In the play of Romeo and Juliet we see how Shakespeare, a fifteenth centenary playwright tries to create the sense of a classical tragedy and a medieval tale of love into a play about “two star crossed lovers”. A classical tragedy is based on the belief of the Greek writer “Aristotle”, Aristotle was a Greek born man who lived in about 350 BC and he believed that all plays that wished to be christened “tragedy” should have some very important qualities.
These are the following, the main character has to play the most important part of the play and the story must tackle serious moral issues. Aristotle also felt that the play had to follow perpetual which means reversal of fortune and I feel that this factor makes the play “Romeo and Juliet” most like a traditional classical tragedy. The next factors that Aristotle had felt a classical tragedy had to include were, the hero or victim had to be of great importance and this was called Protagonists. The last points that Aristotle believed should be include in a play was Hubris and Catharsis, hubris means that the character had to have a flaw in himself and with his pride, Catharsis means a clear difference in the good and the bad, this also included that the good must win. At the end of the play Aristotle felt that order had to be restored to everyone and that the last action all took place at the same time and in one place, a classical tragedy also had to show the gods intervention.
I felt that the play Romeo and Juliet was very hard for Shakespeare to maintain along side the classical tragedy’s demands. This was because the times that Aristotle lived in and the time that Shakespeare lived in were totally different. Aristotle’s time to Shakespeare must of looked very old and needed to be improved a great deal, and this is why I feel that you can not really compare 350 BC demands to a 1554 AD play, but in the play of Romeo and Juliet you can still see the bare bones of a classical tragedy are present, yet they have be modified to suit and fit the tastes of the people who came and saw the play in the fifteen hundreds.
In the play of Romeo and Juliet we see the first sign of a classical tragedy in the first lines of the prologue, when we read “A pair of star-cross’s lovers take there life” from this, the narrator is telling us what is going to happen in the play. This tells us that this play will deal with moral issues so we can say that Shakespeare has tried to implicate the ways of a classical tragedy and that from the first speech of the play it looks like a classical tragedy. We can also tell that this play deals with moral issues in the way the story involves “two households, both alike in dignity”, This makes the people in that time think of the feuds in the Spanish armada between the Hapsburgs and the Tudors, we can relate this to the play by the way the Montague’s and the Capulet’s keep fighting for a forgotten reason.
This play is about two lovers called Romeo and Juliet, who fall in love at a Capulet masked ball, this also backs up Shakespeare’s attempt in trying to make this play a classical tragedy by showing that the main character has Hubris, This again means “fatal flaw”, we see this in Romeo actually going to the ball even though he was not invited. If Romeo did not go to the Capulet ball he would not see the beauty of his wife to be and would not have leaded them to their death. This is seen in act one scene two, where we see Romeo putting his name onto the guest list of the party, “I’ll go along, no such sight to be shown”, here we see Romeo showing his fatal flaw in his character and that he creates his own downfall, hubris.
In the next Scene we see Juliet doing the same thing in the way she is very disrespectful to her mother, this is seen when she does not want to get married yet, even when her father gets really furious because everyone believes that her, Juliet, and Paris, are a very good match, but Juliet only likes Paris for his looks and does not feel love and she tries to tell her mother that she will not marry unless she feels love “But no more deep will I end, art mine eye”. Here we, the reader and the people that saw the play would see the fusion of Classical Tragedy and Medieval Tragedy. These are both tragedy’s but unlike the poetics by Aristotle all a medieval tragedy needs is a common way to relate to the audience and by the play telling the viewers how easy it is for the high to plummet to lower class or standard. This is also seen in fifteenth century Literature in stories like, Chaucer’s Monk’s Tale in Canterbury Tales.
A medieval tragedy usually also has to include some humour for the people that will see the play to relate with, this is done so the audience can relate to the play and so it can teach them something in a non-alliterative way, this was done because most of the population could not read or write. We see an example of this humour in this play when Romeo uses quite rude comparisons to Juliet’s body in act three scene five “Nor that is not the lark, whose notes do beat” here Romeo compares Juliet to a bird that only sings when it is high in the air or in full flight, but Romeo means in intercourse.
In order for this play to be a classical tragedy we need to see the intervention of the gods, this is seen when Romeo first sees Juliet and he is struck by her looks, the same also goes for Juliet. But Juliet is not already in a relationship where as Romeo is with a girl called Rosaline, but she does not seem to be in any part of the play. We can tell that Shakespeare tries to bring in the intervention of the gods by saying that cupid; the god of love has intervened and caused them to love each other. This is seen when Friar Laurence, Romeo’s Priest, is told about Juliet and his everlasting love for her, yet he has only seen her once, “That last is true; the sweeter rest was mine”. So the friar mentions Rosaline and it seems to him that she has just suddenly gone out of his thoughts in his head “With Rosaline, my ghostly father? No, I have forgot that name” where as earlier on into the play we see him saying he will die for his love of Rosaline, what is always spoken in an oxymoronic way “Out of her favour where I am in love”. With all of this in mind it is suggested that a god of great power has intervened into Romeo’s and Juliet life and love. We also see that every time Romeo and Juliet speak they use a lot of Petrarchan love poetry that makes the reader and people that saw the play feel there love for each other on a higher level and made there love for each other out of this world and abnormal.
In this play we also see Shakespeare try and stick to the Aristotle’s way of telling a tragedy by the way he uses perpetual in the death of Mercutio because since his death no one has died and no innocent blood has been shed, yet in act three scene one, we see Mercutio dieing by the sword of his enemy Tybalt, this was all at the hand of Romeo, this is why he did not accept his death when he knew he was dieing. We see that Mercutio does not wish to die and to get back at both of the fighting houses because it has gone on for so long, and it has now just got out of hand he places a “plague o’ both your houses” and this really becomes true because Mercutio, has really caused the collapse of Romeo’s and Juliet’s love. Now that perpetual, reversal of fortune, has happened Romeo tries to take back Mercutio slain blood by seeking his own back on Tybalt by killing him, the death of Tybalt also causes the death of Juliet in the eyes of the people that do not know of the love that she has with Romeo.
But it is not just Romeo and Juliet that play a very big part of this classical tragedy, we have to ask our selves if the law was really up held in this play and are Romeo and Juliet really to blame in this play for there deaths. The part of the classical tragedy that I am trying to tackle is the Hubris of Romeo and Juliet, I feel that there love and it leading to their death was not really there fault mainly. In this play I think that the finger should be pointed at Friar Lawrence and the prince, this is because of the way that the friar only married the couple because he thought it would bring “For this alliance may so happy prove” and I feel that the friar knows this, by the end of the play when he starts to tell the whole story of Romeo’s love for Juliet, after the prince says “And lead you, even to death” and the friar tells the whole story to both families, knowing that “for my short day of breath”, so he knows he is guiltily and deserves to die. The prince is guiltily as well though and this is seen in the way he should have sentenced Romeo to his death after he killed Tybalt. If Romeo had been killed, Juliet would not have killed herself in the tomb when she saw Romeo’s dead body, which made him killed himself with the sight of her faked death. So the innocent deaths that occurred later on in the play would not have happened, like Paris. So I think we can say that the prince is a weak man and this is seen when he takes the moral ground instead of the law, when he sentences Romeo to banishment and not death even thought he has killed “Immediately we do exile him hence”. The prince should have killed Romeo here in the play.
So in conclusion I feel that this play does stick to the ways of Aristotle and his book of the Poetics, but I think that Shakespeare has just updated the main ways of the book The Poetics, and that he tried to create a play that the queen could relate to, who at this time paid Shakespeare to write most of his plays because she liked take pleasure in his writing and I feel that this influenced the way he wrote. He was asked to write about the Hapsburgs and the Tudors settling all of there feuds and that they should of put an end to their long lasting disagreements and this play was trying to get this through to the public and that they needed to change there society and way of living.