Sample Questions1. At the end of the play the lovers become 'Juliet and her Romeo'. What might be Shakespeare's reasons for this?
Consider the portrayal of Romeo and Juliet as the play progresses. Romeo is rash and impetuous at the beginning; Juliet is quiet and more serious. This is clearly shown in the language of the lovers. Romeo uses elaborate expressions, inspired by Petrarch; Juliet speaks plainly. Juliet is suggested as being emotionally more mature than Romeo.
Consider Elizabethan society as a patriarchy and therefore the implications of this imbalanced portrayal of the lovers. Is Shakespeare critical of the restrictive treatment of women? And does the ending elevate Juliet above Romeo? Remember that she is very much alone throughout the play - the Nurse cannot sympathize with her love and her parents are authoritarian and controlling. From seeing Romeo as her escape she comes to rely solely on her wits. Her deliberation contrasts with Romeo's impatience, and while the latter endears him to us, and stresses his love, Juliet's reason is what gives the play its awful poignancy. Her cool reaction to fate slows down the tempo of the play, giving the terrible implications more impact.
2. 'Is it e'en so? Then I defy you, stars!' Could Romeo and Juliet have avoided their fate?
Romeo and Juliet are surrounded by people who cannot understand their love. These characters offer reasonable arguments and common sense and suggest that the passion of the lovers led to their death - if it was tempered, would they have lived? This depth of emotion leads them to act rashly, without consideration, and an Elizabethan audience would view their disobedience in marrying secretly as culpable. So is Shakespeare showing the lovers to be justly punished for this?
Consider Shakespeare's conception of tragedy in the play, of the lovers as victims of circumstances. Were they responsible for their death or was it due to misfortune? Romeo's impetuosity could be seen as compounding the chain of circumstances, but the lovers are not to blame for their families' feud. Furthermore what is so powerful about their love is the sense of its inevitability, that it is something they cannot govern or explain.
Explore the Elizabethan notion of fate and fortune in relation to the play - the reference to Romeo and Juliet as 'star-crossed lovers', Romeo and Juliet's foreboding and the curse laid by Mercutio on the Capulets and Montagues. Shakespeare shows through these devices that the lovers could do nothing to avoid their death and the audience views them as innocent victims.
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