Here we give you our notes for Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet. You can use them for the oral exam, for the daily lessons, or for an essay. The notes briefly outline the genre, historical context, structure of the play, central characters, main themes, the style of language, and the most important scenes. If you want further information, just click the links.
Genre and historical background
- Genre: Romeo and Juliet is a play. Specifically, it is a tragedy because it deals with human suffering brought on by fate and a tragic flaw within the main characters themselves. The sad ending of the play also points to the tragic genre.
- The historical context: The play is thought to have been written in the early 1590s. This places it in the period called the Elizabethan era (named after Queen Elizabeth I, reigned 1558-1603). Shakespeare himself was English, but the play is set in Verona, Italy. Many believe that the play takes place in the 1300s, but it is still possible to interpret the play as a story about the values and beliefs of Elizabethan England.
- The Chain of Being: The Elizabethan worldview was heavily influenced by Christianity and focused on order over chaos. The Elizabethans believed that everything had its fixed place in a strict hierarchy determined by God: the Chain of Being. When Romeo and Juliet defy their families and the law by marrying in secret, they disrupt the balance of the Chain and chaos breaks out in Verona.
- Fate versus Free will: The Elizabethans believed that their lives were fated. At the same time, they believed in the free will of the individual. This paradox existed because the Elizabethan era was a mixture of old Medieval ideas a