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Wednesday, 25 April 2012



                                                      Romeo and Juliet- a painting by Frank Bernard Dicksee,c 1884.
"Romeo and Juliet' is unmatched, in Shakespeare and in the world's literature, as a vision of an uncompromising mortal love that perishes of its own idealism and intensity.
 Shakespeare  wrote this play  much earlier in his career, probably in 1594 . It at once gained a popularity which it has never lost and can never lose and it has now gained a mythic intensity. Shakespeare was still young when he wrote this play and it has youth in its every scene. It is his first independent essay in tragedy and he writes it like one whose imagination is steeped in the raptures and the disasters of love.
    It seems from the way the events are put by him and their result worked out, that he conceived 'a power' behind the master-event who caused it and meant the conclusion to, which it was brought. That's why at the very outset in the prologue he names the lovers as 'a pair of star-crossed lovers'. This power may be called 'Destiny ' or 'Nemesis'. What Shakespeare does seem to think is : that, in the affairs of man, long-continued evil, such as the hatred of the Montagues and Capulets ( Romeo and Juliet's parents and clans) or the civil wars in England, was certain to be tragically broken up by the suffering it caused, and to  be dissolved in a reconciliation which should confess evil and establish its opposite good; and that this was the work of divine Justice.
      This is the idea which Shakespeare makes preside over 'Romeo and Juliet'. Here the work of justice is done through the sorrow and death of the innocent and the evil's attack is nullified through the sacrifice of the guiltless. Justice, as Shakespeare saw her, moving to issues which concern the whole, takes little note of the  sufferings of individuals. She uses therm, if they are good and loving, for her  great purposes, as if that were enough to make them not only acquiescent but happy! Romeo and Juliet, who are guiltless of the hatred of their clans, and who embody the loving-kindness which would do away with them, are condemned to mortal pain and sorrow of death.
      Shakespeare accepted the apparent injustice; and the impression made at the end upon us, which impression does not arise from the story itself, but steals into us from the whole work of Shakespeare on the story, is that Justice may have done right, though we do not understand her ways. Usually after the death of Romeo and Juliet the audience's interest in the play noticeably flags and the reconciliation of he Montagues and the Capulets makes little impression on them. But this reconciliation is the very victory of Romeo and Juliet's self-sacrifice on the altar of love!
       The tender love of the two lovers and its beauty, seen in their suffering, awakens so much pity and love that the guilty are turned away from their evil hatreds and the evil itself is destroyed. and with regard to the sufferings themselves, there is that - we feel with Shakespeare- in their pain and death which not only redeems and blesses the world they have left but which also lifts them into that high region of the soul where suffering and death seem changed into joy and life.  We think of them, but in a way we can not explain, no longer with pity, but  with a certainty that all is well with them, that they have arisen into a true happiness. Instead of mourning over their fate, we are content. We feel rather subconsciously that they are in that kingdom of the soul, and worthy of it, where the pain and death of earth are like dreams when one awakens, where what they have become through sufferings lives for the inspiration  of humanity and attracts its love.
      Here Shakespeare has shown us what befalls a young pair of lovers during a short span of just four days. It seems that he felt, and we all feel, that if such love as their can be taken up into a complete character, modified and controlled by the other noble qualities which go to form a large and generous nature , the world would be the better for such pure and sacred passion. Such, it appears to me, are the ethics of this play.
         And the personages by whom the lovers are encircled are so conceived as to become critics of ideal love from their several points  of view, honouring and exalting it by the inadequacy of their criticism. To old Capulet (Juliet's father), it seems that the passions of the heart are to be determined by parental authority. To Lady Capulet (Juliet's mother) marriage is an affair of worldly convenience. To the Nurse (attending on Juliet) it is satisfaction of a pleasurable instinct. Mercutio (Romeo's witty friend) is too intellectual to be capable of a passion in which the heart shows that it is superior to the brain and hence he mocks at love. The Friar (who tries his best to help the young lovers) views human passion from the quietude of the  cloisters and fails to understand that botany (in which he is an expert) is not the science of life.
         Night is the medium through which this play is felt and in which the lovers are most at home-night, together with fires that blaze in its depths for contrast and romance. 'Romeo and Juliet' maintains a brilliant shutter-movement of black and white, of cloud and lightening, of midnight and morning. At any rate the lovers' career derives its brilliance from the contrast we are made to feel between their  notion of day and night and the normal thought about such things. For them night is comfort and day is the image of distress. Normality is their foe, as it is at last their nemesis.
         One of the reasons for  the fame of this play is that it has so completely and closely isolated  the experience of romantic love. It has let such love speak for itself. The lovers' deep interest for us lies in their being alone in a world which does not understand them.
      The characters  created by Shakespeare change and grow in the course of action and in their growth they overtake each other. In this play Juliet overtakes Romeo. Let us now see the wonderful development of Juliet.

         In describing Juliet through Romeo's words, Shakespeare has underlined that radiance is the essence of her beauty which is in fact the expression of the purity of her soul:
             -'O she doth teach the torches to burn bright,
               Her beauty hangs upon the cheek of night
               Like a rich jewel in an Aetheop's ear.'
                     purity and innocence are inherent qualities of Juliet. The Nurse, who has little of moral conscience, has brought her up, but has not been able to spoil her. When Juliet is lifted into womanhood by love, and gains thereby moral power and spiritual passion, she sees the consciencelesss  character of this old woman, and when this nurse advices her to marry Paris, she flings the old wretch out of her heart:
         "Ancient damnation! O most wicked fiend!
           Thou and my bosom henceforth shall  be twain."
                     the real crisis in the story as well as  in the brief life of Juliet comes when she is pressed to marry Paris, Romeo being banished and away at Mantua. Her father is most insistant and her mother too leaves her to her fate, "Do as thou wilt, for i have done with thee." When she then turns to the Nurse, the old woman advices her to marry Paris. Despair now stares her in the face. here we realise her tragic loneliness. But she makes up her mind at once. She goes to see the Friar. and there she meets Paris. Though her heart is writhing within, she has sense and intelligence enough to to put him off by pretending that she has come to confess. After Paris takes his leave, Juliet seeks the Friar's advice in the critical and desperate situation (past hope, past cure, past help). All that she can think of is to kill herself with her knife if there is no other way out!
      Oh, how resolute she has become! She has become bold and mature enough to look death in the face. She will do anything to embrace death 'to live an unstain'd wife to her sweet love.'
      She takes the sleeping potion from the Friar and goes home 'with a woman's wild courage, but with a child's imaginative fears'. She shudders for a moment to think of the horrors of the tomb but thinks that the sleeping potion would really do its trick and keeps a dagger ready should it fail her. The potion takes its effect upon her, putting her  to a deep and almost deathlike sleep and it stiffens her body too. Hence everybody believes that she is dead and they take her to her family vault for burial.
         When she wakes up from her trance in that vault, she finds Romeo  lying dead by her. He had earlier entered into her vault after slaying the obstructing Paris and on finding  her 'dead', he had drank poison after taking her last kiss:
                  "..............................................And,lips,O you
                  The doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss
                  A dateless bargain to engrossing death!"
                        The Friar, who has ever been the good angel of Romeo and Juliet, comes there to take her away. But she will not part from her Romeo. She asks the Friar to leave and after his departure she searches for some leftover poison in Romeo's vial and on finding not even a drop, she snatches at Romeo's dagger and kills herself. She does not kill herself out of feminine weakness, but out of intensity of love, just as Romeo did. Yet, her suicide  actually requires more nerve than Romeo's; while he swallows poison, she stabs herself through the heart with a dagger.
           Juliet's development from wide eyed girl living in the shadows of her parents into a self-assured, determined and capable woman is one of Shakespeare's most confident and rounded treatments of a female character. Recognising Juliet's greatness of character, though he has called his play 'Romeo and juliet', that is to say, put Romeo's name first in the title, he finishes the play with the words of the Prince:
                      "Never was a story of more woe,
                        Than this of Juliet and her Romeo."

                                                            -AUTUMN ELIZA.



  1. I really enjoyed this. Always loved that play.

  2. Nice one Eliza- brings back memories when I first read this play...a special treat reading on your blog capturing the essence beautifully :)