Romeo and Juliet

A Discourse on Tragedy

[English 9 PIB] [02.26.2000]

What is a tragedy? In modern times, tragedies are very rare, but centuries before, in the 1500s, tragedies were a common genre; and Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare was a common tragedy. During the 1500s, a great era of learning, creativity, and imagination swept over Europe. It was known as the Enlightenment Era. William Shakespeare grew up in this period of imagination, and through the freedom and romanticism of this era, he became known as one of the greatest playwrights in history. His plays were made up of comedies and tragedies. A tragedy was more important, because it broke all the rules of a traditional play or story. It contained a plot sequence that was an almost reciprocal to the traditional sequence, but surprisingly, it worked. A tragedy is comprised of various distinguishing aspects. In some cases, a tragedy has only foreshadowing, rising action, a major conflict, and there is no real hope of a good ending, as there is in many modern stories or novels. Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy because it constitutes several of these distinguishing properties, more specifically: a tragic flaw in one of the main characters, an “opposite order” of the normal plot sequence, and a resolution that is ambiguous until the final scenes. When this resolution is finally revealed, it is the exact antithesis of what a resolution actually is.

Tragic flaws are often common in all stories, but they play a key role in tragedies. A main character’s tragic flaw can set a story, play, or novel in a “descending chain reaction”. As the main character falls, other characters fall with him, and finally, the whole story collapses into depression, resulting in a tragedy. This is definitely the case with Romeo and Juliet. Both of the main characters, Romeo Montague, a love-struck young man living in Verona, Italy, and Juliet Capulet, a 14 year old girl also living in Verona, have a common tragic flaw. The flaw is revealed through a certain type of indrectness; their actions clearly hint at a flaw in their personalities. William Shakespeare created innocent characters in Romeo and Juliet. Both are in love with each other, but since their families were feuding with each other, fate did not want them to be together. However, both Romeo and Juliet rushed to get their marriage straightened out. When Romeo’s friend, Mercutio, was killed, he took no time getting revenge. And when Juliet’s nurse came back to tell her of the news with Romeo, Juliet seemed the least bit worried about what the nurse went through to get the news; she was only worried about herself. She was impatient and hasty. That was the tragic flaw. Juliet and Romeo were hasty in their decisions and actions; they didn’t stop to consider the consequences of the marriage, or what would happen if Romeo had killed Tybalt (Mercutio’s killer), or if Juliet had taken the potion that set the final, dreadful scene into motion.

A normal plot sequence goes as follows: exposition – narrative hook – rising action – climax – falling action – resolution. However, in a tragedy, the normal plot sequence is cut in certain places and reconfigured. The exposition would lead into the narrative hook, which would lead to the rising action as normal. This is seen as characterization of Romeo develops; we learn about his background and how he was dumped by Rosaline, how he went to the Capulet ball, how he meets Juliet, and how Juliet finds out that he is a Montague, a fueding family of her family, the Capulets. However, the rising action would suddenly become a sort of gradual climax, where the reader’s interest fluctuates through dramatic irony. Romeo and Juliet become involved with their love, and the tragic flaw of hastiness and impatience begins to emerge as they get married. Paris proposes to marry the already-married Juliet on a Thursday, and dramatic irony makes its appearance. The reader knows that certain scenes such as the marriage between Romeo and Juliet are happening in the background, but it interests the reader that characters in the story such as Paris or Capulet do not know this. The climax now becomes the turning point of the