Shakespeare’s play “Romeo and Juliet”, while definitely belonging to the tragedy type, includes comic moments that remind us of the author’s great gift as comedy writer. These elements serve to offer the viewer/reader a break from the pathos of the story and return to the down-to-earth reality.
They also remind the audience that for all their high aspirations, the characters in the play are youngsters for the most part, not alien to fun and jokes common to many in their age.
Most of more or less comic scenes feature Juliet’s nurse – a warm-hearted and witty lady. Thus, in Act 2, Scene 4, she engages in a comic dialogue with Romeo’s friend Mercutio. When the nurse steps on the balcony and asks a page to bring her a fan, Mercutio remarks “Good Peter, to hide her face; for her fan’s the fairer face”. The subsequent dialogue rotates around boys’ jokes about the woman’s lack of beauty. This little exchange comes after an elevated debate about the nature of love and reminds the reader that this is in fact a crowd of young guys even if they engage in intellectual talk at times.
In Scene 3, Act 2, when Lady Capulet enters her daughter’s room, the nurse delivers a lengthy monologue in which she remembers Juliet as a young child: “I cannot choose but laugh
To think it should leave crying and say ‘Ay’”. This monologue, which both Juliet and her mother try to put a stop to, but in vain, presents Juliet not as an unreal beauty that is too exquisite to live a human life, but as a common girl who has grown out of a small, funny baby.
Thus, these comic moments serve to relieve the pathos of the action and intersperse high-flown and philosophical pieces with bona fide humor that helps the audience to relax. In addition, Shakespeare succeeds in creating a sense that his characters are no less human than the viewers. They are not some abstract creatures engaged in their noble pursuits, but normal people who appreciate a good laugh.
2. Shakespeare uses a few moments at the beginning of the play to let the audience sense that tragic end that is coming. Thus, the scene at the very opening of the play in which a group of Montague men put up a fight against those from the Capulet clan foreshadows the death of the young characters caused by the rivalry of their families. The verdict of the Prince of the City, although authoritative, leaves one in doubt as to the prospects of its realization. Speaking of the members of both clans as “beasts, that quench the fire of … pernicious rage with purple fountains issuing from … veins, on pain of torture”, the Prince lets the audience a glimpse into the nature of the conflict and the mentality of the people who uphold it. This description as well as the bloody scene of the street fight convinces the reader that something else has got to happen to stop this feud.
In Scene 4, Act 1, Romeo and his friends go to a party where the main character is to meet Juliet and fall in love. Before entering the costumed ball, where their faces should remain unrecognized, the company pauses, a fact that alerts the reader to anticipate some fatal happening. Romeo himself states before entering: “I fear too early, for my mind misgives, some consequence yet hanging in the stars.” This phrase allows the audience to guess that Romeo is on the verge of some pivotal moment in his life that will change it forever. The words “misgives” and “fear” hint that this event will bring about disastrous consequences.
Another hint that points to danger that is related to Romeo and Juliet’s relationship appears in the talk between Romeo and his spiritual mentor Friar Lawrence in Act 2, Scene 3. In Friar Lawrence’s cell, Romeo shares his good news with his friend: he is through with Rosalind and is eager to marry Juliet. Surprisingly, the monk agrees to wed them, believing this union can help end the ancient feud.
Romeo, however, urges him to speed up the proceedings: “O, let us hence; I stand on sudden haste.” Friar Lawrence cautions him against such haste: “Wisely and slow; they stumble that run fast.” This shows dangers associated with the love story that develops a blow of lightning: the two people had only met, and now they are already rushing to get married. The reader, too, gets a sense that Romeo and Juliet are acting in a rash and insensible way, hurrying with their wedding.
Thus, Shakespeare first points out to the audience that the action takes place in a dangerous setting: a city in which two families clinch in an age-old feud. Then he lets the reader sense forthcoming dangers associated with Romeo’s love for Juliet, and finally demonstrates that the haste shown by the two youngsters can hardly bring any good.
Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. 29 Dec. 05 <http://www-tech.mit.edu/Shakespeare/romeo_juliet/>.
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