In what way do Romeo and Juliet break gender conventions? How do these roles fluctuate throughout the play?
At the beginning of the play, the young lovers' behavior reverses common gender conventions – Romeo acts in a way that his friends call feminine, while Juliet exhibits masculine qualities. Romeo is by no means an archetypal Elizabethan man; he is disinterested in asserting his physical power like the other male characters in the play. Instead, Romeo chooses to stew in his pensive melancholy. On several instances, Romeo's companions suggest that his introspective behavior is effeminate. On the other hand, Juliet exhibits a more pronounced sense of agency than most female characters in Shakespeare's time. While the women around her, like her mother, blindly act in accordance with Lord Capulet's wishes, Juliet proudly expresses her opinion. Even when she has lost a battle (like when Lord Capulet insists she consider marrying Paris), she demonstrates a shrewd ability to deflect attention without committing to anything. In her relationship with Romeo, Juliet clearly takes the lead by insisting on marriage and proposing the plan to unite them. As the play progresses, Romeo starts to break out of his pensive inaction to the point that Mercutio notices this change. Romeo also makes a great shift from his cowardly attempt at suicide in Act III to his willful decision in Act V. Overall, Romeo and Juliet are arguably a good match because they are so distinct. Juliet is headstrong, while Romeo is passive until passion strikes and inspires him to action.
Contrast Romeo's attempted suicide in Act 3 with his actual suicide in Act 5. How do these two events reveal changes in his character and an evolving view of death?
Romeo considers suicide in both Act 3 and Act 5. In Act 3, Romeo's desire to take his own life is a cowardly response to his grief over killing Tybalt. He is afraid of the consequences of his actions and would rather escape the world entirely than face losing Juliet. Both Friar Laurence and the Nurse criticize Romeo for his weakness and lack of responsibility - taking the knife from his hands. In contrast, Romeo actually does commit suicide in Act V because he sees no other option. He plans for it, seeking out the Apothecary before leaving Mantua, and kills himself out of solidarity with Juliet, not because he is afraid. While suicide is hardly a defensible action, Romeo's dual attempts to take his life reveal his growing maturity and his strengthened moral resolve.
Several characters criticize Romeo for falling in love too quickly. Do you believe this is true? Does his tendency towards infatuation give the audience occasion to question Romeo's affection for Juliet?
This question obviously asks for a student opinion, but there is evidence to support both sides of the argument. In Act 2, Friar Laurence states his opinion that Romeo does indeed fall in love too quickly. Romeo is arguably in love with being in love more than he is in love with any particular woman. The speed with which his affections shift from Rosaline to Juliet – all before he ever exchanges a word with the latter – suggests that Romeo's feelings of 'love' are closer to lust than commitment. This interpretation is supported by the numerous sexual references in the play, which are even interwoven with religious imagery in Romeo and Juliet's first conversation. However, it also possible to argue that Romeo's lust does not invalidate the purity of his love. Romeo and Juliet celebrates young, passionate love, which includes physical lust. Furthermore, whereas Romeo was content to pine for Rosaline from afar, his love for Juliet forces him to spring into action. He is melancholy over Rosaline, but he is willing to die for Juliet. Therefore, a possible reading is that Romeo and Juliet's relationship might have been sparked by physical attraction, but it grew into a deep, spiritual connection.
Examine the contrast between order and disorder in Romeo and Juliet. How does Shakespeare express this dichotomy through symbols, and how do those motifs help to underline the other major themes in the play?
The contrast between order and disorder appears from the Prologue, where the Chorus tells a tragic story using the ordered sonnet form. From that point onwards, the separation between order and disorder is a common theme. Ironically, violence and disorder occurs in bright daylight, while the serenity of love emerges at night. The relationship between Romeo and Juliet is uncomplicated without the disorderly feud between their families, which has taken over the streets of Verona. The contrast between order and disorder underscores the way that Shakespeare presents love - a safe cocoon in which the lovers can separate themselves from the unpredictable world around them. At the end of the play, it becomes clear that a relationship based on pure love cannot co-exist with human weaknesses like greed and jealousy.
Many critics note a tonal inconsistency in Romeo and Juliet. Do you find the shift in tone that occurs after Mercutio's death to be problematic? Does this shift correspond to an established structural tradition or is it simply one of Shakespeare's whims?
After the Prologue until the point where Mercutio dies in Act III, Romeo and Juliet is mostly a comic romance. After Mercutio dies, the nature of the play suddenly shifts into tragedy. It is possible that this extreme shift is merely the product of Shakespeare's whims, especially because the play has many other asides that are uncharacteristic of either comedy or tragedy. For example, Mercutio's Queen Mab speech is dreamy and poetic, while the Nurse's colorful personality gives her more dimension than functional characters generally require. However, it is also possible to see the parallels between this tonal shift and the play's thematic contrast between order and disorder. Shakespeare frequently explored the human potential for both comedy and tragedy in his plays, and it is possible that in Romeo and Juliet, he wanted to explore the transition from youthful whimsy into the complications of adulthood. From this perspective, the play's unusual structure could represent a journey to maturity. Romeo grows from a petulant teenager who believes he can ignore the world around him to a man who accepts the fact that his actions have consequences.
Eminent literary critic Harold Bloom considers Mercutio to be one of Shakespeare's greatest inventions in Romeo and Juliet. Why do you agree or disagree with him? What sets Mercutio apart?
One of Shakespeare's great dramatic talents is his ability to portray functional characters as multi-faceted individuals. Mercutio, for example, could have served a simple dramatic function, helping the audience get to know Romeo in the early acts. Then, his death in Act 3 is a crucial plot point in the play, heightening the stakes and forcing Romeo to make a life-changing decision. Mercutio barely appears in Arthur Brooke's Romeus and Juliet, which Romeo and Juliet is based on. Therefore, Shakespeare made a point of fleshing out the character. In Mercutio's Queen Mab speech, Shakespeare has the opportunity to truly delve into the bizarre and often dangerous sexual nature of love. Further, Mercutio's insight as he dies truly expresses the horrors of revenge, as he declares a plague on both the Montague and Capulet families. He is the first casualty of their feud - and because he transcends functionality, the audience mourns his untimely death and can relate to Romeo's capricious revenge.
How does Shakespeare use symbols of gold and silver throughout the play? What does each element represent?
Shakespeare uses gold and silver as symbols to criticize human folly. He often invokes the image of silver to symbolize pure love and innocent beauty. On the other hand, he uses gold as a sign of greed or desire. For example, Shakespeare describes Rosaline as immune to showers of gold, an image that symbolizes the selfishness of bribery. Later, when Romeo is banished, he comments that banishment is a "golden axe," meaning that banishment is merely a shiny euphemism for death. Finally, the erection of the golden statues at the end of the play is a sign of the fact that neither Lord Capulet nor Lord Montague has really learned anything from the loss of their children. They are still competing to claim the higher level of grief. Romeo, however, recognizes the power of gold and rejects it - through him, Shakespeare suggests a distinction between a world governed by wealth and the cocoon of true love.
Do a character analysis of Friar Laurence. What motivates him? In what ways does this motivation complicate his character?
Friar Laurence is yet another character who transcends his functional purpose. When Romeo first approaches the Friar to plan his marriage to Juliet, the older man questions the young man's sincerity, since Romeo openly pined for Rosaline only a few days before. However, the Friar shows a willingness to compromise by agreeing to marry the young lovers nevertheless. What ultimately motivates Friar Laurence is his desire to end the feud between the Capulets and the Montagues, and he sees Romeo and Juliet's marriage as a means to that end. While his peaceful intentions are admirable, his devious actions to achieve them – conducting a marriage that he explicitly questions – suggests he is more driven by politics than by an internal moral compass. The fact that a religious figure would compromise one of the Church's sacraments (marriage) further suggests that the Friar wants his power to extend beyond the confines of his Chapel. He also displays his hubris by helping Juliet to fake her death, rather than simply helping her get to Mantua to be with Romeo. While Friar Laurence is not an explicit villain, his internal contradictions speak to Shakespeare's ability to create multi-faceted characters.
Should Romeo and Juliet be considered a classical tragedy (in which fate destroys individuals)? Or is it more a tragedy of circumstance and personality? Moreover, could the tragic ending of Romeo and Juliet have been avoided?
In classical tragedy, an individual is defeated by Fate, despite his or her best efforts to change a pre-determined course of events. A classical tragedy both celebrates an individual's willpower while lamenting the fact that the universe cannot be bested by mankind. The tragic elements in Romeo and Juliet are undeniable - two young lovers want nothing more than to be together and fall victim to an ancient feud and rigid societal conventions. However, while Romeo and Juliet's deaths result from human folly, the immovable power of fate also has a hand in sealing their destinies. For instance, Romeo and Juliet had many opportunities to simply run away together instead of being separated after Romeo is banished from Verona. Furthermore, many of the tragic occurrences are contingent on antagonistic characters running into one another, and then choosing to pursue vengeance rather than simply walk away. Based on this evidence, it is possible to read Shakespeare's intent as suggesting that behavioral adjustment can often prevent tragic events.
How is Romeo and Juliet a criticism of organized religion? Examine the play's secularism to develop your answer.
While Romeo and Juliet does not present explicit attacks against religion, Shakespeare reveals his skepticism of Christianity in subtle ways. In many ways, Romeo and Juliet must reject the tenets of Christianity in order to be together. In their first meeting, they banter, using religious imagery to share their sexual feelings. In this exchange, the lovers acknowledge the omnipresence of Christianity, but cheekily use religious images in an unexpected context. Further, Christian tradition would have required Juliet to submit to her father's desire, but instead, she manipulates his expectations to distract him from her real agenda. Even Friar Laurence, an explicitly religious figure, uses Christianity as a tool towards his own ends. In this way, the play implicitly suggests that the rigid rules of religion often work in opposition to the desires of the heart - and to pursue true happiness, one must throw off the shackles of organized faith.