I. Introduction: Shakespeare and Romeo and Juliet
A. William Shakespeare
1. Born 23 April 1564 in Stratford-on-Avon, Warwick.
Son of a prosperous wood and leather merchant.
2. Married to Anne Hathaway in 1582 (she was 26). They
had three children (the eldest died in childhood)
3. After writing ~37 plays, Shakespeare retired (wealthy
and respected) and died on his birthday in 1616.
B. Shakespeare’s plays
1. Not all of his plays published during his lifetime
2. In Elizabethan time, plays were not regarded as
either literature or good reading. They were written
quickly (often by more than one writer), performed
10-12 times, and then discarded.
3. In 1623, John Hemming and Henry Condell
published a collected edition of Shakespeare’s
works (36 plays)
a. not all Folio (21cmx34cm) editions are
b. not printed with act or scene divisions
or stage directions
4. Shakespeare’s plays written mostly in blank
verse: iambic pentameter
a. unrhymed lines consisting of 10
syllables, alternately stressed and unstressed
b. Romeo & Juliet has extensive rhyming
c. Rhyming often used to signal the end of
a scene or lines he wanted the audience to
d. used prose for servants, clowns,
commoners, and simple/pedestrian
matters such as lists, messages, and letters
1. Situated outside of town to avoid conflict with
a. “Authorities” disapproved of players
and play going, partly on moral and political
grounds (you will need to explain this on the quiz)
b. partly for the danger of spreading the plague.
2. The Globe Theater
a. small but accommodated 2-3 thousand people
b. weather had to be suitable - a flag flew
when the play was going to happen
c. Plays advertised on playbills posted
around the city
(1) 1¢ (~60¢ today) for the pit
(2) three tiers in gallery: the
higher you go, the more you pay.
The best seats cost one shilling
e. A full house might consist of 800
groundlings and 1500 in the
galleries, with a dozen or more
seats on the stage itself for gentry.
f. By law, females were not allowed to
perform - their parts were played by boys.
g. No scenery.
D. Romeo & Juliet
1. Probably written and first acted in 1595
2. Shakespeare’s company was, at that time,
performing at The Theatre, in Shoreditch, as
The Lord Chamberlain’s Men.
3. There were many versions of the
story of Romeo and Juliet in the 15th
and 16th centuries. In England it
became known through Arthur
Brooke’s 3,000 line poem,
published in 1562,
The Tragical Historie of Romeo and Juliet
II. Elizabethan England
A. Queen Elizabeth
1. One of the most popular and
long-reining monarchs in English
2. Curly red hair
3. Shrewd politician
4. Daughter of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII of England
5. Became Queen of England after her half
brother and half sister each briefly reigned and died.
6. Her sister, Mary, reigned brutally - her
persecution of Protestants earned her the
nickname “Bloody Mary.”
7. Became Queen at the age of 25
8. Never married - she used her position as an
unmarried monarch to wield power over
possible allies: the prospect of marriage to the
“Virgin Queen” was an instrumental factor in
the successful establishment of good relations
between England and other countries.
9. Under Elizabeth, England began
colonization of the Americas: Walter
Raleigh’s excursions to the Atlantic shore and
the establishment of the Roanoke Colony.
10. Sir Francis Drake - the first man to
circumnavigate the world.
B. Entertainment and Recreation
1. First public theaters were
built in England
3. Sports: football, swimming, fishing, bowling,
4. Inhabitants of a town would gather together
on holidays for huge parties and festivals,
especially on dates like All Hallow’s Eve and the
Twelfth Night of Christmas
5. Public punishments of criminals
a. stocks and pillory
6. Literature flourished in this era: Christopher
Marlowe, Sir Phillip Sidney, Edmund Spenser,
and William Shakespeare
C. Food and Medicine
1. Forks considered an oddity - even noblemen
threw bones on the floor.
2. Diet of mainly meat and bread, some
cheese, few fruits and veggies, LOTS of wine
a. poorly balanced diet caused
b. improper cooking habits
c. Smallpox and syphilis were
common afflictions passed from
person to person
4. The Black Death or The Plague
5. Only the very rich were able to afford
D. Fashions of the Day
a. both men and women very
concerned with hair - spent a great
deal of time and money
b. men would trim and style beards
c. women wore their hair in combs,
nets, or jeweled pins. High foreheads
were considered attractive, so they (women and
men) would pluck hair from the front hairline.
d. both sexes wore wigs if hair turned gray
or fell out
a. women wore very long dresses
that dragged on the ground. Their
bodices were very tight and came to a
point at the waist. Sleeves were puffy
around the shoulders and tight on the
lower arms. Very large ruffles around
the neck were popular with both sexes;
considered a status symbol for the upper classes.
b. men wore shorter breeches or pants
with brightly colored stockings
underneath. Large, ornate jewels were
worn by both sexes, and were often so
heavy that they made dancing difficult.
III. Literary Devices
A. Pun: A pun is a joke based on the use of a
word or words that has more than one meaning
but has the same sound. Mercutio and Romeo
often exchange puns during the play:
Nay, gentle Romeo, we must have you dance.
Not I, believe me. You have dancing shoes
with nimble soles; I have a soul of lead…
I iv 13-15
B. Foreshadowing: describes when a piece of dialogue or
action in a work refers to events that will happen later in
the story even though the characters have no prior
knowledge such events will occur.
Take thou some new infection to thy eye
And the rank poison of the old will die.
I ii 49-50
C. Metaphor: a comparison in which an object or a person
is directly likened to something else that could be
But soft! What light through yonder window breaks!
It is the east and Juliet is the sun.
II ii 2-3
D. Personification: occurs when an inanimate object or
concept is given the qualities of a person or an animal.
For thou wilt lie upon the wings of night
Whiter than new snow on a raven’s back
Come, gentle night, come, loving black-brow’d night
III ii 18-20
E. Oxymoron: describes when two juxtaposed words have
opposing or very diverse meanings (jumbo shrimp).
Beautiful tyrant! Fiend angelical!
III ii 77
F. Paradox: a statement or a situation with seemingly
contradictory or incompatible components. On closer
examination, however, the combination of these components
is indeed appropriate.
O serpent heart, hid with a flowering face!
III ii 75
G. Allusion: an indirect reference by casually mentioning
something that is generally familiar (for example:
mythology, the Bible, history, etc.)
…She’ll not be hit
With Cupid’s arrow; she hath Dian’s wit
I i 201-202
H. Aside: a little soliloquy; lines whispered to the audience
or to another character on stage (not meant to be heard by
all of the characters).
Abraham: Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?
Samson: [Aside to GREGORY.] Is the law of our
side if I say ay?
Gregory: [Aside to SAMPSON.] No.
Samson: No, sir, I do not bite my thumb at you,
sir; but I bite my thumb, sir.
I i 41-45
I. Catastrophe: the final event in a drama ( a death in a
tragedy; a marriage in a comedy)
J. Comic relief: a bit of humor
injected into a serious play to
relieve the heavy tension of tragic events
For example, the nurse plays a comic part to relieve much
of the tension throughout the play.
K. Dramatic irony: occurs when the audience knows
something that the character on stage is not aware of. For
example, we know that Juliet is not dead when Romeo kills
L. Irony: a method of expression in which the ordinary
meaning of the word is opposite to the thought in the
speaker’s mind OR events contrary to what would be
More light and more light, more
Dark and dark our woes.
III v 36
M. metonymy: a figure of speech whereby the name of a
thing is substituted for the attribute which it suggests.
The pen is mightier than the sword
N. Nemesis: an agent of retribution (the person who punishes)
- hink back to Fahrenheit 451 and the fire chief
- what is unusual is that the nemesis in this play for Romeo is
fate itself rather than a person
O. Poetic justice: the operation of justice in a play with fair
distribution of rewards for good deeds and punishment for
wrongdoings. For example, if a man who is poor because he
donates every spare penny to charity wins the lottery, that is
poetic justice. Or, on the other side, if a criminal who has
committed multiple crimes without ever being caught is jailed
for a crime he did not commit.
P. Soliloquy: a single character on stage thinking out
loud (a way of letting the audience know what is in the
O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope's ear;
Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear!
So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows,
As yonder lady o'er her fellows shows.
The measure done, I'll watch her place of stand,
And, touching hers, make blessed my rude hand.
Did my heart love till now? forswear it, sight!
For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night.
I I 41-50
Q. Tragic flaw: a character’s trait that leads to his or
her downfall or destruction.
For example, Romeo’s hubris - his belief that he can
cheat fate - leads to his death.
R. Hyperbole: an exaggeration for effect; a locution
that exaggerates or makes an extravagant statement
Romeo: It helps not, it prevails not. Talk no more.
Friar Laurence: O, then I see that madmen have no ears.
III iii 60-61