Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

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Notes on Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. This set of Tower Notes is 73 pages long and is sold as a fully illustrated PDF file with footnotes.

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A free sample, text only, including material from the beginning and the middle of the play is provided below.

INTRODUCTION:CORRUPTIBILITY AND TRANSCENDENCE: IMAGERY IN SHAKESPEARE’S ROMEO AND JULIET.

From its opening scene, Romeo and Juliet is a play of conflict and opposition, both in physical and conceptual terms: something highlighted by Romeo’s words as he contemplates the debris left by the fight that initially disturbs the streets of Verona: ‘Here’s much to do with hate, but more with love’ (I.i.173). As well as being ‘much to do with hate’ and ‘love’, the play also has ‘much to do’ with another set of binary opposites: death, fate and corruptibility set against incorruptibility – the transfiguring and transcending of an imperfect world. This second, wholly positive, message is related more by the imagery of the play than by its action or the import of its characters’ lines, but it is nevertheless essential to the final impact of the drama as Liebestod, and it further explains why most theatre-goers find the play much more life-affirming and positive than might initially appear from a bald plot-summary of the various disasters that befall the two lead characters. More, perhaps, than any other Shakespeare play, the most profound intentions of Romeo and Juliet are ‘carried’ and communicated by its imagery.

Perhaps a better word than ‘corruptibility’ in this context – at least one more resonant with the poetry of Shakespeare’s time – would be ‘mutability’. As Edmund Spenser wrote in a stanza intended for The Fairie Queene of his imagined allegorical figure of Mutabilitie:

Ne shee the lawes of Nature onely brake,
But eke of Iustice, and of Policie; […]
And death for life exchanged foolishlie:
Since which, all liuing wights haue learn'd to die,
And all this world is woxen daily worse. […]
By which, we all are subiect to that curse,
And death in stead of life haue sucked from our Nurse.

Everything passes to the mind contemplating mutability as surely as night follows day, and the passage of time is an obvious theme of Shakespeare’s play. Romeo, for example, is first associated with the darkness before dawn. He is not the only one – his friend Benvolio says of himself:

an hour before the worshipp’d sun
Peer’d forth the golden windows of the east
A troubled mind drove me to walk abroad (I.i.116-8)

It is in his wanderings in the dark that he encounters Romeo, similarly troubled, and the latter’s father points out that, as soon as the sun rises:

Away from light steals home my heavy son, […]
Shuts up his windows, locks fair daylight out
And makes himself an artificial night. (I.i.135,137-8)

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William Shakespeare