Lectures on Romeo and Juliet


I. R and J as a tragedy of youth

A. Transition from Introductory class

1. After infant and schoolboy, Jaques' third age is that of adolescence or youth, which he characterizes as that of "the lover/ sighing like a furnace, with a woeful ballad made to his mistress' eyebrow."

B. Early in the canon; youthwork

1. Shakespeare at 30 or thereabouts; no longer young, especially in his time; but nevertheless seriously interested in young love--Venus and Adonis, Sonnets, Lucrece

C. Evidence it's about youth

1. Explicit ages of protagonists emphasized

a. My child is yet a stranger in the world

She hath not seen the change of fourteen years (I,ii) p. 52

b. Thou knowst my daughter's of a pretty age

Faith I can tell her age unto an hour

She's not fourteen (I,iii) p. 56

2. Actors

a. Zefferelli's actors most affecting at 16; Juliet's greater effectiveness than Romeo's in BBC production because she's younger;

3. Praise of youth itself

a. Old Capulet's glorification and nostalgia

i. Such comfort as do lusty young men feel

When well-appareled April on the heel

Of limping Winter treads, even such delight

Among fresh fennel buds shall you this night

Inherit (I, ii) p. 53

ii. ...I have seen the day

That I have worn a visor and could tell

A whispering tale in a fair lady's ear

Such as would please. Tis gone, tis gone (I, v) p. 66

b. Friar

i. Care keeps his watch in every old man's eye

And where care lodges, sleep will never lie;

But where unbruised youth with unstuffed brain

Doth couch his limbs, there golden sleep doth reign. (II,iii) p. 82

4. Vulnerability and intemperance

a. the flower

i. Within the infant rind of this weak flower

Poison hath residence and medicine power. (II,iii)--Friar p. 82

ii. Death lies on her like an untimely frost

Upon the sweetest flower of the field (IV,v) p. 139--Capulet

b. intemperate and dangerous haste as in the powder

i. These violent delights have violent ends

And in their triumph die, like fire and powder

Which as they kiss, consume...

Love moderately: long love doth so

Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow. (II,vi) 96--Friar

ii. Explicate image

D. Youth as volatile, violent passion in the opening scene of play

1. Youth as explosive energy: hot passion; volatile as gasoline fumes. Passion is both erotic and violent; (Orc is youth); this energy is the basic tonality of the play; teenage unruliness, and reckless endangerment,

a. picked up brilliantly in Sondheim and Bernstein's adaptation as gang war setting in West Side Story.

b. Summer in the city: "These hot days the mad blood stirring" (III,ii)

c. Setting of Verona: Italy as exotic, catholic, and hot blooded place; Italian city-states; family feuds; inbred merchant aristocrats; young brides

E. Youth as love--the appearance of Romeo in second part of opening scene

1. Though most of his agemates and friends seem more passionate about macho male vs. male violence than about heterosexual romance, Romeo's like Jaques' youth's defining obsession is love--the norm

a. Here's much to do with hate, but more with love

Why then O brawling love, O loving hate

O anything, of nothing first create

O heavy lightness, serious vanity

Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms

Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health

Still waking sleep, that is not what it is.

This love feel I, that feel no love in this. (I,i) p. 49

b. Benvolio's reaction is to laugh

c. The nature of the oxymoron: rhetorical, psychological, existential

2. causes

a. nature

i. his gonads; dynastic need for wife; status change; adolescent identity psychology

b. artificial conventions--the Petrarchan courtly lover

i. Medieval, chivalric--falling in love is sudden and irresistable; mistress is cruel and haughty; lover is self-sacrificing, melancholic servant-warrior-minstrel--Rosaline and Paris; in love with love

ii. Renaissance humanist version: warrior to poet; bookishness; university wits, spending lots of time studying literature and rhetoric; conceited and ornate language-- conceit; blazon, oxymoron, complaint, epithalamion; aubade;

3. other ideas of love

a. the bawdy--Mercutio II, i " O Romeo that she were an open etcetera and thou a poprin pear" and the Nurse's husband I,iii p. 73, and the violent--maids up against the wall

b. the manipulative, instrumental, dynastic and practical, i.e. parental--Capulet, Nurse, Mother and Friar; and the friendly libinidinal ties of peers and peer groups

4. These other ideas of love are transcended by Romeo once he meets and Juliet; just as he abandons Rosaline, she abandons her family and together, they create their own form of love beyond others' definitions

a. "He jests at scars that never felt a wound"(II, ii, 1) R. p. 74

b. "Thou canst not speak of that thou dost not feel" (III,iii) R. to Friar p. 114

c. this is what makes them unique, heroic and tragic; the essence of youth, but beyond that essentially human

F. Romeo and Juliet's true love; similar to all of these, and yet different; encompassing them all and transcending them; for they are of the world, whereas theirs denies the world in the world it creates

1. Contained neither by Time and Space and its laws

a. there is no space outside of Verona for R. if J. is there p. 111

b. they have day for night reversed--while the city sleeps at night they are awake; when with the Friar, it welcomes the sun with the lark, they long for the moon and the nightingale.

c. And the few hours they have alive together in this play--three short scenes (I,v; II,ii; II, vi, III,v)--by far outlast the multiple decades of the aging married Capulets--(I,v,32) p. 66

2. Also cannot be contained by naming and language and custom; the reality named by the language breaking through and destroying the language and the culture that tries to capture it

a. J.: Deny thy father and refuse thy name...

This but thy name that is my enemy...

What's in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet...

...Romeo, doff thy name;

And for thy name, which is no part of thee,

Take all myself

R.:I'll take thee at thy word.

Call me but love, and I'll be new baptized... (II,ii)

i. Juliet, like many of Shakespeare's heroines, is the most intelligent person in the play; her feelings lead her to philosophize. From dismay with the accident of Romeo's family name interfering with their love, she moves to the perception that naming itself, and the whole process of language, logic and culture that is called into being by naming, misses the nameless ultimate essence of things which her emotions now present present to her; and this higher consciousness makes her skeptical about the truth of any verbal utterances, even those of her lover:

(1). Fain, fain would I dwell on form--fain, fain, deny

What I have spoke; but farewell complement

Dost thou love me? I know thou wilt say "Ay"

And I will take thy word. Yet if thou swearst

Thou mayst prove false. (II,ii)

3. Also can't be contained by laws of logic and consistency;

a. there is no distinction here between truth and falsehood; the law of contradiction itself does not apply. Thus it is that both lovers and mystics try to express their experience with contradictions and paradoxes; after using them in a laughably trivial way, Romeo have discovered the true dizzy meaning at the heart of those conventional oxymorons

G. Love and Death--the central oxymoron; recurrent allusion to it--leitmotif

1. Examples

a. "Death marked love" Prol. I

b. Juliet's premonition: "My grave shall be my wedding bed." (I,v)

c. Romeo's "I will lie with thee tonight" (V,i)

2. closeness to death--what has love to do with death?--A Renaissance obsession

a. physiologically, double meaning of "dying" as orgasm--text example?

b. loss of individuality and selfhood in sex and in love

c. intensity of feeling and of sensitivity; total risk and vulnerability: "I would I were thy bird"/Yet should I kill thee with much cherishing" (II,ii, 183)

d. the very passing quality of passion; plaisir d'amour; in particular young love, first love, virgin love

i. "like the lightning, which doth cease to be/ Ere one can say it lightens" p. 78

e. Youth itself as a passage from childhood to adulthood; a dying of an old self and the rebirth of a new; a very difficult passage for most, for as Old Capulet says, p. 177" We were born to die."

f. Back to tape of opening if there's time

3. Perhaps its most acute difficulty is dealing with the conflicts of sexuality between pleasure and the pain, promise and disappointment, fulfillment and frustration it brings on in the process of growth. Freudians have some justification I think in their claims that those conflicts are in some way intensified by a reliving of unconscious memories of earlier ones. Something to this effect is suggested in the Nurse's recollections of Juliet's weaning on the day of the earthquake

a. When it did taste the wormwood on the nipple

Of my dug and felt it bitter, pretty fool,

To see it tetchy and fall out with the dug.

Shake, quoth the dovehouse. (I,iii, 30)

i. Suggestion of the fall and the renting of the universe accompanying the awful experience of weaning, wormwood on the dug--the conflict between the pleasure principle and the reality principle--evokes the vulnerability of all those make passages from one stage to another.

4. suicide and youth: the most sensitive and best die from their own sensitivity: Juliet assumes that Romeo has killed himself; parents fear it; Werther complex; Holden Caulfield--burning candle at both ends; the good die young; Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison; the flower children

a. Romeo's is hasty and ill-advised first time (III,iii) and done on the basis of false information the second(V,iii); Juliet's is fully conscious and inevitable

5. Like R and J, these are martyred saints of a sort in a Religion of Love--Eros--a mystery based on a secular experience; a moment of eternity in time

a. Juliet's heretical religion:" swear by thy gracious self/ which is the god of my idolatry." (II,ii,113)

b. Gottfried von Strassbourg ~1210 (http://stavenhagen.net/GvS/Prologue.html)

I now lay before the world
these labors I have undertaken.
May noble hearts find them a solace—
those hearts I love so heartily,
in that world where my heart sees clearly.
It's not that common world I speak of 50
(a place I only know from hearsay),
of those who scorn to endure affliction
and only want to soar in pleasure.
May God let them have their pleasures!

To their world and the one I live in,
what I say means different things—
their life and mine go different ways.
No, I'm speaking to a different world
that mingles in its single heart
its suavest spoil, its dearest dread,
its heart's delight, its longing need,
its lovely life, its death so dire,
its lovely death, its life so dire.
To that life do I yield my own.

H. Transition: yesterday dealing with thematics: the religion of love; Shakespeare is first and foremost a master of dramatics; and we want today to see these themes in the context of the play

I. expression of the contradictions of life--its oxymora--in the exaggerated, untempered extremes of dramatic arrangement of comedy and tragedy

1. III, ii--act out and discuss--context: II,vi to III,v-- happy marriage; Mercutio's death; Juliet's reversals--"not playing with words but shredding them to bits in agony and despair"--Frye

2. Their examples

3. Some suggestions:

a. I,v: Capulet's corny jokes vs. R and J's exquisite courtship; while others dance and Tybalt freaks out

b. II, vi to III, iv: Capulet with Paris; Juliet with Romeo; Capulet with J.

c. IV, iii: J's trick on parents; their ignorance; her ignorance of death and fear

d. IV, v: Cap mourning; Friar's knowledge and ours; Romeo's ignorance; our fear; apothecary balanced against Juliet's gothic speech

e. V,v: Juliet's happy awakening to horror

J. Last day discussion topics

1. How these scenes progress and develop; what is the movement of the plot from Act I to act V...importance of plot (Aristotle--plot/action is primary; character grows out of it. Shakespeare's mastery of it)

a. The working out of the oxymoron; the highest love is the most dangerous and must die--death as absolute and as the ultimate supplier of meaning; they die perfect; what if they did survive and marry? Those of us who do may in fact make a very deliberate choice to turn away from this kind of love. Tragic/heroic destiny; the premonitions; inevitability; attempts to avert; but they are the saints, martyrs and sacrifices of love( cf. Conclusion--bring peace to the city); Adonis myth; also Isis and Osiris; the religion is real--contrast them to the Friar

b. Their individuation and maturation from one role or stage to another

i. difference between early and late Juliet; her docility re mother and father at beginning; her decisiveness and courage later--with Paris, the potion, and especially in killing herself. Look at her language in final scene for evidence of strength and dignity.

ii. ditto on difference between Romeo fore and after--especially his language--cf. Van Doren and Rabkin

2. Minor characters--naturalism and symbolism

a. Lady Montague--only two instances

b. Lady Capulet

c. Capulet

d. Nurse

e. Friar

f. Mercutio, Benvolio, Tybalt

3. Who/what is responsible for the tragic outcome? Place blame, see it as chance and contrived, or destiny?

a. "Beauty too rich for use/ for earth too dear"--(I,v,49)

b. Everybody is good; i.e. all love in one way or another and are drawn to RandJ; join the religion

4. How did it affect you?

a. No one until the end of the play understands the lovers and what they are going through except us; we are isolated with them from the worldly world, privy to their ecstatic and agonized world and connect it with something in ourselves

5. How it affects me--as adolescent--morbid and entrancing relationships--nighttime and vertigo; lisa and judy; neurotic; hiroshima mon amour; the camps; as 26 year old in New York rain; married; columbia disturbances; cried for my own youth gone; now like the father, old capulet, i fear it for my children and you

6. If time and possible do scene from Zeffirelli version

a. On productions

i. Zefferelli film

(1). Sylvan Barnet in Signet ed:" Probably half the text has been dropped in order to open up the film...many bits of business are added...Whiting and Hussey were not adequate to the language and the emotions of the play...John Simon cruelly but aptly..' a RJ for teenyboppers and pederasts."

(2). Jill Levenson in Shakespeare in Performance: RJ: " Z has produced a version of the famous legend more uniform in tone, beautiful in conception, and passionate in mood than Shakespeare's."