Romeo and Juliet Session Themes & Topics
1 - Shakespeare’s Main Source: Arthur Brooke’s 3020 line narrative poem “The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet” (first published in 1562). Brooke was reported to have translated it from an Italian novella “Giulietta e Romeo”, a novella by the Italian author Matteo Bandello, written in 1554. The poem's ending differs significantly from Shakespeare's play: the nurse is banished, the apothecary is hanged for his involvement in the deception while Friar Laurence leaves Verona to live in a hermitage until he dies. Another notable plot difference is that the story takes place over nine months while Shakespeare’s version takes place over 5 days. A key theme of Brooke’s epic poem which permeates Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is:
2 - Love as a Religious Experience (or Love as a Form of Religious Worship). This idea of love is based on medieval courtly love poetry and was a strong influence on Brooke’s version of Romeo and Juliet. Love in this sense is not just lust but is tempered by patience, romance, spirituality and heroism. The language used in this poetry was full of religious references. This idea of love was borrowed by Shakespeare in his version of the tale. Here are a few examples which reflect this theme:
“If I profane with my unworthiest hand this holy shrine” Romeo, Act I Scene 5
“Call me but love and I’ll be new baptized.” Juliet, Act II Scene 2
“Swear by the gracious self, which is the god of my idolatry.” Juliet, Act II Scene 2
This theme of love as religious worship demonstrates the young couple’s passion and devotion to one another. This return of affection from Juliet inflames the young Romeo as opposed to his advances towards the “unfeeling” Rosaline which were not reciprocated.
3 - Synopsis of the Play: The extract below is the synopsis as staged in “The Romeo and Juliet Session”:
Day 1, Sunday: The star crossed lovers meet and fall in love. Day 2, Monday: They secretly marry in Friar Lawrence’s cell. Later, Romeo gets in a brawl with Tybalt and his best friend, Mercutio, is killed . Taking revenge, Romeo in turn kills Tybalt. For this murderous act The Prince banishes him. But before fleeing to Mantua Romeo has a passionate night with his new bride. Day 3, Tuesday: Mr. & Mrs. Capulet brutally force the rebellious Juliet to marry Paris. A now desperate Juliet runs to Friar Lawrence begging for help. He gives her a potion that induces a death-like state. Later that day Capulet moves the day of the wedding from Thursday to Wednesday. Day 4, Wednesday: The nurse finds Juliet “dead”. The wedding preparations now become funeral preparations. Romeo hears of Juliet’s death and makes the journey to Verona. Day 5, Thursday: Romeo arrives in Capulet’s tomb and takes his own life just before Juliet awakes. Seeing her dead lover by her side, the young Juliet takes Romeo’s knife and ends it.
4 – Benvolio, Romeo & Mercutio: The function of Benvolio’s character is to provide a peaceful, passive personality in contrast to the lively and aggressive Mercutio. This is important as both characters have a significant influence on the young Romeo. Our hero demonstrates aspects of both characters at various points throughout the play.
Benvolio’s character foretells an end to the feud. He is only member of Romeo’s generation to survive by the end of the play. We also know that Benvolio is trustworthy. After Mercutio has been slain, Benvolio recounts the events accurately and fairly to the Prince. Even though he belongs to one of the families in the feud, the Prince does not see it necessary to doubt his word, further proving his sincerity and earnestness.
It might prove useful to think of the characters of Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio as three brothers: Mercutio is the aggressive, jaded and, sometimes, mean eldest, Romeo is the youngest and most spoilt as he’s allowed to...
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