Introductory Notes for the Play

Mrs. Harrison is nice . . .  Here are your “Instead of Notes”

Poetic Characteristics of the Plays

The plays are written in blank verse—unrhymed iambic pentameter:

But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?

Couplets. When Shakespeare uses rhymes, he generally uses couplets in his plays. Two consecutive lines of poetry that rhyme. The couplets often punctuate the character’s exit or signal the end of a scene. Read aloud Juliet’s exit from the balcony:

Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow

That I shall say good night till it be morrow.

Reading the Lines. We have all heard people ruin a good poem by mechanically pausing at the end of each line, whether or not the meaning of the line called for a pause. Lines of poetry are either end-stopped or run-on. An end-stopped line has some punctuation at the end. A run-on line has no punctuation at the end. In a run-on line the meaning is always completed in the line or lines that follow.

Try reading aloud this passage from Act II, Scene 2, where Juliet speaks in end-stopped lines—lines ending with punctuation that requires her to pause:

O, Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?

Deny thy father and refuse thy name;

Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,

And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.

Romeo’s speech in the same scene has many run on lines. Read these lines aloud; where does Romeo pause?

The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars

As daylight doth a lamp; her eyes in heaven

Would trough the airy region stream so bright

That birds would sing and think it were not night.

The glory of Romeo and Juliet is its poetry and its theatricality. The play is fast moving, and the poetry suits the story of young people dealing with a matter very important to them—passionate, once-in-a-lifetime love.


Literary Focus—Tragedy

A tragedy is a narrative about serious and important actions that end unhappily. Usually a tragedy ends with the deaths of the main characters. In some tragedies the disaster hits totally innocent characters; in others the main characters are responsible in some way for their downfall. Shakespeare’s tragic plays usually follow this five part pattern.

  1. The exposition establishes the setting, introduces some of the main characters, explains the background, and introduces the characters main conflict. (Act I)
  2. The rising action consists of a series of complications. These occur as the main characters take action to resolve their problems. (Act II)
  3. The crisis, or turning point, is the moment when a choice made by the main characters determines the direction of the action: upward to a happy ending which would be a comedy, or downward to a tragedy. This turning point is the dramatic and tense moment when the forces of conflict come together. Look for the turning point in Act III.
  4. Falling action presents events that result from the action taken at the turning point. These events usually lock the characters deeper and deeper into disaster; with each event we see the characters falling straight into tragedy. (Act IV)
  5. The final and greatest climax occurs at the end of the play—usually, in tragedy, with the deaths of the main characters. In the resolution (or denouement) all the loose parts of the plot are tied up. The play is over. (Act V)

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