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Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (1594-1596) is mostly based on Arthur brooke’s poem, “The Tragicall History of Romeus and Juliet”, published in 1562, which in itself was another translation from an Italian folklore which can be dated back many years. Shakespeare in turn, adapted brooke’s poem, his main source of inspiration, of a nine month duration poem into a play told in 5 acts, with each act representing one day, in turn, intensifying the outcome of the story.
An overview of the play is given to the public through the prologue. For the Elizabethan audience not to encounter any surprises during the play, Shakespeare uses a sonnet presented by a chorus. The sonnet which is conventionally used to write about love, forebodes and foreshadows what is to come in the play- its love and tragedy. A Shakespearean sonnet has 14 lines (each with 10 beats), is written in iambic pentameter and has a rhyming couplet at the end, it has a metrical beat. This increases the pace of the sonnet which foreshadows the play is intense and fast moving- just as love is. However, the sonnet, which represents love, juxtaposes with its violent message, showing the intertwining theme of love and violence. Shakespeare mentions two “star-cross’d lovers take their lives”. This further forebodes how these characters’ love for each other leads to a violent and fatal end. Furthermore, a 16th century audience would have been shocked by the fact the lovers’ “take their lives” as religion played a big role in everyday life.
It was obligatory to attend mass on Sundays at the time, if unable to attend, a fine would be payable, and marriage was not legit unless performed in church- religion could sometimes overpower the law. Moreover, “Star-cross’d” has connotations to destiny as the stars are unreachable and unchangeable, and if they’re “cross’d”, they cannot be made to meet- this is a persistent theme in the play. In religion, the five-pointed star, which is how night-time stars are depicted, represent Jesus’ birth and incarnation, bringing the theme of the “ fatal loins”, showing their ends were written in stone as soon as they were given birth to and how due to death, the “toil shall strive to mend”- showing a new beginning. It is used to show how love happens due to destiny- but so does violence (their death). Their fate is marked in the stars and is not meant to be, it also foreshadows how their death will cross; they will each cause the others’ end. Their love is metaphorically “death mark’d” further emphasizing their own deaths but also foreboding other deaths. It also references back to the idea that there is no choice- it is fate. The prologue also explores how the “two foes” fight whilst Romeo and Juliet’s relationship flourishes, adding to the overlap of love and violence.
Romeo is shown to be mourning the love he had for Rosaline through most of the first act. Whilst in lamentation for Rosaline’s unrequited love, Romeo says, “O brawling love, O loving hate”. This phrase shows how love and hate have a fine line between them. They are both strong. The oxymoron “Brawling love” reveals Romeo believes love is chaotic, and violent. This juxtaposes with “loving hate”, another oxymoron. These opposites show the proximity love and hate. Violence is a direct consequence from hatred and a secondary one due to love. Love causes loyalty and honour, the main cause of the family’s feud- as they hold grudges against each other. A scene in which this grudge held feud evolves is Act 1 Scene 5. This is where Romeo, Benvolio and Mercutio crash Capulet’ party. In the scene before this, Romeo asks if “love is a tender thing” and the use of a hypophora when he responds and says “ it is too rough”, referring to Rosaline’s unrequited love. Therefore, when the audience sees he immediately falls in love with Juliet, his immaturity towards love is show.
This contrast could be said to be based on Brooke’s poem as Shakespeare maintains a favourable attitude toward the characters in the play, whereas Brooke passes moral judgement on the characters, something Shakespeare is making the audience subconsciously do. In his “Note to the reader”, he expresses his belief that Romeo and Juliet are punished for their immoral conduct as marriage was an arrangement made by parents to achieve social or monetary power. Brooke mentions “God’s goodness, wisdom, and power” and references to lust, one of the seven deadly sins, which is what he believes led to their end. Love in the 16th century, should be based on gift and letter exchange. Romeo’s love for Juliet is mostly shown to be an infatuation.
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