The Importance of the Sonnet in William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet

1398 Words6 Pages
Although Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy of two young lovers caught in the whirlpool of their own youthful passion, it is also a tragedy of two young people at the mercy of a feud not of their making and of fateful events over which they have no control. Regardless of our individual response to this play, we have a common response of deep sadness over the senseless deaths of the two young lovers. Regardless of the cause of the tragic events, we are on their side. There are several ways to think about Romeo and Juliet, but recent discussions of the play look at the form and language of love that Shakespeare uses and how his use of one particular form, the sonnet, enhances our sense of the play. By directing our…show more content…
Shakespeare himself became a master of the sonnet, having written a total of 154. Like Petrarch, his subject matter was love, but Shakespeare was an innovative with the sonnet as he was with his plays. He wrote of the relationship between the intensity of love and its emphemerality, as in Sonnet 73, quoted above, and of the reality rather than the the reality of the sonnet lady, as in Sonnet 130: "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun." Clearly, then, his decision to evoke the sonnet and then actually to embed one within the action of Romeo and Juliet was a conscious one, intended to draw attention to the way those conventions were at work in the play. Romeo and Juliet begins with a choral sonnet that announces the fate of the "two star-cross'd lovers" (prologue.6; all line numbers are from The Riverside Shakespeare [Boston: Houghton-Mifflin], 1974). After the opening scenes that establish the rowdiness and ribaldness of Verona's youth, Romeo enters. He is in many ways a stark contrast to his companions, especially Mercutio, who have displayed all the energy and crassness associated with adolescent boys. Above all, Romeo is a Petrarchan lover languishing over the unattainable Rosaline: "O, she is rich in beauty, only poor / That, when she dies, with beauty dies her store . . . / She is too fair, too wise, wisely too fair / To merit bliss by making me despair / She hath forsworn to love, and in that vow / Do I live dead that live to
Open Document