In the process, the couplet achieves an aesthetic end to the dialogue and signals a change in action to the audience even before the actors leave the stage e. After a passage of blank verse or prose, rhymed verse could also have the effect of stiffening the dialogue and heightening the emotion. When Romeo and Juliet first meet, their dialogue becomes a sonnet, thus emphasizing the rise of their emotions. Shakespeare cleverly used rhymed verse for another effect—that of contrast—by having one character talk in blank verse while another uses rhymed verse.
The use of prose in a play that is mainly in verse has the effect of lowering the emotional level and quickening the pace of the play. Prose speech works best for passages of comedy and as the speech of the lower or more comic characters e. Both the story of Romeo and Juliet and Shakespeare's life take place during the Renaissance, a period that begins in the fourteenth century and extends into the seventeenth century. The term renaissance means rebirth and refers to the revival of an interest in the classical cultures of Greece and Rome.
However, there are many social, political, and intellectual transformations that comprised the Renaissance. As the influence of the Roman Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Empire waned with their inability to maintain stability and unity among the Europeans, the feudal structure broke up and the power shifted to nations that were developing their own monarchies and language.
Also of great importance were city-states e. Many details in Romeo and Juliet connect it to Italian Literature with which Shakespeare was familiar.
One parallel is Pyramus and Thisbe Ovid. More immediate, Shakespeare probably based his play on the Italian version by Luigi da Porto who sets the tale of Romeo and Juliet in Verona During the sixteenth century, ancient Greek and Roman literature was rediscovered, translated, and then widely read. The classical writers focused on the human condition; they explored human nature and asserted some valuable insights about what causes human suffering and what works to establish social order.
These ideas, along with many others, converged as a philosophy called humanism. It was in the broadest sense a focus on human beings as opposed to a focus on the supernatural. Renaissance writers such as Shakespeare were well-read in classical literature and were influenced by it. In one sense, Romeo and Juliet dramatizes how an inherited feud coupled with impetuosity can disrupt the state and ruin good people's lives.
The play shows that passion can be disruptive, dangerous, and destructive, and yet ironically it also expresses love and grief. Through the loss of these two young lovers, the feuding familes find reconciliation, and order in the community is reestablished. This examination of the human scene is an example of humanism with clear connections to classical handling of tragedy, as in Oedipus by Sophocles and Pyramus and Thisbe by Ovid.
By the time Shakespeare was born, Elizabeth I was already on the throne. Her long and influential reign from to defined the era. As a playwright, Shakespeare was fortunate to write in a time when the arts were supported by patrons and his English contemporaries included Ben Jonson , Sir Walter Raleigh , Christopher Marlowe , Robert Southwell, Thomas Campion , Edmund Spenser , Sir Philip Sidney , John Lyly , and Michael Drayton , all important writers, critics, and celebrities of the Elizabethan Age whose reputations have lasted into modern times.
There are numerous and diverse distinguishing characteristics of Elizabethan literature. This name is strictly a time division in honor of one of England's greatest rulers. However, it is a time in which the poetry of the sonnet, the Spenserian stanza, and dramatic blank verse were very popular. It is unquestionably a golden age for drama. In the area of prose, this era produced historical chronicles, pamphlets, and literary criticism as the first novels began to appear. The tone of literature seemed more darkly questioning during the reign of James I as writers explored the problem of evil.
This was the time in which Shakespeare produced his greatest tragedies.
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His theatre company enjoyed a cordial relationship with the court where the popularity of the masque, an extravagant courtly entertainment, returned. Also during Jacobean times Jacobean is the name of the period in which James I reigned in England , Jonson influenced comedy with an acid satire and poetry with a lucid and graceful style that was copied by a group of writers known as the Cavalier poets.
Meantime, Francis Bacon and Robert Burton were making a name in prose literature with a tougher yet more flexible style. Jacobean literature was undoubtedly an important contribution to the arts, but perhaps the greatest achievement of the age was the production of the King James version of the Bible in Today: Both Chaucer and Shakespeare are still considered to be geniuses of literature by people around the world, and their works are studied as part of the standard curriculum in most schools.
The conflicts between Protestants and Catholics are often violent, and European countries align according to Protestant or Catholic affiliation. Today: The world still struggles with religious conflicts.
Protestants and Catholics have reached accord in many areas, except for some tension yet in Northern Ireland. However, Muslim extremists wage a holy war in many areas of the world, and some governments forbid religion entirely. Elizabeth I barely survives small pox, and Shakespeare later succumbs to a mysterious fever. Today: The plague and small pox are virtually eliminated around the world. Other new contagious diseases such as the ebola virus and AIDS have arisen, but where modern medicine is available, the potential for an epidemic is minimized.
Coal mining begins in Germany, and scientists begin to investigate magnetism and electricity. Even after four hundred years, literary criticism of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and critical reviews of its productions are still being written.
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Nonetheless, the critical essays written through the centuries remained valid and illustrate how interpretation is affected by various literary movements. Oddly enough, Shakespeare's contemporaries did not review the plays, and other writers barely mentioned him well into the seventeenth century. At that time, Ben Jonson — was held in higher regard as a playwright. Also esteemed as a critic, Jonson considered Shakespeare a talented, but undisciplined writer, according to Augustus E.
Ralli in his book on Shakespearean criticism. John Dryden , a seventeenth-century writer, was the first great Shakespearan critic. In his "An Essay of Dramatic Poesy," Dryden compares Shakespeare and Jonson, saying that he admires Jonson but loves Shakespeare because "when he describes anything, you more than see it, you feel it too.
Critics into the eighteenth century continued this view that Shakespeare had more natural ability than educated refinement. They discussed his artistic faults rather than his merits, unless they were pulling out those soliloquies and other passages that they thought could stand on their own out of context. In , Elizabeth Griffin commented on the ample selection of "poetical beauties" in Romeo and Juliet.
However, she found little for moral evaluation except the foolishness of a young couple embarking on plans of their own without the consent of their parents. Thus, Griffin was the first critic to lay the blame for the tragedy not on fate but on Romeo and Juliet. Even more than Shakespeare, the eighteenth-century neoclassicists believed strictly in the unities of place, action, and time, which Aristotle explained in his Poetics.
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Thus, these critics thought the story of a play should take place in one setting; have a causally connected plot, each event causing the next one in line; and that all of these events should occur within one twenty-four hour day. Samuel Johnson , a moderate neoclassicist and the prime literary figure of his time, excused Shakespeare from these three unities.
He found Romeo and Juliet to be one of Shakespeare's most pleasing dramas and found the plot varied, believable, and touching. He also thought Shakespeare correct to mix tragedy and comedy because real life is a mixture. Still, Johnson was one of those critics who felt that Shakespeare's work lacked sufficient moral emphasis. Ralli reports that Alexander Pope , another leading eighteenth-century writer and critic, theorized that Shakespeare's genius was dragged down by his involvement with actual theater production, implying that Shakespeare wrote to please the audiences instead of according to the structures of classical rhetoric.
Meanwhile, in Germany, August von Schlegel and others were finding Romeo and Juliet to be nearly perfect artistically. Schlegel said of this play: "It was reserved for Shakespeare to unite purity of heart and the glow of imagination, sweetness and dignity of manners and passionate violence, in one ideal picture.
Coleridge suspected that Shakespeare's irregularities were actually evidence of psychological and philosophical genius.
William Hazlitt , another Shakespearean critic of the English Romantic movement, was also an admirer of Schlegel. Hazlitt attributed more depth to the love of Romeo and Juliet than previous critics who found their love shallow and sentimental. Following Hazlitt's lead, by the end of the eighteenth century, Shakespearean scholarship began examining the playwright's techniques of characterization. In the nineteenth century, criticism associated Shakespeare's genius with many intellectual movements and religious theories.
Suddenly, Shakespeare no longer had faults but presented intriguing problems for the astute scholar to explain. In the twentieth century, New Critical scholars searched for something new to say, focusing on minute textual details in order to come up with new theories or interpretations. It is to the credit of the Romantics, however, that they returned to a discussion of the sheer enjoyment of the plays that audiences experienced. In the early s, Shakespeare's works continued to be read, performed, and critiqued by scholars around the world.
After all this time, criticism had become a blend of schools of thought and argued interpretations based on new information found by researchers or new approaches connected to advancing theoretical understanding. Generally speaking, though, it is safe to say that Shakespeare is considered the greatest playwright of all time. Kerschen is a freelance writer and adjunct college English instructor. In this essay, Kerschen considers whether fate, the personal characteristics of Romeo and Juliet, or the demands of justice determine the outcome of the story.
Whenever a tragedy occurs, people want to know what went wrong. They look for the causes, the reasons for the end result. With Romeo and Juliet, the opinions have varied as literary criticism has taken different viewpoints through the years. Since William Shakespeare named the play for the two central characters, the immediate reaction is to look at them for fault. However, Shakespeare is never that simple, so a deeper analysis is warranted. The great German Shakespearean critic, August von Schlagel, blamed fate for the tragedy, but in the sense that the cruel world is too terrible a place for a love as tender as that of Romeo and Juliet.
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Instruction books such as Kelley Griffith's Writing Essays about Literature very matter-of-factly blame fate as well by telling students that "if the plot is only part of a larger or ongoing story, then the characters are more likely to seem at the mercy of forces beyond their control. It must be noted that the family feud is the reason that Romeo and Juliet's relationship is a "forbidden love.
The family feud could then be seen as a bookend structure around the lovers' story. Shakespeare did not create the story—he inherited it. The feud is part of the previous versions that he draws upon, in which the the feud serves as a complicating device that keeps the lovers apart. However, placing the feud first and last in the play, that is, in the most attention-getting spots for the audience, indicates that the feud is the most important facet of the story. Although this play is considered one of the greatest love stories of all time, viewed from another angle, it may be that it is a story about hate; a story that is the final episode of a long-running saga.
The love affair of Romeo and Juliet may be only a device to bring about an end to the feud and show how terrible the consequences can be of such violent and vindictive behavior. As a result, the blame according to this theory can be placed with the demands of justice. Further support for this interpretation is the realization that violence runs throughout the story, linking each event. Romeo meets Juliet at the Capulet party but his presence there fuels Tybalt's challenge to him the next day.
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