Alongside ‘Hamlet,' ‘Romeo and Juliet' is one of William Shakespeare's most well-known writings. Published in 1597, this is considered a tragic love story which seems to have been brought upon the characters by ways of fate. What happens to its lead characters ends up affecting both their families, changing a rivalry that had them against each other for decades. Death represents a decisive factor here.
According to literary fashion in this famous author's times, his play respects the tragic theme by offering an unhappy ending to its public. Young heroes living in those centuries were said to be full of passion, which makes their deaths rather unsurprising. Neither Romeo nor Juliet could live in a world where the other didn't exist.
Shakespeare found his inspiration for this play in an old Italian story which was translated into English in the early 16th century. Apart from the original, this plot introduced a higher number of characters, which Shakespeare made sure to introduce and describe properly. Also, in his version, action unravels in a matter of days, which sets a warning as to making rash decisions.
Critics have always tried to place this work in one category, taking its style and theme into consideration. The author alternated comedic moments amongst the dramatic ones, but the general opinion still insists that ‘Romeo and Juliet' should be labeled as a tragedy. Apart from its conclusion influencing secondary characters, it has influenced readers as well.
This play cannot be considered as having only one central theme. It's generally agreed upon, as can be seen in most essays, that love, or fate, are only two of them. Focus also sometimes falls on family and society values, as well as on the aspect of duality.
One of the main dilemmas different researchers expressed through time was whether Romeo and Juliet's tragedy could have been avoided. It could be that their story is a classic illustration of how fate intervenes and puts an end to real love. If this is the case, then it all seems like bad timing. Even from the beginning, it looks like it was destiny's hand which made those two unfortunate lovers meet. If so, it means that no matter their struggles, this romantic story would have ended the same way.
Another, more modern perspective in critical essays, is that tragedy came from the opposition between an individual and societal norms. As life was affected by social values in the Renaissance era, this could also be called a drama of circumstance. Since this play's author is known for his complex work, that idea should not be excluded entirely. It could be advisable to make it part of literary analysis in one’s essay.
Although their love might seem impossible, doomed from the beginning because of a rivalry between their families, there are some hints as to ways in which this disaster could have been avoided. It is apparent for many, that, as in real life, choices made by different characters in this story can have negative consequences. All of them end up affecting the romance between young Romeo and Juliet.
Clearly, those two do not fight alone against all odds or against the world. They have allies as well, out of which one is Friar Lawrence. He helps them get married in secret as he hopes that hostilities between their powerful families will end following this union. Romeo's cousins also encourage him in his pursuit of happiness, believing as well that love could conquer all. The choices and actions of these supporters, as well as of those opposing this relationship, all affect the final outcome.
One can say that the main couple and their love story could, in effect, symbolize an individual fighting against any circumstances stopping them from achieving his dreams. Society of that age seems to be in the way of following a particular path in life. This might not be so much a tragic tale of impossible love, as it is a tragedy of one person fighting for freedom from social restraint. Cultural and economic factors limit one's possibilities, and this is shown by those social norms and values influencing 16th century Verona.
Duality is another theme followed in Shakespeare’s work, illustrated by the ways his characters act, values which guide them, and the outcomes of their actions. The good and the bad become intertwined throughout this story.
Sometimes, good intentions have negative results. Friar Lawrence tries to help the couple, marries them, and then gives Juliet a strong drug-like medicine to create an illusion of her death. It all evolves as a big misunderstanding, leading to painful suffering for both lovers, whose lives take fatalist turns. On the other hand, their tragic end brings peace between those families who have been fighting each other for many years.
Contrary to his sources of inspiration, Shakespeare does not leave out the development of his secondary characters. Furthermore, along with his main ones, he tells us about ways in which the others' actions unfold and consequences of those on the lovers' destiny.
Each of them illustrates certain, symbolic features. For example, Mercutio, Romeo's cousin, is a picture of masculinity, a brave man taking action in his society. Romeo represents the picture of a young man, suffering because of love. In the beginning, he was stricken with affection for Rosaline and later switched his attention to Juliet whom he blindly adores.
Violence characterizes many aspects of this story. Besides the general rivalry between Montagues and Capulets, duels are also in the picture. Even Romeo kills Paris, another man who wanted to marry Juliet, out of hate and despair. Love and its apparent loss are those which lead to violent acts of suicide.
The whole point of this story, from the beginning, seems to lie in the fight for love. Romeo attends a ball, where he hopes to meet Rosaline, a girl who rejected him. He was convinced to go there by his cousins. This event takes place in the house of his family’s rivals, the Capulets, and that’s where he meets their daughter, Juliet. They instantly fall in love, and this could easily persuade readers that fate is to blame.
As their families are amongst the richest and most prominent in Verona, expectations towards their children are high. Juliet is initially pressed into marrying Paris, and she can't refuse by offering her love for Romeo as a reason. Their union would most likely be considered unacceptable, no matter how strong a feeling it is. The rivalry was so intense, that Romeo and his cousins were shunned from the Capulet ball for being Montagues.
Taking a risk, the young ones get married in secret. Unfortunately, it is all blown to pieces after Romeo kills Tybalt, Juliet's cousin, after the latter killed his cousin in an unfair duel. He gets cast away from Verona, and his lover fakes her death, in an attempt to buy time. The message of this trick doesn't reach Romeo, so he poisons himself. Upon awakening and finding him dead, Juliet stabs herself with his dagger. As their families find them, they realize what effect their rivalries had on this young couple. The tragic end of Romeo and Juliet’s love is what brings peace between the clans.
Because of this, one could think that their tragic death could have somehow been avoided. Shakespeare’s complex work isn’t only focused on classical tragedy, and his characters' destiny isn't the single factor deciding their future. Romeo and Juliet weren't just fighting hopelessly against fate, but they were going against social norms and traditions. Proof of this idea is the fact that those changed following irreversible destruction of their love. An individual’s strive for freedom hides behind this acclaimed romantic drama.
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