Romeo and Juliet almost speaks for itself. However, in keeping with the other articles on Book Analysis, we will try and review it honestly. (As honest as can be from a self-proclaimed Shakespeare fanboy!)
It is not as straightforward to show characters in a play. Often the actors themselves help bring a text to life. However, having done some amateur theatre what I can say categorically is that with a dull script the talent of the actors is irrelevant. That is not an issue here. There is a range of characters and they all feel distinct from one another.
We see a range of motivations and people adapting the way they behave to suit their situation. Take for instance Lord Capulet who is defensive about the idea of Juliet marrying given her age but in the wake of Tybalt’s death and facing her showing a rebellious side he transforms completely appearing to threaten violence against her.
It is well known that Shakespeare borrowed plot ideas liberally from ancient Greek plays. However, with Romeo and Juliet, he broke new ground. Of course, it wasn’t the first tragedy but it was the first to use love as the hero’s fatal flaw. Up until this point, of course, we had seen love in plays but usually in comedy. It was considered not serious enough to warrant being a factor in a tragedy. The impact of this has shaped culture immeasurably.
But is the plot any good? It is not his most complex. There are no multiple side plots at play. However, it is such a good story. It truly is timeless and has been borrowed and liberally ripped off for centuries since. Personally, it is one of my favorites.
There is no doubt that Shakespeare was a master of his craft. So much of what he has written has shaped and bled into modern society. What he always did beautifully is use speech patterns to denote class or changes in status. Or in the case of Rome and Juliet to signify love. You know how they say when people are in love they “complete one another” Shakespeare subconsciously shows us that. When Romeo and Juliet first talk to one another their words form a perfect Shakespearean sonnet. Isn’t that beautiful? Plus looking beyond that you have the subtle difference in the way Romeo describes Juliet compared to Rosaline.
His metaphors are all about war and misery with Rosaline signifying his inner turmoil while his imagery when describing Juliet draws on religion and light. These skills combined with the masterful use of foreshadowing and the beautifully crafted witty exchanges between Romeo and Mercutio prove just how good the bard was.
It might not be the literary critic’s favorite. That honor seems to lie with Hamlet but can you really argue with the lasting appeal of Romeo and Juliet? Here is a play that is still discussed and performed more than 400 years after it was written in an era where the language has developed so much that people struggle to understand everything which is said and yet it maintains its mystique. Some could point to the literary canon and suggest that it is full of dead white men and of course that is correct. I would suggest that not all of those dead white men deserve their place either.
However, I do not believe that you can extend that critique at the works of Shakespeare who was clearly ahead of his time in terms of the issues he was tackling. He also consistently displayed a masterful use of language and was as good at turning a phrase as anyone who has ever picked up a quill or sat in front of a typewriter. So, yes while I do display a certain degree of bias towards Shakespeare I still believe that Romeo and Juliet is an absolute masterpiece.
Should you read it?
This is a slightly more complex question to answer than you might expect. Yes, Shakespeare was a phenomenal writer but he was not an author. You can read his works and get enjoyment from them but truly to see them brought to life I’d recommend going to the theatre and seeing them performed and if you can’t bring yourself to do that watch one of the movie adaptations. So yes by all means read it. But if you ever get the opportunity to see it performed, do that! Especially if it is by somebody who does it well like the RSC in the UK.
Romeo and Juliet: Still as relevant today as it was in its day
Lasting effect on reader
Romeo and Juliet Review
Shakespeare creates an absolute masterpiece here with his groundbreaking ideas underpinned by his legendary writing skills.
- Impeccable use of language
- Iconic story
- The music scene near the climax is dated
- Some of the humour is lost on a modern audience
- Language can be tricky to understand