About Romeo and Juliet


A sonnet is a poem made up of 14 lines of iambic pentameter. That is, each line consists of ten syllables with a regular rhyme scheme. Both the prologues to Act I and Act II in Romeo and Juliet, as well as Romeo and Juliet's first exchanges in Act I, Scene 5, are sonnets. The sonnet can be traced by identifying the rhyme at the end of each line, starting, for example, with Romeo's line: "If I profane with my unworthiest hand" down to: "Then move not, while my prayer's effect I take." The first rhyming line may be called A and the second B, until the pattern ABAB CDCD EFEF GG is completed.

In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare presents the Prologue as a sonnet in order to point to the play's themes of love and the feud because sonnets were often used to address the subject of love in conflict. The sonnet also draws on the audience's expectations of the kinds of imagery that will be used. In his sonnets, Petrarch established the following pattern for love: A young man falls in love at first sight with a beautiful woman, but the woman resists his love in order to prolong the courtship and test his devotion. This results in the lover becoming melancholy, avoiding his friends and family, and using poetry to express his feelings of rejection. In the opening scenes of the play, Romeo is presented as a typical Petrarchan lover, rejected by Rosaline, the lady he admires. Romeo uses artificial-sounding language to describe his emotions: "Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs." Shakespeare continues to use the Petrarchan model when Romeo and Juliet fall in love at first sight at the Capulet ball. In this instance, Romeo realizes that his love for Rosaline was blind: "Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight. / For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night."

Shakespeare's Adaptations of Brooke's The Tragicall Historye Of Romeus And Juliet

Shakespeare's audience already knew the essential story of Romeo and Juliet, a popular story in European folklore which Arthur Brooke had translated into English in 1562 as a poem called The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet. Brooke based his poem on Pierre Boaistuau's French translation of the story from Italian sources in 1559.

Shakespeare adapts Brooke's poem for the stage, developing the characters, condensing the timeframe, and adding certain scenes to underscore his own themes. For example, Shakespeare reduces Juliet's age from 16 to 13 to emphasize her youth and vulnerability. Shakespeare expands Mercutio's role by adding the scenes in which Mercutio gives his Queen Mab speech and meets The Nurse. Shakespeare also develops the scene in which Romeo kills Tybalt: First, Mercutio accepts Tybalt's challenge on Romeo's behalf, and then Tybalt kills Mercutio under Romeo's arm as he tries to part the two men. In Brooke, Romeo kills Tybalt in self-defense, but Shakespeare shifts the emphasis so that Romeo is forced to take revenge for his friend's death by killing Tybalt.

Shakespeare compresses the action from months, as it appears in Brooke, to just over four days. In Brooke, Romeo and Juliet have been married nearly three months before Tybalt's death brings about their separation. In Shakespeare's play, Romeo and Juliet's wedding occurs on the same day as Romeo's banishment, so that the lovers are only able to spend a single night together. Shakespeare also develops the plot by adding the scene in which Capulet brings the wedding forward from Thursday to Wednesday. These developments are used to indicate the speed with which Romeo and Juliet rush headlong into love, while creating intense pressure as events conspire to bring the lovers to their tragic deaths.

Back to Top