Romeo and Juliet - Thematic Dissection

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Romeo and Juliet is a classic tale of two “star-crossed lovers” (Shakespeare 736) whose destinies were pre-determined. As the scenes unfold, the main theme of love dominates above all else. As a matter of fact, Romeo and Juliet is the most famous love story there is in English literature. The audience is taught to accept the realm of variations of love such as love at first sight, lust, and infatuation. Throughout the decades, many more versions of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet were created including the Zeffirelli and Luhrmann versions. As the audiences changed along with the decade, some of the themes, key issues, symbols, and morals in all three versions of Romeo and Juliet changed as well. During the prologue of Romeo and Juliet, the Chorus comes in and describes the two noble households, the Montagues and the Capulets. The Chorus indicates that two star-crossed lovers will emerge from the two households. These lovers will exonerate an ancient grudge between their families by taking their own lives. The main focus of this play will be the famous tale of these two lovers, Romeo and Juliet, and of the inexcusable rivalry between their families. The prologue plays a huge role in not only setting up the scene of the play, but also in setting up the theme of this famous tale. The Chorus refers to the two lovers as star-crossed, which means that fate is not on their side and they are against the stars. Stars were believed to have the divine power of determining people’s destinies. The prologue reveals the ill-fate of Romeo and Juliet which causes the audience to truly grasp the value of fate which is unchangeable as depicted in the play. The theme of fate is shown in the same sense within the play, the Zeffirelli version, and the Luhrmann version of Romeo and Juliet. In the Zeffirelli version, a man states the prologue in the form of a narrator, whereas in the Luhrmann version, the prologue is a telecast. This is one of the early signs of modernization from the first movie to the second in order to please the changed audience. After the play is set up, the first scene begins. In the brawl, Shakespeare portrays all of the levels of the Veronese society, from those lowest in power, the servants, to the highest in power, the Prince who occupies the social and political acme. Characters are also developed in the scene while showing the intense hatred between the Montagues and Capulets. Benvolio is seen as attentive and apprehensive of the law, Tybalt as a hothead, and Romeo as pre-occupied and love struck. Shakespeare also sets up some of the major themes of the play. The cause of the brawl introduces the important theme of masculine honor which is when a man must defend his honor whenever it is challenged verbally or physically, no matter what social level the man is at. Masculine honor influences Samson and Gregory as much as it does Tybalt. Another powerful theme in the play is obedience. I noticed that for the servants, the law comes before their desires. At one point, Samson proved this by asking, “Is the law on our side, if I say ‘Ay,’” (Shakespeare 737) before insulting the Montagues. Then, he bites his thumb at the Montague family. Thumb-biting, in actuality, is a pointless gesture, but it represents the stupidity of the entire Capulet/Montague feud and the idiocy of violence in general. After the brawl, the Prince establishes the death penalty for anyone who dares to disturb the peace of Verona again. The Prince hoped this new level of punishment would instill fear in the street fighters and diminish the rivalry between the Montagues and Capulets. Ultimately, the theme of masculine honor triumphed over obedience in all three versions of Romeo and Juliet. Lover boy Romeo also appears in this scene, but at this point he is in love with Rosaline, not Juliet. Later on, Romeo and his friends crash the Capulet’s party. During this party, the main theme of love is primarily introduced in the form...
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