Literary Analysis of Romeo and Juliet

Modified: 8th Jun 2017
Wordcount: 1273 words

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Passage one is the prologue to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The prologue to Romeo and Juliet is a significant piece of text in the play as both its form and content introduces and gives a rather detailed insight to the viewer about events that are to follow in the play and essentially prepares and establishes the viewer/audience for the “two hours traffic on our stage” which is and gives meaning to the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.

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The entire prologue is spoken by the Chorus to the intended audience and eludes the viewer to the problems that arise throughout the play, as well as acknowledges existing problems prior to the ones that will eventuate. The location of the scene is established through the phrase “in fair Verona where we lay our scene”, as well as indicates central themes to Romeo and Juliet by mentioning themes of anger and revenge through the ongoing feuds of the “two households, both alike in dignity” and the central theme of love and tragedy, through the mentioned “fatal loins of these two foes” and “star-crossed lovers” being Romeo and Juliet. The passage may also be seen as significant as it depicts what is going to happen on the stage, creating a somewhat cathartic sense, as pity becomes greater if the viewer knows of the tragic events that will eventually occur in the play. The last lines of the prologue repeat the message that the lovers will die, and through this the feud is annulled.

Unlike most “traditional” prologues, the one initiating Romeo and Juliet is in the form of a sonnet. It consists of 14 lines-following a crucial aspect of this structure, ABAB rhyming pattern within the initial 3 quatrains and a CC couplet at the end allowing it to be in iambic pentameter. Unique in form, poetic techniques are used cleverly as the sonnet breaks usual conventions of a love poem. Perhaps because the play is centred on love, Shakespeare wrote the prologue in this form in order to emphasise this concept within the play as well as the intimate relationship between Romeo and Juliet.

In this sonnet, the 14 lines are divided up into 3 sections of 4 lines and the last section is made up of 2 lines. The sonnet uses 3 different ways to divide the sections from one another: punctuation, change of topic and the use of rhyming couplets. The first three sections begin and end as sentences lines 1-3 use commas then to close the section there is a full stop indicating the next. Once there is a full stop, the new sentence begins a new topic essentially guiding the audience through the plot in order to avoid confusion of the storyline. The ending pattern of the prologue, however, is different in comparison to other lines within the passage which in some regards reflects how the storyline of the play is structured. The two rhyming lines at the end of the prologue are typical of a traditional sonnet and are effective examples of combining form and content together in a simple enough form for the audience to understand and get meaning from the prologue and indeed the rest of the play.

When observing the prologue, it is evident where Shakespeare intended to put emphasis through the stressing of certain syllables such as “fair”, and “star-crossed”- these two particularly as they are crucial to the central themes associated with the concept of love and marriage. The “cross’d” in “star-cross’d” refers to the fact that their love suppressed, frustrated and eventually defeated. Such will be the love of Romeo and Juliet, because of the stars- implying that destiny causes the “misadventured piteous overthrows” within the play. It can also be noted that violent words are not stressed throughout the duration of the prologue. Aggressive words such as “mutiny, “blood” and “rage” are unstressed in the sonnet possibly may because even though it is a story surrounding issues of conflict, it is love and Romeo and Juliet who are the central meaning behind the play.

Within lines seven and eight “Whose misadventured piteous overthrows Doth with their death bury their parent’s strife” informs the audience that it required a tragedy to stop the families from feuding and to make them realise what they had been doing. In line 8 of the prologue, there is noticeable use of alliteration with the “d” and “th” sounds, which are repeated to make the line appear more noticeable and also contains its own rhyming section using ‘doth with their death’, using the ‘th’ sound to make it rhyme. Metaphors such as the word “bury,” represents reconciliation between the Montagues and Capulets and that the burial of their past grudges has only come about due to the burial of their children. Meaning is created through these techniques as it poses the question to the audience of whether or not their ancient grudges and feuding are worth what will inevitably become the death of Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare also uses other literary devices within the prologue to draw the viewer/audience’s attention within this sonnet. In line 4, it is important to note the repetition of the word “civil” and its implications throughout the storyline. “Civil blood” can be seen as a paradox as the Montagues and Capulets engage constantly in civil wars which shed civil blood, which in turn would not really occur if they were civil in the first place. As the two sides share the grudge, they also share the guilt, both sides mutiny against the peace of the town, making their “civil hands unclean.”

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Repetition of words throughout the prologue such as “civil”, introduces alliteration to the text. Shakespeare decides to use the repetition of a particular sound in the next line, creating alliteration. Alliteration in line 5 has not only the repetition of f sounds but of bold words for example “from forth the fatal loins of these two foes” which contains words that begin with f as well as “forth” that tends to be used as a word of initiative in which Shakespeare could be playing upon the idea as mentioned previously that possibly, the storyline is already set and must “go forth” as it is destined to happen. A line full of harsh sounding f’s and words of antagonism are pushed up against line 6 and seem to be more woeful than harsh which tells the viewer/audience of the predictable death of the lovers who were initially supposed to be enemies. Finally, enjambment in the prologue embraces the nature of the play being conflict and violence paralleling with love and inevitable tragedy.

Form and content are significant aspects within any text as the combination of both inevitably produce the final meaning of the text. Meaning cannot be derived if there is no content in which to base a story on and a series of literary techniques such as those present in the prologue of Romeo and Juliet, place an emphasis on this particular content in order to convey the underlying message that Shakespeare is presenting to the audience. In the case of Romeo and Juliet, it is evident that Shakespeare intended the play to be a tragedy based on love, and the prologue spoken by the chorus depicts this clearly. The strong use of literary techniques engages the audience allowing them to become part of and understand the meaning of the storyline and allow empathy for what is happening on stage.


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