Romeo and Juliet is perhaps the most famous love story in the world. So much so that ‘Romeo’ is almost synonymous with the word ‘lover’. The Montagues (Romeo) and the Capulets (Juliet) are two important families in Verona, who are engaged in a bitter feud. The story spans four days – beginning with Romeo and Juliet’s first meeting and ending with their death. It tells of an intense all-consuming love and how that love is powerful enough to hope to exist beyond mortal life. The plot is similar to the myth of Pyramus and Thisbe, who fell in love with each other in spite of the feud raging between their families. Shakespeare used the same myth in the play-within-play of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but there it is treated as a farce.Click here to know more about Literature and Fiction books.
The play was written in the mid-1590s, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. At that time the sonnet-craze was at a peak. Both poets and amateurs had been swept off their feet by the sheer power of Petrarch’s love sonnets, and tried to follow in his footsteps. Shakespeare masterfully parodies this craze, not only in this play, but in many of his works. At the beginning of the play we see Romeo entranced by the bad love poetry that he reads – in love with the concept of love – Juliet cures him of his ridiculous devotion to Rosaline, the archetypal cold and aloof woman so beloved of Renaissance poets.
Romeo and Juliet has some of the most intense and moving love poetry ever written by Shakespeare, sometimes even rivaling his wonderful love-sonnets. It is also famous for its satire, a tool that is mainly used through the character of Mercutio.
Having first read this play in the adapted Lamb’s version, I confess that I was unaware of its beauty for a rather long time. Shakespeare was fully aware that he was working with a plot that was clichéd even in his own time – today it is even laughable. But the brilliance of a story lies in the story-telling. Romeo and Juliet experience true love the moment they see each other. Love makes them forget everything else. From the very beginning they are somehow aware that they are doomed to die – they have given up their lives to love. Not only love, but every emotion in the play is heightened and leads to terrible consequences. The hatred and antagonism between the two familes, the Montagues and the Capulets, often find expression in extreme violence. Likewise love is also inextricably linked with violence, mostly self-inflicted. Fate rules the lives of human beings, but as Mercutio would say, human beings also determine their destiny. Uncontrollable emotion and the consequences of the same is one of the major themes of the play. The play is also an interesting comment on suicide. The protagonists are Catholics (unlike Pyramus and Thisbe), and to Catholics suicide is a mortal sin. But the play glorifies the suicides of Romeo and Juliet as noble sacrifice, and raises them to the level of martyrs.
Book Reviewed by Amrita Dutta
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