Romeo & Juliet by Shakespeare

Publié le par Amandine

The Elizabethan Age/Period (Elizabeth I – James I) > The English Renaissance

Shakespeare is born in Stratford-upon-Avon

1592 a critical document talks about Shakespeare as an actor who wants to write.

We don't have the authentic version. We only have printed texts. He didn't totally create Romeo & Juliet, he had sources and read chronicles of that period.


The prologue is written in a form of a sonnet (3 quatrains + 1 couplet). Shakespeare was interested at this time in sonnets.

Various functions for this prologue :

  • An informative function : It gives the audience a rough summary of the play. A few key questions about the play : who? Where? What? In this sense the prologue is part of the exposition. It may be described as a short cut into the play. A talking bill? A trailer?

  • An metadramatic function : The prologue draws our attention to the fact that we are watching a play blend the prologue into the sweep of the action (as in Luhrmann's film where the prologue is delivered by a newsreader).

  • A guide to understand the tragic nature of the play : The forces at stakes in the play are present in the prologue. The first force that is mentioned in the prologue is not fate but human conflict, that is, the feud. And then fate/destiny is mentioned repeatedly : “fate”, “star-crossed lovers”, “misadventured”, “death marked love”. It is to say that Romeo & Juliet is first (and foremost) a social tragedy, a tragedy set in a world where God is absent/not so present?


Scene 1

A rupture with the solemn tone of the prologue. The dialogue between Sampson & Gregory with its insistence on raw sexuality provides a striking contrast. It is a stock situation in a comedy. Shakespeare chooses to present the feud in a comical vein. The insistence is on weariness rather than intensity. There is a metaphor of a disease spreading through the body politic. Tybalt is like an intruder in a comedy.

It's a play that represent various definitions of love. Love as a purely physical activity or the love poetry inspired by courtly love and popularized again by Petrarch (“Petrachian Love”). It's presents Romeo as immature and in love with the image of love :

  • over elaborate, convoluted language in his long list of oxymorons,

  • his tendency to speak in rhyming couplets,

  • a number of far-fetched images (=conceits)


Scene 3

Juliet : She does not speak much. Overall Shakespeare chooses to characterize her as shy (but with some determination), withdrawn, slightly submissive/obedient/compliant > mild consent.

Lady Capulet : She retains control of the conversation. She does not let the nurse ramble on forever/eternally. A lot of the language Shakespeare puts in her mouth sounds “prepared”. The extreme form of this is the sonnet she utters with sustained metaphor of the book. It may be described as a conceit.

The nurse : Somewhat vulgar, coarsen, earthy, matter-of-fact but endearing at the same time. It is hard for the audience not to connect whit her.

A surrogate mother, two competing motherly figures, they embody separate motherly aspects : Lady Capulet embodies authority, a concern for the child's future and the nurse embodies maternity, warmth, sweetness...

The split dramatizes, visually speaking on, one dilemma at the centre/heart of the play : the dilemma between duty/obedience and one's own sensitivity. Another way of seeing the split : Juliet is a character in the middle of conflicting forces. Will she manage to reconcile them?

Scene 4

Mercutio's speech :

To lift Romeo out of his mood/low spirits. To cheer him up.

There is no clean sense of logic in the speech. Shakespeare seems to follow the rule of “free association”. Mercutio is characterized as eccentric, bawdy and highly unstable (the speech can be read as a succession of flashes). Is it just a flight of fancy or is it thematically relevant? Is Mercutio simply a character in love with his eloquence and inventiveness? Thematically speaking dreams (prophetic dreams : the contemporary vision of dreams) are linked the notion of fate, which is one of the forces that bear on the tragedy/play.

Romeo's last words :

  • an emphatic insistence on the role of fate,

  • an expression of his innermost desire : a death wish? A kind of complacency within the character? Is it another force bearing on the tragedy? Not just a tragedy of fate but also a tragedy of character(s). One flaw here : Romeo's morbidity.

Scene 5

The sonnet between Romeo & Juliet : a religious imagery.

  • meant to show this love as “transcendental”, above this world/blessed by the forces above.

  • puts the stress on purity and innocence.

They speak the same language/in a echo. They complete each other. A work of art performed in unison. The sonnet is a metaphor for what is going on stage. They become one single artist.

The sonnet forms a tight unit in which Romeo & Juliet “trapped”. A form from which there is no escape and by metonymy a union from which there is no escape. This form sets them above the rest/isolates them from the rest of Verona => may be read as a self-destructive form of love.


Scene 2

The language spoken here by Romeo shows that he has been transformed to some extent. Just as light is the main motif in this soliloquy, his language becomes clearer, less elaborate, smoother. Now he speaks in shorter segments, thus gaining in spontaneity and clarity. Interestingly his speech/discourse is structured by 3 questions, he now questions the world moving away from ready-made responses. Platitudes/common places/clichés are here supplanted by a spontaneous overflow of images and emotions.

Scene 3

A tragedy of character : a tragedy driven forward by

  • flaws in the characters

  • mistakes/errors (of judgement) by the characters.

Scene 4

The scene is dominated by the young men of the play, and dominated too by the demands that Romeo's friends (especially Mercutio) make on him. The key demand is that Romeo should conform to a “male code of conduct”. It may be assumed from this that the machismin Verona is a force that also plays a role in the tragedy. It is another “social constraint” that bears on the character.

Scene 5

By insisting in a comic manner in the “generation gap”, Shakespeare isolates Romeo & Juliet even more > conflicting time-scales Romeo & Juliet/the rest.

Scene 6

The stereotype of the scheming catholic priest.


Et pour aller plus loin (toujours en anglais) :





Vocabulaire utile :


a curse : une malédiction

to tally with : correspondre à

to be in awe [/a/ GB - /o/ US] : mélange respect et peur

the outcome of : le dénouement

a foretaste : un avant-goût

an aftertaste : un arrière-goût

to blend sth in : cacher qc dans

sweep : déroulement

a couplet : un doublet

a quatrain : un quatrain

a feud : une dispute

a quarrel : une querelle

bawdy : paillard -> bawdiness

raw : cru

a brawl : une rixe

weariness : lassitude, ennui

to spread : se répandre

a whim : un caprice -> whimsical

convoluted : alambiqué

conceit : vanité, suffisance ; trait de caractère

the proposition : le demande en mariage

to attend O : assister à

hierarchy : la hiérarchie

to be demure : être réservé

to comply / to obey : obéir

to ramble on : déblatérer

endearing : attachant

matter-of-fact : prosaïque

to utter : prononcer

coarse : vulgaire

earthy : truculent

surrogate : de substitution

a split : une division

a sustained metaphor : une métaphore filée

to encounter : se heurter à

to lift up : soulever, élever

to cheer up : remonter le moral

a flight of fancy : une idée folle

to bear on : se rapporter à

inner : intérieur, intime

a flaw : un défaut

a deed : un acte, une action

forces above : les forces de l'au-delà

a soliloquy : un monologue

genuine : authentique

overflow : trop-plein

to gather speed : prendre de vitesse

to bear out : confirmer

to demand : exiger

to assume : supposer

an innuendo : une jeu de mots à connotation sexuelle

in earnest : sincèrement # in jest

scheming : complotant

priest : prêtre

no respite : aucun répit

to enhance/to heighten : réhausser

to overcome an obstacle : surmonter un obstacle

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