June 15, 2005

The Irony of Shakespear as in "Romeo and Juliet"

Romeo and Juliet, a theatrical production written by William Shakespeare, sometime in the late 1590s, could very well be his most famous writing of all time. Few other pieces of great literature are known throughout the Western world by not only adults, but young school children. By the time we reach second and third grade we have all learned the basic story, that a man and a woman fell in love, got married and then killed themselves. While many details, both minor and major are left out of the story the children still know it. However, they don’t know it well enough, because it is required for deeper study and evaluation in high school. Hence the reason for this paper. To show that I have learned enough about Romeo and Juliet to make any progression in today’s high-tech scientific and mathematically oriented world.

The popularity and fame of Romeo and Juliet can all be attributed to its intense use of dramatic irony. Shakespeare constantly kept his audience on the edge of their seats by telling them more about the plot than he did the characters in the play. Misunderstanding is the general basis of the story, and is signified in many scenes by many of the characters in the play. It is his extensive use of irony both in Romeo and Juliet and many of his other stage productions that led William Shakespeare to fame.

Dramatic irony can easily be described as a point in a dramatic production, such as a stage play, in which the audience knows more than they character onstage does. Shakespeare did this by setting up a number of scenes that included a variety of monologues, or dialogue in which one character may be talking to themselves, and asides, a short conversation to the audience that the other characters are not intended to hear. Dramatic irony can be used to give the audience a more active feeling in what is taking place onstage. Furthermore, it provides a sense of excitement, as the plot deepens to a point where the characters onstage cannot seem to handle it any longer.

Two of the most prominent scenes using dramatic irony, can include the scenes in which Balthasar informs Romeo of Juliet’s “death” before Friar Lawrence’s letter reaches him, or the scene where Romeo carefully claims his loving kinship of Tybalt. Though many other scenes use dramatic irony, these two stand out the most due to their deepening of the plot. Both scenes lead the characters to take rash action that later causes regret and permanent damage both families. For example in the scene with Tybalt and Romeo, Romeo has just gotten back from his wedding with Juliet to find his good friend Mercutio and his enemy Tybalt preparing to fight. Tybalt, who is angry with Romeo, sees him and demands a duel, to which Romeo responds, “Tybalt, the reason that I have to love thee doth much excuse the appertaining rage to such greeting.” Here, Romeo is telling Tybalt that he doesn’t have a choice but to love him. Tybalt then, not knowing why Romeo has said what he just said, continues to harass Romeo, further demanding that the fight be settled. Again, Romeo insists that he loves Tybalt “better than thou canst devise.” After this Mercutio steps in to fight in place of Romeo and the duel brawl moves along. This seemingly small misunderstanding further drives Tybalt to anger and he thus kills Mercutio. This in turn angers Romeo, and in spite of his kinship to him, kills Tybalt. This example shows how one small misunderstanding can lead to great turns within the plot.

The next area of misunderstanding and possibly the largest in the entire play begins when Balthasar catches a glimpse of Juliet’s funeral and perceives her to be dead. He quickly runs to Romeo, who has not yet received the message from Friar Lawrence, and informs him of his love. The shocked Romeo travels to Verona, on the way purchasing a vial of poison. When he enters to tomb where he finds Juliet, who in reality is just sleeping, he begins to mourn for her death. Just before she awakens he drinks the poison and dies, thus completing the greatest misunderstanding of all. As the friar enters the sepulcher after speaking with Balthasar, he senses this and says, “Fear comes upon me. O, much I fear some ill unthrifty thing.” He then continues to find Romeo dead and Juliet waking up. From then on, fate takes over, and as Juliet finds her lover dead she takes his knife and stabs herself to complete the curse of hatred on the Capulet and Montague families.

Romeo and Juliet gained its fame from these and several other misunderstandings, and uses of dramatic irony. Misunderstandings that capture our senses enough to cause us to pass on the story on for centuries. The same misunderstandings that have caused the story to be named “the greatest love story of all time”, and earned William Shakespeare a spot in today’s literary hall of fame as one of the best writers of all time.

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