Romeo and Juliet: The Sonnet-World of Verona

  • Ralph Berry


Our general experience of Romeo and Juliet is not, I think, an entirely settled matter yet—not settled to the extent that, say, Macbeth or Troilus and Cressida or Richard III is. The play does break sharply into two halves, following the death of Mercutio, and the change of tone and (apparently) direction are marked. We can cope with this, not necessarily crudely, by calling Romeo and Juliet a comedy and a tragedy, but the critical problem of unification is not altogether resolved.1 The central transactions of the play seem to invite a wide range of response. And the language remains an underlying cause of unease, a faint yet unmistakable stimulus and irritant to our responses. Every critic notes that (in Clemen’s words) ‘the first scenes of Romeo and Juliet strike us as more conventional in tone and diction than the later ones.’2 But what does ‘conventional’ imply, of approval or disengagement, in this context? How is the partially ‘liberated’ language of the later events to be taken? How, in brief, does the language of the play guide our responses and imply a judgment?


Resistance Movement Central Transaction Settle Matter Dramatis Persona Young Lover 
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Romeo and Juliet: The Sonnet-World of Verona

  1. 2.
    Wolfgang Clemen, The Development of Shakespeare’s Imagery (London, 1951) p. 64.Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    J. W. Lever, The Elizabethan Love Sonnet, second edn. (London, 1966 ) p. 146.Google Scholar
  3. 10.
    See Brian Vickers, The Artistry of Shakespeare’s Prose (London, 1968) p. 73.Google Scholar
  4. 11.
    A. J. Smith, ‘The Poetry of John Donne’, in English Poetry and Prose 1540–1674, ed. Christopher Ricks (London, 1970 ) p. 148.Google Scholar
  5. 13.
    R. M. Frye, Shakespeare and Christian Doctrine (Princeton, 1963 ) pp. 24–7.Google Scholar
  6. 14.
    F. M. Dickey, Not Wisely But Too Well ( San Marino, Calif., 1957 ).Google Scholar
  7. 17.
    Robert O. Evans, The Osier Cage: Rhetorical Devices in Romeo and Juliet ( Lexington, Kentucky, 1966 ) p. 82.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Ralph Berry 1978

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ralph Berry
    • 1
  1. 1.York UniversityCanada

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