Shakespeare's Tragic Finale in Romeo & Juliet

Four hundred years ago, late in the sixteenth century, William Shakespeare wrote ‘The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet’; a play that tells the tale of the love between the children of two feuding families, and the tragedy that becomes their love. Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet fall in love, then further dishonour, and in this course disobey, their parents by secretly getting married. When Romeo’s best friend Mercutio is killed in a brawl Romeo takes revenge (death) on his killer, Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin.

Romeo is here by banished and has to leave Juliet to marry her father’s choice of groom: Parris. Juliet will not marry him and again disobeys her father. She takes a sleeping potion to make her appear dead. Romeo doesn’t get this message and, on hearing the news of her death, goes to her tomb to take his own life. Juliet wakes up to find her love dead and in her pain takes also her life.

‘Romeo and Juliet’, is, by definition, a tragedy:

1) A play in which the protagonist falls to disaster through the combination of a personal failing and circumstances with which he cannot deal

2) Any dramatic or literary composition dealing with such themes.

Defined by the Oxford Dictionary

In this play Romeo and Juliet are the protagonists that fall to disaster. The disaster is their death and it’s surrounding circumstances. Both Romeo and Juliet also committed numerous personal failings during the play. For example, they both disobeyed their parents and brought dishonour to their families, which in Elizabethan times (when the play was written and first performed) were considered very serious personal failings.

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They both lied and deceived people. Romeo had also committed murder and probably misused several young women before he met Juliet. Although the text suggests this several times it does not actually state it.

Although all of the above would be considered personal failings, the failing that, in my opinion, lead to the ultimate disaster (the lover’s deaths), was Romeo and Juliet’s foolishness and hastiness with love. They barely knew each other when they got married and they were quick to resort to passionate endings that, in my opinion, might have been avoided if they had only given it some thought. However, the play was written at a time where people strongly believed in fate and not having any control over your own destiny. Therefore, the audience would not interpret the ending as being the protagonist’s fault, as I instinctively have. They would see the ending simply as tragic fate.

Tragedies in Shakespeare’s time were traditionally written as revenge tragedies; plays where the protagonist nobly tries to take revenge for a wrong doing unto them, this in turn then ends up in tragedy. Hamlet is an example of a ‘revenge tragedy’ written by Shakespeare. Many writers at the time of Shakespeare used the traditional format of the ‘revenge tragedy. Webster wrote ‘The Duchess of Malfi’, Kyd wrote ‘The Spanish Tragedy’, and Christopher Marlowe wrote ‘Tamberlaine’. These are all examples of typical Shakespearian ‘revenge tragedies’.

However, Shakespeare broke this tradition in the writing of ‘Romeo and Juliet’. ‘Romeo and Juliet’ differs from the traditional revenge tragedy for several reasons, but mainly because it is based on the positive emotion of love, and not the negative emotion of revenge. Although it does contain elements of revenge, for example, Mercutio and Tybalt’s deaths, it is not the main base of the play, or even a central theme. Another difference between a typical revenge tragedy and ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is that revenge tragedies usually have a focus on abstract ideas, like ‘evil’ and ‘revenge’, which are often personified. Rather than using this device as a predominant theme in ‘Romeo & Juliet’, Shakespeare uses the device as a minor theme: the personification of death.

The technique of personifying abstract ideas enables Shakespeare to conjure up an image of death, an image that is used increasingly throughout ‘Romeo & Juliet’. This makes the idea and prospect of death (one of the main themes in the play), even more terrifying, and in this process creates dramatic tension. Throughout the play Romeo and Juliet unknowingly prophesied their deaths and create illusions of death by it’s personification, this shows the audience that there is death looming in the future for the characters, although the characters do not yet know it. By telling the audience that the protagonists of the play are going to die, the tragedy of the play is heightened because it is obvious that fate has already decided their tragic end.

Although ‘Romeo ; Juliet’ is not a ‘revenge tragedy’ it contains many of the distinctive characteristics, such as themes of violence (in this case vendetta), conflict, and strong women. However, ‘Romeo ; Juliet’ has the added dimension of the love and tenderness of the lovers.

One of the distinctive characteristics of tragedies throughout history is that the heroines often have very strong personalities. In act 2, scene 4, Mercutio innocuously compares Juliet to some of the most tragedy fated, yet ardent and strong women in the history of literature. “Dido a dowdy, Cleopatra a gypsy, Helen…” (Line 41-2) Dido: Queen of Carthage, tragically committed suicide after her lover left her, Cleopatra: committed suicide after her lover left her, and Helen: for whom thousands of men died. These women were also very passionate lovers, which is the context in which Mercutio uses the comparison, but it is also a warning, an implication of danger for Romeo’s behaviour. It is another prophecy of the lover’s tragic fate. Most of the audience would have known about these characters, because stories and plays were one of the main forms of entertainment in Shakespeare’s time. This is another point at which the play is spelt out to be a tragedy to the audience.

In the case of ‘Romeo & Juliet’, and many other tragedies, the ending has to be tragic because of the nature of the tale. In this case Romeo has committed many personal failings, crimes, and worst of all has disobeyed the monarch. Juliet too committed offences. A monarch cannot be seen to be letting people who have committed such offences walk free and have a wonderful life with their true love (or so it would have seemed at the time of their death), so the characters would have to be punished in some way, the most suitable way being death, for the play to be acceptable to the monarch. Putting two lovers to death would not be nearly as passionately tragic as them taking their own lives through a misunderstanding. Putting them to death could also look bad for the monarch, as the characters are been portrayed in a positive light to the audience during the play. The most fitful end would therefore be for them to be killed in another way. The idea of fate being very responsible for the lover’s death, E.g. “Ah, what an unkind hour/Is guilty of this lamentable chance!” (Friar Lawrence, Act 5, Sc 3, L145-146), adds the implication of the lovers being punished by the heavens for the sins they have committed. This added bonus portrays the idea that people who have sinned will get punished, which is very appealing to a monarch, and would therefore give the play a lot of support.

A big part of the way Shakespeare creates the ultimate sense of tragedy in the final scene is by gradually building up tragic tension throughout the play. One way, that I have already mentioned, in which Shakespeare builds up tension is by telling the audience what is going to happen in the rest of the play. On line 6 of the prologue when referring to Romeo and Juliet the narrator says “A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life”, and on line 9 refers to their love as “death-marked love”. This tells the audience, before the play has even begun, that Romeo and Juliet are fated lovers and will die by way of suicide. Throughout the play the lovers unknowingly prophesied their tragic death.

Eg. Juliet, Act 3, Scene 2, Line 59 “Vile earth, to earth resign; end motion here;

And thou and Romeo press one heavy bier!”

Here Juliet prophesies Romeo’s and her death by wishing their bodies to be carried to the graveyard together on a “bier” and be buried, ending their life. By telling the audience that Romeo and Juliet are going to die, the tragedy of the play is gradually heightened because it is obvious to the audience that fate has already decided the lover’s tragic end.

Although the prophesising of the tragic outcome of the play is a major theme throughout the play, there are many other instances where Shakespeare tells the audience what is going to happen. These instances are not, however, as significant to the plot as those which are about the tragedy because climax of the play is the actual tragedy of Romeo and Juliet’s deaths, at the end of the play.

Another technique Shakespeare uses throughout the play is that of oxymorons. For example one of the oxymoronic themes that runs throughout the play is appearance Verses reality.

Eg. Juliet (talking about Romeo), Act 3, Sc 2, L 75, “Beautiful tyrant! Fiend angelical!”

Both of these statements are oxymorons, and throughout this speech Juliet uses similar vocabulary. Juliet is lamenting Romeo’s beautiful appearance could hide an evil reality when she finds out that he has killed Tybalt.

This theme of appearance Vs reality gradually heightens the tragedy of the play because appearance of something in the play is often not the reality of it, which causes the very confusion that leads to the lover’s death. For example, at the end of the play Romeo believes Juliet to be dead when she is not actually so, and thus takes his own life. This is ironic as when Juliet earlier thought Romeo to be dead, instead of Tybalt, she talks of suicide.

Act 3, scene 2, L45-47, “Say thou but ‘Ay’, and that bare vowel ‘I’ shall poison more I/Than the death-darting eye of a cockatrice.”

An Elizabethan audience would have seen this repetition of events as ‘fate’, because people believed very strongly in things like fate at that time. The idea of fate is paired up with the idea of freewill to form another oxymoronic theme. Many of the themes in ‘Romeo & Juliet’ are paired up as oxymorns.

One of the main themes running throughout the play is light V dark (another oxymoronic theme). Throughout the play Romeo and Juliet are described in light imagery.

Romeo (about Juliet, on their first meeting) Act 1, Sc 5, Ln 44

“she doth teach the torches to burn bright!”

The mood of the scenes and characters is also heightened by the use of light V dark imagery throughout the play.

Father Lawrence, who married Romeo and Juliet earlier in the week, tries to help Juliet by concocting a plan, and in so doing gives her a sleeping potion to make her appear dead. Friar Lawrence (talking to Juliet about telling Romeo their plan), Act 4, Sc 1, L 123,

“In this resolve: I’ll send a friar with speed/To Mantua, with my letters to thy lord.”

The theme of poisons and love potions is a recurring theme throughout Romeo and Juliet. When the Friar is first introduced in the play he is tending to his herb plants, when Juliet has to marry Paris she takes a sleeping potion, and it is the method that kills Romeo at the end of the play. This theme was very popular in Shakespeare’s plays, and in the ‘revenge tragedy genre’ generally. It held much fascination within the Elizabethan audiences.

Although Friar Lawrence’s intentions were good his plan was flawed and Romeo didn’t receive his letter, because the Friar that was sent to deliver it was quarantined after visiting an infected house. This mistake was the beginning of a series of confusions that lead to the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet’s deaths.

On hearing of Juliet’s death from his servant, Balthasar, Romeo decides to go to Juliet’s tomb to commit suicide. This is ironic, as Romeo has already tried to kill himself when he was told of his banishment. It is also ironic that the first time Romeo tries to kills himself he tries to stab himself, because that is how Juliet kills herself in the final scene. Romeo going to the graveyard to kill himself is very passionate and so increases the tragic irony from here on in the play.

The fact that Romeo has tried to kill himself more than once, has been in love with two different people within one week, and has had many brawls, perhaps shows that he is prone to passionate out bursts that may not come from true founded emotions. The questions over Romeo and Juliet’s true love for each other become more blatant throughout the play, and gradually heighten the sense of tragedy as the audience start to question whether or not their love is a fickle teenage fancy.

From this point in the play until the climax, the audience suspect that Juliet will wake up to find Romeo dead. This increases the tragedy for the audience, because in the audience’s position the tragedy is now foreseeable, and therefore stoppable.

When Romeo goes to the tomb he is in a state of grief stricken fury. He uses commands to show how determined he is.

Act 5, Sc 3, Ln 27 (to Balthasar) “Do not interrupt me in my course”

He is determined to force open the tomb with a crowbar, to get proof of Juliet’s death. This shows that he very violent and although he has been portrayed as a violent character throughout the play, every time he has met Juliet this violence has subsided and been overcome with love. This time, however, the image of death and violence completely takes over, ending in Romeo’s death, and then the death of Juliet.

When in the tomb Romeo wants to dwell on Juliet’s beauty as he loves her so much. Act 5, Sc3, Ln 29 “to behold my lady’s face”

He then takes Juliet’s wedding ring.

Act 5, Sc 3, Ln 30-31 “take thence from her dead finger/A precious ring”

I think Romeo took her ring with the idea that it was a part of Juliet, and that he was taking a keepsake of their love. This makes Romeo and Juliet’s deaths feel more tragic because it was so sentimental and passionate.

From the moment Romeo hears of Juliet’s death he becomes very violent in everything that he does. He uses very aggressive language like “savage, “strew”, “tear”, and “fierce”. Romeo has used violent language at interspersed intervals throughout his courtship of Juliet, mostly mixed in with his descriptions of his love. For example, “dry sorrow drinks our blood” (act 3, sc 5, l 59). At this point, however, the violent language is constant and completely takes over all sense or reason.

In act 2, scene 6 Friar Lawrence warns Romeo of having an overly passionate love. On line 6 he says that, “violent delights have violent ends”. Romeo’s death is also unknowingly prophesied several times during the conversation. Before Juliet enters the scene the whole of the conversation between the Friar and Romeo is very ominous and much of the vocabulary is mimicked in Romeo’s death speech.

Friar Lawrence (referring to Juliet), Act 2, Sc 6, Ln 11 “The sweetest honey/Is loathsome in his own deliciousness”

Romeo (referring to Juliet), Act 5, Sc 3, Ln 101 “Death, that hath sucked the honey out of thy breath”

Since the mimicking is spaced out within the speech it seems as though Romeo is using the same words unknowingly. This makes the audience feel that fate has something to do with the circumstance, but because the mimicking comes from words the Friar has said to Romeo the audience also feels that Romeo is having to pay the price from not heeding the Friar’s warning of exercising excessively passionate love. The two points are examples of the link back to the definition of tragedy: a combination of the protagonist’s personal failings (not listening to the Friar, and therefore not listening to God) and events outside the protagonist’s control (fate). As events such as these accumulate and worsen, the tragedy grows until the final climax.

The atmosphere in the tomb is very sad, as it is associated with death, but at the same time it is quite eerie and foreboding. Paris’s page voices:

“I am almost afraid to stand alone/Here in the churchyard” Act 5, Sc 3, Ln 10-11. The play is staged so that both Paris and Romeo leave their servants outside, which allows for them to fight as the two honourable men duelling the love of a sweet maiden, as in the classic traditional love story. Although this small part lives up to the tradition, the tragedy is increased by them both thinking that Juliet is actually dead, and therefore are fighting for no reason. This does have the cover of them having feuding friends, but the fight allows the protagonist (Romeo) to triumph and reunite his love with Juliet’s in death.

The ambience is also very peaceful when Paris is in the tomb… until Romeo arrives. This poignant moment is interrupted by the stagecraft of Romeo’s arrival carrying a crowbar, which is an extremely violent image. There is a huge contrast between the previous stillness of the tomb and the violent interruption of Romeo’s anger.

There is a very tender moment where Paris lays flowers at the tomb. He uses quite a lot of flower imagery, and calls her “sweet flower” and “a rose by another name” which contrasts to “cursed foot” that he calls Romeo when he arrives. This contrast creates an instant shift in the mood of the scene as soon as Romeo arrives, from peacefully sad and mournful to a much darker, passionately violent mood. At this point the audience start to wonder ‘what if’ Juliet had chosen Paris instead of Romeo. ‘Would that really have been so bad? Would that have prevented the tragedy?’

The scene in the tomb is very dark, as the characters need torches. Both Paris and Romeo ask for the light on entering. This links to the implication of them fighting over Juliet, who is described throughout the play and in this scene using light imagery. In Romeo’s final soliloquy Juliet is described as “a lantern”. The dark imagery used throughout this scene helps build up the tragic atmosphere because it is associated with darkness and death, which is associated with tragedy.

The violent language that both Paris (“murdered”, “banished”, “villainous”, “vile”) and Romeo (“womb of death”) use after Romeo’s entrance strongly contrast to Paris’s earlier tender words to Juliet in the tomb. This brings back the oxymoronic theme of love V hate that runs throughout the play. This gradually heightens the tragedy because one thing so good and one thing so bad are unbearably entwined. Juliet (about Romeo), Act 1, Sc 5, Ln 138

“My only love, sprung from my only hate!”

The tone of this final scene swings between love and hate, peace and violence. First there is the stillness of Paris mourning over Juliet. There is the violence and anger as Paris and Romeo duel, and Paris is killed. Then the peacefulness is restored as Romeo grants Paris’s dying wish, to be laid with Juliet. The passion, anger, and ultimately the compromise and forgiveness on Romeo’s part increase the tragic element, and restores Romeo as the noble hero after his ferocious madness.

Romeo and Juliet are alone during Romeo’s final soliloquy, which therefore shows that he is telling the truth in what he says. This stagecraft means that when Romeo starts to describe his love for Juliet and addresses her “my love, my wife” the audience know that his feelings are true, and that the emotions which drove him to such previous madness where based on pure love. This final build up of emotion and outpour of Romeo’s true feelings is the tragic climax at the end of Romeo’s life.

In Romeo’s final soliloquy he refers to his soul as “betossed” which means that as he dies he is disturbed so that his soul will not be able to rest. This would make the ending of the play extraordinarily tragic for an Elizabethan audience, because many of them believed that a soul couldn’t go to heaven or hell until it had found it’s resolution. They believed it would wonder, aimlessly, and many of them thought that that would be a worse fate than hell itself.

Romeo talks of Paris to Juliet, which increases tragedy because it affirms the tragic events in the audience’s mind, and in Romeo’s mind, directly before he dies.

Romeo believes himself and Paris to be the victims of “sour misfortune’s book”, so he grants Paris’s final request in a mood of compassion for his rival. This brings back the theme of fate V freewill, one of the themes that makes the whole play a tragedy because Romeo and Paris have no control over there fate in this series of situations.

In Romeo’s final lines he admires Juliet for her beauty (“beauty’s ensign”). This is significant because he is not admiring her for her personality, which is known to be the key element of ‘true love’. The way he admires Juliet’s beauty in this final scene is similar to the way he says he loves Roseline; for her looks.

Eg. Romeo, Act 1, Sc 1, Ln 215 “O, she is rich in beauty”

Throughout act 1 scene 1 Romeo speaks about Roseline in rhyming couplets. This is a technique used in Elizabethan sonnets, the ‘poems of true love’. This implies to the audience that Romeo is truly in love with Roseline, which we then find out not to be the case when he falls deeply in love with Juliet, in act 1 scene 5. The fact that Romeo’s love for Roseline was so obviously capricious and shallow does not reflect well on his ‘love’ for Juliet. Romeo’s lack of veritable love for Roseline causes the audience to question what his love for Juliet is based on, and whether or not it is a fickle love that, if given more time, would have cracked and broken. It is tragic if Romeo and Juliet die, but even more tragic if they die and don’t love each other, because that means they have died without reason. This questioning opens a new dimension of tragedy to the audience and thus increases tragedy throughout the final scene.

In the tomb, Romeo asks Tybalt for his forgiveness for killing him in act 3 scene 1. Act 5, Sc 3, Ln 97-101 “Tybalt, liest thou there in thy bloody sheet? …Forgive me, cousin!”

This reinforces the previous point that Romeo’s mentality is very changeable and not always terribly stable. It also tells the audience that Romeo has regrets when he dies, as Tybalt cannot answer his plea for forgiveness, which links back to the point that Romeo’s soul was disturbed when he died, making the outcome of the play even more tragic to an Elizabethan audience.

Immediately before Romeo dies, in his final soliloquy, he imagines Death wants Juliet to himself (Ln 103, “Death is amorous”), so he determines to join her (Ln 129, “Here’s to my love! …Thus with a kiss I die”. This adds the bitter emotion of jealousy to Romeo’s collection of sentiments, which increases the tragedy because it is another negative emotion that Romeo is experiencing when he dies. He is not dying peacefully, as all Elizabethans, and people today, would hope for.

Romeo is a character that has an amazing attitude towards death. In act 2, scene six, line 7 he says “love devouring death”. This is something Romeo says several times throughout the play, and is something he definitely lives up to. It appears to the audience that in Romeo’s eyes his love is devouring death by his suicide. It almost feels like Romeo is hysterically trying to get-one-over on death, because death wants to make him live in the suffering he’s experiencing. This hysteria accentuates the depiction of Romeo’s pain and creates an overwhelming sense of tragedy for the audience. In the final scene, one emotion Romeo does not demonstrate is fear. Many of the other characters do show fear, but Romeo does not. This portrays Romeo to be a very brave and honourable man, which increases the tragic element because the audience don’t want to see the hero of the play die.

In act three, scene 1 and 2, Romeo prefers death to banishment. This reinforces the idea of him not being afraid of death, and being very passionate in the way that he thinks.

After Romeo kills himself in the final scene, Friar Lawrence and Balthasar enter the tomb. They make quick exchanges, which insinuate urgency and fear, and they use a vocabulary of urgency, which also builds up tension. This is a big contrast from the previous atmosphere of Romeo’s courage and violence, as the tomb is now very peaceful, but the Friar and Balthasar are very fearful. They keep mentioning fear. Eg. Balthasar, Act 5, Sc 3, L 133, “And fearfully did menace me with death.”

On line 128 of the final scene Friar Lawrence ways, “Have my old feet stumbled at graves!” If you stumbled it was considered and ill omen by Elizabethans. This increases the tragedy.

Throughout the final scene Friar Lawrence keeps making references to fate. For example, on line 146 he says, “Is guilty of this lamentable chance!” Shakespeare uses these references in several ways: It is a very effective way of making the Friar seem like he might be denying guilt, which is fitting considering the amount he had to do with the lover’s end. The Friar also occasionally mentions guilt, like in the previous quote, which suggests that it is on his mind. The usage of guilt brings the classic tale down to reality, where tragedy is at its most poignant, and gory. It is an unpleasantly real emotion that people can relate to, and would be normal to feel in the Friar’s situation. This also enhances the tragic dimension of the final scene because it is an example of the negative affects that Romeo and Juliet’s death has had. This guilt is something Friar Lawrence will have to live with forever, and that is a terrible and tragic burden in itself. Even though this vendetta between the two families has seemingly reached it’s tragic climax, there are still incredibly negative feelings simmering away. As proved throughout the play, it is exceedingly hard to extinguish these emotions without them first erupting and causing yet more trouble. This is a point the audience will note when increasingly heavy emotional burdens are placed on characters, such as the burden of guilt placed on Friar Lawrence.

Another reason Shakespeare uses Friar Lawrence to refer to fate is to link back to its theme that began in the prologue and has run throughout the play. It would have been especially important for Shakespeare to carry this theme right to the end, because inevitable death is a lot more perturbing as a concept than consequential death. Consequential death occurs as a consequence of freewill, the oxymoronic theme linked with fate. It is therefore controllable and less disturbing. Considering the Elizabethan’s beliefs, this was a very real idea for them. Concern within the audience would increase the seeming tragedy.

Friar Lawrence is the most suitable character to carry the theme of fate through to the end of the play because he is a man of god. Even though Friar Lawrence has repeatedly done wrong, he is still a priest, and still has that sanctity and connection with God in the audience’s eyes. This gives the allusions to fate and God more weight, and omen. For the audience it is an obvious link with heaven that suggests God might be directly creating this fate and unkindly mocking them by making them aware of this fact. This horrible emotional manipulation that Shakespeare creates in the final scene increase the sense of tragedy.

This idea is opposed to the current standard view that there is freewill within faith (taught by the Christian religion). However, at the time of Shakespeare, such ideas were under scrutiny, and a major strand of Christianity in the Reformation was Calvinism (John Calvin, 1509-64). This taught that the “Elect” were destined to be saved, and that others would not be (the Doctrine of Predestination). Thus the belief of the audience would not necessarily be surprised by a priest being subject to fate (as dictated by God). Additionally, Friar Lawrence was a Catholic, and might be shown to have a variety of beliefs held heretical by Protestants. Thus Shakespeare can demonstrate that God has complete power over everyone, and that all are at his mercy, without rebelling against the established religion and displeasing the queen. These themes of God, Fate, and Freewill are especially distinct in this passage.

The references to, and differences between, the themes of God and Fate in this passage are very distinct. It is almost ironic that the two are so closely entwined because of the strong beliefs of the audience.

Friar Lawrence and Balthasar’s speeches increase the time between Romeo’s death and Juliet’s awakening. This creates furthermore dramatic tension. There is also a lot of stagecraft that adds to the tension of the death passage. For example, just as Juliet wakes there is a ‘noise from within’. At this point in the play the there is absolute tension within the audience. Juliet has just woken up, and the audience are desperate to know what happens next. This stagecraft usefully reminds the audience that the Friar is still there, but is actually placed at this point to create dramatic tension by delaying giving the fraught audience a resolution. This technique is used earlier in the play, at the end of act 4, scene 5. There are some musicians talking to Peter, the Nurse’s servant. This part of the scene has no important relevance to the plot; it simply builds up dramatic tension by keeping the audience hanging in the air, waiting to know what happens next. The dramatic tension that is built up throughout this passage increases the tragedy by making it more emotional for the audience.

The events surrounding Juliet’s awakening have the highest atmospheric tension in the whole play, although they are not the tragic climax. The audience are completely on edge, they are almost shocked that Juliet has woken up, and, with the Friar’s preceding words (L 159, “Come go, good Juliet”), are all willing her to leave her dead love’s side and go with the Friar for a relatively happy ending. At this point Shakespeare gives a glimmer of hope that the audience grabs onto, this radically increases the final tragedy of Juliet’s death because it raises the audience’s hopes so that they have further to fall to the pit of grief stricken tragedy that is inevitably looming.

The audience are shocked that Juliet has woken up because of the ‘tragic’ timing produced by the stagecraft. Friar Lawrence has just reconfirmed the deaths of Romeo and Paris for the audience, and therefore reopened the wound of grief. This stagecraft allows just enough time for the audience to slip into lamentation mode, when they are suddenly jolted back to the reality that Juliet has just woken. The audience grasp onto this sudden transition only to be hit in the face with the question of what Juliet will do next. This combination between fast and slow moving drama causes great emotion within the audience, which in turn amplifies the tragedy.

Juliet’s death has been prophesised many times throughout the play, so this is in the back of the audience’s mind leading up to her death, but they don’t want to, and won’t believe it until it happens. This is accentuated by small glints of hope that Shakespeare throws in. In fact, Juliet prophesises her own death when talking about having to marry Paris in act 3, scene 5, “make the bridal bed/In the dim monument where Tybalt lies”. This increases the sense of tragedy because the audience already knows she will die, but they become entwined in the emotion of the scene and can’t quite believe the spelt out tragedy until it happens. This opens different tragic dimensions, therefore escalating the tragedy, as Shakespeare explores negative emotions, like denial.

When Juliet wakes, her first question is about Romeo. This is ironic as he is already dead. Juliet immediately asking about Romeo demonstrates her love for him because it shows he is her first thought, and constantly on her mind.

Juliet’s final soliloquy is much shorter than Romeo’s because it is dramatically symbolic of a short life. This increases the tragedy because it is very tragic to die so young.

When the Friar renters the tomb, he urges Juliet to leave, as he fears discovery (“Come go, good Juliet, I dare no longer stay” L159), but Juliet refuses to leave (“for I will not away” 160) because she prefers to join Romeo in death. Juliet is usually compared to a flower, which is delicate, but in this scene she is rendered gallantly. Her valour in this scene is strongly contrasted against the Friar’s fear, just as Romeo’s is contrasted with Paris’s fear earlier in the scene. This lifts Romeo and Juliet back onto the thrones of the hero and heroine, which increases the tragedy because it is where they will die.

When Juliet refuses to leave with the Friar, she turns to look at her love. “What’s here? a cup closed in my true love’s hand?” (Line161) Tragedy is increased at this point by the fact that Romeo has left “no friendly drop” of poison so she can share the moment of death with him. Instead, she uses his dagger, to stab, and kill herself, which is tragically ironic because of the theme of stabbing within the play. This is the climax of the whole play, the ultimate tragedy. She falls on his body as she dies. This enables their bodies to be physically “together in death”, but creates a sadly unbeautiful heap of bodies. This stagecraft enhances the tragedy because it fulfils the prophecies of them being to together in death, whilst leaving the audience stunned by the awful sight of their piled up bodies.

When the watch found Romeo, Juliet, and Paris dead, they summon the Prince, the Montagues and the Capulets. In the Captain’s short speech he says, ” We see the ground whereon these woes do lie, /But the true ground of all these piteous woes/We cannot without circumstance descry.” (Line 172-182) This is a pun which the Elizabethans would have understood and appreciated. However, it is ironic in the context in which it is being used, because puns were, as are now, usually used in humorous situations and jokes. This gives emphasis to the tragedy because it seems as if things are so tragic that there is nothing left to do but laugh.

The Prince is the first to arrive at the tomb, closely followed by the Capulets. The Captain tells them both what they will find. “Romeo dead, and Juliet, dead” (Line 196) The repetition of ‘dead’ accentuates the tragedy. He also uses language that equates the deaths to cattle, for example ‘slaughtered’. This emphasizes the tragedy because likening it animals takes away any passion, moral or reason for the death, making the deaths pointless. The Capulets then enter the tomb to find the sight of their dead daughter.

When Lord Montague arrives at the tomb he tells the Prince that “my wife is dead tonight”. He says that she died of a broken heart, because Romeo was banished. This increases the tragedy because it adds another tragic event to the list. It makes Romeo’s death even more tragic for the audience because it is more of a blow for Montague after his wife’s death. The fact that Lady Montague dies because Romeo’s banishment breaks her heart enhances the tragedy because she died in sorrow, due to the tragedy that is Romeo and Juliet’s love.

The final tragedy is also made more tragic for the Capulets. Juliet was the Capulets’ only daughter, and the last time Capulet spoke to her was the night that she prophesised her own death. He was arguing with her about her marriage to Paris. He insults her.

Act 3, scene 5, Line 184, “And then to have wretched puling fool, / A whining mammet, in her fortune’s tender” This increases the tragedy by creating feelings of regret, guilt and again grief, that the Capulets will have to live with for ever, for the Capulets.

When the Prince first talks about the situation he uses words quite mild vocabulary, which could be simply referring to an accident, like “misadventure”. Gradually the tone of his words darkens, and he uses words like “fear”, and “foul murder”. He is also fairly unsympathetic to the families at first, because they have caused so much trouble in the past, which increases the tragedy.

When the two families find out about the deaths of their children they initially become angry, and blame each other. This “mouth of outrage” (line 216) heightens the tragedy because it shows that they are still at loggerheads despite the situation. The prince confirms this with the statement, “See what a scourge is laid upon your hate” (line 292).

The Prince promises to investigate, with punishment of death. “And then will I be general of your woes, /And lead you even to death. Mean tome forbear,” (Line 219-220) The idea of the Prince being prepared to commit more murder increases the tragedy.

The Friar begins to explain to what happened. “I will be brief, for my short date of breath/Is not so long as it is a tedious tale.” (Line 229-30) His explanation is very plain, devoid of imagery and punning. He uses very tragic vocabulary, and repeats words like “dead”. This emphasizes the stark nature of the tragedy.

The Prince concludes.

“Where be these enemies? Capulet, Montague?

See what a scourge is laid upon your hate,

That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love!

… All are punished” (Line 291-295)

He is saying that this tragedy is a sign from the heavens that the Capulets and Montagues should bury their vendetta and renew it with love, as that is the way their children have died; through love. This is the ultimate reason for the tragedy, and the moral that the families should take away with them.

The Capulets and Lord Montague, united in their guilty grief, shake hands and heed the Prince’s words. They decide to make a pure gold statue of the lovers. This is ironic as in act 4, scene 1 Romeo says, “There is thy gold – worse poison to men’s souls, Doing more murder in this loathsome world, Than these poor compounds that thou mayst not sell” (Line 80-83). He is talking to the apothecary and saying that the apothecary’s poison is good compared to gold, and the corruption that it brings. This heightens the tragedy of the ultimate reason behind the play because it suggests that although the Capulets and Montegues have put their abhorrence behind them, the true problem still underlies. The corruption of money, which had a lot to do with the feud between the families in the first place, still, and probably always will, live on.

A theme that runs through most Elizabethan plays is the use of weather to create a mood within the play, and on the stage. For example, in Macbeth the very first scene (where evil first emerges) is set on a foggy, miserable, heath. Throughout ‘Romeo and Juliet’ the weather is used to symbolise chaos, usually in morbid scenes. For example, when Romeo goes to the tomb. Elizabethans would have been aware that chaos in the heavens meant disorder on earth. It was a common idea at the time that has links with many of their beliefs. A good example of how the weather is used is right at the end of the play. In the Prince’s last speech he says, ” The sun for sorrow will not show his head”. This shows that the tragedy is so great that even the weather is affected.

In the passages of the play that lead up to tragedy, there are usually references to stumbling. For example, there is stumbling before Mercutio’s death, and Friar Lawrence is in the Capulet’s tomb. Elizabethans believed stumbling was an ill omen, which therefore would enhance the tragedy because the tragedy has been foretold to the audience.

There are also a lot of references to sighing in the tragic passages of ‘Romeo & Juliet’. To Elizabethans sighing was also to lose drops of blood.

Within the context that ‘Romeo and Juliet’ was written one of the most tragic elements of the play is the very fact that the lovers committed suicide. In Elizabethan times suicide was considered unnatural, and they believed it led to eternal damnation. The lovers being forced into the situation where they commit suicide enhances the tragedy. This means Romeo and Juliet have been forced into eternal damnation for the possible outcome of the end of their parent’s (not their) vendetta. The morals of which are very controversial and possibly tragic.

Shakespeare comforts the audience with some good at the very end of the play. Even though the lovers died, the families reconcile to the idea that there should be no more murder, and no more tragedy. However, a big point of this, and all other tragedies, is that no happy ending can compensate for all the deaths, and particularly not the death of the lovers.

Shakespeare has written the ending so because audiences of the time would expect the families to reconcile to restore the natural order of things. Another example of this is in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Macbeth had to be, and was, killed, as he had committed regicide and was a symbol of disorder and chaos. The rightful order must be returned and harmony restored for the story to have a ‘real’ ending in the eyes of that genre’s audiences. This is a classic feature of this period of Literature.

Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy in all meanings of the definition. It is piece of literature that ends in tragedy, and this comes about through a combination of fate and the personal failings of several people, mostly of Romeo and Juliet.

The tragedy is built up through the whole play by the increase in tragic events, like deaths. This is culminated in the last scene by the climax of tragedy: Romeo, Juliet, and Paris’s deaths. This tragedy is increased and enhanced gradually throughout the play, especially by the nature of events, the vocabulary many of the characters use, and tragic events outside the main plot.

In my opinion the most tragedy surrounds the idea that Romeo and Juliet perhaps weren’t truly in love with each other. The circumstances of their love, and the characters of Romeo and Juliet, make me think that their love was based simply on a teenage lust. Personally, I find the idea that they both died for something so frivolous and unsubstantial incredibly tragic.

I think that Elizabethans would have reacted much more emotionally than people do when they watch the original play today. There are many points that enhance the plot, emotion, and tragedy, which Elizabethans would have immediately picked up on and understood, because they were commonly used idea at the time, unlike for audiences today. Also, plays in Elizabethan times theatres were like cinemas are for audiences today. They used the language of people of that time, and therefore the audience automatically appreciated the contextual aspects of the play. However, it is obvious that ‘Romeo ; Juliet’ is still a widely enjoyed play. The themes of love, death, hatred, jealousy and guilt, which the play is based on, are themes that universally effect people, and the original play is amazingly well written. This makes audiences of today still want to hear the tale again and again.

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Shakespeare's Tragic Finale in Romeo & Juliet. (2018, Dec 26). Retrieved from

Shakespeare's Tragic Finale in Romeo & Juliet
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