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REFERENCE

THE CRITICS

THE PLAY AS COMEDY AND TRAGEDY

Romeo and Juliet is in essence a comedy that turns out tragically. That is, it begins with the materials for a comedy-the stupid parental generation, the instant attraction of the young lovers, the quick surface life of street fights, masked balls and comic servants. But this material is blighted. Its gaiety and good fortune are drained away by the fact that the lovers are "star-crossed"... Romeo and Juliet are all ardour and constancy, their families are all hatred and pride; no one's motives are mixed, there are no question marks. After the tragedy the survivors are shocked into dropping their vendetta, and Montague and Capulet are united in grief. Once again, there are no question marks. Nothing made them enemies except the clash of their own wills, and nothing is needed to make them brothers except a change of heart. John Wain, The Living World of Shakespeare, 1964

ON JULIET

The character is indeed one of perfect truth and sweetness. It has nothing forward, nothing coy, nothing affected or coquettish about it; it is a pure effusion of nature. It is as frank as it is modest, for it has no thought that it wishes to conceal. It reposes in conscious innocence on the strength of its affections. Its delicacy does not consist in coldness and reserve, but in combining warmth of imagination and tenderness of heart with the most voluptuous sensibility. Love is a gentle flame that rarefies and expands her whole being. William Hazlitt, Characters of Shakespeare's Plays, 1817

ON ROMEO

Romeo is Hamlet in love. There is the same rich exuberance of passion and sentiment in the one that there is of thought and sentiment in the other. Both are absent and self-involved, both live out of themselves in a world of imagination. Hamlet is abstracted from everything Romeo is abstracted from everything but his love, and lost in it. William Hazlitt, Characters of Shakespeare's Plays, 1817



THE LOVERS' PRIVATE WORLD

In their first kiss Romeo and Juliet withdraw into a private world of intimacy, suspending the world's ordinary time and replacing it with the rival time of the imagination. Yet no sooner do they draw apart than they find themselves bound to take heed of the alien public world and its imperatives, of time calculated in days and hours, of love reduced to appetite, happiness to jesting and farce, vitality to violence. Brian Gibbons, Introduction to Romeo and Juliet, 1980

LIGHT AND DARK

The dominating image is light, every form and manifestation of it; the sun, moon, stars, fire, lightning, the flash of gunpowder, and the reflected light of beauty and love; while by contrast we have night, darkness, clouds, rain, mist, and smoke. Caroline F. E. Spurgeon, Shakespeare's Imagery and What It Tells Us, 1935

UNAWARENESS

More than any other of Shakespeare's plays,- Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy of unawareness. Fate, or Heaven, as the Prince calls it, or the "greater power" as the Friar calls it, working out its purpose without the use of either a human villain or a supernatural agent sent to intervene in mortal affairs, operates through the common human condition of not knowing. Participants in the action, some of them in parts that are minor and seem insignificant, contribute one by one the indispensable stitches which make the pattern, and contribute them not knowing: that is to say, they act when they do not know the truth of the situation in which they act, this truth being known, however, to us who are spectators. Bertrand Evans, "The Brevity of Friar Laurence," 1950

CHARACTER AS FATE

It is, of course, in the end a tragedy of mischance. Shakespeare was bound by his story, was doubtless content to be; and how make it otherwise? Nevertheless, we discern his deeper dramatic sense, which was to shape the maturer tragedies, already in revolt.

Accidents make good incidents, but tragedy determined by them has no significance. So he sets out, we see, in the shaping of his character to give all likelihood to the outcome. It is by pure ill-luck that Friar John's speed to Mantua is stayed while Balthasar reaches Romeo with the news of Juliet's death; but it is Romeo's headlong recklessness that leaves Friar Laurence no time to retrieve the mistake... character is also fate; it is, at any rate, the more dramatic part of it, and the life of Shakespeare's art is to lie in the manifesting of this. Harley Granville-Barker, Prefaces to Shakespeare, 1947.

BALANCE OF GOOD AND EVIL

But if we see the ending as purposeful, and as an evocation of the paradoxical good that can spring from a lamented destruction, the simple view of Fate will not satisfy. Nor can we ignore what Shakespeare characteristically stresses in all his tragic drama: the connection between the character of men and the disaster that may befall them... The personification of a hostile Fate or Fortune was a fashionable convention... however, Shakespeare was moving in another direction. His developing vision of a tragic universe was not to be defined by hostile fatality, but by a paradoxical and all too precarious balance of good and evil. Douglas Cole, Modern Criticisms of Romeo and Juliet, 1970

The point of the play-the wonder of the story-is not how such a love can arise out of hatred and then triumph over it in death, but that it does. Elmer Edgar Stoll, Shakespeare's Young Lovers, 1937

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