In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare combines different elements like comedy, romance, melodrama, poetry, and tragedy. Although it’s considered a tragedy, it doesn’t follow the typical tragic form. Firstly, the play emphasizes comedy in the first half. Secondly, the protagonists, Romeo and Juliet, are very young.
Usually, in tragedies, the protagonist is a person of high position and character who falls into disaster due to excessive pride, arrogance, and ambition. Their sins or crimes lead to devastation in the entire kingdom.
However, in Romeo and Juliet, the tragic effects of the young lovers’ deaths are limited to the two families only, and they do not affect an entire kingdom or dynasty like in Greek tragedies or later Shakespearean tragedies like Hamlet and Macbeth, where entire countries are ruined. Therefore, it’s more appropriate to call Romeo and Juliet a romantic comedy that later turns into a tragedy.
You do not have to read the entire book if you don’t have time. This book review provides an overview of everything you can learn from it.
Let’s get started without further ado.
In this Romeo and Juliet book review, I’m going to cover the following topics:
Table of Contents
Two young lovers, separated by their families’ feuding, take their own lives in order to be united in death.
A Chorus announces that the play is about the tragedy of two “star-crossed” lovers who are victimized by fate and by the feuding of their families.
In the city square of Verona, Italy, a fight begins after some comic insults are exchanged between the servants of the enemy Montague and Capulet families. When young Benvolio, Montague’s nephew, draws his sword to stop the quarrel, he is attacked by the hot-headed Tybalt, nephew of Lady Capulet. Old Capulet enters, calling for his sword.
His wife tells him that a crutch would be more suitable at his age. Montague arrives with Lady Montague and charges Capulet with villainy. The hostilities quickly escalate to a full-scale riot, with supporters of both families joining in. Alarms are sounded and Escalus, the Prince of Verona, arrives to stop the disorder.
He reminds Montague and Capulet that their hatred has already disrupted the peace three times and caused much bloodshed. He tells them that they will be put to death unless they keep peace.
As the crowd disperses, Lady Montague asks Benvolio if he knows the whereabouts of her son, Romeo. She is pleased that Romeo was not involved in the dispute, but is concerned about his recent melancholy behavior.
Romeo arrives after Montague and his wife leave. He confides to Benvolio that the cause of his sadness is his unrequited (unreturned) love for Rosaline. In a street near the Capulet house, Paris, a young nobleman and relative of the prince, asks Capulet for permission to marry his daughter, Juliet.
Capulet wants her to wait two more years since she is not yet 14, but he invites Paris to a ball that evening where he can see Juliet and “win her heart.” Capulet dispatches his servant, the Clown, with a list of guests to invite. The Clown, who cannot read, sees Romeo and Benvolio and asks them to read the list for him.
When Benvolio sees Rosaline’s name, he suggests they go uninvited to the party so Romeo can compare Rosaline with other beauties. That night, Romeo, Benvolio, and Mercutio (a friend) go in disguise to the Capulet ball. Romeo is still lovesick over Rosaline, so Mercutio tells a fanciful tale about Queen Mab, the fairy queen who dashes through the night in her chariot, bringing dreams to people.
As the dancing begins, Romeo sees Juliet and is instantly attracted to her. The fiery Tybalt, recognizing Romeo’s voice, wants to draw his sword but is restrained by Old Capulet. Romeo speaks to Juliet, and it is love at first sight for both, but they do not discover each other’s true identity until after the party is over.
When the party ends, Romeo leaps over the wall into the Capulet garden. There, he overhears Juliet, on her balcony, declaring her love for him and her sadness that he is a Montague. Romeo reveals his presence and they feverishly exchange love vows. Juliet tells Romeo that if he truly loves her and wants to marry her, then he should send word tomorrow.
Early in the morning, Romeo rushes to see Friar Laurence and begs him to marry them that day. Friar Laurence teases him about so quickly giving up Rosaline, but agrees to perform the wedding ceremony since it is a good way to make peace between the Montague and Capulet families. On his way to meet Juliet’s Nurse in the marketplace, Romeo sees Benvolio and Mercutio.
Mercutio jokes with Romeo about the wild-goose chase he led them on the previous night. Juliet’s Nurse arrives with her servant, Peter.
After a round of comic and vulgar insults between the Nurse, Peter, and Mercutio, Romeo informs the Nurse of the wedding plans and the Nurse hurries home to tell Juliet. But before telling Juliet of the plans, the Nurse deliberately annoys her by chattering on about unrelated problems. Later that afternoon, Romeo and Juliet are married by Friar Laurence.
The same afternoon, Romeo, Mercutio, Benvolio, and friends run into Tybalt and his supporters in the public square. Tybalt insults Romeo and challenges him to a duel. Romeo refuses, expressing love and respect for Tybalt.
The hot-headed Mercutio cannot understand Romeo’s mild behavior, and takes up Tybalt’s challenge. He is fatally wounded when Romeo momentarily distracts him by trying to stop the fight.
Romeo, feeling honor-bound to avenge Mercutio’s death, challenges Tybalt. They fight a furious duel in which Tybalt is killed, and Romeo is horrified that he has killed Juliet’s cousin.
Benvolio urges Romeo to flee Verona, reminding him of the death penalty for disturbing the peace. The prince arrives and listens to Benvolio’s account of the fight. Lady Capulet, outraged by her nephew’s death, demands Romeo’s execution.
But the prince sentences Romeo only to exile. In the meantime, Paris continues to press for Juliet’s hand in marriage, and Old Capulet changes his mind, granting him permission to marry her on Thursday of the same week. Before leaving for Mantua, his place of exile, Romeo spends his wedding night with Juliet in her bedroom.
As Tuesday morning approaches, the lovers sadly part. When the Nurse announces that Lady Capulet is coming, Romeo flees through the orchard. Lady Capulet enters, ranting about her hatred of Romeo and telling of a plot she has concocted to have him poisoned.
She informs Juliet of the wedding arrangements her father has made, and when Old Capulet arrives, Juliet defies him by refusing to marry Paris. Capulet threatens to drag her to church on a sledge (the way criminals were dragged to their execution). When the parents leave, the Nurse cynically advises Juliet to marry Paris since Romeo is banished, but Juliet curses her.
Juliet rushes to Friar Laurence for help. He has a plan: he advises her to go home and consent to the marriage, and gives her a sleeping potion to drink the night before the wedding.
The potion will give her the appearance of being dead and her family will bury her in the family vault, where the Friar will arrange for Romeo to rescue her. When Juliet returns home, she learns that her father has moved the wedding up from Thursday to Wednesday. That evening, she drinks the potion and is found “dead” by the Nurse.
Friar Laurence sends Friar John to Mantua to inform Romeo of the plan. On his way to Mantua, Friar John is quarantined due to a plague and fails to reach Romeo. In the meantime, Romeo’s servant Balthasar brings Romeo news from Verona of Juliet’s death. A grief-stricken Romeo, vowing to die beside Juliet, purchases some poison and sets out for Verona.
When he arrives at the tomb, he encounters Paris, who has come with flowers. Paris, thinking Romeo intends to violate the tomb, challenges him to a duel. Romeo kills him, then kisses Juliet, drinks the poison, and dies.
A few moments later, Juliet awakens to discover Romeo’s lifeless body beside her. Friar Laurence, arriving too late to prevent the tragedy, begs Juliet to leave with him.
When she refuses, the Friar departs, frightened by the horrible scene. Juliet seizes Romeo’s dagger and kills herself. The guard overhears some noise and, discovering the bodies, sends for the families.
When Montague arrives, he reveals that Lady Montague has died from grief over Romeo’s exile. Friar Laurence returns and tells of the marriage of Romeo and Juliet, then discloses the potion plot.
He blames himself for the tragic outcome, but the prince pardons him, pointing out to the grieving families that their hatred has caused this tragedy.
He prays that heaven will find a way to bring them together with love, and blames himself in part for not keeping a closer watch on their feud. The families join hands and declare peace over the bodies of their dead children. Montague intends to raise a statue of pure gold for Juliet, and Capulet will do the same for Romeo.
1. Well-crafted plot
“Romeo and Juliet” is a five-act play with a well-crafted plot that builds tension and drama. The play is structured around the two lovers’ relationship, which develops quickly and passionately, but is also fraught with obstacles and challenges.
The plot is also driven by the actions of the other characters, such as the Capulet’s insistence that Juliet marry Paris, Romeo’s banishment for killing Tybalt, and Friar Laurence’s plan to fake Juliet’s death. These events lead to the tragic ending, in which Romeo and Juliet both die by suicide.
2. Complex characters
Shakespeare’s characters are complex and multifaceted, and they undergo significant development throughout the play. Romeo, for example, begins as a lovesick young man who is infatuated with Rosaline. However, after he meets Juliet, his feelings become more intense and genuine. Juliet, too, grows and matures throughout the play, transforming from an obedient daughter to a determined and courageous woman who is willing to defy her family to be with Romeo.
The supporting characters are also well-drawn, each with their own motivations and desires. Mercutio, Romeo’s friend, is a witty and loyal companion, but he is also reckless and impulsive, which leads to his tragic death. Friar Laurence, who marries Romeo and Juliet, is a wise and compassionate figure who tries to help the lovers but ultimately contributes to their downfall.
3. Beautiful language
The language of “Romeo and Juliet” is poetic and lyrical. Shakespeare uses rich symbolism and imagery throughout the play to deepen its themes and add layers of meaning.
For example, the recurring image of light and dark represents the conflicting emotions of the characters and the contrast between love and hate. The image of the stars, which are often associated with fate, reinforces the idea that Romeo and Juliet’s tragic end was predetermined.
Another powerful symbol is the balcony scene, in which Romeo and Juliet declare their love for each other. This scene has become iconic, representing the intensity and passion of young love.
4. Timeless themes
The themes of love, hate, fate, and free will explored in “Romeo and Juliet” are universal and timeless, making the play relevant even today. The play speaks to the human experience and provides insights into the human condition.
Romeo and Juliet’s love for each other is passionate and intense, but it is also forbidden due to the feud between their families. They are willing to risk everything, even their lives, to be together.
On the other hand, the hate between the Montagues and Capulets is equally intense. The opening scene of the play depicts a street brawl between the servants of both families, and the tension only escalates from there. The play shows the devastating consequences of hatred and the power of love to overcome it.
1. Lack of diversity
The play is set in Italy and features an all-white cast, reflecting the limitations of Shakespeare’s time. While this may not be a major issue for some readers, it can be a drawback for those looking for more diverse representation in literature.
2. Unrealistic plot
The plot of “Romeo and Juliet” is often criticized for being unrealistic, with the lovers falling in love at first sight and making impulsive decisions that lead to their tragic end. While this is a valid criticism, it is also part of the play’s appeal and its ability to captivate audiences.
3. Outdated gender roles
The play reinforces traditional gender roles, with Juliet as a passive and obedient daughter and Romeo as a brave and impulsive hero. While this may be reflective of the values of Shakespeare’s time, it can be problematic for modern readers looking for more nuanced portrayals of gender roles.
“Romeo and Juliet” is a masterpiece of literature that continues to captivate audiences with its timeless themes, memorable characters, and powerful plot.
Shakespeare’s language is poetic and evocative, and the play’s exploration of love and hate, fate and free will, and the power of family and society over individual choice continues to resonate with modern audiences. It is a must-read for anyone interested in literature or the human experience.
William Shakespeare was a famous English playwright, poet, actor, and theatre shareholder born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564. He moved to London around 1586 and continued his career there until 1612.
Shakespeare wrote a variety of plays, including tragedies, comedies, romances, and historical dramas, for popular theatre. His early works depicted the optimistic and lively spirit of a growing England, while his later works, such as Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth, were more pessimistic and cynical, reflecting the corruption and decadence of the Elizabethan and Jacobean courts.
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