Romeo: First Thoughts

So… you should be remembering that I’d asked you to do the following for today:

• Why do we not meet Romeo at the start of the play, and is there any significance in the language that Shakespeare uses when we do first meet Romeo?

I hope by the end of today’s lesson you’d all realised that Romeo is kept apart from the opening on a number of levels… linguistically, and physically.

I’ll say more in a minute, but here’s a really important thing for you to remember… and no marks for not saying this in class… Gregory and Sampson are CAPULETS, whilst Romeo is a MONTAGUE. This means there is an even greater differentiation than you first suspected.

The opening lines are filled with Shakespearean ‘humour’, namely lots of wordplay in the sense of puns (collier/choler/collar/and so forth), and also base and crude humour such as “…the heads of the maids?” “…their maidenheads” (I.i.21-22). You should compare this with Romeo’s first remarks which, while filled with wordplay, are more serious and reflective. Shakespeare appears to have chosen oxymorons as – while still clever wordplay – they are much more sophisticated than the puns of the opening.

Why, then, O brawling love, O loving hate,

O anything, of nothing first create! (I.i.168-169)

Romeo is effectively elevated by his more sophisticated language and turn of phrase. He is also concerned with love rather than the ‘sex’ that appears to preoccupy the base Capulet servants.

Physically, Romeo is not present in the opening in order to keep him out of the first ‘fight’ that we see between the Capulets and Montagues. This further advances the idea that he is different from the rest of his family, and that he appears to be (“O me! What fray was here?” – I.i.165) fed up with the constant fighting between the two families.

As a final point, you should have been considering the different attitude to love shown by Romeo… but I’ll leave it up to you to use the comments to say more about that! 😉

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