Romeo e Giulietta  The story of Romeo and Juliet was originally told by the Italian storyteller Matteo  Bandello. It is set in Verona, Italy, and it tells the tragic love story of two young lovers who come from rival families : Capulets and   Montagues. The families oppose their love and , after many troubles, they die for this. Romeo, the son of Lord Montague, accidentally finds out about a ball given by Lord Capulet and plans to attend uninvited  because he wants to meet Rosaline, Juliet’s cousin. He is   deeply in love with her but she does not love him back. He wears a mask to disguise his identity . In the course of the feast, he meets Juliet, Lord Capulet’s daughter. They fall  in love at first sight   and   the following  day are secretly married by Friar Laurence, their confessor, who hopes to reconcile the two families through their union. That same day Romeo is involved   in a street quarrel. His friend Mercutio is killed by   Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin and Romeo kills Tybalt in revenge. Mercutio’s and Tybalt’s death is the tragic turn in the play.   As a consequence, Romeo   is banished from the town by the Prince of Verona. After spending their  wedding night together , they separate and Romeo goes to Mantua on exile.  The noble Paris wants to marry Juliet and her   father, who   knows nothing of the secret marriage, arranges the wedding ceremony for the next day. Juliet refuses and  asks  Friar Laurence to help her escape the marriage. The friar suggests her  to take a potion he will give  her,  which would put her in a deathlike deep sleep.  The Friar will send a letter to Romeo informing him about the plan. Seeing no other way out, Juliet agrees. Unfortunately Romeo does not receive Friar  Laurence’s message in time. When he is informed of Juliet’s death, he goes back to Verona, breaks into her tomb and   takes a lethal poison killing himself near her body. When Juliet wakes up from her trance, she sees Romeo dead. Grief-stricken , she takes Romeo’s dagger and kills herself. Eventually the two families are reconciled.

Romeo And Juliet is considered the first of  Shakespeare’s  tragedies. In a tragedy the hero is very often a man but here we also have a heroine, Juliet. This always  happens when the main subject of the tragedy is love. The name of the protagonist almost always appears in the titles, e.g. Othello, Macbeth, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Anthony and Cleopatra. The play, that starts like a comedy( Act 1 shows potentially comical elements), contains many tragic elements Shakespeare  will later perfect in his great tragedies : tragic plot,  the theme of the  operation of fate, the use of the dramatic irony and the final Catharsis. The tragic plot of Romeo and Juliet   develops through the following stages: INTRODUCTION: Romeo meets Juliet at a party in her house; DEVELOPMENT: Romeo hears Juliet confessing her love for him; CLIMAX: They are married by Friar Laurence; CRISIS: Romeo kills Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin; DECLINE: Julia drinks a poison that causes apparent death; CATASTROPHE: Juliet kills herself.

The role of Fate in Romeo and Juliet  is introduced to the audience by the prologue:             Two households, both alike in dignity                                                                                                (In fair Verona, where we lay our scene),                                                                                         From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,                                                                         Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.                                                                           From forth the fatal loins of these two foes                                                                                   A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life,                                                                                 Whose misadventured piteous overthrows                                                                               Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife.”

 As we can see, they are depicted as     “a pair of star-crossed lovers”. In the whole play  the  hostile fate  works through many  unfortunate events:Romeo accidentally meets Juliet and kills Tybalt; Friar Laurence’s message accidentally does not reach him; it’s   fate that makes Juliet awake shortly after Romeo’s suicide.   Romeo and Juliet  are not like the heroes of the ”Golden Tragedies”. They do not have tragic flaws that lead to their downfall. There is no “ villain” and there are no supernatural  events that determine their tragedy. There is only a series of unlucky events.

The audience’s attention is captured through dramatic tension. While Juliet does not know that Romeo is there listening to what she is saying, the audience  is aware of Romeo’s presence. Romeo may be discovered by  Juliet’s  relatives . The presence of danger increases the tension. To add   suspense, Shakespeare also uses the “ dramatic irony” : the audience knows something that the protagonists  on stage do not know and it is kept in suspense,  uncertain about what is going to happen. Another tragic element is the final Catharsis that involves the audience. Tragedy must be able to arouse pity and fear in the audience which eventually feels sympathy for the protagonist  .  The audience understands that   Romeo is a victim of fate and feels pity for him because his misfortunes are greater than he deserves.


giuliaScene II. Capulet’s Garden.

(Juliet appears above at a window)

But soft, what light trough yonder window breaks?
It is the east and Juliet is the sun!
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief
That thou her maid art far more fair than she.
Be not her maid, since she is envious;
Her vestal livery is but sick and green,
And none but fools do wear it. Cast it off.
It is my lady, O, it is my love! (10)
O that she knew she were!
She speaks, yet she says nothing; what of that?
Her eye discourses, I will answer it.
I am too bold: ’tis not to me she speaks.
Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven,
Having some business, do entreat her eyes
To twinkle in their spheres till they return.

What if her eyes were there, they in her head?
The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars,
As daylight doth a lamp. Her eyes in heaven (20)
Would through the airy region stream so bright
That birds would sing and think it were not night.

See how she leans her cheek upon her hand
O that I were a glove upon that hand,
That I might touch that cheek!

Ay me!

She speaks.
O, speak again, bright angel, for thou art
As glorious to this night, being o’er my head,
As is a winged messenger of heaven (30)

Unto the white-upturned wondering eyes
Of mortals that fall back to gaze on him
When he bestrides the lazy-puffing clouds
And sails upon the bosom of the air.

O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.

[Aside.] Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at this?

‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy: (40)
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.

What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name.
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name, which is no part of thee, (50)
Take all myself.

I take thee at thy word.
Call me but love, and I’ll be new baptis’d;
Henceforth I never will be Romeo.

What man art thou that, thus bescreened in night,
So stumblest on my counsel?

By a name
I know not how to tell thee who I am:
My name, dear saint, is hateful to myself,
Because it is an enemy to thee. (60)
Had I it written, I would tear the word.

My ears have yet not drunk a hundred words
Of thy tongue’s uttering, yet I know the sound.
Art thou not Romeo, and a Montague?

Neither, fair saint, if either thee dislike.

How cam’st thou hither, tell me, and wherefore?
The orchard walls are high and hard to climb,
And the place death, considering who thou art,
If any of my kinsmen find thee here.

With love’s light wings did I o’erperch these walls, (70)
For stony limits cannot hold love out,
And what love can do, that dares love attempt:
Therefore thy kinsmen are no stop to me.

If they do see thee, they will murder thee.

Alack, there lies more peril in thine eye
Than twenty of their swords. Look thou but sweet
And I am proof against their enmity.

I would not for the world they saw thee here.

I have night’s cloak to hide me from their eyes,
And, but thou love me, let them find me here; (80)
My life were better ended by their hate
Than death prorogued, wanting of thy love.

By whose direction found’st thou out this place?

By love, that first did prompt me to enquire.
He lent me counsel, and I lent him eyes.
I am no pilot, yet, wert thou as far
As that vast shore wash’d with the furthest sea,
I should adventure for such merchandise.

Thou knowest the mask of night is on my face,
Else would a maiden blush bepaint my cheek (90)
For that which thou hast heard me speak tonight.
Fain would I dwell on form; fain, fain deny
What I have spoke. But farewell compliment.
Dost thou love me? I know thou wilt say ‘Ay’,
And I will take thy word. Yet, if thou swear’st,
Thou mayst prove false. At lovers’ perjuries,
They say, Jove laughs. O gentle Romeo,

If thou dost love, pronounce it faithfully:
Or if thou thinkest I am too quickly won,
I’ll frown, and be perverse, and say thee nay, (100)
So thou wilt woo: but else, not for the world.
In truth, fair Montague, I am too fond;
And therefore thou mayst think my ‘haviour light:
But trust me, gentleman, I’ll prove more true
Than those that have more cunning to be strange.

I should have been more strange, I must confess,
But that thou overheard’st, ere I was ‘ware,
My true-love passion: therefore pardon me;
And not impute this yielding to light love
Which the dark night hath so discovered. (110)

Lady, by yonder blessed moon I vow,
That tips with silver all these fruit-tree tops —

O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon,
That monthly changes in her circled orb,
Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.

What shall I swear by?

Do not swear at all.
Or if thou wilt, swear by thy gracious self,
Which is the god of my idolatry,
And I’ll believe thee. (120)

If my heart’s dear love —

Well, do not swear: although I joy in thee,
I have no joy of this contract to-night:
It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden;
Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be
Ere one can say ‘It lightens.’ Sweet, good night!
This bud of love, by summer’s ripening breath,
May prove a beauteous flower when next we meet.
Good night, good night! as sweet repose and rest
Come to thy heart as that within my breast! (130)
O, wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?
What satisfaction canst thou have to-night?
The exchange of thy love’s faithful vow for mine.
I gave thee mine before thou didst request it:
And yet I would it were to give again.
Wouldst thou withdraw it? for what purpose, love?

But to be frank, and give it thee again.
And yet I wish but for the thing I have:
My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee, (140)
The more I have, for both are infinite.
Nurse calls within 

The above passage is taken from the so-called   The Balcony Scene. Romeo is outside Juliet’s  garden when she appears at the balcony. She does not know that he is there and speaks aloud revealing to the audience her love for him. Romeo is unsure about  waiting in the shadow listening to her or making her realize he is there: “  Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at this? ” .When he speaks, Juliet recognises  him  by his voice: “ my ears have not yet drunk a hundred words of thy tongue’s uttering, yet I know the sound: Art thou  not Romeo, and a Montague? ”. Romeo is very much struck by Juliet’s beauty and exalts it through a series of metaphors: he compares her  to “the fair sun” (he had done the same with Rosaline when, speaking of her in act 1 sc. 2 describes her so beautiful that “ The all-seeing sun / ne’er saw her match since first the world begun)  and contrasts her with the “the envious moon who is already sick and pale with grief that thou her maid art far more fair than she ”. According to the classical mythology, the Goddess Moon and her maids, the Vestals, were devoted to chastity.  Romeo invites Juliet not to be “her maid ” , not to wear her “vestal livery”. Juliet’s eyes are brilliant  as if two stars have changed places with them: “Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven ….do entreat her eyes to twinkle in their spheres till they return. What if her eyes were there, they in her head? ”.  They would beam their light  on the sky  making the night so bright “ that birds would sing and think it were not nightand would enhance the brightness of her cheeks   “   that would shame those stars as daylight doth a lamp”. When he comes out  into the open he declares his love, too: “I take thee at thy word. Call me but love, and I’ll be new baptized; Henceforth I never will be Romeo ”. From Romeo’s and Juliet’s speeches, we may realize that they have a tremendous crush on each other. They are like teenagers of all times when they first fall in love. Their love is not a pure, chaste and  platonic love but there is passion, too.   Romeo invites Juliet to cast her vestal livery off. He would like to be “ a glove   upon that hand (Juliet’s one), That I might touch that cheek! At the end of her speech Juliet invites Romeo to “ take all myself ” that is both soul and body.

The   passage reveals the characters of the two adolescents. Romeo is like all teenagers, bold, passionate, impulsive  and quite irresponsible .Someone points out that  he is also reckless in his attitude towards love transferring quickly his love from Rosaline to Juliet. I don’t think so.   He is only infatuated of Rosaline but he truly loves Juliet.  Romeo has followed Juliet after their meeting at the  masque ball and hides in her garden, a dangerous place that as Juliet says, may be “   death, considering who thou art, If any of my kinsmen find thee here …….. If they do see thee, they will murder thee ”. He is not afraid of the danger of being in the Capulets ‘ garden. He is very cheeky : “For stony limits cannot hold love out, And what love can do, that dares love attempt. Therefore thy kinsmen are no stop to me……. Alack, there lies more peril in thine eye than twenty of their swords! Look thou but sweet, And I am proof against their enmity….. . let them find me here. My life were better ended by their hate than death prorogued, wanting of thy love ”. Romeo   would run all risks to take possession of her:  “ were thou as far as that vast shore wash’d with the farthest sea I would adventure for such merchandise ” .Juliet is the more rational of the two. She is conscious  of their situation and fearful of the danger they are running; she knows that their belonging to two rival families is a serious obstacle to their love. Romeo is a Montague and she a Capulet, then she is well aware that their families will oppose their love: “O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo? Deny thy father and refuse thy name; Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, And I’ll no longer be a Capulet…….’ Tis but thy name that is my enemy ”. She has a deeper understanding of things  even if she is a naive girl, too, when she thinks that giving up their names, they can overcome their problem. She says that  names are not important, they do not affect the object for which they are used: “What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot, Nor arm, nor face …… What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet ”.  Juliet is sincere, spontaneous, simple and innocent  and she openly declares her love.   She does not want to play the conventional game of the cunning girl who pretends to be shy to be courted on. She does not want to flirt with Romeo and  to appear as a light girl: “ do not impute this yielding to light love ” .  She knows that Romeo has heard her declare her love when he was hidden by the dark night: “  ….. if thou thinkest I am too quickly won, I’ll frown and say thee nay so that thou wilt woo ……In truth, fair Montague, I am too fond …..But trust me, gentleman,I’ll prove more true than those that have more cunning to be strange (shy). …..I must confess …… my true love passion ”. They exchange wow of eternal  love and faithfulness  to each other. Romeo wows by the moon and Juliet replies that he mustn’t because the moon is inconstant and she fears that his wow might be inconstant, too.  She knows that formal declarations of love are often insincere  and love may be short and superficial. She is aware that their love is too quick and unprepared …too rush, too unadvised, too sudden, too like the lightning” and she fears it “..doth cease to be ere one can say ‘It lightens” and asks him not to swear at all   Romeo insists: He wants the satisfaction of “ the exchange of thy love’s faithful wow for mine ”. He fears that Juliet may withdraw it.

The love story of Juliet and Romeo belongs to all times. Nowadays we can find similar situations because there are many parents who oppose their children’s love and many opposing groups that regard each other as enemies. Parents or groups should not interfere in their sons’ love affairs. They are entitled to  express their opinion and suggest them how to behave, but it is the young men’s right to choose freely their partners.


About rosariomario

retired teacher docente in pensione
This entry was posted in appunti di letteratura inglese per studenti italiani e non, tratti da testi vari. Notes of English Literature for Italian/non-Italian students taken from various school textbooks. Bookmark the permalink.

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