Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare's Play)

Study Guide for Romeo and Juliet [=Rom.]


NOTES: (1) Ellipsis marks in quoted material are indicated by the three ... unspaced spaced dots; short omissions I have made are indicated by . . . , long omissions by ***. (2) Some of the older sources use citations using Roman numerals; current style calls for Arabic throughout. (3) Some of the older sources set off very short verse quotes, where nowadays we would run them on in quotation marks. (4) I have underlined titles of Shakespeare's plays; put other independent titles and other stressed words in italics; and used small caps for Films.



1. From Harry Levin, "From and Formality in Romeo," SQ, 11 (l960); rpt. Four Centuries Shakespearean Criticism, ed. Frank Kermode, 386-399:

Romeo has his more tangible foil in the person of the County Paris, who is cast in that ungrateful part which the Italians call terzo incomodo, the inconvenient third party, the unwelcome member of an amorous triangle. As the official suitor of Juliet, his speeches are always formal, and often sound stilted or priggish by contrast with Romeo's. Long after Romeo has abandoned his sonneteering, Paris will pronounce a sestet at Juliet's tomb ***

Shakespeare's sonnets and erotic poems had won for him the reputation of an English Ovid. Romeo, the most elaborate product of his so-called lyrical period, was his first successful experiment in tragedy. Because of that very success, it is hard for us to realize the full extent of its novelty, though scholarship has lately been reminding us of how it must have struck contemporaries. They would have been surprised, and possibly shocked, at seeing lovers taken so seriously. Legend, it had been heretofore taken for granted, was the proper matter for serious drama; romance was the stuff of the comic stage. Romantic tragedy . . . was one of those contradictions in terms which Shakespeare seems to have delighted in resolving. (389 and 391)

Comedy set the pattern of courtship, as formally embodied in a dance. The other genre of Shakespeare's earlier stagecraft, history, set the pattern of conflict, as formally embodied in a duel. Romeo might also be characterized as an anti-revenge play, in which hostile emotions are finally pacified by the interplay of kindlier ones. . . . the use of antithesis [in Romeo] is functional with Shakespeare. The contrarities of his plot are reinforced on the plane of imagery by omnipresent reminders of light and darkness, youth and age, and many other antitheses subsumed by the all-embracing one of Eros and Thanatos [Love & Death], the leitmotiv of the Liebestod [Love Death], the myth of the tryst in the tomb. This attraction of ultimate opposites-which is succinctly implicit in the Elizabethan ambiguity of the verb to die-is generalized when the Friar rhymes "womb" with "tomb," and particularized when Romeo hails the latter place as "thou womb of death" (I.iii.9, l0; V.iii.45). Hence the "extremities" of the situation, as the Prologue to the Second Act announces, are tempered "with extreme sweet" (14). [To die had the secondary meaning "to reach orgasm."] (393)

The alignment of the dramatis personae is as symmetrical as the antagonism they personify. . . . Tybalt the Capulet is pitted against Benvolio the Montague in the first street-fight, which brings out-with parallel stage-directions-the heads of both houses restrained by respective wives. Both the hero and heroine are paired with others, Rosaline and Paris, and admonished by elderly confidants, the Friar and the Nurse. Escalus, as Prince of Verona, occupies a superior and neutral position . . . . (393)

Mercutio charges the air with bawdy suggestions that . . . love may have something to do with sex, if not with lust, with the physical complementarity of male and female. He is abetted, in that respect, by the malapropostic garrulity of the Nurse . . . . The concentrated ribaldry of the gallants in the street (II.iv) is deliberately contrasted with the previous exchange between the lovers in the orchard. (395 & note)

[The nurse's] hesitations are contrasted with Juliet's youthful ardors . . . . His [Romeo's] counselor, Friar Laurence, . . . [has the watchword] "Wisely and slow," yet he contributes to the grief at the sepulcher by ignoring his own advice, "They stumble that run fast" ([II.iii.]94). (395-396)

Against this insistence upon polarity, at every level, the mutuality of the lovers stands out, the one organic relation amid an overplus of stylized expressions and attitudes. The naturalness of their diction is artfully gained . . . through a running critique of artificiality. In drawing a curtain over the consummation of their love, Shakespeare heralds it with a prothalamium [(or prothalamion:) marriage song-before] and follows it with an epithalamium [marriage song-after]. Juliet's "Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds", reverses the Ovidian "lente currite, noctis equi" ["Run more slowly, horses of the night"-the cry of the untiring lover, who must leave at dawn], is spoken "alone" but in breathless anticipation of a companion (III.ii.1). After having besought the day to end, the sequel to her solo is the duet in which she begs the night to continue. (396)


2. From Caroline F. E. Spurgeon, "The Imagery of Romeo," taken itself from Leading Motives in the Imagery of Shakespeare's Tragedies, the Shakespeare Association Lecture for l930; reprinted Shakespeare: Modern Essays in Criticism, L. F. Dean, ed., 72-78:

In Romeo the beauty and ardour of young love is seen by Shakespeare as the irradiating glory of sunlight and starlight in a dark world. The dominating image is light, every form and manifestation of it: the sun, moon, stars, fire, lightning, the flash of gunpowder, and the reflected light of beauty and of love; while by contrast we have night, darkness, clouds, rain, mist, and smoke.

Each of the lovers thinks of the other as light . . . . To Juliet, Romeo, is "day in night"; to Romeo, Juliet is the run rising from the east, and when they soar to love's ecstasy, each alike pictures the others as stars in heaven, shedding such brightness as puts to shame the heavenly bodies themselves. (73-74)

Love is described by Romeo, before he knows what it really is, as

a smoke raised with the fume of sighs:

Being purged, a fire sparkling in lover's eyes;

*** Shakespeare saw the story, in its swift and tragic beauty, as an almost blinding flash of light, suddenly ignited and as swiftly quenched. He quite deliberately compresses the action from over nine months to the almost incredibly short period of five days; so that the lovers meet on Sunday, are wedded on Monday, part at dawn on Tuesday, and are reunited in death on the night of Thursday. The sensation of swiftness and brilliance, accompanied by danger and destruction, is accentuated again and again . . . . (75)

Indeed the Friar . . . sums up the whole movement of the play,

These violent delights have violent ends,

And in their triumph die; like fire and power

Which as they kiss consume. (76)


3. From M. M. Mahood, "Wordplay in Romeo," in Shakespeare's Wordplay, excerpted in Shakespeare's Tragedies: An Anthology of Modern Criticism, ed. Laurence Lerner, l7f:

These ambiguities [in language] pose the play's fundamental question at the outset: is its ending frustration or fulfillment? Does death choose the lovers or do they elect to die? This question emerges from the language of the play itself and thus differs from the conventional, superimposed problem: is Romeo a tragedy of character or of fate? (17)

Recent critics have . . . come nearer to defining the play's experience when they have stressed Liebestod [Love Death] of the ending and suggested that the love of Romeo and Juliet is the tragic passion that seeks its own destruction. . . . The obstacle which is a feature of the amour-passion [(tragic) love-passion] legend is partly external, the family feud; but it is partly a sword of the lovers' own tempering since, unlike earlier tellers of the story, Shakespeare leaves us with no explanation of why Romeo did not put Juliet on his horse and make for Mantua. A leitmotiv [motif] of the play is death as Juliet's bridegroom . . . . Death has long been Romeo's rival and enjoys Juliet at the last. (l8-l9)

Shakespeare's story conflicts, however, with the traditional [Liebestod] myth at several points. Tragic love is always adulterous, Romeo and Juliet marry . . . . Romeo faces capture and death, Juliet the horror of being entombed alive, not because they want to die but because they want to live together. (l9)

The real objection to reading Romeo as the Liebestod myth in dramatic form is that it is anachronistic to align the play with pure myths like that of Orpheus and Eurydice or with the modern restatement of such myths . . . . [Shakespeare] did not . . .  decide to write a play about the death wish. Shakespeare believed his lovers to be historical people [and not mythic embodiments of a Freudian theory?]. [On Romeo and Benvolio's conversation in 1.1.158 f.:] All the Petrarchan and anti-Petrarchan conventions [=love sonnet conventions] are thus presented to us in this first scene: love as malady, as worship, as war, as conquest. They are presented, however, with an exaggeration that suggests Romeo is already aware of his own absurdity and is "posing at posing." "Where shall we dine?" is a most unlover-like question which gives the show away: and Benvolio's use of "in sadnesse" [="seriously"] implies that he knows Romeo's infatuation to be nine parts show. Romeo is in fact ready to be weaned from Rosaline . . . . (21) Love in Verona may be cult, a quest, or a madness. Marriage is a business arrangement. Old Capulet's insistence to Paris . . . that Juliet must make her own choice, is belied by later events. Juliet is an heiress, and her father does not intend to enrich any but a husband of his own choosing . . . . [Mahood backs up his reading of Old Capulet's motivation with the unquestionable point that "Lady of my earth" in 1.2.14 is a fairly exact translation of fille de terre-i.e., an heiress]. (22)

Yet as Romeo's touch of self-parody then showed him to be ready for a more adult love, so Mercutio's Queen Mab speech implies that his cynicism does not express the whole of his temperament. The falsity of both cynicism and idolatry, already felt to be inadequate by those who hold these concepts, is to be exposed by the love of Romeo and Juliet. (22)

. . . we share with Romeo a timeless minute that cannot be reckoned by the clock.

. . . [Juliet's] is a "beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear!" . . . . [A line which shows a marked] contrast between her family's valuation of her as sound stock in the marriage market and Romeo's estimate that she is beyond all price, [still,] the words contain a self-contradictory dramatic irony. Juliet's beauty is too rich for use in the sense that it will be laid in a tomb after a brief enjoyment; but for that very reason it will never be faded and worn. And if she is not too dear for earth since Romeo's love is powerless to keep her out of the tomb, it is true that she is too rare a creature for mortal life. (23)

Romeo and Juliet have experienced a self-discovery. Like Donne's happy lovers, they "possess one world, each hath one and is one"; a world poles apart from the Nirvana quested by romantic love. The play is a tragedy, not because the love of Romeo for Juliet is in its nature tragic, but because the ending achieves the equilibrium of great tragedy. The final victory of time and society over the lovers is counterpoised by the knowledge that it is, in a sense, their victory; a victory not only over time and society which would have made them old and worldly in the end (whereas their deaths heal the social wound), but over the most insidious enemy of love, the inner hostility that "builds a Hell in Heaven's despite"* and which threatens in the broad jests of Mercutio. For we believe in the uniqueness of Romeo's and Juliet's experience at the same time as we know it to be, like other sublunary things, neither perfect nor permanent. . . .  The lovers' confidence is both heightened and menaced by a worldly wisdom, cynicism and resignation which . . . we are not able to repudiate as easily as they can do. The central paradox of [the play is] love's strength and fragility. (25)

[* William Blake, "The Clod & the Pebble" in Songs of Experience.]

Romeo and Juliet stellify each other; the love which appears to be quenched as easily as a spark is extinguished is, in fact, made as permanent as the sun and stars when it is set out of the range of time. *** The marriage scene, after its strong statement of love as the victor-victim of time, closes with a quibbling passage . . . in which Romeo and Juliet defy time's most powerful allies. Romeo, in an image of music, challenges the notion that passion is discordant by nature, Juliet rejects the prudence of social considerations in her declaration of love's richness. (28-29)

Against this feverish language of Romeo's [in 3.3] Shakespeare sets the friar's sober knowledge that lovers have suffered and survived these calamities since the beginning of time. For the friar, "the world is broad and wide," for Romeo, "there is no world without Verona wall." When the friar tries to dispute with him of his "estate," the generalized, prayer-bookish word suggests that Romeo's distress is the common human lot, and we believe as much even while we join with Romeo in his protest: "Thou canst not speak of what thou dost not feel." Tragedy continually restates the paradox that "all cases are unique and very similar to each others." (31)


4. Harley Granville-Barker, Prefaces to Shakespeare, vol. 4, selections from the chapter on Romeo, 38-87:

[On the Feud:] . . . it is an ancient quarrel set new abroach; and even the tetchy Capulet owns that it should not be so hard for men of their age to keep the peace. If it were not for the servants, then, who fight because they always have fought, and the Tybalts, who quarrel about nothing sooner than not quarrel at all, it is a feud ripe for settling; everyone is weary of it . . . . We are not launching, then, into a tragedy of fated disaster, but-for a more poignant if less highly heroic theme-of opportunity muddled away and marred by ill-luck. As a man of affairs, poor Friar Laurence proved deplorable; but he had imagination. Nothing was likelier than that the Montagues and Capulets, waking one morning to find Romeo and Juliet married, would have been only too thankful for the excuse to stop killing each other. (41)

[Death of Mercutio:] But what the devil had he to do with a Capulet-Montague quarrel? The fact is . . . that he has been itching to read fashion-monger Tybalt a lesson . . . . and, before we well know where we are, this arbitrary catastrophe gives the sharpest turn yet to the play's action, the liveliest of its figures crumples to impotence before us . . . .

The unexpected has its place in drama as well as the plotted and prepared. But observe that Shakespeare uses Mercutio's death to precipitate an essential change in Romeo; and it is this change, not anything extrinsic, that determines the main tragedy. (48)

It is by pure ill-luck that Friar John's speed to Mantua is stayed while Balthasar reaches Romeo with the news of Juliet's death; but it is Romeo's headlong recklessness that leaves Friar Laurence no time to retrieve the mistake. It is . . . Juliet's overacted repentance of her "disobedient opposition," which prompts delighted Capulet to

have this knot knit up tomorrow morning.

And this difference of a day proves also to be the difference between life and death. (50)

Paris is actually at the door [50], when, with a sudden impulse, Capulet recalls him.

Sir Paris, I will make a desperate tender

Of my child's love. . . . 

And by that sudden impulse, so lightly obeyed, the tragedy is precipitated *** Juliet and Romeo appear at the window above, clinging together, agonized in the very joy of their union, but all ignorant of this new and deadly blow which . . . we know is to fall on them. (54)


[Romeo:] I dreamt my lady came and found me dead-

. . . / And breathed such life with kisses in my lips,

That I revived, and was an emperor. ...

-followed incontinently by Balthasar's

Her body sleeps in Capel's monument,

And her immortal part with angels lives. ...

So much for dreams! So much for life and its flatteries! And the buying of the poison shows us a Romeo grown out of all knowledge away from the sentimental, phrase-making adorer of Rosaline. . . .  This aging of Romeo is marked by more than one touch. To the contemptuous Tybalt he was a boy; now Paris to him, when they meet, is to be "good gentle youth." (58)

[Concluding speeches of Romeo:] Why should the Friar recount at length . . . what we already know, with Balthasar to follow suit, and Paris' page to follow him? . . .  But the Friar's story must be told, because the play's true end is less in the death of the star-crossed lovers than in the burying of their parents' strife; and as it has been primarily a play of tangled mischances, the unraveling of these, the bringing home of their meaning to the sufferers by them is a natural part of its process. . . .  For us also-despite our privileged vision-it has been a play of confused, passion-distorted happenings, and the Friar's plain tale makes the simple pity of them clear, and sends us away with this foremost in our minds. (61)

This is a tragedy of youth, as youth sees it, and age is not let play a very distinguished part. Friar Laurence is sympathetic, but he is compact of maxims, of pedagogic kindness; he is just such a picture of an old man as a young man draws, all unavailing wisdom. *** And the Nurse is old, though not fourteen years ago she had a child of her own and was suckling Juliet. It is futile trying to resolve these anomalies. Shakespeare wants a sharp conflict set between youth and age; he emphasizes every aspect of it, and treats time of life as he treats time of day-for effect. (68-69)

[Nurse:] I think it best you married with the county [Paris]-horrifyingly unexpected to Juliet; but to us, the moment she has said it, the inevitable thing for her to say . . . . best of all, perhaps, is the old bawd's utter unconsciousness of having said anything out of the way. (70)

Capulet, again, is a young man's old man. . . .  He suffers more than any other character in the play by its customary mutilations [i.e., when staged]; for these leave him a mere domestic tyrant, and Shakespeare does not. With his benevolent airs, self-conscious hilarity, childish ill-temper, he is that yet commoner type, the petted and spoiled husband and father and head of the house . . . . [Capulet is] a familiar figure in many a home; the complete gentleman, the genial host, the kindliest of men-as long as no one crosses him. (71-72)


now art thou Romeo, now art thou what thou art ....

Mercutio's creed in a careless sentence! At all costs be the thing you are. . . .  A Man of soundest common sense surely; the complete realist, the egoist justified. But by the day's end he has gone to his death in a cause not his own, upon pure impulse and something very like principle. . . . Mercutio pretends neither to greatness nor philosophy. When the moment comes, it is not his own honor that is at stake; but such calm, dishonorable, vile submissions [as Romeo's] is more than flesh can bear. . . .  Mercutio fights Tybalt because he feels he must, because he cannot stand the fellow's airs a moment longer. He'll put him in his place, if no one else will. He fights without malice, not in anger even, and for no advantage. He fights because he is what he is, to testify to this simple unconscious faith, and goes in with good honest cut and thrust. But alla stoccata carries it away; and he, the perfect realist, the egoist complete, dies for an ideal. Extremes have met. (74-75)

He [Romeo] sees Juliet. Shakespeare insists on the youth of the two, and more than once on their innocence, their purity-his as well as hers. (77)

The time is so short; and, in her [Juliet's] distraction-playing the hypocrite as she must, and overplaying it-she even contrives to make it shorter. It escapes her quite that she will now-and fatally-not be following the Friar's directions. "Tomorrow night" she was to take the potion; but the wedding is suddenly put forward by a day. Juliet does not seem to notice what this may involve, and we may not either. Quite possibly Shakespeare didn't. At any rate he makes no use of the mistake, but brings in Friar John's mishap instead. The immediate effect of the extra haste was all he cared about. (86)

. . . and to see Friar Laurence-even he!-turn and desert her. Should we wonder at the scorn sounded in that

Go, get thee hence, for I will not away.

Romeo's dagger is all she [Juliet] has left.

The simplest reason for Juliet's leave-taking of life being short is that Romeo's has been long. But, theatrical effect apart, the sudden brutal blow by which her childish faith in the "comfortable Friar" is shattered, and her unquestioning choice of death, make a fitting end to the desperate confidence of her rush to escape from what is worse than death to her. (87)


5. D. A. Traversi, An Approach to Shakespeare, vol. l (3rd edn.), ll0-139:

Romeo . . . has a number of clear points of contact with the sonnets. . . . the theme [of Romeo] . . . turns . . . upon the relation of love to the action of time and adverse circumstance. At least one of the questions that the tragedy poses is, indeed, familiar from the sonnets. To what degree can youthful love be regarded as its own justification . . . or alternatively, to what extent do the lovers share the conviction that this is simply an empty, rhetorical affirmation. . . . the disaster to which this love will be brought is in great part a result of the hatred of the older generations, in which the young participate, if at all, as victims involved in a situation not of their choosing. . . .  Their love must indeed accept the reality of death, which its very origin and nature demand; but once this has been accepted, it remains true that a sense of incommensurate worth, of true value, survives to color their tragedy. (110-111)

[1.1:] The servingmen . . . at once lecherous and self-important . . . . The masters . . . little or no better than their men. . . . We may conclude by the end of this opening that, if this is a fair picture of "experience," there is likely to be something to be said in favor of the romantic idealism of youth. (111)

[Romeo at start of play:] a creature . . . "doting" rather than loving, perversely enamored of his own self-centered and melancholy reflections.

[Juliet at start of play, l.3:] Juliet, indeed, is surrounded here, as she will be almost to the end of the play, by the "experienced," by those who are always ready to give their advice on the proper conduct of her life. Such is the Nurse, with her combination of easy sentiment and deeprooted cynicism, her belief, at once normal and senile in its discursive presentation, that love is a prompting of the flesh which is destined to find social fulfillment in a suitably contrived marriage. (112-113)

. . . this love is destined to end in death, but that death itself may be ennobled by the dedication which love can bring to its acceptance. (116-117)

[Balcony scene:] Because this new love bears within itself an element of excess, a neglect of all realities except those which its own consummation involves, it will end in death; but because it is also a true emotion (and true not least in relation to the aged experience that sets itself up so consistently to thwart it, to deny its truth), because its intensity answers, when all has been said, to love's value, it will be felt to achieve, even in its inevitable frustration, a certain measure of triumph over circumstance.

Juliet, here as nearly always, a good deal more realistic than Romeo . . . . His [Romeo's] eyes have been opened to the realty of love as an "adventure," involving the total commitment of self, the willingness to risk all to obtain the rich "merchandise," the prize of great value which love-if in fact it is a central reality in human experience-implies. (118-119)


[Juliet:] My bounty is as boundless as the sea,

My love as deep; the more I give to thee,

The more I have, for both are infinite. (II.ii)

This is the central Shakespearean affirmation that love asserts itself through giving, and that its gift is of the kind which enriches and is an indication of value, of "infinity." (121)

The Friar . . . is interested in this love, not in itself but as an instrument for ending, as he hopes, the family feud . . . , to this worthy end he will set his own typically old man's contrivances into action, only to discover for himself the truth . . . that life will always tend to move, beyond the attempted control of those who seek to direct it in accordance with ends of their own, to its own conclusions. (122)


[Romeo:] Do thou but close our hands with holy words,

Then love-devouring death do what he dares,

It is enough I may but call her mine. (

This, with its desire to crowd the unique intensity of love into "one short minute," and to set the achievement of this union against the devouring action of time, is close in spirit to the great sonnets on mutability. The Friar, speaking as ever in terms of experience . . . : "These violent delights have violent ends," he says, and, going on to speak, in terms which again touch upon a central contradiction of the tragedy, of "immoderate appetite," he urges the pair to "love moderately." This, of course, he is able to do precisely because he is a spectator, separated by age and outlook from the imperious claims of passion. (122-123)

Before the play ends the Friar's faith in "experience" as a guide in life will lead him to conclude that everything has its remedy, is susceptible to a little rational manipulation; and it is in this spirit, well-meaning but shortsighted, finally complacent, that he plans the stratagem that will only serve to hasten the concluding disaster. For he and the Nurse who so admires him . . . are, in the last analysis, essentially of the same kind. (130)

[Lady Capulet to Juliet, thinking she weeps for Tybalt, advising her to moderate her grief:] As always, "experience" seeks the solution to all problems in "moderation": seeks it precisely where love, of its very nature, is unable to find it. (131)

. . . to emphasize the operations of a malignant fortune beyond human control, Friar John's mission has gone astray, undoing all Lawrence's previsions, and Juliet is left, in his own words, as "Poor living corse, closed in a dead man's tomb'" (V.ii). (136)

. . . Romeo looks at Juliet as she lies on her "tomb" as on a marriage bed, and sees in his grim surroundings, which the radiance of her presence in his imagination transforms, "a feasting presence full of light." We may legitimately ask ourselves whether this represents reality, of an imaginative kind, or illusion in the eyes of common sense; and the answer is surely both. (136)


6. From "The School of Love: Romeo" by Donald A. Stauffer, from Shakespeare's World of Images; rpt. Shakespeare: The Tragedies, ed. Alfred Harbage, 28 f.:

Among the enemies that beset the course of true love, Shakespeare in A Midsummer Night's Dream realizes momentarily . . . that the most dangerous enemy is Time. Seeking some source of belief that will not alter, Shakespeare has settled upon love, which he often equates with faith or loyalty. *** To convey his vivid intuition of the place and duration of love in the dark world of time, Shakespeare finds the lightning-in-the-night adequate as the germinating and organizing symbol for Romeo . . .  Romeo shows less the tragedy than the pathos of pure love: "So quick bright things come to confusion!" [MND 1.1.1497]. (28-29)

. . . in this play love becomes the teacher of society. Shakespeare was never more patently the schoolmaster than in his repeated moralizing that love must destroy hate . . . . (29)

Insofar as this play is a tragedy of fate-and Shakespeare sets up dozens of signposts pointing toward the foregone moral conclusion-all accidents and events work toward the final sacrifice. Romeo and Juliet are puppets, since the moral punishment of the raging clans becomes more powerful in proportion to the innocence and helplessness of the sacrifices. In no other play does Shakespeare envisage a general moral order operating with such inhuman, mechanical severity. (30)

The dangerous fault of the two lovers is their extreme rashness. *** No less than in the hatred of brawling houses, then, "unreasonable fury" may be shown in love. (31)

The actual ethical energy of the drama resides in its realization of the purity and intensity of ideal love. Here there is no swerving. Both Romeo and Juliet are wholly devoted to their overpowering discovery: from the religious imagery of the wooing to the feasting imagery of the Capulet vault, when Romeo's wit plays its "lightning before death," the power of love is idealized . . . . He [Shakespeare] has intensified its purity by contrasting it with Romeo's first posings, with Capulet's bargainings and tantrums, and with Mercutio's bawdry, with the Friar's benign philosophizing, and with the nurse's loose opportunism. (32)

Time hurries all things away, and in the lightning imagery the kiss and the consummation are as fire and powder. Frail love, surrounded by disasters, becomes a thing of light in blackness . . . . (32)

The secret of the play is that the deaths of the lovers are not the result of the hatred between the houses, nor of any other cause except love itself, which seeks in death its own restoring cordial. Love conquers death even more surely that it conquers hate. It sweeps aside all accidents, so that fate itself seems powerless. Time is conquered, in that first stirring of a belief that Shakespeare came later to trust completely: that the intensity of an emotion towers above its temporal duration or success. (32)


7. Conspicuously absent from this group of excerpts is anything from Douglas Cole, ed., Twentieth Century Interpretations of Romeo. This is intentional. TCIs-and Twentieth Century Views-are older guys' Cliffs' Notes, and you should get into the habit (now that you're older guys) of picking them up if you think you want some critical help. Also absent: anything really recent. I suggest below some topics where feminists criticism could be useful and perhaps theories on "the social construction of reality" (to use a book title from 1966).


8. Tragic Error:

Aristotle associated hamartia with tragic characters. It is pretty clear that Aristotle meant by this, "tragic mistake" (he discussed it under plot and not character)-but some place along the line hamartia got itself translated "tragic flaw" and generations of students have gone hunting for flaws in tragic characters that might not have any to speak of. Let me suggest a rule of thumb: in a well-constructed tragedy major characters' "fates"-what happens to them-should be related to their character: who they are. Very often this will mean some failing, some flaw. But this is not absolutely necessary. All that is necessary is for tragic characters to make some error(s) that leads to their downfall(s). Romeo and Juliet (like most everyone else in the play) are hasty and rash little dickenses, but to call this their "tragic flaw" might be to raise an ethical point that is absent from the play.

MORAL: If you argue that Romeo and/or Juliet have some sort of tragic flaw, you must argue for that point, noting what I've just said about Aristotle. Assuming that tragic characters have tragic flaws has traditionally gone back to an ideological position affirming the justice of God or the gods in this life. That is an assumption you may make and argue from, but it is an assumption your must state and argue from explicitly. Or whatever. Anyway, you are free to contradict Aristotle, Erlich, and a major tradition, but it is an insult to ignore us.


9. Acts.scenes.lines:

Shakespeare's plays are divided for the purpose of references into acts, scenes, and lines. This is handy, but don't get hung up with it. Shakespeare's verse units are usually lines or verse paragraphs. The structural units of his playwrighting are scenes, not acts. Now there may be some real act divisions in Shakespeare, but his general unit of construction is the scene. Hence, Shakespeare's dramaturgy is in some ways closer to modern film than it is to 3-Act-playwrighting.

OK, for you film pendants: technically the most basic structural unit in cinema may be the shot. When we see a well-made film, however, we usually aren't aware of all the shots and tend to think of it in terms of scenes and sequences. In much the same way we are aware of scenes in Shakespeare because one group of actors leave the stage and are replaced after a very brief pause by another group of actors. There was no modern-type curtain on Shakespeare's stage. The only way we would be aware of an act would be if it were signaled by a Chorus or if the action just stopped and inter-act entertainers came out-or if someone announced it was intermission.


10. Chorus:

Shakespearean Choruses are not like a Greek chorus. One actor acts the part of the Chorus.


ll. Authority:

My quoting a scholar or critic indicates that I find his or her views to be interesting or somehow significant. It does not mean that I agree with the critic or scholar. It certainly doesn't mean that the critic or scholar can't be mistaken. Note that I'll try to get critics who disagree-and they can't all be right. If you quote any critic, including me, saying something stupid, it's still something stupid. (One of the horrors of the human condition is that we have to accept so much on rumor or authority. Try to keep to a minimum those things which you just hear or read and don't get to test for yourself. Also, note that one of the primary purposes of education is to improve what Norman Mailer has called one's "crap detector." So use me and the other critics, but with skepticism.)


12. Comic Pattern:

Consider seriously the view of Romeo and Juliet as a light Italian comedy gone wrong.

The cast is almost appropriate for a comedy.

Romeo and Juliet as the central pair of young lovers, with potential bad matches for each of them: Juliet with Paris, Romeo with Rosaline.

A bawdy confidante for each: Mercutio for Romeo, the Nurse for Juliet (cf. Gratiano and Nerissa in Shakespeare's problematic comedy-but still a comedy-The Merchant of Venice).

Other young people around to be matched: Rosaline (who never appears), Benvolio, Paris.

Parental and social authority implicit in the Feud in the structural position of the silly law that often blocks Shakespeare's comic lovers-plus the straight-out similarity of a Heavy Father stereotype (Old Capulet) demanding his daughter marry someone he chooses (as in the comedy of A Midsummer Night's Dream).


13. Variations on the Comic Pattern / Alternative Space:

Consider also how Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet varies the comic pattern.

A new and better world coalesces around a central couple, as in the comedies, but they're dead. Shakespeare's romantic comedies lead to a final exeunt (They exit) in some variation on a wedding procession; Shakespeare's tragedies lead toward an exit in a funeral procession.

The greenworld we sometimes see in Shakespeare's more festive comedies is reduced from the woods near Athens in A Midsummer Night's Dream or the Forest of Arden in As You Like It to the walled orchard at the Capulet house (cf. the moated farm house ["grange"] in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, and the small walled garden in Richard II; cf. Laurence Olivier's walled garden for The Language Lesson scene in his film of Shakespeare's Henry V). See below for water replacing greenery in 1996 William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet.

Alternative Space/Women's Space in Romeo and Juliet is pretty well reduced to Juliet's bedroom, thinning out, so to speak, as it expands to her balcony and into the orchard. Beyond the walls of the Capulet house: the macho space of the streets, the place of the Feud. And even Juliet's limited space isn't safe: Juliet's parents can move into it and generally control the house (cf. Katherine's space in Henry V). Finally, the Alternative Space of love is reduced to the Capulet tomb (cf. and contrast Cleopatra's "monument" in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra). Friar Laurence's cell is also "alternative" and seems to connote the spiritual and intellectual, as opposed to the violent passions of the Feud, but also, perhaps, opposed to the passions of Romeo and Juliet even as they are aided and given sanctuary there. Note irony that the final limitation of love to the tomb results in love's victory over hate: the end of the Feud with the deaths of Romeo and Juliet, plus the further irony of that victory of love's not doing Romeo and Juliet a whole lot of good.

In his 1968 film of Romeo and Juliet, Franco Zeffirelli added a bit more greenery by having Friar Laurence out in the countryside, picking the herbs, weeds, and flowers he will put in his basket (2.3). Zeffirelli did a brilliant job getting across to his viewers his different spaces. As Megan Witte pointed out in an essay for Miami's Shakespeare on Tape and Film course, Zeffirelli has the streets of Verona as the space for hatred, macho, and the Feud: a place of stones in hot weather, a very pretty urban "wasteland," but still a wasteland, where the natural produce of a market is spilled about in the opening brawl (1.1), and where the flowing water of a fountain is juxtaposed to the duel where Mercutio is killed (3.1 ). Opposed to this space is Juliet's bedroom: where the visuals include rockhard walls and floors, but also flowing fabric of the bed-Juliet's marriage bed, eventually-Juliet's shift, hangings, etc. In Zeffirelli's movie, Friar Laurence's cell is physically close to and/or associated with a church: also hard stones, but spiritual and a place where love and youthful passion can be incorporated into the social order. (Anyone think the water imagery in the Zeffirelli influenced Baz Lurhmann in his 1996 production, where water seems to replace greenery? [Catholic imagery of water replacing more pagan green world?])


14. Alienation/Identification and Staging:

The stages Shakespeare used were basically thrusts almost surrounded on good days by large audiences. (The new Globe in London is polygonal, with a bay on each side of the stage, plus standing area in front of the bay, somewhat behind the actors: audience around the stage for three sides, plus a bit more.) There was little scenery, little attempt to create an illusion of reality. The acting tradition allowed for highly rhetorical acting we'd probably find alternatively stilted and "over the top." This stage allowed a good deal of alienation of the viewers/auditors: one could accept a strongly "dramatic point of view," where the audience sees the characters objectively, as actors in a drama out there. But, no one in the audience was very far from the actors, and there was a stage tradition of direct address to the audience; Shakespeare's stages also invited identification with some characters. In this, the situation was rather like our recent films, which we can view quite objectively (e.g., Natural Born Killers, Pulp Fiction, or Clueless-and if you were really identifying, I don't think I want to hear about it) or get sucked into strong identification (e.g., Forrest Gump for a lot of people, or Nell).

Usually we identify, if we identify, with characters who are admirable in terms of their worlds and the genres of the works. Often these are people of appropriate power, and usually they are articulate and competent. Often, they are winners, people who triumph at the end of their plays. For the last big thing to get many of us to identify, well, the Italians had a word for it, at least after Baldassare Castiglione published The Courtier, they did (1528): sprezzatura; males anyway tend to identify with people with sprezzatura: "studied negligence and seemingly effortless grace," as my Encyclopaedia Britannica puts it (1974: II.622). The closest word I know for it is 1950s snap fingers and say "cool."

It also helps identification if the characters talk to us in monolog, or we get to overhear them thinking to themselves in soliloquy: i.e., if they reach out to us, or if we get into their heads. It helps if we see the characters on stage a lot and if they're important to the plot and if other characters speak well of them. It helps if we agree with what they stand for. And it helps if they look really good and, generally, are like us (as we see ourselves or might want to be: our dream-visions of us). {The monolog/soliloquy distinction is from Bernard Spivack, Shakespeare and the Allegory of Evil.}

Now look back at my examples, you'll see this gets complicated: Tom Hanks doesn't play Gump as cool, and Jodie Foster in Nell isn't conventionally articulate (or so I infer; I haven't yet seen Nell). Almost by definition, tragic characters lose, not win, and it's a sign of artistic achievement in science fiction, fantasy, horror, and social dramas if the production can get us to identify with characters very much unlike us.

Following Maynard Mack on Antony and Cleopatra (introd. to Pelican edn.), who is himself following Bertolt Brecht, Rich Erlich sees Shakespeare frequently playing with the capacity to elicit both identification and alienation: pre-eminently in Antony and Cleopatra, to a lesser extent in Romeo and Juliet. Do we identify with Romeo and Juliet? That depends. I think Shakespeare wants us to, most of the time, but not all the time. I think we're supposed to maintain a double vision, where we see that Romeo and Juliet are beautiful and wonderful, and excessive, extraordinarily cool and whiners, worthy embodiments of the ideal of Romantic Love, and presenters of a test-case for that ideal. If we identify with Romeo and Juliet, we don't want them to die, and the perfection of their love helps kill them off. If we draw back a bit from Romeo and Juliet, we can see them engaging in a form of idolatry not so much sinful as just silly: Romeo is no god; Juliet neither goddess nor saint.

* * *

15. Brief, Brute Force Criticism (Act.scene.line numbers from standard Globe system, as it's found in "The Pelican Shakespeare"; the line numbers in your text may differ slightly. S.D. = Stage Direction; MND = Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream):


One actor recites these lines, not a Greek-style (many member) Chorus. Note also:

The speech is a sonnet: 14 lines riming abab cdcd/efef/gg.

The Chorus sees Romeo and Juliet as fated: "fatal loins," "star-crossed lovers," "death-marked love," with a hint of just really bad luck with "misadventured." The play certainly is "fated": we know from the very beginning the general tragic upshot.

The reference to "two hours' traffic of our stage" shouldn't be taken literally-Romeo and Juliet probably took longer to perform-but even as an approximate time and emphatically as an ideal time it indicates that Shakespeare wanted a fast pace. His stage allowed fast pacing; it was basically a bare platform surrounded on three sides and a bit by the audience, with little scenery. (Spectacle was supplied by the theatres themselves and the costuming.)


.1-30: The scene and play opens with a couple: two lower-class (probably in livery), manly men (armed) of the house of Capulet-although we don't yet know the name of Capulet. They talk of violence and sex and of a quarrel with the Montagues.

.31-60: Beginning of fight among serving men, with a Montague gentleman (Benvolio [=Well-Wisher]) trying to break it up.

.61-72: A gentleman enters and challenges the Montague gentleman (it's Tybalt, a Capulet), and then the fight expands and moves up the social hierarchy to the heads of the households, with their wives-very symmetrically-trying to restrain them. The citizens supply the name "Capulets" and call "Down with" both houses.

.73-101: Enter the Prince, who supplies exposition-and a significant command: no more fighting, on pain of death for someone.

.102-53: Montague

and Wife ask Benvolio what happened, and he supplies still more exposition, including the name "Tybalt." Benvolio on the violence is very plain; he gets lyrical when answering Lady Montague's question about Romeo (identified as her son).

.153-236: As my teacher, Robert Ornstein, used to stress, Shakespeare frequently opens a scene with one or two people, expands it, and then narrows down to one or two people. The scene started with two Capulet serving men, expands greatly, and ends with two Montague gentlemen (including Romeo, the Montague heir).

Old Montague starts this part of the scene with an exit couplet (ending the parental Montague's part of the scene, even as a couplet can end a full scene); Romeo and even Benvolio use couplets in their dialog: a lot of couplets for Romeo.

Romeo unromantically asks "Where shall we dine?" and then gets on to some other important themes:

Here's much to do with hate, but more with love.

Why then, O brawling love, O loving hate,

O anything, of nothing first create!

O heavy lightness, serious vanity

Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms,

Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health,

Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is!

Love and hate, obviously-but note also all the oxymorons (or oxymora): the series of very brief paradoxes (cf. "darkness visible," "sounds of silence," and such nasty-joking oxymorons as "English cuisine"). Juliet later will use oxymorons, and they're central to the play. Romeo and Juliet, for one thing, is about tragic teenagers, itself oxymoronic in traditional critical theory.

Kevin Cole (English 372, 24 Feb. 1993) had some good suggestions on "Here's much to do with hate but more with love": The feuders love to hate; love for one's family as basis for hatred of other people's families; the hatred of outsiders aiding one's love for one's own.

Romeo then moves on to play the Romantic Lover, in the tradition of Petrarch's sonnets: groaning because he loves an aloof lady who scorns him, a chaste paragon (etc.: you know the drill; it's solid cliché, and Shakespeare had to know all but the most doltish Londoners would know it). Benvolio comes up with the obvious answer to any sighing, rejected lover's problems: "Examine other beauties." This, of course, is heresy in the Religion of Love, and Romeo will have none of it. But Benvolio will keep trying-which is necessary for the plot.


.1-33: Capulet, Paris, and the Clown (= Peter)

Will Kemp(e), the Clown at the time in The Lord Chamberlain's Men (Shakespeare's company) played Peter. He did broad comedy, playing also Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream and Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing. He is in this tragedy for the same reason that there is a clown in Othello and Antony and Cleopatra: as a major shareholder in the company, the Clown got parts.

We've met Romeo; now the stage is set for Juliet, although she's still unnamed. We learn of a desirable 13-year old girl (almost 14), the daughter of Old Capulet. She is desired by one Paris, and we may guess, from costuming, that he is the Count of Paris; but we don't have to guess that: we may see him as just some rich nobleman named Paris, and recall that it's a very unfortunate name in a suitor.

Paris was the handsome young Prince of Troy who seduced and abducted (and perhaps raped in the modern legal sense) Helen of Sparta, starting what the Greeks called the Trojan War. In his late satire Troilus and Cressida, Shakespeare presents Paris as a dangerous air-head.

In a speech with a lot of couplets to stress it, Capulet explains to Paris one norm for matching a daughter in marriage:

But woo her, gentle Paris, get her heart;

My will to her consent is but a part.

An [= if] she agree, within her scope of choice

Lies my consent and fair according voice.

Capulet's will is too strong for him to follow his own rule here, but at least he shows that he knows quite well the relatively enlightened theory of parental responsibility: guys woo, but they must be initially screened for suitability by the "friends" of the gal-the father pre-eminently (if living and available) and then the mother and family and so on outward from her. Capulet also informs us of his upcoming feast.

.38-44: In the manner of Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream (4.1.207-10), the Clown here, in prose, fractures clichés. (With Kemp, the Clown, playing Peter, the Servant is Peter.) Note that Capulet assumes his servant is literate, and that the Servant here is not. As evidence for literacy rates in Shakespeare's England, this bit of business is ambiguous: the Servant can't read, but his boss assumed he could. (Take care in interpreting references to "illiteracy" in the Early Modern Period and earlier; sometimes it means, "illiterate in Latin," while the "illiterates" can read and write their own languages.)

.45-50: Benvolio tells Romeo to find a new love, and he tells him that in the sestet of a sonnet (6 lines: abab/cc)

.51-56: Romeo does the Lover-as-Madman routine (Amor insanus brevis est: "Love is a brief madness").

.57-83: Helping the Servant, Romeo and Benvolio learn of the Capulet feast, and that Rosaline will be there-and Mercutio is invited (and he has a brother with the romantic name of "Valentine").

What does it say about the Feud if Mercutio can be invited and be best friends with Romeo?

What does it say about the Feud and/or Romeo's love for Rosaline, that she's a niece to Old Capulet and a Capulet guest?

.84-end of scene: Benvolio speaks in couplets, including one riming "show" and "crow" and contrasting the rime-accented "crow" with "swan." It's all nicely done, but these are clichés. Romeo answers Benvolio's couplets with a sestet in the Religion of Love mode, holding his beloved (Rosaline-unnamed here) as the most beautiful woman in the world.

Note on Fair (and cognates): From the prejudice light-complexion: good; dark: bad. This notion is important for racism, but doesn't seem to be racist in origin (bigotry is a constant, but racism didn't come until a generation and a bit after Shakespeare). The idea probably has mostly to do with class. Field workers and other "low" people got tanned; nonworking gentlefolk did not. So "fair"/"light" -> "beautiful" and valued and "dark" -> "foul" and unvalued. (Plus, of course, bigotry against Mediterranean sorts.) So argues Thorstein Veblen and his school of sociology, and there is good sociological evidence; to quote from memory: «When a tan came to mean a day at tennis rather than a day out in the fields, tanned skin was valued.» For the genteel snobbery here, cf. how "villain" <- a word for peasant, and, indeed, how "peasant" itself can sound insulting, plus "base," "vile," and "low" initially just meaning "low-born."


.1-4: Preceding scene ended with two male Montagues; this begins with two female Capulets.

.4 s.d.-57: Entrance of Juliet, establishing relationships among Juliet, her mother ("Wife" or "Lady Capulet" in different texts), and her Nurse; and a reminder that Juliet is almost 14 (so this will be a "coming of age" story, and emphatically one of innocent "first love").

"Thou wilt fall backward when thou hast more wit" (42): the Nurse is rather crude here; Juliet falls in love innocently, rather than "wittily" falling on her back and taking a man.

In Christian doctrine (esp. in St. Paul's advice to the Corinthians), one should be a fool rather than follow the wisdom of the world. In Shakespeare's version of the Religion of Love, there may be a similar idea: like Christian love, romantic love may be folly, but such folly may also be superior to the wisdom of the world. But, as with Christian love, one would be a "fool positive"-just a dumb-ass dingbat-to expect to do well in the world following such folly.

.58: Juliet's first line. Juliet is witty enough to pun on "ay"/"I" and asserts herself, slightly and politely, against the Nurse.

.59-105: The theme of Wisdom is made explicit here, comically, and very much in earnest we get into the question of marriage, and love. Note that Benvolio and Romeo had discussed only love.

.97-99: Even as Old Capulet had given a highly enlightened, "with it," and even "politically correct" theory on consent to marriage, so Juliet here gives an old-fashioned, good-girl statement on her love for a wooer. However, she picks up the "eye" motif of romantic love, so maybe other theories are around as alternatives to the good-girl idea of loving the future husband daddy and mommy have selected for you.


S.D.: Big group enters, possibly loudly.

(Mercutio was invited, and some of the Maskers might be outside the Feud and legitimate visitors to the party; but Romeo and Benvolio and maybe one or two others are crashing the party. In ages past, it was not entirely unknown for genteel male party-crashers to get a little drunk beforehand, as an aid to courage.)

.1-.47: Note discussion of fashions for Masking and the friendly fun of teenagers playing with words (and Mercutio's insulting his own face). Note suggestiveness of Mercutio's "Prick love for pricking, and you beat love down"-but only suggestiveness; the joke may be that it sounds a little lewd to the evil-minded, but you (or I) can't quite find a lewd meaning. If this is the case, it's an appropriate early line for Mercutio: like the Nurse, he takes a nonromantic view.

.47-103: Romeo and Mercutio on Wisdom (briefly) and Dreams

Romeo thinks it unwise to go to the Capulets' party, his thought based (in part?) on a dream. Mercutio somewhat changes the subjects to dreams-period-so they never get to the question of going to the party.

Is it a real question-they're on their way to the party?

In a play like Romeo and Juliet, or maybe plays generally, is it safe to ignore dreams and/or deny their validity?

How would you motivate Mercutio's Queen Mab speech? It's upshot is that dreams are "Begot of nothing but vain fantasy" and are meaningless, but Mercutio can say that directly, in three lines (96-99). If directing the play, would you cut the Queen Mab speech? Cut it down?

.104-112: Romeo has misgivings about the party, misgivings suggesting fated disaster, but he puts his faith in Providence. (Does Providence come through for him? [Real question.])

1.5: The Capulet Ball/Party/Feast (any of these OK to label this Scene)

A scene shift on the Elizabethan stage is marked by the exit or exeunt of one or more actors, and the entrance of one or more different actors. Pelican follows traditional scene labeling for citations, but refuses to accept 1.5 as a new scene (same for Riverside Shakespeare but more subtle [Laurel-Leaf edn. marks a new scene]). As a director, would you have the Maskers exeunt or "march about the stage" as "Servingmen come forth"? Consider the different stage effects:

The Maskers are out on the street, damn it, so they need to exeunt so we can have the Servingmen enter and establish a new scene inside the Capulet mansion.

The Maskers are where they are, at some unlocalized place, and then the scene shifts around them, dream-like, and they're at the party.

The Maskers are on the street, and then the party comes to them, part of the operation of a world-machine that moves this little plot along for its own reasons. ETC.

If you were directing a movie, how would you handle the movement from 1.4 to "1.5" (so-called)?

.1-40: Party and Capulet as genial old host. Note the old; like many comedies Romeo and Juliet is unapologetically ageist.

.41-92: Romeo's love juxtaposed with Tybalt's hate, both juxtaposed with Old Capulet's desire for a happy party, and control: Old Capulet will rule young Tybalt. (Capulet's calling Tybalt "goodman boy" is a double insult: "goodman" was a respectful title, for a man ranking below a gentleman; "boy" was a literally deadly insult. A gentleperson was not a "goodman" nor "goodwife," and a "gentleman" was not a boy.)

.93-101: The mutual wooing of Romeo and Juliet

Again, we've just seen Tybalt's hatred and wrath, and after the wooing we will hear very specific references to the Feud; so we have a kind of love sandwich, breaded on each side (so to speak) with threat.

.93-106: A sonnet shared between Romeo and Juliet, riming abab (Romeo) / cbcb (Juliet) / d (Romeo) e (Juliet) de (Romeo) / f (Juliet) f (Romeo). The imagery is emphatically of the Religion of Love: fear of profaning a holy object by touching it, a shrine, sin, pilgrimage, repentance and satisfaction, sainthood, devotion, prayer. In Romeo's view here, which Juliet accepts, Juliet = saint, with her body (and all other outwardness?) a shrine, and the object of romantic pilgrimage.

Note that Romeo and Juliet are really cool here. Few guys start conversations in rimed iambic pentameter asking to kiss a hand; few gals respond in poetic kind, suggesting just touching palms (and I've never seen that played as a handshake). And none of us are going to get theatrical effects to show an audience that our meeting is A Moment Out of Time.

You can't have a realistic party going on around Romeo and Juliet; the audience couldn't see them and hear them talk. So you're going to have to do something, and most of the things I've seen done suggest that time pretty well stops for Romeo and Juliet: the other actors on stage freeze or mime a slow, totally repetitive dance; the camera isolates Romeo and Juliet; Romeo + Juliet (1996) turn up at Water World-something.

.107-110: A shared quatrain: ABAB, bringing us back down to earth with Juliet's "You kiss by the book," i.e., by the book of etiquette. (Note that Romeo uses the informal second person thou, thine, while Juliet retains here the formal you.)

.113-18: Romeo and Nurse. Note Nurse's usual loquaciousness, plus her rather crass association of Juliet and money: "I tell you, he that can lay hold of her / Shall have the chinks." Romeo learns Juliet is a Capulet and takes up the Nurse's commercial language: "O dear account!"-with pun on "dear": beloved/expensive-"my life is my foe's debt" (i.e., he owes his life to his foes).

.134-41: Juliet introduces motif of Death as Juliet's bridegroom: "If he be marrièd, / My grave is like to be my wedding bed." Romeo is a bachelor, and Juliet's grave is where she and Romeo end up, twice. She also takes up the theme of love and hate.

Less explicitly: Love at first sight. In Shakespeare's As You Like It, a very mistaken character says, alluding to Christopher Marlowe, "Dead shepherd, now I find thy saw [saying] of might, / 'Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?'" (3.5.80-81). In As You Like It, Shakespeare both uses shamelessly and mocks-"deconstructs," if you like-the idea of love at first sight. In Romeo and Juliet, we probably should take it here absolutely straight; later, though, we may come to question the wisdom of falling in love with strangers.

Romance Rules (so far): (1) Meet cute; (2) be cool; (3) be young; (4) fall in love immediately; (5) fall in love with someone both appropriate personally and very inappropriate in terms of some larger system (usually parental).

In aristocratic medieval Romances, the inappropriateness was the marriage of at least the lady to someone other than the beloved. With the pre-Protestant scandals and Reformation and Counter-Reformation and more people taking Christianity very much in earnest, with the rise of the Middle Class and the beginning of "middle-class morality"-that got cleaned up. Shakespeare was important in the clean-up: the goal of his romantic lovers is marriage.

2. Chorus: Act II is a real "Act, marked by the Chorus (again, one guy), who recites here yet another sonnet.

.1-2: Note

" imagery of death and new life,

" the idea of love as enchantment and something visual (with Romeo and Juliet "betwitchèd by the charm of looks")

" "The course of true love never did run smooth" (Midsummer's Night's Dream 1.1.132-34).

2.1 : Introduction to Balcony Scene

LOCATION: This can be rationalized as "Capulet's orchard" (Riverside), or "Within Capulet's walled orchard" (Pelican), or, "Capulet's walled orchard and a lane by it. Enter Romeo in the lane" (Laurel). The question is which side of the wall to picture Mercutio and Benvolio on; one answer is that of the Laurel edition. Another is that Romeo enters to an unlocalized place that must be near Juliet; then Mercutio and Benvolio enter and establish a walled orchard in line 5. Then Romeo comes forward and he and Juliet through their language make the stage Capulet's orchard (lines 63-66) and the window and balcony Above Juliet's window and balcony. (For bringing walls on stage, see MND 3.1.54 f.)

.1-2: Romeo is on-stage alone for the first time, if only momentarily. In two lines, he presents two romantic clichés: the Neo-Platonic notion that the lover's soul goes into the beloved (ideally forming "one soul in two bodies"), and the more scientifically phrased idea that the earth of the lover's body is to the beloved as the Earth is to its center, which is also the soul, which (again) has become the beloved. Anyway, he gets his "earth" back to Juliet.

.3-43: Having crushed a cup of wine or two, Benvolio and Mercutio seek out Romeo and joke about his love-which they still quite reasonably suppose to be for Rosaline. Note well Mercutio's bawdiness: it is totally decorous as an earthy balance to Romeo and Rosaline. With Romeo and Juliet, however, the bawdiness may show a limitation in Mercutio: Romeo and Juliet may properly combine body, mind, and soul in perfect love. Also, Mercutio's bawdiness remains as a commentary even on Romeo and Juliet.

2.2: BALCONY SCENE (continues, actually)

.1: Romeo step forward and gives an important line: "He jests at scars that never felt a wound." Can one speak truly about that which one has not felt? On the other hand, why privilege feeling? If "Love is a brief madness," what lovers feel might be pretty irrelevant.

Romance Rules (continued): Subjectivity privileged over objectivity, feelings over reason (emphatically cf. MND).

.2-31: Romeo spots Juliet and compares her favorably to the sun and stars, and an angel. and wishes himself "a glove upon" her hand, "That I might touch that cheek."

Romance Rules (continued): The male lover, at least, is willing to talk, at least, about sacrificing a fair amount of dignity just to touch (be with, see, etc.) the beloved.

.33-36: Juliet asks why ("wherefore") Romeo is Romeo, i.e., Romeo Montague. She suggests he renounce his family, or she will.

Romance Rules (continued): The beloved may or may not be the most important thing in the universe, but he or she outranks family (see below, 3.2).

NOTE WELL: Roger Ebert, writing on Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet, misunderstood "wherefore" as "where" and brought long-lasting shame upon himself, G. Blakemore Evans (his Shakespeare teacher), and upon his and my alma mater, The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Do not make a similar mistake yourself, bringing shame upon yourself, Miami, and me. Wherefore is the complement of therefore; it does NOT signify "where."

.36-49: Juliet asks, rhetorically, "What's in a name?" One answer the play provides is «Enough to kill off you, Romeo, and much of the rest of the cast». In exchange for Romeo's getting rid of his name, Juliet offers "all myself." Part of Shakespeare's formula for true love is "To give and hazard all" one has (see The Merchant of Venice); Juliet makes that offer.

Romance Rules (continued): The lovers offer one another ALL.

.49-78: Romeo completes Juliet's line and takes up her offer: "Call me but love, and I'll be new baptized; / Henceforth I never will be Romeo." Romeo will give up not only his family name-even as women did routinely until recently-but his personal name as well. If you believe, "The name of the thing is the essence of the thing" (as one form of magic teaches), this becomes an even bigger offer.

Juliet addresses Romeo with the familiar thou/thee; Juliet makes clear what Romeo faces in the orchard: death. Romeo responds,

Romance Rules (continued): ". . . stony limits cannot hold love out, / And what love can do, that dares love attempt," plus "My life were better ended by their hate / Than death proroguèd, wanting of thy love." I.e., Absence of the beloved = death.

.79-84: Personified love helps lovers find their beloveds. Juliet as costly "merchandise" for which Romeo would "adventure" (cf. Merchant of Venice); do not see this (in itself) degrading Juliet or Romeo.

Shakespeare lived in the "heroic age" of European capitalism, with "heroic age" to be taken very literally. Even as the heroic age of Greece was a disaster for Troy, even as the heroic age of the Scandinavian Vikings was a disaster for England, Ireland, and large sections of the European continent, even so the heroic age of European capitalism was not good for large parts of Africa, India, China, and the Americas. It was, however, still and definitely a heroic age and very exciting for those going venturing, and apparently quite useful for much of Europe. The costs didn't become obvious until a bit after Shakespeare's time, and, indeed, many people don't wish to face them even today. (Many people think "heroic age" is merely a compliment. Hah! "May they live in exciting" and heroic "times" and learn the costs of keeping heroes around.) Anyway: mercantile images were available for positive use, and could be used that way, even by genteel snobs who held in contempt any and all local folk "in trade."

.85-106: Juliet declares her love honestly, openly, and without what came to be called "coyness": false shyness. Note her denial of "cunning." For Juliet, the Religion of Love requires the sort of simplicity Paul the Apostle recommended to the Corinthians.

.107-116: On Romeo's swearing. Juliet comes to the Christian conclusion "Do not swear at all" but then modifies it in terms of the Religion of Love: "Of if thou wilt, swear by thy gracious self, / Which is the god of my idolatry"a crucial line.

Romance Rules (continued): Beloved = a god.

When asked what one should do to "inherite eternal life," Jesus of Nazareth responded with "Thou shalt love thy Lord God with all thine heart, & with all thy soule, & with all thy strength, & with all thy thoght, & thy neighbour as thy self" (Luke 10.25, 27; sic on spelling: Geneva trans.). Nothing there about erotic love, or even one's family. So: the Religion of Love's making the beloved a god is "idolatry." It's important that Juliet, more than most lovers, knows what she's doing.

{Holy Church, English style, isn't totally against worshipping the beloved. In The Form of Solemnization of Matrimony in The Book of Common Prayer of 1559 ("The Elizabethan Prayer Book"), part of the formula of the wedding ring is "With this ring I thee wed: with my body I thee worship . . ." (Folger edn. 293). Body OK, but not mind and soul in idolatry.}

.117-120: Juliet goes back to the Christian "Well, do not swear" and goes on to a very important simile. She takes "no joy of this contract to-night" because "It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden; / Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be / Ere one can say 'It lightens.'" For the "stellifying" of Romeo and Juliet and this quote, see above, quotations from Caroline F. E. Spurgeon.

.125-130: Note Juliet's down-to-earth response to Romeo's lament at being "unsatisfied? She's may be more mature than he.

.133-35: Juliet tells Romeo, correctly (except for the "more"?),

My bounty is as boundless as the sea,

My love as deep; the more I give to thee,

The more I have, for both are infinite.

The mercantile imagery has given way to imagery of natural wealth. This is the idea of love's wealth (in J. R. Brown's term in Shakespeare & His Comedies), and an expansion of

Romance Rules (continued): The lovers offer one another ALL, and they have an indefinitely large, possibly infinite, treasury from which to give.

.142-190: Juliet takes the lead in proposing marriage and arranging marriage. She's practical and admirable. Still: they met cute, and Romeo and Juliet part cute.


.1-30: We meet Friar Laurence, giving us a soliloquy, I think (overheard thoughts), rather than a monolog (direct address to us [in the terminology of Bernard Spivack]), with the Friar ruminating in couplets on plants and grace and difference.

It's dawn: one day down in the time-scheme of the play.

The Friar seems to start out with a rather relativistic view of the world as a mixture of good and evil, with both needed. There is a possibly similar, but clearer speech in Shakespeare's All's Well that Ends Well, where a minor character tells us that "The web of our life [sic] is of a mingled yarn good and ill together; our virtues would be proud"-the deadliest of sins-"if our faults whipped them not; and our crimes would despair"-the unforgivable "sin against the Holy Spirit"-"if they were not cherished by our virtues" (4.3.83-87). Fr. Laurence's speech ends, though, with the orthodox idea that in people as well as herbs there is a confrontation of "grace and rude will," with "will" having connotations of lust and willfulness. "And where the worser is predominant, / Full soon the canker death eats up that plant"-the cue for Romeo.

Does the evil of the deaths of Romeo and Juliet end up doing good? Well, yeah, but is that sort of thing what the Friar is talking about here? (Real question for me.)

Should we see the deaths of Romeo and Juliet stemming from the victory of "rude will"-lusty willfulness?-over goodness?

.31-56: In a conversation long on couplets but short on directness, Romeo sidles up to asking the Friar to perform a wedding.

.56-94: Romeo tells the Friar what he's getting at, and Friar Laurence and Romeo get to the differences between Romeo/Rosaline and Romeo/Juliet. Key lines: "Thou chid'st me oft for Rosaline" from Romeo and "For doting, not for loving, pupil mine" and the Friar's final agreement to aid them, "For this alliance may so happy prove / To turn your households' rancor to pure love" (which rimes with "prove").

Romance Rules (continued): True love somehow ≠ doting, infatuation. (But how do the lovers or outside observers tell the difference? One possibility is that more people are willing to kill themselves for true love than for infatuation.)


.1-35: Mercutio and Benvolio on Tybalt's challenge to Romeo. See above, Harley Granville-Barker on Mercutio on Tybalt.

Shakespeare lived in the Early Modern period, which has been called The Renaissance: "The Dawn of a New Era," but also "The Waning of the Middle Ages." Part of the transition was in weaponry. Picture a medieval knight: armor, shield, lance, mace, broad-sword, maybe even a two-handed sword. Now picture a Renaissance gentleman: foil, dagger, maybe rapier and dagger. From the point of view of the old "sword and buckler man," the modern gentleman is effete. But in a fight between the two, using Renaissance weapons, the Early Modern "fop" will win. Same in warfare generally: the military athlete loses to the weapons wonk who has cannon and can do the arithmetic needed to fire them effectively, who can handle logistics, who can use maps, who can write out a training program for recruits, who's backed up by a relatively high-tech society that can forge firearms, plus those silly thin blades. The times they had a-changed, and Mercutio stands up for the old ways against modern fopishness. He was right (as was Iago, on this one point, in Othello); even as military science ruined warfare, the martial arts ruined brawls. If you know Shakespeare's patterns, you know that if Mercutio fights Tybalt, Mercutio loses.

.36-95: Friendly fun among Romeo, Mercutio, and Benvolio, featuring a wit-contest between Mercutio and Romeo, much of it expressed in such up-to-the-hour Elizabethan youth-talk prose as to be pretty well unintelligible today. Note that a lot of the joking by Mercutio and even Benvolio is bawdy, with Romeo going only so far as a mild bit of busting on Mercutio as a chaser after whores: "Thou wast never with me for anything when thou was not there for the goose."

.95-135: Friendly fun with an edge to it, with Romeo making one wise-ass comment, but mostly between Mercutio and the Nurse, who is lower in rank than a gentlewoman, and far beneath Mercutio (kinsman to Capulet-and the Prince).

Some young people think it's their right to taunt old people. Denotatively genteel people-of gentle rank through birth and breeding-fairly frequently feel it's their right to play with the peasants, i.e., more exactly, anyone beneath them in the social hierarchy. Romeo and Juliet, comedy-fashion, privileges youth; orthodox Elizabethan doctrine strongly stressed the God-established naturalness of the social hierarchy and privilege; and Mercutio gets off at least one decent joke and a relatively clever song. All together, though: What should we make of this business? If you were staging Romeo and Juliet, how would you handle it?

.138-52: Nurse and Peter (probably Kemp, the company's Clown), with some lively slang from the Nurse and some stupid double-meaning jokes by the Clown, again reminding us of a world of sex, before we get to the relative nitty-gritty part of the Romance of Romeo and Juliet: logistics for marriage and consummation thereof.

.155-61: The Nurse raises an obvious objection, soon disposed of (within the world of the play): At 16 or so, Romeo's leading almost-14 Juliet "into a fool's paradise, as they say" would be "a very gross kind of behavior."

.162-87: Arrangements for Juliet to go to Confession and be married, and for a rope ladder for Romeo to climb to Juliet's room.

.188-end: Romeo learns of existence of Paris, whose intentions for Juliet the Nurse describes rather crassly ("fain lay knife abroad" [Laurel edn. glosses this much too politely]).

The "R" business: In Shakespeare's Bawdy, Eric Partridge says "The 'R' is generally explained by the dog's ar (or growling): this is correct; but R is also short for Roger, a dog's name, and also a slang term (Roger or roger) for the penis . . . ." In more recent English slang "roger" is usually a verb. This is all rather esoteric, but four points: (1) there really are scholars who write slang dictionaries; (2) Shakespeare has enough bawdy usages that "R" for "roger" isn't totally implausible; (3) there is the term bawdy as a neutral way to describe jokes and other low art more moral or moralistic folk condemn as obscene; (4) I'd cut these lines in production, but if "R" = "roger" for the Nurse, that's a good indication how her mind works.

2.5: Juliet and Nurse.

Note motif of Time and the friendly fun, with an edge to it in the play between the Nurse and Juliet: the Nurse is teasing Juliet. Note also the Nurse's "Now comes the wanton blood up in your cheeks" and the sexual reference in "I am the drudge, and toil in your delight; / But you shall bear the burden soon at night." Cf. and contrast Juliet's prothalamion: Juliet wants sex, but that's not all she wants.


The space here is defined in large part by Friar Laurence. It is, then, old Franciscan space: spiritual, intellectual, a "time-out" space from the world of the Feud and, possibly, from strong passions generally.

.1-15: Significant dialog between Romeo and the Friar, before Juliet's entrance. Romeo gives us an important

Romance Rule:

But come what sorrow can.

It cannot countervail the exchange of joy

That one short minute gives me in her sight.

Do thou but close our hands with holy words,

Then love-devouring death do what he dare-

It is enough I may but call her mine.

Time is different for lovers. When lovers are together, it can go faster than for normal folk, but also, "one short minute" can give enough joy that the lovers say they could die right then.

The Friar very rationally says that Romeo is suggesting a love "like fire and powder, / Which, as they kiss, consume"-one explanation why "quick bright things" often don't last long. The Friar advises, "Therefore"-a word from logic-"love moderately: long love doth so; / Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow." Still: Can either Romeo or Juliet love moderately and still be Romeo or Juliet? Don't the Rules of Romance for any couple add up to highly immoderate love? Also, if we're to take this advice as normative for the play-and «Don't be hasty» is excellent advice in Romeo and Juliet-why end it with so dumb a line as "Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow"? No, it doesn't. Someone who's too swift arrives early and has to wait around and may have all sorts of other problems but not tardiness. And when the Friar has a tardiness problem, it's because his too slow was too slow-period.

.16-20: Enter Juliet: The celibate Friar sees love and lovers as empty (vain) things, at least in this context. Does Romeo and Juliet validate this assessment? Is it one valid judgment of the story?

.30-34: Juliet gives a very elegant statement of "Love's Wealth." On one side, Friar Laurence suggesting that mortal love is light and vain; on the other, Juliet: "They are but beggars that can count their worth; / But my true love is grown to such excess / I cannot sum up half my wealth." As this point of the play, should we take Juliet seriously?

.35-37: The Friar will not leave Romeo and Juliet "alone / Till Holy Church incorporate two in one." How should this be played? For one extreme, would you want Romeo and Juliet pawing each other, so that the Friar may honestly think they'll copulate right then and there (and "there" is very near a Church)? For the other extreme, would you want them standing chastely, suggesting the Friar has a nasty mind?

The Friar is a Catholic in a Franciscan order. In the "politically correct" Protestant introduction to the poem that is Shakespeare's source, Friar's are bad-mouthed; and Shakespeare could show a lecherous Friar without much bothering his officially Protestant audience. (The "Elizabethan Religious Settlement" was tolerant by medieval and Early Modern standards, not in terms of Jeffersonian standards; some Catholic bashing-just not enough to encourage public disorder-would've been OK.)

3.5: DUEL

Subtlety in the popular arts isn't necessarily a virtue, and I doubt we can legitimately accuse Shakespeare of it very often. Romeo and Juliet has set up the opposition Love/Hate and joined love and death. OK, we just had love; now it's time for death. Structurally, this scene is the turn in the play, the "catastrophe" that moves the play into a tragedy that is "inevitable" in terms of tone and mode, if definitely evitable in terms of plot. (Romeo and Juliet have a lot of bad luck.) If you want to insist on a turning point, it's probably the moment Mercutio dies.

.1-33: Benvolio, Mercutio, and their servants ("Men") and maybe friends establish the setting: the streets of Verona on a hot day and, simultaneously, macho space where the guys can joke about violence even while Benvolio-good boy that his name suggests (and he is)-wishes to avoid violence.

.34-54: See above, Harley Granville-Barker on the Feud, Mercutio, and Tybalt. Mercutio does seem to want a fight; he definitely searches for insults in Tybalt's words. In any event, he is stubborn in a traditional gentlemanly way: "I will not budge for no man's pleasure, I" is a mildly humorous incarnation of genteel refusal to submit to the will of anyone else. In asserting such freedom of his will from the control of others, a gentleman could be seriously violent (see Troilus and Cressida 2.2).

As usual with me, I use "gentleman" in a traditional sense. A gentleman was a man of gentle birth and gentle breeding (education, "environment")-although some thought the gentility of birth would overcome even the worst nurture. Shakespeare endorsed the idea, ". . . we must be gentle" in the modern sense "now we are gentlemen" (Winter's Tale 5.2.140-46); not everyone did. What a Christian gentleman would do when he thought himself insulted or had his will thwarted was (and is) a topic of debate. Whatever the law, church, women, et al. said, the genteel macho creed would have a gentleman, in a classic formulation, "take no sh*t off of nobody."

.55-71: Tybalt insults Romeo with "villain" (= nasty, evil, lower class person) and then the biggie, "Boy" (see Shakespeare's Coriolanus, esp. 5.6.99-114). Romeo responds gently but, by the macho standards I was raised in, without losing face.

Macho Rules: Don't lose your cool. Don't lose your temper. Don't back down. (Don't cry!) Don't pick on punks (or anyone else beneath you). Never apologize. And, again, centrally, "Don't take no sh*t off of nobody."

.72-83: Mercutio finds Romeo's response to be "calm, dishonorable, vile submission!" It is calm. The question would be how well Mercutio is reading this figurative text in finding Romeo's response to Tybalt dishonorable and vile: nasty and lowborn, definitely unworthy in a gentleman. And, of course, how much it's "submission." We know Romeo married Juliet; Mercutio doesn't. Is the problem his limited knowledge or his misreading, period? Does Mercutio just believe that "Boy" under any circumstances is a "deadly insult" requiring at least a duel until blood is drawn? If he does believe that, isn't he following the same sort of rule book Tybalt follows?

.83-106: Duel, Death of Mercutio. Note Mercutio on Tybalt's fighting "by the book of arithmetic" and how he was fatally stabbed when Romeo came between Mercutio and Tybalt. Romeo says "I thought all for the best"; it may be significant that his good intentions contributed to disaster («No good deed shall go unpunishèd"»?). Note also that Mercutio dies jesting: sprezzatura, man, cool! He adds his dying curse: "A plague a [= on] both your houses!"; is his curse fulfilled by play's end?

.107-130: Death of Tybalt

.107-13: Romeo argues himself to anger: (1) Mercutio is a relative to the Prince, Romeo's dear friend, and dead trying to protect Romeo's reputation-Romeo's honor, in some views. It speaks well of Romeo that he doesn't confuse "reputation" and "honor." (2) Tybalt slandered Romeo, an insult from his new cousin! (3) That Romeo might continue calm would indicate that Juliet's beauty has made Romeo "effeminate," softening "valor's steel!"

.120-27: Romeo wills himself to fury, by recalling (easily enough) the death of Mercutio and Tybalt's "villain" insult; Tybalt helps by repeating "boy," plus "wretched" and "consort."

.130-33: Benvolio, good boy again and always, gives Romeo good advice. (Keep an eye on Benvolio: he survives the play.)

.134: "O, I am fortune's fool": Romeo's response is evidence that he, anyway, sees himself as a victim of, if not the Fates, at least of Fortune (see Henry V 3.6.29-37).

Note "fool": Pelican and Riverside gloss have "dupe, victim" and "plaything, dupe," which is true enough, but the word also fits in with the wisdom/folly motif in Romeo and Juliet, and may suggest "servant" as well (cf. "strumpet's fool" / "fortune's knave" in Antony and Cleopatra 1.1.13, 5.2.3), or a servant who's also an entertainer (like Lear's Fool in King Lear or the Fools in As You Like It or Twelfth Night).

.139-95: Enter Prince, who gets the multiple deaths sorted out fairly well, and tries to stop the cycle of revenge strongly endorsed by Lady Capulet: "Prince, as thou are true, / For blood of ours shed blood of Montague" (145-46); "I beg for justice, which thou, Prince, must give. / Romeo slew Tybalt; Romeo must not live" (178-79).

The official ideology in England, even under Queens Mary and Elizabeth, was sexist, and Shakespeare accepts most of the sexist assumptions of his culture, and, in any event, isn't going to risk trouble seriously contradicting them in the public drama (no more than he'd push the conclusion to a syllogism starting with the sexist idea, No woman should rule; and adding the obvious point, Queen Elizabeth is a woman). Still, Shakespeare was sexist, not an idiot or liar, and you need to consider how Shakespeare presents gender-roles and the actions of men and women in the Feud. Shakespeare suggests here that men do the fighting, but women may well be key supporters of the ideology of blood revenge (family values and all). Later he'll suggest that Lady Capulet isn't too squeamish to put out a contract for the poisoning of Romeo. Is Shakespeare right in his suggestions about women and revenge, or has he erred (or repeated slander)? Note that Suzy McKee Charnas in the feminist novel Mother Lines and Ursula K. Le Guin in The Left Hand of Darkness suggest that revenge, feuds, and vendettas would occur in societies composed entirely of women or androgynes. And in The Female Man, Joanna Russ features a feminist, all-woman utopia, where quarrels are fairly frequent, and often resolved by fights or duels.

Note all the couplets in this scene: the action here is impassioned but highly formal. The upshot is that the Price refuses to give the full mercy of pardon (194-95), but pretty mercifully banishes Romeo. (There is, though, a conflict of interest: the Prince is judge in a case in which Tybalt killed one of the Prince's relatives.)

3.2: JULIET'S PROTHALAMION, and News of the Catastrophe

.30-31: Note

" The beauty of Juliet's prothalamion (or prothalamium). If the actress playing Juliet can't handle these lines, one has a problem. If not in poetic words, how else do you show the nature of her love?

" The duel was fought in bright, hot day; contrast how much Juliet looks forward to the night. Usually in the West we have made light/dark and day/night antithetical, and privileged light and day; Romeo and Juliet follows the dichotomies, but privileges dark and night. (Since the rest of the series contains male/female, reason/passion, life/death consider the possibility that this play may also privilege matters "female" [if not literal women] and passionate-and deadly? If you know Daoist Yin-Yang theory, try applying it to the play and the question of balance among Yin and Yang.)

" Juliet puts together night, stars, and death. That "stellifies" Romeo and fits in with the dichotomies I just mentioned, but it also hints of tragedy.

" Juliet is innocent: she wants sex and says so beautifully, putting it in terms of losing "a winning match / Played for a pair of stainless maidenhoods"-Romeo's as well as hers. (We're to see Romeo as pure, if you like, a virgin.)

.32-91: Nurse tells Juliet of death of Tybalt and banishment of Romeo. Note Juliet's series of oxymorons in denouncing Romeo.

.92-143: Juliet sides with Romeo against her cousin Tybalt and sees that things could be worse, except that Romeo is banishèd. With that in mind she says, "I'll to my wedding bed; / And death, not Romeo, take my maidenhead!" (136-37), a strong satement of the motif of Death as Juliet's groom.

Romance Rules (continued): In the Anglican wedding service given in The Book of Common Prayer of 1559, both husband and wife must make this promise: "And forsaking all other[s] keep only unto" the wife or husband "so long as . . . both shall live" (Folger edn. 291-92). I'm told that means they just promise not to have sex with anyone else, but what it bloody well says is "forsaking all other," and in Romance Rules that can become pretty literal. At least in cases of conflict, one is always to side with the beloved, even against family and old friends. Juliet does so.

3.3: Friar Laurence's Cell (as informal sanctuary): Philosophy

.1-28: Friar Laurence tells Romeo that Romeo is banished, and Romeo doesn't take the news well: "Ha, banishment? Be merciful, say 'death'" on the good Romantic grounds that "There is no world without Verona walls" Juliet being in Verona, "But purgatory, torture, hell itself."

Romance Rules (continued): In John Donne's early 17th-c. poem, "The Sun Rising" the Speaker says of his beloved, "She is all states," and assigns to himself the role of all princes, adding: "Nothing else is." For really hard-core, ideal, radical-subjectivist Romantics, this is almost literally true. Or, in Romeo's formulation, that which is where the beloved is not, is only in the sense that hell is (and, in some theology, is not, being in itself Negation).

.29-70: Romeo and the Friar argue philosophy, with the Friar saying rather pretentiously "Let me dispute with thee of thy estate" and Romeo getting the effective come-back, "Thou canst not speak of that thou dost not feel" (63-64). Still, Romeo throws himself upon the floor (of the stage), quite likely disappearing for the "groundlings": the audience members standing or sitting on the floor around the stage. They may laugh at that, and many of us might find Romeo getting a little whiny.

.71-164: Nurse enters and Friar finally gets to "dispute" with Romeo, giving "good counsel," the Nurse thinks: "O, what learning is!"

" Friar appeals to Romeo's manhood: "Thy tears are womanish" (again, the Macho Rule is "Big boys," let alone men, "don't cry"), and "thy wild acts denote / The unreasonable fury of a beast" (110-11).

" Friar alludes to "powder in a skilless soldier's flask" (powder horn) being set afire, which fits in with the "fire/powder" imagery (although perhaps in ways the Friar wouldn't like).

" Major argument, the usual one: "Happiness courts thee in her best array" (with Lady Happiness, it seems, doing the wooing). I.e., look at all the ways things could be worse and be thankful for how lucky you are. If he were really lucky, he wouldn't be in this mess to begin with, of course, but: He's hardly an innocent victim, having killed Tybalt for revenge, and many of us won't identify with his self-pity, nor attempt at self-destruction.

In Franco Zeffirelli's film, the Friar slaps Romeo in through here, and I've been with audiences that have applauded the slap. Even in Zeffirelli's highly romantic film, where we're seduced into identification-even there the whining can annoy and alienate people so that, at least for a moment, even many young people can identify with the Friar, getting tired of putting up with this overgrown kid.

3.4: The elder Capulets and Paris

" If Romeo and Juliet are hasty, they may come by it naturally; Old Capulet is also hasty, and his wife, for all her love for Tybalt, goes along without saying a word. The time-scheme here gets tricky. What's important in that haste with which the marriage is arranged by these respectable folks.

" Capulet has shown in his first talk with Paris that he knows the enlightened theory for arranging children's marriages (1.2); that knowledge doesn't seem to influence his actions with business in hand and a Great Idea! in his head.

" Again Capulet as a partying kind of guy, and damn nice-so long as he gets his way.


3.5: Busy Morning at the Capulets

DAWN SONG: Romeo and Juliet after Consummating Marriage

In Spurgeon's time-scheme, "the lovers meet on Sunday, are wedded on Monday, part at dawn on Tuesday, and are reunited in death on the night of Thursday"-so if they're still in bed, this must be Tuesday.

.1-23: Juliet says Romeo heard the night-singing nightingale, "and not the lark"; Romeo has it "the lark, the herald of the morn"-and they don't want morning and day, because then he must leave. Note that the traditional reason the "he" must leave is that the woman's husband is coming home; Shakespeare (et al.) cleaned up the tradition, but kept the dawn song.

.24-34: Romeo clinches the argument with "Come death, and welcome! Juliet wills it so." She doesn't; again, she doesn't want a love-death as much as life together.

.36: "More light and light-more dark and dark our woes": Again, Romeo accepts and uses usually dark/light dichotomy, but with variations. (This variation was to become more extreme a bit later, with George Chapman, especially, and what was to be called "The School of Night.")

.54-58: Juliet's "ill-divining soul" comes up with an image suggesting Romeo low, in a tomb: foreshadowing and preparing for her next speech on Fortune (definitely personified here).

.60-64: "Fickle Fortune" is a cliché. If Fortune is fickle, she should avoid a constant, faithful lover like Romeo. Or, if she's fickle, she should turn her wheel and raise Romeo from low to high.

Romance Rules (continued): Having found the true beloved, a lover should be constant; the worst thing a Romantic lover can do is go fickle and betray the beloved by going for someone else.

Even in contemporary American culture, with our use of CHANGE (New! Improved!) as something good, we want commitment and constancy. This may explain why people have always rather liked tragic romances: the only way to get absolute constancy in humans is to get them dead.

Confrontation: Juliet and Her Parents over Marriage to Paris

.65-107: Romeo exits from Above area (in the staging Pelican and Riverside suggest), and Juliet comes down to talk with her Mother.

" Lady Capulet wants revenge, killing Romeo by having a hitperson give him "an unaccustomed dram" (i.e., poison [91]).

" Juliet-almost fourteen-years old-demonstrates a maturing sophistication in saying "Would none but I might venge my cousin's death!" (87): it's equivocation, but probably the best thing she can say to her mother.

.108-26: Consider the emotional roller coaster (well, maybe whirligig) Juliet is on: her parents start talking marriage; she sees Paris-big deal!-falls in love with Romeo, marries Romeo; Romeo murders her cousin (who'd already killed Mercutio and would've killed Romeo); Romeo is banishèd; they make love; Romeo leaves for Mantua-and now momma tells her she's marrying Paris! Ever have one of those weeks?

" Juliet raises obvious objection: "I wonder at this haste that I must wed / Ere he that should be husband comes to woo."

Enter Capulet and Nurse

.141: LADY Capulet on Juliet: "I would the fool were married to her grave!" Again, death as Juliet's groom but with foreshadowing, plus a contribution to the wisdom/folly motif. In what sense is Juliet a fool? In terms of the Religion of Love, she's been very wise.

.147-97: Confrontation with Capulet (picture this scene; there's an explicit potential for domestic violence):

An [if] you be mine, I'll give you to my friend;

An you be not, hang, beg, starve, die in the streets,

For, by my soul, I'll ne'er acknowledge thee,

Nor what is mine shall never do thee good.

Trust to't. Bethink you. I'll not be forsworn. (193-97)

Capulet when crossed is not a nice guy. Between his obligations to his "friend," Paris, and his to his word, on the one side, and his daughter on the other, Juliet loses. Like Egeus in A Midsummer Night's Dream (1.1), Capulet sees Juliet as either his possession or nothing.

Macho Rule: "A gentleman's word is his bond"; there are no faults worse than lying or breaking one's word. Like Henry IV, Old Capulet doesn't like the idea of an unworthy child (although Lancastrians in the Henry IV plays don't really lose control); like Henry V, Capulet really doesn't like his will crossed or betrayal in any sense.

NOTE: Like Egeus, Old Capulet is extreme in his possessiveness (and goes beyond Egeus in his rage [a bad passion]), but he is not crazy. In the Anglican wedding ceremony, after the man and woman have agreed to marriage, the minister asks "Who giveth this woman to be married unto this man?" "And the minister receiving the woman at her father or friend's hands, shall cause the man to take the woman by the right hand, and so either to give their troth to other" (Folger 292). The idea is that a woman until widowhood ideally goes from the control of her father to that of her husband, with each having some justification in feeling ownership. See Exodus 20.17, #10 in the Decalog; the construction suggests wives are equivalent to houses, slaves, and domestic animals: chattel, property. (Ashkenazi Jewish weddings in the US, anyway, have both parents, if living, deliver up the bride and groom respectively to each other; so, perhaps, there are forces working against a strictly patriarchal ideology.)

.198-205: Juliet appeals, "O sweet my mother, cast me not away" and alludes to having her "bridal bed / In that dim monument where Tybalt lies." Her mother deserts her. {THOUGHT EXPERIMENT: If Juliet were a Shakeapearean comic heroine young), what would she do now? See Hermia in A Midsummer Night's Dream and Rosalind and Celia in As You Like It.}

.206-44: Juliet and Nurse on Paris Problem

The movement of comedy, to repeat a cliché that's true, is toward integration of the protagonists into a new and better world, centering (as better worlds should) on them. The movement of tragedy is toward isolating the protagonist(s), stripping away all the social supports until we see the noble Self that remains. (It may be that the Self is an aristocratic and middle-class construct, but, then, so is the mode of tragedy.) Romeo has lost his "support group" with his banishment; next time we see him, he'll be alone. Juliet has many fewer friends, and she seems to have been left by everyone except the Nurse.

.213-14: Juliet to Nurse, "What say'st thou? Hast thou not a word of joy? Some comfort, nurse"; and the Nurse complete the line with "Faith, here it is."

.215-44: Nurse's advice and Juliet's rejection thereof-and of the Nurse.

" The Nurse is prudent, just immoral or amoral depending upon your morality. "I think it best you married with the County" makes sense if, basically, Romeo is "dead-or as good he were / As living here and you no use of him." I.e., from this point of view, marriage is about sex and whatever else one can get from the spouse. There's nothing she can get from Romeo, and there's little he can do about it: nothing publicly, and if he comes back to her "by stealth," well she can have Paris and him.

" Juliet rejects this "wisdom" and turns from the Nurse to the Friar.

Romance Rules (continued): Romantic lovers are fiercely monogamous and totally bonded to the other lover as an individual; "No Substitutions Allowed." (Contrast, "If You Can't Be With the One You Love, Love the One You're With" or "In the dark, all cats are gray" or "One pair of arms is like another / -It's all the same" [i.e., in the context of a song by a female whore to male customers, sexually all men are alike].)

" Like her father-they both use the same word-aristocratic Juliet will not be "forsworn"; in her case, however, the word is much more serious. Capulet's exit word "forsworn" (197) refers to the angry threats he's just made or to the hasty promise he made to Paris to give him Juliet, or to both; Juliet's "forsworn" refers to her marriage vows. Capulet's breaking his word would be very unmacho, very ungenteel; Juliet's breaking hers would be the crime of bigamy.

" Note well that Juliet isn't sure what's worse: Nurse's advising bigamy or her speaking ill of Romeo "with that same tongue / Which she hath praised him with above compare / So many thousand times" (239-241). One obvious question: When? (Like, when did the Nurse have time to talk of Romeo at all?) More important,

Romance Rules (continued): To dispraise the beloved of a disciple of the Religion of Love is like unto blasphemy.

" Juliet's rejection of the Nurse is an important step into adulthood. (Cf. and contrast Henry V's rejection of Falstaff at the end of Henry IV, Part II.)


.1-18: Friar with Paris: Note reference to Old Capulet's "wisdom" (maybe) and triple reference to "haste." If wisdom = haste in the world of Romeo and Juliet what might be folly?!?

.18-43: Juliet and Paris.

" In production, we probably see them dance or talk at the Capulet's party, but we don't have to. In the script this scene and the final scene at the tomb are the only times they must be together.

" Like Benvolio, Paris is a nice boy, in some ways better than Benvolio: we never hear Paris talk dirty. Why is he a loser in love, who ends up the play dead?

Romance Rules (continued): Merely nice boys finish last, if at all. That Romeo kills Tybalt and later Paris may argue in his favor, Romance-wise, insofar as it shows him capable of great passion.

Real Question (I pay my scholarly dues other ways, and I've never read a Harlequin Romance nor followed a soap opera): Has there ever been a Harlequin Romance or soap opera in which the male lead-the guy that the point-of-view girl or woman gets-is, so to speak, a nice accountant her aunt fixed her up with? There can be pornographic works with such a premise, where the wimpy accountant and the sweet young woman turn out to be demon lovers once they get it on-but: Can a nice guy that a woman's family, friends, shrink, and the woman herself think would be just great for her quickly turn out to be what he appears to be and still be a Romantic lead? If not, what are the implications for the socializing of all those girls who read Harlequin and other Romances and watch soap operas? («Now turn off that soap opera, girl, and watch Sex-God Actuaries Do Dallas!»???)

.44-127: Juliet and Friar

" Again with the suicide threat! This time from Juliet (see 3.3.105 f. for Romeo trying to kill himself). If we blame the Friar, and we should, for coming up with so Baroque a scheme, we should mitigate the blame this far: Juliet used a suicide threat as emotional blackmail to get him to come us with something.

" Shakespeare very carefully establishes the time-scheme here: today is Tuesday; tomorrow is Wednesday; Juliet should take the potion Wednesday night; and the potion works for exactly 42 hours. (1) Ah, isn't science wonderful! (2) Capulet's hastily putting forward the wedding one day, and Juliet's (and Lady Capulet's) failure to protest sufficiently even that-possibly from "womanish fear" (119)-would put some of the blame for the finals disaster back on Capulet, Lady Capulet, and Juliet. For whatever reasons, and significantly I think, that does NOT happen: Shakespeare instead has the message to Romeo stopped by what seems to be chance (Fate? Providence?). So this well-laid scheme leads to disaster because of what seems to be the sheer perversity of things.


Note Juliet's increasing cunning; she lies well here. And Capulet sets the date up ahead (24) with only scant protest from his Lady and none from Juliet (35 f.).

4.3: JULIET TAKES THE POTION (Tues. night; she'll awake Thurs. p.m.)

.1-5: Juliet doesn't lie to the Nurse, but she does mislead her.

.6-13: Juliet takes leave of her mother and the Nurse.

.14-58: Juliet's second soliloquy. The first was her prothalamion looking forward to night, her bridal bed, and making love with Romeo. Same locale-Juliet's space-but now, "My dismal scene I needs must act alone": it's just her and her vial. Note well her courage and determination; she has grown into a tragic heroine. Cf. and contrast her drinking off the vial with Romeo's drinking off the poison in the last scene (recall Lady Capulet's reference to poisoning Romeo; she doesn't have to: Romeo supplies her revenge).

4.4: Wedding Preparations: Pelican marks a scene division here, having Juliet fall back "upon her bed within the curtains"; Riverside has one continuous scene for 4.3.-4.5 (and Laurel has scene shifts, in the manner of the 19th-c. stage).

.1-29: Scene starts at 3 a.m. and goes to dawn. Note very well Capulet's enthusiasm about another party, and his typifying "Hie, make haste, / Make haste!"

4.5 (definitely not a new scene)

.1-32: Discovery of "dead" Juliet, initial lamentations.

.33-95: Enter Friar, Paris, and attending Musicians

" Capulet tells Paris, "O son, the night before thy wedding day / Hath Death lain with thy wife" somewhat bathetically bringing to a temporary conclusion the Death as bridegroom motif.

" Most of the "O woeful day!" stuff is cut in the productions I've seen. Should the audience feel sorry for the Capulets, Nurse, and Paris? Should any sympathy be undercut by our snickering a bit at their pain? How would you handle this part of the scene?

(This is fairly important for issues of identification and alienation. If we laugh at these people in their pain, that will alienate us from them, and we must be alienated a bit initially to laugh. [What kind of horrible people are we to laugh at others in pain? Well, we're good; therefore the pain, and those others, must be laughable.] If we're identifying with the young and cool, the only two left are Romeo and Juliet, and both are currently unavailable. So maybe we're supposed to snicker just a bit.)

" The Friar's lines are more serious: Heaven as Goal (finis) and how she's "advanced" there now and that should be OK: "For though fond nature [= foolish human nature] bids us all lament, / Yet nature's tears are reason's merriment" (82-83). Thank God he's deceiving them here! His lines help show the limitations of reason in this play and generally. Also, for the end of the play I don't think we want to think about "eternal life." As Hamlet says, "The rest is silence." These are Catholic lovers in a Catholic Verona with a mostly Anglican audience that accepted a lot of Catholic doctrine: definitely including what "eternal life" would be for suicides.

.96-41: Again, the Clown was Will Kemp, and he played Peter, and Will Kemp was a major shareholder. «This schtick's for you, Will!» Would you keep it in a production you directed?

5.1: Romeo in Mantua

.1-11: Romeo's first soliloquy.

" If Juliet had been on an emotional roller coaster, Romeo also gets his ride.

" Romeo's dream presages his finding Juliet in the tomb, with some hints Romeo might get if he'd just slow down a bit.

.12-32: Romeo and Balthasar

" Balthasar speaks of Juliet, dead as "well."

" Learning the horrible news, Romeo speaks briefly and succinctly: "Is it e'en so? Then I defy you, stars!" Romeo seems convinced he's fated for disaster.

" Balthasar gives good advice to Romeo, "I do beseech you, sir, have patience." Note also Romeo's expectation of letters from the Friar.

.33-86: Romeo and Apothecary: Note Romeo and "hasty powder fired" and "fatal cannon's womb"-these phrases pick up motifs.


Friar John tells Friar Laurence about the "Unhappy fortune" that Romeo didn't get the letter, and that "Within this three hours will fair Juliet wake." See above for Shakespeare's dropping Capulet's advancing the wedding date by a day

5.3 Death Scene

.1-21: Paris with Page, who's sent off (cf. Balthasar below, and symmetry of opening scene of Romeo and Juliet). Paris reads his poem (a sonnet sestet): it's not too bad, but Romeo, as the critics note, is beyond sonneteering.

.22-74: Romeo and Paris fight.

" Trying to placate Paris, Romeo calls him "gentle youth," and contrasts that with himself as "a desp'rate man." When Paris tries to apprehend Romeo, Romeo asks rhetorically, "Wilt thou provoke me?" and goes at him with "Then have at thee, boy." We don't have to accept it, but Romeo constructs the situation as himself as a man against a willful boy. If we do accept that construction, what should we make of Romeo the man killing the boy, Paris? That may make Romeo less likable but more tragic; see note below. See above for question of whether or not it makes him more Romantic.

.74-87: Romeo puts Paris into the tomb with Juliet and presents to us the tomb as "a triumphant grave," like a lighthouse (containing the sun-like Juliet), and a feasting room.

It all seems fascinating but a little kinky to me: The tryst in the tomb is one thing, but this is a kind of foursome, associated with a banquet: Juliet, Paris, Romeo, and Death. (Cf. Othello's 3-on-a-death bed, and 4 in the film with Kenneth Branagh playing an Ernest-Jones's-theory Iago, sexually attracted to Laurence Fishburne's Othello.)

.88-120: Romeo's Death Speech

.88-91: Another use of lightning, which should remind us of the motif of Romeo and Juliet's love as a kind of lightning in the darkness.

.91-102: Juliet still looks good. Along with Romeo's dream of revival, that might be a hint to him that something unusual is going on here. The knowledge that Juliet lives, though, might or might not do him much good: he's just killed the Count of Paris, a relative of the Prince of Verona, and it's hard to picture his being allowed to escape with Juliet to a peaceful life somewhere.

In Shakespeare's England the penalty for serious felonies was death by hanging, and serious felonies started with theft of anything as valuable as a sheep, and they'd hang even older children (it'd be wrong to execute someone under the age of reason: 7). Genteel sorts and anyone who could read a bit of Latin weren't treated so harshly. Still, so far Romeo: stole a marriage with a girl not yet 14, alienating her affection from the Count of Paris; arguably took part in a duel after the Prince explicitly threatened death for any more brawling-a duel which resulted in the death of the Prince's kinsman Mercutio; killed Tybalt, a gentleman of a rival House in Verona; illegally purchased poison in Mantua; killed the Count of Paris (his rival for the love of Juliet); and broke into the Capulet family tomb for God-know's what grotesque purpose-all in a four-day crime spree.

.102-20: Romeo completes here the motif of Death as Juliet's groom and uses it for justification for staying with Juliet. He drinks to Juliet and dies cool: He has the nicely ironic line, "O true apothecary! / Thy drugs are quick"-both speedy and "alive"-followed by the very Romantic, "Thus with a kiss I die."

.120-47: Friar Laurence comes to get Juliet and prevent a disaster. He comes too late; in this case, more haste might have been a good idea.


" Juliet awakes, and the Friar tells her "A greater power than we can contradict / Hath thwarted our intents." In the Friar's mouth, that "greater power" might be chance (see 147) or Fortune (see his "unthrifty" [136]) or Fate, but most likely God and God's Providence.

" Prudent until the end, the Friar tries to get Juliet to go with him where he can "dispose" of her "Among a sisterhood of holy nuns." And then he hears the approaching watch and splits, leaving Juliet again alone (well, except for the two bodies).

.160-70: Juliet says to the fleeing Friar, "Go, get thee hence, for I will not away" and tries to use Romeo's poison to die. Her churlish husband has drunk it all, and so, when she hears the watch get quite close, she stabs herself, dying more macho-ly than Romeo (contrast Cleopatra in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra).

.171-end: Denouement

" An interesting critical question is why Shakespeare wanted so long an ending. Why have the Prince get the story of what happened from the Friar, Balthasar, and the Prince's Boy? I have no answer to that beyond the obvious one that for some reason the rational understanding of this tragedy of great passion is important.

" Note that Shakespeare kills off Lady Montague. Now the actor who played her probably played Balthasar or doubled for someone else during this scene, but we haven't seen her since the opening of the play and don't need to know why she didn't make it out to the tomb. (For all we know or care, she could be on the way to Mantua with clothes and books for Romeo.) Perhaps Shakespeare felt that three bodies would be insufficient for an Elizabethan tragedy.

Shakespeare, with little originality here, moves comedies toward weddings and tragedies toward funerals. The more happy couples, the merrier the comedy; the more bodies, the more tragic the tragedy. (Elizabethan drama had a direct, uncomplicated approach to the dramatic modes.)

" The Prince states the MORAL:

Where be these enemies? Capulet, Montague,

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 [= pair] of kinsmen. All are punished.

The deaths, though, bring a reconciliation (as the Chorus promised us at the beginning), so we have a kind of comic ending: a new and better world coalescing around a central couple, except they're dead, and there's Paris there, for a threesome.

" The Prince tells us there "never was a story of more woe / Than this of Juliet and her Romeo." The order makes the rime easy, but it also suggests that Juliet is central (although giving climax position to "Romeo"). Juliet is also the last to die. So: Is this the story of Romeo and Juliet or "of Juliet and her Romeo"?

Could Shakespeare present a play from a woman's point of view? Can we see this play from Juliet's p-o-v whatever Shakespeare intended? Can we do so without doing a "resistant reading" and going against the text?%

[back to top]

Study Guide for Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet



Focus on Shakespearean Films. Ed. Charles W. Eckert. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: PrenticeHall, 1972.

Jorgens, Jack. J. Shakespeare on Film. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1977.



Romeo and Juliet. Dir. Franco Zeffirelli. UK/Italy: BHE Verona Productions, Dino de Laurentis Cinematografica, 1968. Distributor: Paramount. 138 min.



Producers: Anthony Havelock-Allan, John Brabourne

Director: Franco Zeffirelli

Photography: Pasquale De Santis

Editor: Reginald Mills

Design: Trnzo Mongiardino, Danilo Donati

Script: Franco Brusati, Masolino D'Amico

Music: Nino Rota

Sound: Sash Fisher

Prolog & Epilog (Chorus): Laurence Olivier

Romeo: Leonard Whiting

Juliet: Olivia Hussey

Balthazar: Keith Skinner

Gregory: Richard Warwick

Friar Laurence: Milo O'Shea

Paris: Robert Biasco

Tybalt: Michael York

Benvolio: Bruce Robinson

Mercutio: John McEnery

Nurse: Pat Heywood

Montague: Antonio Pierfederici

L. Montague: Esmeralda Ruspoli

Capulet: Paul Hardwick

L. Capulet: Natasha Parry

Peter: Roy Holder

Friar John: Aldo Miranda

Prince of Verona: Robert Stephens




1. Jorgens analyzes Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet into 31 scenes, starting with Verona (generally) and then moving into the Square, then around Verona, then very briefly to the road to Mantua and Mantua for Romeo's learning of Juliet's "death," then back to Verona, for the final scenes in the tomb and (last scene) back to the Square. Consider how well or poorly Zeffirelli establishes for us the world of Romeo and Juliet through Shakespeare's words and his own images. Note especially his use of visuals to stress the heat of Verona and haste vs. slowness (including the elegant use of visuals to show why Romeo didn't learn of the fake-death scheme).


2. William Shakespeare isn't credited with the script for this movie, about which he might well have complained. Might Shakespeare have any other legitimate complaints about this translation of his play to film? E.g., in Shakespeare's day one would go to hear a play. Music aside, is Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet more of a visual treat than an aural one?


3. What do you make of the casting for this version of Romeo and Juliet? An old joke has it that when an actress is old enough to play Juliet, she's too old to play Juliet. Was Olivia Hussey the right age to play Juliet? Leonard Whiting for Romeo? I very much liked John McEnery's Mercutio; a friend of mine who's directed the play for academic theatre really disliked the way Zeffirelli directed (or allowed) McEnery to act the role; what's your view?

[back to top]

Study Guide for Baz Luhrmann's 1996

William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet



Romeo and Juliet. Baz Luhrmann, dir., script, prod. Mexico/USA: 20th Century Fox, 1996. 120 min.



Producers: Luhrmann, Gabriella Martinelli

Director: Baz Luhrmann

Music: Nellee Hooper

Photography: Don McAlpine

Costume Design: Kim Barrett

Editor: Jill Bilcock

Production Design: Catherine Martin

Script: Craig Pierce, Baz Luhrmann


Romeo: Leonardo DiCaprio

Juliet: Clair Danes

Father Laurence: Pete Postlethwaite

Captain Prince: Vondie Curtis-Hall

Tybalt: John Leguizamo

Balthazar: Jesse Bradford

Mercutio: Harold Perrineau

Apothecary: E. Emmet Walsh

Ted Montague: Brian Dennehy

Caroline Montague: Christina Pickles

Fulgencio Capulet: Paul Sorvino

Gloria Capulet: Diane Venora


1. William Shakespeare has title credit with this film, so I guess he couldn't complain about not getting a more conventional credit; still might he have legitimate complaints about this translation of his play to film? E.g., in Shakespeare's day one would go to hear a play. How well does Shakespeare's poetry come through in this version? Shakespeare wrote a Romantic Tragedy in Romeo, set in wondrous Verona; is Luhrmann's City a setting for romantic love--or a postmodern tale of death?

2. The end of Romeo and Juliet has a reconciliation between the families, imaged in the 1968 Franco Zeffirelli movie with an overhead shot of the Capulets and Montagues mourning together,imaged also in the play and film West Side Story. Any indication of a unification of the City in Luhrmann's Romeo & Juliet? If we see the Capulets and Montagues as major crime families in (Mexico) City, should we want them to reconcile?

3. In Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, the lowest ranking couple is Helena and Demetrius: she's a doting masochist, and he marries her under the influence of a drug (which we may see as a cure for him--or not). If Romeo here is tripping on LSD (or whatever) when he falls in love with Juliet, how worthy should we see his love?

[back to top]