Thursday, February 19, 2015

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

"For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo."
Act V, Scene iii

(This is the first review for my 2015 Reading Challenge! I will be reviewing according to plot, characters, theme, word choice/diction/syntax.)

Summary: The Montague family and the Capulet family are feuding. Romeo, a lovesick, young Montague falls in love with Juliet, the daughter of the head Capulet. Their romance (and stupidity...) causes many deaths.

My rating: 7/10 stars.

Plot: What can I say... it's Romeo and Juliet. A teenage boy falls in love with a 13-year-old girl; they get married; they make some bad decisions; they die. It's a pretty stupid story... So, why can everyone quote from Romeo and Juliet, whether they know they are or not? Examine the following passages from Act II, Scene ii (aka, the famous "balcony scene").

"But soft! what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun."

"O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?"

"What's in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

So, why is Romeo and Juliet one of the most popular, enduring stories of all time?
I believe Romeo and Juliet's allure lies in its love story and in its message. Romeo and Juliet isn't so much a love story as an infatuation. Romeo sees Juliet across a crowded room... he falls instantly in love. Before the party is over they have sequestered themselves in a corner and are kissing. The next day, they marry.
Our culture is obsessed with love stories; especially love stories where the love is instantaneous, "unending," and passionate. If the story ends unhappily it adds to the appeal, for sad stories tug at the heartstrings.
So, why is our culture obsessed with love stories? Because perfect, earthly love eludes us. At a young age we are indoctrinated with the idea of "true love." Most movies, television shows, and books include a love story where the couple are "perfect" for each other. He adores her and she finds her identity in that adoration. Unfortunately, real life doesn't work like that. People are flawed and, therefore, relationships are flawed. When we base ourselves and our expectations in earthly relationships, we will only find disappointment. Watching "perfect" love stories unfold in fiction gives us hope that somewhere out there is The One... All the disappointing relationships we've had already are just stepping stones—"practice"—for The One. Only, The One doesn't exist, because there are no perfect relationships on earth. Even "perfect" relationships in fiction aren't perfect, because they are missing the most important element. Yet, we still search for perfection...
It's a vicious cycle.
The reason we search so hard for perfect, earthly love is because we've chosen to disregard the only perfect love out there: the love of Jesus Christ, when he died on the cross to save us all from our sins. He wants a relationship with us—a relationship that will be perfect in heaven—but we push him away, and try to fulfill our longing with flawed, earthly relationships.
That's why people love love stories so much.
In the end, however, Romeo and Juliet is a testament to the failure of earthly love. Romeo and Juliet fall in love quickly and passionately and, for a few short hours, everything seems perfect. Then reality shatters their illusion. They are reminded of their feuding families. Romeo killed Juliet's cousin. This posed a problem because Romeo was exiled, and Juliet was promised to another man (because her father didn't know that she had secretly married Romeo). Due to miscommunication, Romeo and Juliet and a host of others end up dead. Their love was not perfect; it caused many problems.
One message to take away from Romeo and Juliet is don't expect everything to fall into place immediately just because it's "true love." As Friar Laurence says, "Wisely and slow, they stumble that run fast." Or, as another wise sage says, "Don't be hasty, bararoom."

Characters: O, Romeo, Romeo! *shakes head* Romeo met Juliet at a party, but did you know that he came to that party looking for ANOTHER girl? He was in love with a girl named Rosaline! She shuns him and, as a result, Romeo spends the first few scenes listlessly meandering around, bemoaning the fact that Rosaline doesn't love him. He comes to a party put on by his enemies, the Capulets, to find Rosaline, and ends up meeting Juliet instead, whom he falls desperately in love with. Friar Laurence sums it up quite nicely in Act II, Scene iii:

"Holy Saint Francis, what a change is here! Is Rosaline, that thou didst love so dear, so soon forsaken? young men's love then lies not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes."

Juliet grows from girl-to-woman over five days. When we first meet her, she says that marriage "is an honor that I dream not of." After meeting Romeo, she displays normal signs of a crush: stalking. Since she can't check Romeo's Facebook timeline, she gets Nurse to find out who Romeo is, and if he's married or not.  "...Dream[ing] not" of marriage soon turns into a desire for marriage ("If that thy bent of love be honourable, thy purpose marriage, send me word to-morrow... And all my fortunes at thy foot I'll lay, and follow thee my lord throughout the world"). After marrying Romeo, she decides to stay by his side, even after he kills her cousin. She shows the most growth out of all the characters.

Friar Laurence is Romeo and Juliet's confidant. He marries them (without telling their parents... um, child consent laws, anybody? Anybody? Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?) in hopes that their union will stop their family's feud. Later, he orchestrates the plan to bring Juliet and Romeo together again after Romeo is banished. He acts in what he believes to be the best interests of everyone; unfortunately, his good will doesn't stop things from going terribly, terribly wrong.

There are a myriad of colorful side characters including Romeo's friends Benvolio and Mercutio, Juliet's relatives Lord and Lady Capulet and Cousin Tybalt, Juliet's nurse, Lord Capulet's friend Paris, and the Prince of Verona. These characters act as comic relief or they insinuate dissension.

Theme: I already talked a bit about the theme of love in Romeo and Juliet, but there are other themes too. Hate, for one. The Montagues and the Capulets hate each other and this, obviously, plays a part in Romeo and Juliet's romance. The young lovers question family loyalty, but eventually choose each other, even if it incurs their family's wrath. (Such is the case of poor Juliet. When she refuses to marry Paris, because she's already married to Romeo, her parents threaten to shun her.)
I think honesty is a theme as well. What would have happened if Romeo and Juliet had told their parents that they had gotten married instead of keeping it secret? Would it have instigated one final confrontation between the families, or would it have brought peace?

Word choice/diction/syntax: Aka, what language the author used to portray his story. This includes word choice, sentence fluency, and the use of rhetorical devices and writing strategies.
I made a video about this because to do justice to Shakespeare and iambic pentameter, you really have to read it. (By the way... when I say "Capulet's speech," I mean "Capulet's invitation" :P)

Here is the video on Shakespearean original pronunciation that I mentioned:

Interesting fact: Romeo and Juliet is based on a poem called The Tragicall History of Romeus and Juliet, written less than 50 years before Shakespeare penned his play. You can read the poem here:

Favorite quotes:

"What say you? Can you love the gentleman?
This night you shall behold him at our feast.
Read o'er the volume of young Paris' face
And find delight writ there with beauty’s pen.
Examine every married lineament
And see how one another lends content,
And what obscured in this fair volume lies
Find written in the margin of his eyes.
This precious book of love, this unbound lover,
To beautify him only lacks a cover.
The fish lives in the sea, and ’tis much pride
For fair without the fair within to hide.
That book in many’s eyes doth share the glory
That in gold clasps locks in the golden story.
So shall you share all that he doth possess
By having him, making yourself no less."
Act I, scene iii, Lady Capulet (not Capulet, as I said in the video) comparing Paris to a book.
"We cannot be here and there too. Cheerily, boys; be brisk a while, and the longer liver take all."
Act I, scene v, 3rd serving man.

Welcome, gentlemen! Ladies that have their toes
Ah, my mistresses! Which of you all
Unplagued with corns will walk a bout with you.—
Will now deny to dance? She that makes dainty,
She, I’ll swear, hath corns.
Act I, scene v, Capulet, saying that any girl who does not dance must have corns on her feet.
"Come, he hath hid himself among these trees, to be consorted with the humerous night: blind is his love, and best befits the dark."
Act II, scene i, Benvolio talking of Romeo's love for Juliet.

Ready to go, but never to return.
O son! The night before thy wedding day
Hath death lain with thy wife. There she lies,
Flower as she was, deflowered by him.
Death is my son-in-law. Death is my heir.
My daughter he hath wedded. I will die,
And leave him all. Life, living, all is Death’s.
Act IV, scene v, Capulet, on discovering Juliet "dead" on the day of her impending marriage to Paris. 

Keep a weather-eye out for my review of Twilight.
Next month, I jump into the dystopian genre with 1984 by George Orwell.
Live long and prosper!

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful review! Romeo and Juliet is perhaps my least favorite of Shakespeare's plays. However, the first class I had to teach, I had to teach this play, and I discovered that therein lies the beauty of Romeo and Juliet - it is such a fantastic story for discussion, projects, and is a marvelous "Gateway" play into Shakespeare's more difficult works.