This is a book review I had to write as part of my ELA Class.
The play Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare is known as one of the greatest tragic plays ever written. It tells the story of Romeo and Juliet, two lovers who come from different families, the Montagues and the Capulets. These families are in a blood feud, and as such, would not allow the two to marry. As a result, they turn to outside help but in a snowballing twist of events they end up taking their own lives. Unlike many others, I think that Romeo and Juliet is not at all a very good play, and several elements could have been better. There were many clever moments in the play, but most of it felt either too long or too short. In particular, I found Romeo to be poorly characterized and his actions and personality made me feel less sympathetic towards him. I also found that his actions lessened the tragic element for me. On the other hand, I enjoyed the scenes with Mercutio and Tybalt, as they bought drama and action into the play with their characterization.
Every character in a classic tragedy has a tragic flaw, which leads them to ruination. Romeo’s tragic flaw, for example, is that he is a very emotional person. He does not think through anything. At the beginning of the play, Romeo’s friends are trying to make Romeo feel better about his situation with Rosaline, a minor character who he had felt unrequited love towards.Romeo’s friends convince him to attend a Capulet party to cheer him up, where he sees Juliet and falls in love with her. Almost immediately, upon seeing Juliet at the party, he has “forgotten that name [Rosaline] and that name’s woe.” A few hours later, in Scene Two, Romeo meets Juliet and they begin to profess their love for each other. At the end of the conversation, Romeo promises to send Juliet a letter containing a time and place for the next morning- “ at the hour of nine.” Romeo makes the decision to get married by listening to his emotions. His decisions are about the extension of his character, which makes him very flat and static. Shakespeare does not make any effort to show how he is aside from his relations to his friends and to Juliet. This made it hard for me to sympathize with him, as I did not see anything in Romeo that I could connect to. Romeo’s lack of development unfortunately stands out in contrast to Juliet, who’s familial relationships worsen over the course of the play. Her life is also briefly described: She was raised by a nurse who become her confidant and friend. This made her character more faceted and as a result, I felt sympathetic for her plights in the play. I liked Romeo himself, but the details given about him are just not interesting enough to warrant a reaction out of me.
The plot of Romeo and Juliet was not very tragic for me either. All of the tragedy was caused by a bad decision on one or more characters’ part, and once I realised that, I did not feel surprised when the consequences caught up to the characters. Before the play even starts, a prologue is read out. The prologue summarizes the events of the play, and right away states that “A pair of star-cross’d lovers[Romeo and Juliet] take their life; Whose misadventur’d piteous overthrows Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife” , spoiling any chance for any idea of a happy ending. By spoiling the end, the prologue makes the play predictable, and unfortunately less tragic. By Act Three, where Romeo kills Tybalt in a duel, it was easy for me to see where the story would go. There was a small twist in terms of what happens to Juliet towards the end of Act Three- Lord Capulet, her father mentions to Count Paris, another adversary to Romeo “A’ Thursday let it be—a’ Thursday, tell her, She shall be married to this noble earl [Count Paris].”, but it still did not make the play tragic. To me, an unavoidable circumstance that ends badly for someone is tragic. While there were unavoidable circumstances- the feud between the Montagues and Capulets, the sudden decision to wed Juliet to someone else, and Romeo unaware that Juliet deciding to fake her own death- the root cause of all these problems can be traced back to the idiotic choice of Romeo and Juliet’s marriage. Once again, Shakespeare makes it hard for me to sympathise with the characters’ plight, as anyone who gives little thought to life-changing decisions will face terrible consequences. Sadly for Shakespeare, that makes for a great life lesson, but a poorly written plot.
While I found much of Romeo and Juliet to be boring, I found that there were some good moments that showed Shakespeare’s genius. The first great moment came from Mercutio’s “Queen Mab” speech in Act One. Mercutio, Romeo’s friend, is a jokester, but his humor often goes too far. This is evident when he tells Romeo about a “dream” he had, describing Queen Mab, “the fairies’ midwife… drawn with a little team of little atomies Athwart men’s noses while they sleep”. In the grand scheme of the play, this does little else but serve as a way to inject humor. I liked this speech because it was a great way to portray Mercutio as a character. The way Mercutio is characterized before this- making light fun of Romeo, already gives an impression of what he is like- but this portion of his dialogue Shows the extent of Mercutio’s personality. Even when he is killed by Tybalt in Act Three, he makes fun of it by telling Romeo that tomorrow, “you will find me a grave man”. These well-placed jokes are what takes Mercutio from being a stock comic relief character to a well- developed personality. Tybalt’s characterization also shows how great Shakespeare can be. Tybalt is introduced in Act One, when he finds Romeo, who he hates with a passion, crashing a Capulet party. He holds this grudge into the next few days, when he finds Romeo on the street and challenges him to a duel. These events show Tybalt to be almost comically intemperate and serious- he wants to fight because he thinks Romeo is there to “fleer and scorn at our [He is saying this to Lord Capulet] solemnity”. The ‘solemn’ event in question is a masquerade ball. Certainly, like Mercutio, Shakespeare takes the idea of someone who takes things too seriously and develops it into a character that almost seems real.
To sum up Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet as either a good play or a bad play is to do it an injustice, as there are many complex elements to account for. My personal opinion is that is while I enjoyed it, I did not feel moved or see anything profound in the characters or plot. I thought that Romeo was a very flat character, and I did not feel very sympathetic towards him or his misfortune. To me the plot events did not convey a sense of tragedy, but instead felt predictable. On the other hand, I enjoyed the characterization of Mercutio and Tybalt, two characters who I felt had the greatest personality in the story. All in all, I think Shakespeare could have done better in telling the tale of Romeo and Juliet.