Shakespeare's treatment of tragedy in Romeo and Juliet is not as traditional as an expected tragic love story. Shakespeare toys with the elements of traditional and contemporary through fate and character. Seeming like a comedy in the first half of the play, Romeo and Juliet takes a tragic turn at the start of Act 3, with everything unravelling from there. Shakespeare constantly reminds the audience that Romeo and Juliet is still a tragedy as it can be easy to get swept away with the word play and sexual innuendos.
The prologue in Romeo and Juliet is different to other prologues, Shakespeare toys with the elements of tragedy in this way. The prologue of Romeo and Juliet tells the story's ending before it even starts, an element that Shakespeare purposely included. This is extremely rare of Shakespeare as most of the play is a comedy love story where things go wrong in the last bit of the play, classifying it as a tragedy. With the sense of fore-boding doom in the prologue, it tells the audience exactly what is going to happen, referring to an ill-fated couple, 'star crossed' which means against the stars. In doing so, Shakespeare changes the traditional prologue to remind the audience that Romeo and Juliet will end badly.
Shakespeare toys with the two tragedy genres, fate, and character, including both types in Romeo and Juliet. Treating both in different ways throughout the story. Romeo and Juliet is known for the protagonist's destined ill-fated love. That it is written in the stars and nothing will change that from happening, even a series of the most unlikely events. In Act 1 scene 4, Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio decide to sneak into the Capulet's party. Before even going in, Shakespeare foreshadowed and marked the beginning of Romeo and Juliet's misfortune in "Some consequences yet hanging in the stars, shall bitterly begin his fearful date”. The stars are about to make his fate, foreshadowing what tragedy will soon come to Romeo and Juliet as well as reminding the audience that this night will bring death.
Seeming like a light-hearted comedy in the first two Acts, in the beginning of Act 3, Romeo and Juliet takes a tragic turn. 30 seconds into the start of Act 3 Shakespeare boldly kills two key characters, Tybalt and Mercutio, becoming the turning point of the play. This is extremely rare and a bold move having a likeable character, the comic relief, dying before half way through the play. However, being one of the many ways Shakespeare toyed with the elements of tragedy. From this point, everything unravels and goes downhill quickly turning into a tragedy. The tone abruptly changes and the audience remember that it is indeed a tragedy, with the scene ending on a dark tone. Suddenly, the light heartedness sexual innuendos disappear as Mercutio is dead, Tybalt is dead with the tragedy just beginning.
Furthermore, Shakespeare includes character, and the tragic hero in Romeo and Juliet. The hamartia for Romeo and Juliet is their shared fatal flaw, impulsiveness. Their willingness to do anything for one another even only knowing each other for a couple of days ultimately brings them both death. Romeo nor Juliet thought for a second longer about what they should do, acting out of love, which was their downfall. There is always “the if” if Romeo waited that second longer and stopped to think, Juliet could have woken up and both would still be alive. Yet his impulsiveness to drink the poison whilst only seeing her dead body straight away was the fatal flaw that bought him death and other consequences throughout the play. Ultimately, Shakespeare toys with hamartia and the fatal flaw in Romeo and Juliet, giving both characters the same flaw that lead to both their deaths.
Shakespeare toys with many elements of tragedy throughout Romeo and Juliet. In the prologue, Shakespeare told the ending before the play even started to remind the audience that it does end tragically. A fair warning as the first half of the play is nothing but a comedy but takes a dark twisted turn with the death of two characters at the half way point, with the rest of the tragedy unravelling from that point. Shakespeare also toys with the elements of character and fate, Romeo and Juliet's shared fatal flaw bringing them death as well fate making the unlikeliest events occur stopping them from being together. Shakespeare treats tragedy in Romeo and Juliet differently with traditional and contemporary elements.
Feature Article by Payton Jacobs