliet's cousin, who wants to kill him on the spot. Capulet intervenes and tells Tybalt that he will not disturb the party for any amount of money. Romeo manages to approach Juliet and tell her that he loves her. She and he share a sonnet and finish it with a kiss.