“Romeo and Juliet” and “The Winter’s Tale” Comparison Essay

September 29, 2020 by Essay Writer

Although Shakespearean plays have been written several centuries before and the epoch of postmodernism suggests completely different genre and style, the poems written by the Swan of Avon are one of those kind that never age. With help of the tiniest details and the sense of harmony, Shakespeare created the poems which will become as eternal as Rome. One of the aspects of his poetry which made it so fantastically natural, real and filled with passion was the accuracy in details which he drove to complete perfection. Thus, the greenery which he described in the poems, whether those were the thick bushes concealing the traitor or a rose grown in the place where two hearts broke, played a role as important as those of kings and queens.

This peculiarity of Shakespeare’s works came into the spotlight in his two plays, Romeo and Juliet and The Winter’s Tale. Without the details of the scenery which depicted the botanical imagery of the plays, the latter would have been incomplete. Because of the importance of the role of plants and trees in the two abovementioned plays, it would be reasonable to consider each of the plays in detail.

It is impossible to imagine The Winter’s Tale, one of the most fantastic plays of Shakespeare, without the description of the plants and trees which come into background as the main action unwinds. With a certain “touch of Chaucer” (Driver 232) in his play, Shakespeare could not help sparing several passages devoted to the beauty of nature. Whether the scenery conveyed certain idea or was merely a work of art in the middle of the play is rather hard question.

However, it would be possible to suggest that Shakespeare used the greenery images to emphasize certain elements of the play. Since the play comprised both the Shakespearean world picture and certain elements of the medieval times, it had to bear the traits of the two styles. Taking into consideration that the influence of Chaucer was more than obvious in The Winter’s Tale, and Chaucer’s passion for the descriptive elements, it could be suggested that the botanic details of the play were predetermined:

The Winter’s Tale tracks back to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, especially those of Patient Griselda and Mebilee; and even The Tempest, which seems contemporary with Shakespeare, inspired as it was by a shipwreck of 1609, employs inescapably medieval allusions. (Driver 11)

Creating a fairytale atmosphere in the story, Shakespeare added truthful details with help of greenery description. Imagining the trees and flowers growing in a faraway land, the readers would feel that the miraculous place is but a few steps away. There is no doubt that without such details the characters of the play would seem a little bit more distanced in time and space from the readers, and Shakespeare knew it well. Adding the descriptions which made the readers see the make-believe with their own eyes, Shakespeare did impossible – he made the characters of the story stand in front of the public’s eyes and turn completely alive.

Without the greenery mentioned in the play, the peculiarities of the characters would have been not so obvious. Once some plant is mentioned, it produces the image which is bound to be connected with the given character all the play long. A clear-cut example of such phenomenon is Autolicus’s appearance in the play:

When Daffadils begin to peere,
With heigh the Doxy ouer the dale,
Why then comes in the sweet o’the yeere,
For the red blood raigns in y winters pale,
he sings, creating certain image in the reader’s mind. From this very moment on, the young man is taken as a very open-hearted good-for nothing, a man whose sole roof over the head is the sky of blue. Daffodils, the plants which grow even on bricks and look as if they are spots of sunshine, are as light-hearted and carefree as Autolicus. A weed they are, but harmless and filling people’s hearts with joy, sweet morning dew dripping from their petals.

However, these are not only the joys of life which Shakespeare speaks about in the tragicomedy. Sometimes flowers and plants are used as a metaphor for people, with their own grieves and sorrows. With help of the ideas which certain flowers inspire, Shakespeare suggests an elegant and tragic wordplay:

Pol. Shepherdesse,
(A faire one are you:) well you fit our ages
With flowres of Winter,
where “flowers of winter” are supposed to mean the results of the mean and tyrannical deeds of Leont. The words mean much more than an eye can meet: flowers growing in winter are bound to die, that is, Perdita id doomed. Such tragic hint wrapped in the “botanical” poetic metaphor sends shivers down the reader’s spine. However, Perdita’s answer reveals even more to the audience:

Perd. Sir, the yeare growing ancient,
Not yet on summers death, nor on the birth
Of trembling winter, the fayrest flowres o’th season
Are our Carnations, and streak’d Gilly-vors,
(Which some call Natures bastards) of that kind
Our rusticke Gardens barren, and I care not
To get slips of them.

The tragedy of Perdita’s life is conveyed in those simple yet moving lines. Associating herself with those flowers, she pictured her entire life better than anyone else could – a life of a flower it was, for everyone to admire and for no one to care for. Shakespeare’s choice for flowers is impeccable here; the wild beauty of carnations, so simple and yet fragile and gentle, is the very picture of Perdita. Adding to the images of the lead characters and describing them better than their actions or words, the greenery in the play is much more than merely a setting. Used metaphorically to describe the characters of The Winter’s Tale, flowers create visions much more picturesque than any words can.

The Tragedy and the Triumph of Love

In contrast to The Winter’s Tale, Romeo and Juliet suggests another idea of plants role in the play. While In The Winters’ Tale plants are used to depict the characters’ personalities better and to tell the story of their life, the role of greenery in Romeo and Juliet is somewhat different. In Romeo and Juliet plants are rather used as a means to depict the situation in the play and to put accent on certain emotion.

However, it cannot be denied that Shakespearean metaphors make use of plants to describe people as well. It must be kept in mind though that the Swan of Avon uses greenery to depict rather appearance than certain features of character or someone’s fate. Thus, to show the beauty of young women on the on-coming ball, Shakespeare compares them to flowers:

Such comfort as do lusty young men feel
When well-apparell’d April on the heel
Of limping winter treads, even such delight
Among fresh female buds shall you this night
Inherit at my house.

It is undeniable that Shakespeare is a master of metaphors. As the given passage shows, he uses not only various types of flowers to describe people’s appearance, but also different stages of flowers blooming. Indeed, young women who are only entering the adult life, in the gentlest age, can be called only buds. In spite of the seeming unattractiveness of a flower bud, it is even more beautiful than a flower blooming; for it has the charming uncertainty of youth which even the ripe beauty cannot be compared to. As Capulet pronounces this word, the reader can feel every single emotion of the old king, starting from his love to the daughter up to his pride on the beautiful child who will soon turn into a beautiful woman. Shakespeare uses the same trick in the talk between the Lady Capulet and the Nurse, describing the “valiant Paris” who seeks Juliet’s love:

Nurse
A man, young lady! lady, such a man
As all the world–why, he’s a man of wax.
LADY CAPULET
Verona’s summer hath not such a flower.
Nurse
Nay, he’s a flower; in faith, a very flower.

Thus, Shakespeare uses flowers in the play to describe the beauty of the characters or certain traits of their character (light-mindedness in this case), not going deep into details and not even specifying the kind of flowers. It could be suggested that in this play Shakespeare wanted to put greater emphasis on the action and the emotions of the leads, which made him be rather brief about depicting the leads with help of flowers. As Bloom noticed,

It is worth while to pause and note Shakespeare’s method of treating external nature as the milieu or enveloping medium of human passions; while sometimes, in addition, between external nature and human passions Shakespeare reveals acute points of special contact. (87)

It goes without saying that Shakespeare plunged deep into psychological description of characters with help of botanic elements in The Winter’s Tale, while in Romeo and Juliet the poet tends to make the descriptions more generalized. It is peculiar that in Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare even makes Mercutio makes wise but rather critical remarks jokingly with help of “herbal” elements: “Her chariot is an empty hazel-nut”, Mercutio says about ladies.

Because of the specific story of love and vengeance, the entire play is a battle of the opposites. Such trait of the play also has its effect on the role of plants mentioned in the play. Owing to the fact that the play depicts the confrontation of the two families, the role of the botanical imagery in the play often plays antipodal parts. As Spurgeon noted,

In Romeo and Juliet, also, we find the general light and darkness symbolism reinforced by touches of both black and white, and red and white, the first bringing out the peerless quality of each of lovers in the other’s eyes, the second enhancing the horror and the tragedy of the fate of youth in the play. (64)

Such contrast, which is not characteristic for The Winter’s Tale at all, concerns not only colors. It can also be seen in the botanical imagery throughout the play. For example, when Romeo says, “Lady, by yonder blessed moon I swear/ That tips with silver all these fruit-tree tops,” the readers feel the mystery and infatuation soaring in the air. It seems that the trees around are giants who are going to tell away the secrets of the two. Meanwhile, the idea of trees as a shelter is conveyed in the passage with Mercutio and Benvolio talking about Romeo and his blind infatuation:

Come, he hath hid himself among these trees,
To be consorted with the humorous night:
Blind is his love and best befits the dark.

It is quite peculiar that the famous Shakespearean sense of humor did not escape the poet in this play as well; the poem is rich with the witty dialogues where flowers and other botanical issues are touched upon. Te use of the peculiar “botanical” element can be explained by the elegance which the puns in the poem obtained as the flowers were used as an idiom. In contrast to The Winter’s Tale where all idioms were used to emphasize the characters’ individuality, in Romeo and Juliet the puns were designed to make the readers feel the hopelessness which the poem was sewn through with.

MERCUTIO
Nay, I am the very pink of courtesy.
ROMEO
Pink for flower.
MERCUTIO
Right.
ROMEO
Why, then is my pump well flowered.

With help of the word “pink”, which is also the name of the flower, the sarcasm of Romeo is enlarged to grotesque size. Although the tragic situation does not suggest excessive fun, the gloomy remark s made even more stinging due to the usage of pink. Thus, Shakespeare makes the readers feel the vengeful air which the war between the Montagues and the Capulets created.

Conclusion

Because of the specific Shakespearean manner of using greenery in metaphors and to describe the specific atmosphere in the story, the poems The Winter’s Tale and Romeo and Juliet reveal certain similar traits. It would be a mistake to claim that only the botanical element in the both stories made them unique, but there is no doubt that the abovementioned element contributes sufficiently to the feeling of the inimitable Shakespearean style. However, it must be admitted that the botanical element used the two stories serves different purposes in each of the poems.

Without the botanical element in The Winter’s Tale, the characters’ personalities would not have been depicted so brightly and vividly. Using plants and flowers to compare them to the people in the play, Shakespeare made miracles of metaphors and comparisons; meanwhile, in Romeo and Juliet the plants and flowers served rather as a background to emphasize the tense situation or as a means to describe people’s appearance. It was rather characteristic trait of Romeo and Juliet to show the sarcasm with help of idiom about flowers.

Botanical issues are an integral part of the two Shakespearean plays and their specific feature. Without this feature, the plays would have something missing; they would seize being complete. Looking for the means to express the things which needed specific wrapping, The Swan of Avon chose the most brilliant of all.

Works Cited

Bloom, Harold. Romeo and Juliet. New York, NY: InfoBase Publishing, 2008. Print.

Spurgeon, Caroline F. E. Shakespeare’s Imagery and What It Tells Us. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982. Print.

Driver, Martha V., and Sid Ray. Shakespeare and the Middle Ages: Essays on the Performance and Adaptation of the Plays with Medieval Sources or Settings. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009. Print.

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