A Celebration of the Minor Characters in Romeo and Juliet

In his play Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare puts his minor characters to good use. Romeo’s friend Mercutio and Juliet’s nurse are both characters that are not considered the main focus of the play, but nevertheless play a crucial role in the lives of Shakespeare’s central characters. The nurse acts as a link between the Capulet and Montague families, and thus allows communication and planning to take place between Romeo and Juliet, while Mercutio’s presence in the story is instrumental to the plot. Each role is useful and necessary in the play because they provide some comic relief, but also because their personalities help to define the protagonists and their actions enhance the way that the story turns out. Without these characters, the play would not function properly. Mercutio and the nurse both enhance the play’s theme of ‘young love’ by comparing their level-headed ways to the passion-driven ways of the main characters. The crude language that is used by Mercutio and the constant sexual references that are made by the nurse amplify the naïveté of the love between Romeo and Juliet. Both have a preoccupation with sex, while Romeo and Juliet prefer to profess the complete adoration that they have for one another. Both of these minor characters act as foils to the protagonists. The nurse is both aged and, though well meaning, somewhat of a bumbling fool. She often confuses words and repeats herself, whereas Juliet is well-spoken and seems to be much more educated than her confidante. Similarly, where Juliet is a sign of youth in its prime, the nurse is much older and has given birth and been married, although both her husband and child are said to be deceased. In the same way that the nurse stands as the opposite of Juliet, Mercutio is much different than Romeo. Romeo is a lovestruck romantic, while Mercutio is a clever realist. In the first act, Romeo is troubled by his unrequited feelings for Rosalind. He begins to question love and states, “Is love a tender thing? It is too rough, too rude, too boisterous, and it pricks like a thorn.” (I.iv. 25 – 26). In response, Mercutio says, “If love be rough with you, be rough with love;/Prick love for pricking you and beat love down.” (I.iv. 27 – 28). Romeo is melodramatic and likely expects a similarly sensational and sympathetic response to his situation. However, Mercutio is far too down-to-earth to lend any importance Romeo’s ‘woe is me’ statements, and essentially tells him to ‘get over it’ and move on. Mercutio’s straightforward proclamations serve to bring the audience back to reality as well and allow us to recognize Romeo’s tendency to be over-dramatic. By providing us with these oppositional characters, Shakespeare highlights the qualities that he finds important within Romeo and Juliet. While the nurse and Mercutio serve to promote themes within the story and to make the viewer notice certain qualities in the protagonists, they are also very important to the development of the plot. Mercutio’s death signifies the transition of the story from the path of a comedy to that of a tragedy. Because Romeo does not specifically tell Mercutio of his newfound love for Juliet, it is impossible for Mercutio to use his words to affect the plot. However, his death does inspire Romeo to seek revenge on Tybalt, and thus has a profound effect on the fate of the two lovers. In contrast to this relationship, Juliet and her nurse are very close, and she chooses to turn to the nurse for assistance in her relationship with Romeo. This allows the nurse to have a direct effect on the outcome of the story. The nurse can be seen as a sort of mother figure for the young Juliet. She has been with her ever since she was born, and Juliet values her loving advice. Were her initial response to the pairing of the Capulet and Montague a positive one, Juliet would have been much more likely to pursue the forbidden romance. Apart from merely speaking influential words, the nurse also plays an important role in the progression of the plot through the actions that she takes. Firstly, it is the nurse who initially reveals Juliet’s identity to Romeo. It can also be noted that, on more than one occasion, the nurse agrees to meet up with Romeo in order to obtain information and relay messages from Juliet. In act three, scene four, during one of their meetings, the nurse agrees to accept the delivery of a rope ladder so that Romeo may enter Juliet’s room in order to marry her. Once Mercutio dies and the nurse’s role becomes a tragic one, she still manages to influence the relationship between the two young lovers by losing Juliet’s trust by advising her to marry Paris. When Juliet seeks comfort from the nurse, she surprises the young girl by responding that Romeo is not the correct choice for a husband; I think it best you married with the County. O, he’s a lovely gentleman. Romeo’s a dishclout to him. An eagle, madam, Hath not so green, so quick, so fair an eye As Paris hath. Beshrew my very heart, I think you are happy in this second match, For it excels your first; or, if it did not, Your first is dead, or ‘twere as good he were As living here and you no use of him. (III. v. 217 – 225.)The nurse knows Juliet well and would be aware of the fact that she is, like Romeo, somewhat of a romantic. To advise her to marry Paris based on the fact that he is better-looking than Romeo says nothing at all to Juliet. Without the support of the nurse, Juliet takes matters into her own hands and loses that small piece of adult guidance that may have been able to prevent the final tragedy from taking place. Therefore, it is clear that the nurse’s words and actions are highly influential upon Juliet and her relationship with Romeo. Mercutio and the nurse are both important characters in Romeo & Juliet. Without the nurse, it is arguable that Juliet would have had much more difficulty obtaining information about Romeo, and may not even have followed through with the marriage had it not been for her encouraging words. Similarly, without the death of Mercutio, the story would lack a pivotal point and Romeo would not have been so bloodthirsty towards Tybalt. It is also important to note the effect that these characters have on the viewer’s opinion of the protagonists. Certain qualities that are present in the main characters become amplified when they are compared with those opposite qualities that exist within the secondary characters. These contradictory qualities provide the play with a sense of humour and give its first half of the story a comedic sense. Without Mercutio and the nurse, the story of Romeo and Juliet would not be the same as we know it today.Works CitedShakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. The Arden Shakespeare. Singapore: Thomas Nelson & Sons Ltd. 1997.

Appropriating Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet

In the 1997 film, Romeo + Juliet, Baz Luhrmann has attempted to take the original play by William Shakespeare, and create an appropriation of it for today. He takes what we value about the text: the themes, evocative language and poetry, the timeless storyline and humor, and places it in a context which is accessible and appealing to the audience of today. For this appropriation to be successful, the constant aim was putting things in terms we (especially young people) can identify with, in things appropriate to today. Through the use of the film medium, Baz Luhrmann gained access to varied editing styles, different casting, costume and set design, soundtrack, and camera techniques, which all helped in presenting the story with an updated view, while still retaining its cultural significance.Just as going to see a play was popular culture in Shakespearean times, seeing a film at the cinema is a very popular form of entertainment today. Luhrmann most likely chose this new medium because of its ability to reach the widest range of audiences – whether they be the “aristocrats and academics” (today’s film critics) or the “slaves and peasants” (teenagers!) By using film he’s making it accessible and appealing to as many as possible, but without altering the most important aspect of the play: the Shakespearean language. Also, through film it’s easier to bring new meanings to the story, to add music, motifs, and special effects that are strangers to a stage, and to make ambiguous aspects of the language clearer, more obvious and easier to understand through visual interpretations. One example of the updating of the play is the fast-paced editing of the film. From the very beginning we are launched into quick shots and freezes of the characters (whose roles are presented upon the screen as if we’re watching the familiar serial/soap genre) – with little time to absorb what is happening. For many, this speedy editing style is appealing and keeps the audiences attention, in an age where short attention spans reign and interests dwindle at a terrifying rate. Luhrmann has addressed this issue and made the story appropriate for the needs of today – attention grabbing, racy, and through culling of the text, no more than two hours traffic on our screen.The editing style is also used in conjunction with recurring images to make it clear to the audience whether scenes are for action and rivalry or reserved for the lovers. For example, the quick, angry, violent petrol station scene (with the sign “Add more fuel to your fire”) and underlying connections between heat and rage. This contrasts strongly to the watery love scenes between Romeo and Juliet, where there are long takes, a slow pace, and water in the form of fish tanks and pools. These techniques make the story very clear, easy to understand and the scenes more distinguishable, and in doing so the film becomes more accessible to a younger audience who may otherwise not understand the complex aspects of Shakespeare.The important choices made in casting the film also decided on the film’s success. In choosing Leonardo Dicaprio (a popular teen idol) for the role of Romeo, Luhrmann had already begun capturing the younger audiences by appealing to popular culture. These teenagers may not have even considered seeing a Shakespearean film, but because the director chose Leonardo Dicaprio as opposed to an older, less popular actor, they arrived in their millions In addition, their image of this actor can be transmitted to his character, so the face of Romeo is instantly linked with the idea of love. The casting of black actors into the film (as Chief of Police, and Mercutio) reflects society’s changing values in respect to equality and acceptance of many cultures, and makes the film more appropriate to modern audiences.The costume design is another aspect that has been updated to be more suitable to today. Romeo arrives at the party as a knight in shining armor, Juliet as an angel; this could be a subtle suggestion of the relationship that will unfold, through the use of these clichéd images. Mercutio arrives dressed as a drag queen, perhaps a comment on today’s society and its wider acceptance of homosexuality. The use of settings is a lot more pronounced in the film than it was in the play. For instance, the petrol station is linked with fuel and fire, the shots of urban skyscrapers with a family name on each represent their rivalry in modern terms, and the neglected Verona Beach reflects a run down society. In particular, Luhrmann has used the settings to enhance the mood for the scene, and this is particularly evident in Romeo’s banishment to Mantua. The desert-like caravan park is extremely barren and desolate, and reflects Romeo’s feelings of emptiness with the prospect of being away from Juliet and his town. These types of settings have been appropriated to once again add to the clarity of the storyline and make it easy to follow by making the tone of the scene obvious.An advantage of using the film medium for an appropriation was having the opportunity for a soundtrack or constant music beneath each scene for extra emphasis. Much like the casting of popular actors, the modern soundtrack released with the film attracted young people to view it, because of familiarity with the modern songs. In addition to these songs, there was also a use of more traditional, classical music, (e.g. the choir’s song) to set the quieter serious scenes apart from other scenes with pop music: like one where Everclear sings “I feel just like a local god when I’m with the boys, we do what we want, yeah we do what we want” fitting perfectly with a scene where Romeo is ‘hanging out’ with the Montague boys at Verona Beach. These key changes in style of music help distinguish scenes and let the audience know what type of scene it is going to be.Another aspect adding to the success of this appropriation was the use of certain camera techniques. The extreme close-ups gave an extra feeling of closeness to the characters and the circling motion of the camera around them emphasized the theme of this intense love, as if there was nobody else in the world apart from them. These techniques mixed with the fast moving camera in the action shots once again distinguished certain scenes apart from others, and made it a clearly presented and more interesting film with new angles and modern techniques.Finally, the constant references to today helps viewers to really relate to the film. From the beginning with the television report–style narrator, up until the end at the neon-lit church, our senses are drenched with all things modern. Pool halls, urban skylines, drag queen costumes, pop music, and popular actors flash across the screen in a fast-paced truly modern way. Love is explained to us through the use of ecstasy the love drug, family feud is explained by rival company buildings, sword fights are translated to shootouts, and in general the play is put in terms widely understood by the majority of people today – through a film. Using all the techniques opened up by making this play a film, Baz Luhrmann certainly hasn’t missed anything in creating his appropriation of Shakespeare’s work, and for this reason Romeo + Juliet is truly successful in being accessible and appealing to the young audience of today.

Religious Language and Concepts in Romeo and Juliet

The epistle of Saint John unequivocally states, “Love comes from God” (1 John 4:7). This statement not only explains the source of love but it also provides a means to understand both love and God. If love is from God, then an understanding of love can be derived from knowing God. Thus, the converse, knowing love provides a level of knowledge concerning God, is true. In light of this conclusion, it only seems natural that the two should intersect when trying to describe one another. William Shakespeare employs Christian language and concepts in the play Romeo and Juliet to not only effectively conveys the gravity of love but also to provide metaphorical undertones to the play’s conclusion. It is apparent that Shakespeare intentionally used religious language and concepts in order to elicit the implications that are attached with the words. By glossing over these words as two-dimensional adjectives much of Shakespeare’s beauty and genius is lost and the intrinsic harmony connecting love and God is unknown to the reader. The play Romeo and Juliet is steeped in religious language and constructions. The possible examples are numerous and wide ranging, but some are used to convey love while others are used to drive the thematic plot. For organizational purposes, the usages of religious language that help convey the meaning of love will be addressed first followed by an explication of the thematic usages or religious language. An excellent example of how Shakespeare implements religious language and concepts in order to describe the transcendent emotion of Love is in Romeo and Juliet’s first meeting. While courting Juliet, Romeo says, “My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand, To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.” (1:5:97-98) Prior to this statement Romeo had equated Juliet with a holy shrine and he then employs the religious concept of pilgrimage in the following lines. On a very surface level, this makes sense considering that a holy shrine is an end goal and pilgrims, like lips moving in for a kiss, travel to the end goal. However, it seems rather evident that Shakespeare meant much more than simply making a comparison for movement in this statement. The term pilgrim calls to mind the departure from a known place into an unknown, holy land for the sake of obtaining salvation. By using ‘pilgrim’ to describe the kiss shared between the two lovers implies that Romeo and Juliet are going to depart from their current love-starved world and move into a holy world of love. Another example of where Shakespeare implements religious language is when Romeo says, “I take thee at thy word: Call me but love, and I’ll be new baptized; henceforth I never will be Romeo.” (2:2:49-51) Again, as in the previous statement, Shakespeare implemented religious language in order to describe how love is a transcendent and unearthly entity. In the realm of Christianity, Baptism is the sacramental shedding of earthly imperfections and wedding of the soul to Heaven’s dominion. Romeo’s statement uses the word and concept of baptism to express that by being called Juliet’s lover, Romeo would shed his earthly self and enter the world of love where his name would no longer matter. Both of these statements allow Shakespeare to describe the transcendence of love, and logically the only way to describe the transcendence of love is by implementing religious words and concepts that are themselves transcendent. It is rather evident why Shakespeare employed religious language instead of using secular or earthly language and concepts. As stated previously, both love and God are entities that find their origin outside of earthly confines. The fact that both love and God manifest themselves on earth creates a dilemma when one attempts to describe their essence. Trying to describe God or love with words that are limited to earth’s confines is similar to the proverbial square peg in a round hole. This is why it would not be conducive for Shakespeare to describe love with secular or earthly words. The inadequate secular language would lose much of love’s weight and Shakespeare’s genius would be repressed. Shakespeare’s usage of religious language not only allows for better description of love itself but Shakespeare also uses it as a vehicle for metaphor. The central message of Christianity is the redemptive sacrifice of the ‘unblemished lamb’, Jesus Christ, known as the Gospel. When Romeo kisses Juliet and says, “Thus from my lips, by yours, my sins are purged.” (1:5:109) The purging of sins inevitably draws up thoughts about the Gospel within the reader’s mind and although the metaphor is not brought to dénouement within just this one line, the groundwork is set out. Later in the play, Juliet says in regards to performing her mock-death, “Things that, to hear them told, have made me tremble; And I will do it with out fear or doubt, To live an unstained wife to my sweet love.” (4:1:86-88) This line again is drenched in Gospel metaphor. The word ‘unstained’ is a queue for the reader that this line is not merely a secular, two-dimensional statement and with this in mind, Juliet seems to share much of Jesus Christ’s emotions in the biblical account of Him praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Both Jesus and Juliet are apprehensive of their looming deaths, both admit that they are afraid, and both choose to confront their fears with confidence. With both this line and the previously stated line it is relatively clear that Shakespeare created certain parallels between Juliet and Jesus Christ. These parallels come to an ultimate conclusion at the play’s conclusion. At the end of scene five, when both Romeo and Juliet are dead, it becomes evident that Shakespeare’s metaphor of Christ has come to conclusion. After both of the families realize that their respective children are dead they give up their long held resentment towards each other. This reconciliation seems to echo the reconciliation found after Jesus Christ’s death. Obviously, in no way is Juliet an airtight allegory for the Gospel. However, these statements and constructions are undeniable in their intentional resemblance to Christ and the Gospel story. Shakespeare manipulating his plot to facilitate the Gospel metaphor implies that he felt strongly about the need to use God to describe love. Jesus Christ came from heaven and through His death brought salvation for the sinful world. Juliet embodied love and through her death brought reconciliation to the town of Verona. Shakespeare, through his metaphors, is attempting to convey a very weighty assessment on love. The metaphor conveys that love is not of this world but instead from God and thus to know either God or love is to know something of both. It also suggests that love has a very real salvation within it, the ability to reconcile relationships and transcend earthly pettiness. It seems ironic that despite the fact that God created the world, worldly terms fall short of describing His essence. Likewise, it is equally ironic that love, an entity that seemingly controls the vast majority of all human interactions in one way or another, is not readily described by commonplace terms. Juxtaposing these two ironies makes it evident as to why William Shakespeare implemented religious terminology and metaphors in order to fully convey the essence of love. Romeo and Juliet were undoubtedly in love with each other and it is fitting that their holy love could not be constrained by either the unholy confines of Verona or of secular diction.

Romeo and Juliet: Two Worlds

A major theme in the play Romeo and Juliet is the contrast between the two worlds: real and unreal. In order for true love between the star-crossed lovers to survive, it must exist in both. Romeo lives in the unreal world for the majority of the story, while Juliet alternates between the two. When they are together, Romeo and Juliet live in a harmonious but unreal world. Their love is never allowed to exist in the real world, where their feuding families exist, and so it is doomed from the start. This paper examines three characters – Mercutio, Tybalt, and Lord Capulet – whose solidly real-world behavior and decisions contrast starkly with Romeo and Juliet’s and eventually contribute to that couple’s demise. The eventual tragedy of Romeo and Juliet begins at their first meeting at the masquerade ball. The meeting is magical and inexplicably powerful, but mostly very unrealistic. The love is represented by a sudden magical spell, Cupid’s arrow simultaneously striking both of them. The initial love is based entirely on physical attraction and quite possibly fueled by its forbidden nature. The relationship is never allowed to exist in public, nor can it grow, and so it never goes beyond physical attraction. Had Romeo and Juliet paid attention to the real world influences around them, they might have improved the chances that their relationship would last.The first real-world character to examine is Mercutio. His love and best intentions for Romeo are first demonstrated in Act I, scene 4 when he encourages Romeo and suggests that with Cupid’s aid, Romeo should be able to rise above any fears and inhibitions. Later, after learning of Romeo’s dream, he tries to lighten Romeo’s mood by delivering a pragmatic soliloquy about the false hope of dreams. Also, Mercutio is often quite humorous. When Benvolio mentions the possibly threatening letter from Tybalt to Romeo, for example, Mercutio claims that Romeo has already been slain, “stubbed with a white wench’s black eye” (2.4.14). Later, Mercutio observes that witty banter with Romeo is much more pleasant than lovesick groaning. He suggests that Romeo could be more sociable:“Why, is this not better now than groaning for love? Now art thousociable, now art though Romeo; now art though what though art, by art as well as by nature. For this driveling love is like a great natural that runs lolling up and down to hide his bauble in a hole.”(2.4.87)Mercutio demonstrates his other equally powerful and real-world quality, arrogance, when Tybalt seeks revenge on Romeo for crashing the Capulet masquerade ball. When Romeo is seeking a peaceful result, Mercutio shouts, “Oh calm, dishonorable, vile submission! Alla staccato carries it away. Tybalt, you ratcatcher, will you walk?” (3.1.72). He refuses to be intimidated, to a fault. Eventually his arrogance will fail him, and in his defense for Romeo he will suffer a fatal stab. Never losing his wit, when asked of his injury he claims, “’tis not so deep as a well nor so wide as a church door, but ’tis enough, ’twill serve. Ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man” (3.1.95). In sum, Mercutio’s humor, arrogance, and devotion are qualities that make him a character very much in the real world. Tybalt is equally devoted, arrogant, and unwilling to be intimidated, but his violent nature is very different from Mercutio’s lighthearted one. Tybalt is quick to fight, defensive of the Capulet home to a fault. This is best demonstrated in Act I, scene 1, when he comes upon Benvolio trying to bring peace to a confrontation. Tybalt is quick to point out the conflicting message – “What, drawn and talk of peace?” (1.1.70) – and then challenges him.Later in Act I, scene 5, upon hearing Romeo speak, Tybalt claims, “This, by his voice, should be a Montague,” (1.5.55) and by his violent instinct follows, “Fetch me my rapier, boy” (1.5.56). He is determined to sort things out immediately, by violence if necessary, despite his uncle’s request for peace. Lord Capulet is adamant about the need for peace, and Tybalt is equally convinced that violence is necessary. Tybalt is so angered that he insists that he cannot tolerate this and must leave “It fits when such a villain is a guest. I’ll not endure him” (1.5.76) but speaks of revenge, “I will withdraw. But this intrusion shall, now seeming sweet, convert to bitterest gall” (1.5.92). Eventually in Act III, scene 1, this showdown occurs, resulting in the death of Mercutio and the eventual death of Tybalt at the hands of Romeo. Lord Capulet has all the qualities of a loving father and patriarch of a noble family, but has a bad side that makes him an ambivalent character. He demonstrates a proud yet ugly side early in Act I, scene 1; upon encountering the Montagues he requests his weapon, while Lady Capulet suggests that he would do better with a crutch than a sword. Given the choice of fight versus flight, he immediately chooses the former – despite his status as a lord, who might be expected to take the high road. He acts differently in Act I, scene 2, when meeting with Paris he makes a dignified admission that he and Lord Montague are bound by their long-lived quarrel. He demonstrates dignity again at the masquerade ball. Upon realizing that Romeo is present, Tybalt is determined to cause a scene and evict the Montague. Lord Capulet chooses to ignore Romeo’s presence and convinces Tybalt to do the same: “Content thee, gentle coz, let him alone. A bears him like a portly gentleman. And, to say truth, Verona brags of him to be a virtuous and well governed youth” (1.5.66).As a good father in Act I, scene 2, while meeting with Paris he suggests that they should wait for Juliet to mature, “She hath not seen the change of fourteen years. Let two more summers wither in their pride Ere we may think her ripe to be a bride” (1.2.9). At Paris’ insistence that there are younger brides than her, Lord Capulet again is quick to point out that is not best, “And too soon marred are those so early made” (1.2.13). Lord Capulet is convinced that Paris is a perfect son-in-law but wishes to respect Juliet’s youth. Eventually, however, he has a change of heart. He assures Paris that he will be able to sway Juliet’s decision and they set a wedding date. When Juliet protests, Lord Capulet no longer acts the adoring father; in anger, he calls Juliet a “disobedient wretch” (3.5.160) and claims that she is ungrateful to reject “a gentleman of noble parentage” (3.5.181). The once loving father fights the temptation to strike her and insists that she will be at the church.Mercutio, Tybalt and Lord Capulet each has a very strong personality; they share many characteristics – humor, arrogance, devotion, violence, anger – that are deeply rooted in the real world. Through their words and actions they remain realistic. Mercutio feels that it is better to experience life and not to dream; Tybalt refuses to be insulted or mocked; Lord Capulet sees the importance of arranging Juliet’s marriage to a wealthy man. Romeo and Juliet, on the other hand, display an unbelievable fervor for each other and disregard for the more real people around them. Had they taken cues from their family members, they may have bridged the gap between real and unreal worlds and thereby avoided tragedy.

The Apothecary’s Greater Significance in Romeo and Juliet

From the bawdy Mercutio to the gentle Juliet, the characters in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet are colorful, but purposeful. Even the most obscure characters reflect Shakespeare’s calculations in the development of key themes throughout the play. The Apothecary particularly exemplifies a character who seems superfluous outside of his role in the plot. However, his conversation with Romeo in Act Five, Scene One, proves that this is not the case. Rather, Shakespeare’s inclusion of the Apothecary fortifies the themes of fate and society versus the individual. Equally importantly, it unifies the connection between symbols and mood. One of the foremost themes in Romeo and Juliet is that of fate. This surprise is not long in coming, as the prologue introduces “a pair of star-cross’d lovers” whose deaths were destined to end the feud between their families (1.1.6). From beginning to end, celestial authority drives the characters to the closing stage by mingling their circumstances with dramatic irony. Uninvited and unwelcome, Romeo goes to a party held by Lord Montague, his father’s enemy. There, he falls in love with Montague’s young daughter, Juliet. Both realize too late that their affections violate their families’ enmity, but the flame of young love burns so brightly that they marry in secret. At this point, one could interpret fate as a fortuitous force that brings true love to the two unlikeliest of youth. As fate continues to drive the plot, however, fortune ceases smiling on the lovers. The family feud interferes on their wedding night, when a series of brawls leaves two men dead, one Capulet and one Montague, and banishes Romeo from beautiful Verona. In his absence, Juliet is hastily betrothed and her wedding arranged. Desperate to avoid this second unwanted marriage, Juliet seeks the aid of Friar Lawrence, the well-meaning clergyman who married her and Romeo. Friar Lawrence gives her a potion that will put her in a death-like sleep, then sends word to Romeo about the scheme. Romeo never receives the Friar’s letter, however, and hears only that his beloved has died. Overcome with anguish, Romeo recalls an impoverished apothecary he had seen earlier. Romeo finds the Apothecary in his eerie shop and convinces him to sell a dram of poison for the price of 40 gold coins. The Apothecary’s consent is the true beginning of Romeo’s physical demise. Moreover, it is the fateful blow in determining Juliet’s heartrending death when she wakes to find a lifeless Romeo at her side. Although the Apothecary is primarily an instrument of the lovers’ destiny, he is also part of Shakespeare’s thematic representation of fate. It is no coincidence that Romeo was banished to Mantua, whereupon he notices this poor apothecary. Romeo recalls this detail almost immediately after being mislead in believing Juliet is dead. His memory is his enemy as he remembers the thoughts he had when he first saw this apothecary: Noting this penury, to myself I said,”An’ if a mad did need a poison now,Whose sale is present death in Mantua,Here lives a caitiff wretch would sell it him.” (5.1.49-52)The Apothecary is so gaunt and ragged that Romeo assumes that the Apothecary’s strength of mind is malleable. Although selling poison is a crime punishable by death, Romeo speculates that the man’s destitution would lead him to be easily swayed. Romeo’s speculation is correct, a fact that tends to another thematic train running through the play, the struggle between an individual and his society. The Apothecary is clothed in “tatter’d weeds,” simple rags, and is so deprived of food that his “overwhelming brows” could rival those of famine victims (5.1.39). Despite his dire straits, the Apothecary refuses Romeo’s first offer for the poison by protesting that the law forbids it. Moreover, it is by pain of death that he initially refuses to sell Romeo’s own death to him. Romeo perseveres, however, observing that “Contempt and beggary hangs upon thy back; The world is not thy friend, nor the world’s law” (5.1.72-3). In other words, the Apothecary is not bound by the law because his penury holds him in social contempt. More literally, the law is no ally to the Apothecary because it checks his business. Romeo’s words also find the Apothecary’s weakness by reasoning that his social oppression is no fault of his own; rather, it is a failing on behalf of a world that “affords no law to make thee rich,” or has no counterbalance for the law that restricts the Apothecary’s business (5.1.74). In this respect, Romeo is suggesting that the Apothecary has a right to fulfill his needs, even unlawfully, because they have been so grossly neglected. The moral issues of selling the poison to Romeo are also relevant to the theme of the individual’s struggle against society. Although the Apothecary is well aware of the consequences of selling Romeo his poison, he only resists Romeo’s offer once. As they make the exchange, the Apothecary defends his humanity, insisting “My poverty, but not my will, consents” (5.1.75). With this the Apothecary acknowledges that he is trading one form of poverty for another. That is, his destitution does not dissipate with his financial gain; it merely takes the form of moral bankruptcy. The Apothecary’s nonexistent guilt for selling death to the despairing Romeo is also indicated by his brevity, for he says nothing else on the moral matter. Rather, it is Romeo who recognizes the immorality in the exchange, saying:There is thy gold, worse poison to men’s souls, Doing more murther in this loathsome world,Than these poor compounds that thou mayest not sell.I sell thee poison, thou hast sold me none. (5.1.80-4)Romeo’s speech identifies the true poison as money, and observes that society’s ban on selling poison is ill-applied, considering how much more evil is brought about by money. The Apothecary is only a pawn in the scheme of this moral theme, but this lowly position is enough to demonstrate that society, and not the individual, is as destitute as the Apothecary. Interestingly, Romeo’s last line condemns not the Apothecary, but himself and also society as those guilty of the crime. Besides using the Apothecary as a thematic reinforcement in the play, Shakespeare also depends upon his characterization in Act Five, Scene One, to create a very specific mood that reflects its view on poison. Romeo’s description of the Apothecary and his shop has a powerful effect on the mood. According to him, the Apothecary is a walking cadaver. As far as his shop, Romeo notes that it houses a creepy collection of animal skins, a tortoise shell, “Remnants of packthread, and old cakes of roses” (5.1.42). The shop seems all but abandoned as Romeo approaches it, and when the Apothecary appears, Romeo may as well be talking to the ghost of a mausoleum. Here, the Apothecary and his shop represent the evil nature of mortal drugs through their own death-like appearances. Just as the Apothecary’s dram of poison meant to drain the life from the veins of the living, his own lack of money, what Romeo calls the true poison, has drained life from him. This is essentially what Romeo means when he asks, “Art thou so bare and full of wretchedness, And fearest to die? Famine is in thy cheeks, need and oppression starveth in thy eyes” (5.1.69-70). In other words, Romeo is saying that the Apothecary is so near death himself that he has no loss to fear. The mood of Act Two, Scene Three, is quite different from the Apothecary’s debut and is likewise reflective of its view of poison. A pensive friar is picking herbs in the early morn’s “streaks of light” that precede the sun’s full rise, an event that he gives a striking description of: “fleckled darkness…reels From forth day’s path and Titan’s [fiery] wheels” (2.3.2-4). As the Friar fills his basket, he contemplates the inherent value of herbal drugs, which have a “powerful grace” for healing and thus are good (2.3.15). He duly acknowledges, however, that “stumbling on abuse, Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied” (2.3.20-1). Literally, the Friar is saying that misuse of drugs is as much of an evil as proper use is good. Aside from this observation, the overall view is that drugs have healing purposes, which matches the hopeful mood of a dawning day. What Shakespeare clearly illustrates through the thematic and artistic significant of the Apothecary is the antithesis of this whole idea that only virtues “misapplied” turn to vice (2.3.21). With respect to the role of the Apothecary, his influence is underestimated when we assume that selling the poison will harm no one but Romeo. The Apothecary’s mortal dram reeks of such evil intentions that, in taking Romeo’s life, it takes Juliet’s as well. As fate would have it, the mood of the Apothecary’s ethereal domain is the foreboding precursor to this tragic conclusion. One can only hope that, despite the ruin of Romeo and his Juliet, the Apothecary spent well his 40 ducats.

Romeo and Juliet: Under the Guise of Love

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet explains love through the use of three different kinds of love: unrequited love between Romeo and Rosaline, true love between Romeo and Juliet, and cynical love from Mercutio and the Nurse. The use of common, era specific ideas on love helps to convey the message that it can take on many forms. Because Romeo and Juliet’s sincere romance changes their views on love, the play suggests that true love is found beyond superficial attraction.Unrequited love can be described as a situation in which a pretty girl does not return the favor of her admirer, a convention typical of chivalric love. In Romeo and Juliet, Rosaline does not return Romeo’s love. This is conveyed through traditional Petrarchan sonnets spoken by Romeo, that drip with conceits:For beauty, starved with her severity,Cuts beauty off from all posterity.She is too fair, too wise, wisely too fair,To merit bliss by making me despair.She hath forsworn to love, and in that vowDo I live dead that live to tell it now. (1.1.22-27)In these lines, Romeo illustrates the Petrarchan conceit of the melancholy tortured lover. He describes Rosaline as beautiful, yet, severe, noting first her fairness and second, her intelligence. He then puns on his own words saying that she is wise and fair, and, because of her wisdom, she is almost too beautiful. Romeo believes that Rosaline, although beautiful, will not use her beauty for sex, and is therefore wasting a perfectly functional and pleasurable body.In true chivalric fashion, Romeo is forced to grieve for a love that is not returned. When speaking of Rosaline, Romeo’s words are not true and honest. He speaks in rhyming couplets and uses contradictions, such as bliss causes despair. Both devices seem staged and unnatural. Romeo is flaunting his poetic diction, but fails to show any real signs of passion. Like the traditional Petrarchan lover, Romeo is in love with the idea of being in love, and he revels in the sadness that his love produces. His flowery language creates an image of love, but this image seems more imaginary than sincere. Even skeptical Mercutio notices the ornate language of Romeo: “Now is he for the numbers that Petrarch flowed in” (2.4.40-41). This contrasts sharply with the language Romeo later uses when speaking of Juliet. His love for Rosaline is used as a means of comparison between the adoration of the idea of love, and the actual experience of love. Romeo’s love for Rosaline was not true; conversely, his love for Juliet shows genuine passion.The main focus of the play is the true romantic love experienced by Romeo and Juliet. After falling in love with Juliet, Romeo completely transforms from an immature dreamer into a passionate lover. “Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight! / For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night” (1.5. 54-55). Romeo no longer uses flowery premeditated speech. He expresses exactly what he is feeling without all of the decorations of a Petrarchan conceit. He realizes that whatever he had felt before was entirely different, and as a result, he questions whether he had ever been in love before. When speaking of Juliet, Romeo does not use contradictions or ornate language. He calls her a “true beauty,” as opposed to “wisely too fair”.Prior to meeting Romeo, Juliet has been arranged to marry Paris. Her views towards this marriage are anything but passionate. She refers to love and marriage as “an honor that I dream not of” (1.3.66). Juliet had never been in love and, therefore, had never let the idea of marriage occupy her thoughts. It is not until her meeting with Romeo that she realizes the potential depth of love. From her window, Juliet proclaims her love for Romeo: “My bounty is as boundless as the sea, / My love as deep; the more I give to thee, / The more I have, for both are infinite” (2.2.33-35). She is so enraptured with him that she tells him she is willing to denounce her name. This notion of what Juliet is willing to do for love is brought to a climax at the end of the play, when she performs the most dramatic act of love by killing herself. The superb poetry spoken in sonnet form between Romeo and Juliet gets to the play’s moral core. Love transforms lovers. It is the incidental pairing of the unsuspecting lovers that makes this love match so timeless.Romeo and Juliet illustrate a love that is pure and true; however, one must not forget the more cynical and lustful forms of love, as portrayed through Mercutio and the Nurse. Their views on love are very different from Romeo and Juliet’s and seems to revolve only on the superficialities of the human body. Mercutio parodies love by equating it with sex. He brushes off Romeo’s love sickness implying that Romeo is simply in need of sexual satisfaction. “For this driveling love is like a great natural that runs lolling up and down to hide his bauble in a hole” (2.4.95-97). Mercutio wants no emotional attachments with women; rather, he would like to experience the pleasures of the women. “This is the hag, when maids lie on their backs, / That presses them and learns them first to bear, / Making them women of good carriage” (1.4.92-94). Mercutio’s bawdy speech about Queen Mab demonstrates his views that women are good only for pleasure and child bearing. This is the first time we see Mercutio’s sexual side. It is obvious that Mercutio cannot comprehend the love that Romeo has for Juliet. He sees Romeo’s relationship as just another notch to add to the bedpost. Mercutio believes that love “is as thin as the air” and “more inconstant than the wind” (1.4.99-100). This displays his lack of belief in eternal or sustainable happiness in love. If something is as thin as the wind, it is clearly weak and unable to withstand hardship.By linking the Nurse to Mercutio, their similar lewd comments demonstrate how different conventions of love can unite seemingly dissimilar characters. Both characters view love primarily in physical terms. The Nurse conveys the physical and shameless perspective of love. It is interesting to note that the Nurse is responsible for protecting the virginity of Juliet; however, she is the one who blatantly expresses her promiscuous sexual ideas. For the Nurse, sex and love are one in the same. She parallels these two elements when she explains to Juliet that women “grow by men” through pregnancy (1.3.95). The Nurse thinks that Paris is the most handsome and wealthy man that she knows, and she encourages Juliet to marry him because of this.Even though Romeo and Juliet is heralded because it is a timeless tale of romance, it should be noted that the play is important because of how it portrays true passion. True love transforms us. It frees us to look beyond the body to the soul. Conversely, when the treasures of intimacy are replaced by lust, whose allure is only skin deep, the quest for real romance will go unfulfilled. Shakespeare shows us true love is one of the few things worth dying for.

Deceit in Romeo and Juliet

As French writer Luc de Clapiers said, “The art of pleasing is the art of deception.” William Shakespeare, an artist of words, employed deceit and trickery in his stories to make them complex and engrossing. Deceit is a subject not often spoken of, because almost every person can be charged with deception of some kind or other, and people tend to equivocate when it comes to discussing deceit. In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare weaves complex characters to add suspense to the story, mostly through deception, in three ways: providing satisfaction to the deluded, an advantage to the misleader, and the potential to harm many.

The purpose of telling mistruths is predominantly to appease somebody, especially if they would be upset with the truth. Shakespeare’s creations are masterful users of these little white lies. Juliet sends this message to her parents through her loyal nurse, meaning to mislead them.

JULIET. Go in and tell my lady I am gone,

Having displeased my father, to Lawrence’ cell

To make confession and to be absolved. (3.5.244-246)

Immediately after the nurse leaves, Juliet speaks to herself and expresses that she will go to Friar Lawrence, not for confession but for advice on what to do, and that if he cannot guide her back to Romeo she will kill herself. Friar Lawrence helps Juliet to trick Paris, making him think he will soon be married.

PARIS. Come you to make confession to this father?

JULIET. To answer that, I should confess to you.

PARIS. Do not deny to him that you love me.

JULIET. I will confess to you that I love him. (4.1.23-26)

Another simple lie, Juliet convinces Paris that she will mention her love for him in her confession to the Friar. This allows Paris to happily relax outside while Juliet and Friar Lawrence plot in the monastery’s confessional. Clever deceit is the means by which Romeo and Juliet try to be together, for not only does it delude those who would be obstacles, but it is advantageous to those who do the tricking, and adds to the depth of the overall story.

The main motivation to deceive is for the benefits it can provide and to open opportunities that would otherwise be impossible. Toward the beginning of the play, when Romeo is still infatuated with Rosaline, his friend advises him to go disguised to the Capulet party.

BENVOLIO. At this same ancient feast of Capulet’s

Sups the fair Rosaline whom thou so loves,

With all the admirèd beauties of Verona.

Go thither, and with unattainted eye

Compare her face with some that I shall show,

And I will make thee think thy swan a crow. (1.3.89-95)

Benvolio wants Romeo to see other beautiful women so that he can forget the face of Rosaline, but this can only be achieved if Romeo disguises himself, convincing all at the party that he is not a Montague, but a friend of the Capulets. This trickery is what leads to Romeo getting his prize of Juliet’s affection. When Lord Capulet wanted Count Paris to marry Juliet, he wove a web of deceit so that she would think it was love instead of an arranged marriage. By plotting with the husband-to-be, a plan was formed to bring Paris into the Capulet family.

CAPULET. Let two more summers wither in their pride

Ere we may think her ripe to be a bride.

But woo her, gentle Paris, get her heart;

My will to her consent is but a part. (1.2.10-17)

So determined is the patriarch of the Capulets to wed his daughter that he lies to her, scheming to arrange her marriage with a husband of his choice without her knowledge. While it can provide an otherwise impossible opportunity or just an advantage, even deceptions with good intentions can fail or do harm. That tragedy is what Shakespeare is famous for.

Shakespeare filled his works with trickery, intentional misleadings easy to find in Hamlet, Othello, and of course Romeo and Juliet. However, it can be inferred that he did not at all approve of it. Romeo and Juliet went behind the backs of both of their families to get married by Friar Lawrence, doing what could be considered the ultimate deception. In the immediate scene following, tragedy strikes.

BENVOLIO. O Romeo, Romeo, brave Mercutio is dead.

That gallant spirit hath aspired the clouds,

Which too untimely here did scorn the earth. (3.1.121-123)

In a Shakespeare play no single sentence is without meaning, and it seems the author is expressing disapproval for such deceit by ending the life of Romeo’s close friend. Finally, the epitome of tragic duplicity, the scheme concocted by Juliet and Friar Lawrence produces great tribulation.

PRINCE. A glooming peace this morning with it brings.

The sun for sorrow will not show his head.

Go hence to have more talk of these sad things.

Some shall be pardoned, and some punishèd. (5.3.315-319)

The double suicide of the two lovers is blamed by the Prince on the Montague-Capulet enmity, but is more accurately evaluated as the result of a deception too extreme. Romeo is deceived by Juliet and believes her dead and kills himself. Juliet awakes from her drugged stupor and, finding Romeo dead, kills herself. The tragic ending of one of history’s most famous plays is a demonstration of the concept and result of deception, these elements adding to the Shakespearean art.

William Shakespeare is commonly considered one of the most insightful playwrights in the English canon, known for his ability to weave words so as to perfectly convey an emotion or portray an image. As well as depictions of love, loyalty, and friendship, Romeo and Juliet contains a darker theme: deceit. Shakespeare defines deception with three parts: the content of he who is mislead, the benefits for he who misleads, and the harm that mistruths can cause. If Shakespeare plays were primarily moral stories, the message of Romeo and Juliet would be that while honesty can hurt, dishonesty can kill.

The Use of Literary Devices to Create Humor in Romeo and Juliet

In dark and dire situations, humor is often needed to lighten the atmosphere in order to ensure sanity. This proves to be very true in William Shakespeare’s tragic play, Romeo and Juliet. As the plot of the play continues to develop, tragic and unnecessary deaths start to occur one by one, leading to a strenuous atmosphere being created. This results in a bitter, depressing taste being left in the audience’s mouth. The use of comedic characters and their witty plays on various literary devices, helps to relieve the tension that is created throughout the story, and makes the play more enjoyable, rather than somber. In Romeo and Juliet, humor is effectively created through diverse literary devices, and plays a large role in creating comic relief and characterizing important comedic characters.

Shakespeare effectively uses literary devices in a humorous fashion, to create comedic relief during scenes with overshadowing, dark and depressing content. A prevailing device to create humor in this play is the pun, and is often used by comedic characters to lighten the dark atmosphere of a scene. An example of this is when Romeo is on his way to the Capulets’ party, accompanied by Benvolio and Mercutio, “And we mean well in going to this masque, But ‘tis no wit to go. Why, may one ask? I dreamt a dream tonight. And so did I. Well, what was yours? That dreamers often lie” (1. 4. 49-55). Here, Romeo is seen sulking over his unrequited love for Rosaline, and is dreading the fact that he is being forced into attending the Capulets’ party. This results in a gloomy atmosphere being created, but then Mercutio makes a pun on the word “lie”, implying that not only do dreamers lie down, but lie about their dreams as well, therefore creating comic relief. Another literary device that is effectively used to establish comedic relief is anaphora. When Juliet takes the potion on the day of her wedding, her family is utterly devastated at the thought of her being dead. However, the musicians that were hired could not care less about her, and then proceed to carry out a silly dispute with Peter, “Why ‘silver sound?’ Why ‘music with her silver sound?’ What say you, Simon Catling? Marry, sir, because hath a sweet sound. Prates! What say you, Hugh Rebeck? I say ‘silver sound’ because musicians sound for silver. Prates too! What say you, James Soundpost? Faith, I know not what to say” (4. 5. 125-131). Here, Peter is questioning the meaning of “silver sound”, by asking each musician what they think of the phrase. He repeats the line “What say you” multiple times, but ends up dissatisfied with each answer. This creates comedic relief, as it is humorous to see Peter become so worked up over something as insignificant as a song lyric. This helps to brighten the mournful mood of the scene. Therefore, comedic relief is effectively achieved through the use of various literary devices.

Many literary devices used in Romeo and Juliet create humor, and help to further characterize important comedic characters of the play. One of the principal comedic characters in this play is Mercutio, who acts as a foil to Romeo. Romeo sees love as a more serious and emotional matter, compared to Mercutio’s purely physical views of love. His careless views of love are proven when he is talking to Romeo about Rosaline, “Is love a tender thing? It is too rough, Too rude, too boisterous, and it pricks like thorn. If love be rough with you, be rough with love. Prick love for pricking, and you beat love down” (1. 4. 25-28). Here, Mercutio makes a pun on the word “prick”, and turns Romeo’s sentimental words into sexual wordplay. This not only indirectly characterizes Mercutio as an amusing and trivial person, but also as a quite intelligent one, as he is able to cleverly retort Romeo’s sulking. Another extremely important character in Romeo and Juliet is the Nurse, as she acts as a messenger for Romeo and Juliet. Her character is a very comic one as well, and she potently uses literary devices to express her thoughts that are, more often than not, very comical and lighthearted. An example of this is when the Nurse returns to tell Juliet of Romeo’s plan of marriage, “What says he of our marriage? What of that? Lord, how my head aches! What a head have I! It beats as it would fall in twenty pieces. My back, o’t’ other side. Ah, my back, my back!” (2. 5. 45-48). As Juliet is waiting in anticipation to hear of what Romeo has to say, the Nurse decides to tease her by using hyperbole to complain about her aches and pains, therefore delaying the delivery of Romeo’s message, and leaves Juliet frustrated. This not only shows that the Nurse is a playful and comic character, but it proves to the audience how close of a relationship she and Juliet have, almost as if they were bound by blood. Therefore, comic effects created by literary devices help to develop important comedic characters of the play.

Romeo and Juliet uses its tragic nature to its advantage, using various literary devices to create humor, which adds important elements, such as comic relief and character development, to the story. Shakespeare effectively uses comic relief to relieve built-up tension in the atmosphere of the play, and skillfully incorporates literary devices to express these humorous moments. Furthermore, the humor that is created through literary devices, contributes highly to the characterization and development of many significant characters. In Romeo and Juliet, humor allows the fun and lighthearted side of the play to show. After all, why so serious?

Dark and Light, Romeo and Juliet

The Bible states “God saw light was good, and he separated the light from darkness.” Though light and dark are separated in Romeo in Juliet, they have entirely different connotations. The presence of light turns the characters belligerent, while darkness pacifies them.

Light imagery indicates aggressiveness, impatience, and danger. For example, when Friar Lawrence speaks on Romeo and Juliet’s love, he advises, “These violent delights have violent ends / And in their triumph die, like fire and powder, / Which, as they kiss, consume” (2.6.9-10). Fire, a form of light imagery, personifies the amorous passion that Romeo and Juliet mutually share. Just as fire and gunpowder combust when mixed, the irrational feelings of the lovers reach new plateaus whenever they kiss. Friar Lawrence believes that this type of love is particularly dangerous, as it is neither stable nor particularly successful in the long run. In addition, impatiently waiting for the sun to set, Juliet proclaims, “Gallop apace, you fiery footed steeds, / Towards Phoebus lodging! Such a wagoner / As Phaeton would whip you to the west” (3.2.1-3). Fiery-footed steeds, Phoebus, and Phaeton all refer to the common Greek myth in which every day, Phaeton, the god of the sun, would ride his chariot of flaming horses from one end of the sky to the other. The quote epitomizes Juliet’s impatience for day to end, as she implores Phaeton to whip his horses faster so that the sun can set more quickly. Juliet despises the heat and loneliness she feels during the day, and recognizes that she only feels true happiness in the presence of night. Furthermore, after sleeping with Juliet, right before leaving in the morning, Romeo states ominously, “More light and light – more dark and dark our woes!” (3.5.36). In daytime, Romeo and Juliet are incapable of uniting, leaving each of them feeling grim. Light imagery characterizes the danger that could result in their meeting. The word “dark,” used figuratively, foreshadows a sinister ending to Romeo and Juliet’s love story. Various symbols of light represent intense emotion within the characters, and it is the corresponding actions to these impulses which allow the plot to twist so frequently throughout the play.

Darkness provides the lovers with comfort, intimacy, and love. Further, aptly speaking about Romeo’s love after the Capulet party, Benvolio asserts, “To be consorted with the humorous night. / Blind is his love and best befits the dark.” (2.1.33-34). Romeo’s heedless love to Rosaline best fits the night because it is only in the all-covering envelope of darkness that he can express his true love without fear of repercussion. The dark, symbolizing comfort, allows Romeo to find solace within him and emancipate the anxiety and stress he has carried throughout his love affair with Rosaline. Moreover, as Juliet anticipates Romeo’s arrival at night, she imagines, “Spread thy close curtain, love performing night, / That runaway eyes may wink, and Romeo / Leap to these arms untalk’d of and unseen” (3.2.5-7). Romeo and Juliet, both runaways in their own right, can only show their true nature and make love after dark. Closing the curtain from the outside world brings anonymity, and removes them from the melancholy of the day. This allows Romeo and Juliet to perform consummation on their wedding night to signify the start of what they ironically believe will become a long, prosperous marriage. Furthermore, in the same soliloquy, Juliet adds, “Come civil night, / Thou sober-suited matron, all in black, / And learn me how to lose a winning match” (3.2.11-13). Ironically, Juliet requests the night, depicted as a widow dressed in black, to teach her how to lose her virginity. Dark imagery is evident in her description of the maiden of night but also in the tone of her voice; Juliet speaks to it as if it is her friend. Darkness, often misunderstood as an omen of death, is actually a boon for Romeo and Juliet, as it is only in the moon’s presence that an ordinary teenage crush spawns into a burning passion.

In Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, the trauma and anguish experienced by these teenagers cause them to make brash, suicidal decisions. Though God separated good from bad when distinguishing light from darkness, those same divisions are not present in this story. Without them, another potent, celestial force leads to the ultimate fate of these star-crossed lovers. Like Romeo and Juliet, each aspect of Shakespeare’s symbolism is merely a puppet to the cruel and unforgiving hand of fate.

Symbolism of Nature in German Realism: The Uncertain Omnipresence

Nature is an important feature of poetic realism, an offshoot of German realism in the late 19th century. Gottfried Keller, the author of the novel Romeo und Julia auf dem Dorfe (Romeo and Juliet in the Village), is a Swiss writer who belongs to this concept of poetic realism. This style tries to portray the inner truth through romantic exaggeration. In the sense of poetic realism, this novella has an immense set of emblematic natural phenomena. Throughout the course of the narrative, perceptions of nature such as the overgrown field, stones, the river, the weather, and the stars are described in detail; drawing the reader to notice connections and greater symbolisms that are pertinent to Keller’s critique on 19th century society. The natural events are omnipresent and the uncertainty of nature reflects the powerlessness of the characters in regards to their destiny.

The novel Romeo und Julia auf dem Dorfe alludes to Shakespeare’s tragedy Romeo and Juliet and echoes the climaxes of the plot. Instead of an Italian city, however, a village in Switzerland serves as the backdrop of the tragic love story. The narrative takes place in the fictitious town of Seldwyla and incorporates the farmers Marti and Manz and their respective children Sali and Vrenchen. At the beginning of the novella, there is an overgrown piece of land between the two farmers’ fields. It is assumed that the homeless schwarze Geiger (Black Violinist) is the grandson of the deceased owner of the field, thusly the piece of land in fact belongs to him. The Black Violinist, however, has neither a certificate of baptism nor a citizenship certificate to prove his inheritance, and consequently the field is auctioned (Keller 38). Neither Marti nor Manz regard the Black Violinist as the true owner and, in a twist of unlucky fate, the two farmers become the only bidders on this field. When Manz wins the bid and consequently the land, Marti tries to keep the corner of the overgrown field to which he had been tending. In this way the field sparks the conflict between the farmers. The family feud has begun; Marti and Manz go to court and their children are forbidden to interact.

Symbolism and foreshadowing of this feud can be found in the initial scene, wherein the golden cornfield reflects the friendly relationship between the farmers. In pleasant silence, Marti and Manz plow their respective fields however in the opposite direction; a reflection of their disagreement and an inkling of the feud to come (4). In addition, the field serves as the meeting place for the lost lovers, Sali and Vrenchen. The two love birds have hardly a moment for themselves in this tarnished field before the Black Violinist arrives and recognizes them as the children of the farmers who stole his land.

Very close to the theme of the field – and another, important element of nature – is the stone. Certainly, the fieldstones were involved in the dispute between Marti and Manz, given the turmoil that ensued after Manz threw stones into the disputed patch of land. In addition, the stone symbolizes the sufferings of the young love couple with Keller’s phrase “and their minds became as heavy as stones,” after they were reprimanded by the Black Violinist for the wrongdoings of their fathers (38). In another incident, which happens shortly after the encounter with the Black Violinist, Sali heaves a stone at Marti; resulting in Marti’s mental handicap and destroying the possibility of marriage between Sali and Vrenchen (43).

In the course of the story, the river is only mentioned in passing. Nevertheless, it is perhaps one of the most important aspects of nature in the novel. Both the river and the weather reflect the mood of the storyline and predict the conflicts ahead. Before the feud, it is a “sunny September morning” and the beautiful river flows gently past Seldwyla (3). Promptly before Marti and Manz argue on the bridge, the sky is full of thunderclouds and dark water rushes beneath them in the deep and raging stream (27). This river is a symbolic representation of misery, given that serves as the lowly fishing location for the poor people of the village. As Sali and Vrenchen watch each other from across the bridge, the “shining blue river” returns and the sky opens up with heavenly glory (36). In addition, the river serves as a symbol of death, as Sali and Vrenchen commit suicide together on a raft and it is the last symbol with which the narrative closes.

Not only is the sky often described, but also the stars are mentioned several times as symbolic nature references. The many mentions of stars in this novel play off of the Shakespearean phrase “star-crossed lovers.” At the beginning of the novella, the plowing farmers are described as “two sinking stars” and later in the text, Sali and Vrenchen are compared as being a constellation together (4). The symbol of the star has a negative meaning within the novella as well, as the Black Violinist is referred to as a black star for the way that he looks and manner which he is an outsider (36).

From the golden cornfield in the initial scene to the fluctuating moods of the river throughout the novella, Keller describes nature in Romeo und Julia auf dem Dorfe with figurative intentions. He uses the descriptions of the sky to indicate the ruin of the two families and he shapes the weather in imitation of the conflicts between the farmers. Nature proves to be an omnipotent authority with which human beings are indubitably engulfed. Within the various aspects of nature, from fields to rivers, nature provides both food to preserve life as well as an outlet from which to escape life. Through the revelation of this inner truth regarding nature, Gottfried Keller embraces the importance of poetic realism.

Works Cited

Keller, Gottfried. Romeo Und Julia Auf Dem Dorfe: Novelle. Stuttgart: Reclam, 2010. Print.