William Shakespeare is the greatest dramatist of all time in the history of English literature. He lived during the Elizabethan Era and earned praise and glory for his plays, known for their intense story lines, filled with passion, guilt, romance and terror which captivated the audience and continues to do so to this day.
For a person who isn’t a voracious reader may not understand the language, theme and the setting of his works. But when we dig deeper, we realize that he presented the life of humans in all their vices and virtues. He never wanted to give a moral lesson to his readers through his works.
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Nature of Shakespeare’s Plays
Unlike other playwrights of his time who used to deliver a message to the audience through their plays, William Shakespeare showed life in all its natural beauty. It had all the human emotions in its most passionate form. There was love, passion, betrayal, ambition, strength, resilience and so on.
His plays also used visual effects to depict terror and supernatural occurrences. The play Romeo and Juliet is an example of Shakespeare’s brilliant use of these dramatic techniques.
A brief introduction to the author
William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-on-Avon on 26th April 1564, although the exact date of his birth is unknown. His father was a notable figure in Stratford and it is believed that he was educated at Stratford Grammar School. At the age of eighteen, he married Anne Hathaway, a woman eight years older than himself. In 1585, he left Stratford for London.
He soon became a member of the Lord Chamberlain’s Company, (known after the accession of James I, as the King’s Men). His first completely original play is believed to be Love’s Labor Lost’.
His non-dramatic works consist of two narrative poems, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece (1594). Most of his plays were written for performance in public playhouses.
His plays can be divided into three groups – comedies, tragedies, and histories. The play ‘Romeo and Juliet’ belongs to tragedy. It was Shakespeare’s first masterpiece. Though we don’t know its exact date, it is said to have been between 1592 and 1595.
Source of the plot
Italy was the breeding ground for many great writers and had been a source of material for writers in England. Shakespeare set many of his plays in Italy. Romeo and Juliet are based on Arthur Brooke’s poem The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet, an Italian story which Brooke found in a French translation.
But, this is only a guess. However, Shakespeare was not an original playwright. He adapted many of the well-known stories of the day, which only seem ‘Shakespearean’ to us as the other works are not so popular compared to Shakespeare’s own version.
About the play
Romeo and Juliet are famous as lovers the world over, and is a primarily a play about love. The theme of Romeo and Juliet is a live filled with passion. It is a story of hatred overcome by that love, old hate versus young love, taking no thought for the past and the future. And this love ends in death, thus heightening the intensity. It is an example of true love, and the balcony scenes with the lines:
‘How silver-sweet sound lovers’ tongues by night,
Like softest music to attending ears’
prove Shakespeare’s skill in wordplay. The depth of their love is clearly indicated through these lines. The atmosphere is one of passion and swiftness. It is ideal love and we are made aware of its nature by the way in which
Shakespeare differentiates it from other kinds of love so that his audience can examine relationships and further deepen their understanding of the love between Romeo and Juliet. The play emphasizes on themes like love and hate, old and young, order and disorder.
Compression of Time
The whole play is in a hurry. It is a play full of angry fights, intense passion and sudden death. Shakespeare compresses the nine months’ action of Brooke’s poem into less than five days, in the interests of swiftness, power and unity of action. On Sunday, the play opens with a street fight.
Romeo and Juliet first meet at a party the same night. After the party, Romeo gets into Capulet’s garden and from the ground talks to the Juliet at the window.
Monday: they are married in the afternoon. Romeo kills Tybalt and is banished, but he spends the night with Juliet. That night, Capulet arranges Juliet’s marriage with Paris for Thursday morning.
Tuesday: Romeo leaves Juliet. Juliet is told by her parents that she has to marry Paris. She then goes to Friar Lawrence. The wedding is postponed to the next morning. Before she goes to sleep, she takes the potion given to her by the Friar.
On Wednesday, Juliet is discovered ‘dead’ and is taken to the family tomb. On Thursday, Romeo hears of Juliet’s death and buys poison. On Friday, in the early morning, he comes to the tomb. The rest of the play takes place before dawn.
However, the play is not so swift. Juliet tells Romeo that their love is ‘too rash, too sudden’. When they next meet, the audience is given the impression that they are meeting after a long time.
But it has only been a matter of hours. She has known him for only a couple of days. But the audience feels that they have been together for a long time. In fact, it is purely love at first sight.
A great number of Shakespeare’s plays are set in places abroad. But the play’s story is Set in England. Nowadays, there is strict demand for accuracy in scenery, costumes, and the setting but back then, the life and spirit of a play mattered more than the place where it was staged.
People saw in the play their own life and experience. Shakespeare’s audiences enjoyed blood and battle stuff and he tried to satisfy them. Like any other dramatist, he wanted people to spread the word that ‘Romeo and Juliet’ was an exciting play.
The play is written in a way that could please them. From the opening scene of a street fight to the duel, murder, and suicide in the last, we are told with an unruly crowd in the streets.
Qualities of the two main characters: Romeo and Juliet
Romeo: Before the start of the play, Romeo has been moody and reserved. The lady whom he says he loves won’t love him back. At the time the play opens he goes out at night and locks himself up all day. This love is just an infatuation. It is not genuine. It was only when he met Juliet, he discovered true love.
Image Credit: Source (Romeo and Juliet Painting)
Romeo enjoys exaggerating his problems. But when he is really in love, he keeps it to himself. He becomes a dreamer. The fact that his companions make so much of his changed humor shows that he must have been a jolly fellow in the earlier days. He was a charming young man, with lots of friends. When love gets to his heart, life is real.
Juliet: When we first meet Juliet, she is a charming, timid person, an obedient daughter. She has lived a sheltered life, but when she falls in love she becomes brave and passionate. She has a strong mind, willing to stand up against her parents’ wishes.
She falls in love with Romeo at first sight. But she is more practical than him. Juliet loves Romeo deeply, but her feet are on the ground.
It can be said that Juliet was selfish giving her family great worry in order to carry her own whims and fancies. But she loved her father and mother truly and her parents on the other hand, were forcing her to marry a person against her wishes.
There are different aspects of love in the play. There is the passionate love between Romeo and Juliet. There is the love between parents and children. The love in the Capulet family indicates to this love. The problem of law and order is also shown through the quarrel between the Capulets and the Montagues.
On the whole, however it is the story of true love that can go beyond mere family feuds. Here, it is Romeo and Juliet who teach the elders in the play the meaning of true love.