120spacer.gif (56 bytes) Romeo & Juliet:

Some approaches to the play.

The areas of investigation I suggest here are by no means exhaustive, but represent ways of approaching the play as a morsel of social representation. (My approaches are deconstructive in nature, and the use of deconstruction techniques would naturally precede the reading of the play.) I am assuming that the students and teacher here have read the play, or are in the process of going through it. My approaches require a basic literacy in the action of the play. I have not written specific questions about the content of the play; this may be adequately addressed in a class or discussion the reader takes part in.) For other details about the play, please follow the link to Sparknotes’ Romeo & Juliet site.

Three ways to consider the play are:

Social Re-creation or Reinvention
How do the actors in the play seem to be ‘stuck’ in a cycle of reinventing their society, a sort of perpetual motion leading to reconstruction and replacement, not change?

The feuds seem to point to this, as does the willingness of Capulet to give away his daughter to a suitor (Paris). What happens when romantic love intrudes into this society? How does this model of society work, and what are the rules that everyone needs to agree to (willingly or not) for it to (continue to) be successful? What is the source of the rules, and how are they enforced?

Immaculate (or Courtly) love
Paris’ suit is very old-fashioned, to our thinking. He has been promised the hand of Juliet in marriage (apparently some time before the action of the play starts). Remnants of this tradition exist today, with the walking of a bride down an aisle to be ‘given away’ to her Groom.

(As an aside, a discussion of the status of a Groom is in order here. He is expected to be grooming her for what? Why? Under whose, or what’s, auspices? The Bride suddenly becomes a sort of hunk of horseflesh to be valued for her reproductive capacity only. Hmmm … )

Ultimately Paris dies for her honour (see below) in a fight with Romeo (which the Zefferelli movie of 1968 leaves out). Romeo’s death for Juliet is a reflection of a kind of perfect love, not a knowing love. This is an echo of knights being willing to go to battle and lay their lives on the line for the honour of their Lady.

(Another aside; the crests that some men still sport on their blazers are a distant reminder of this Courtly love. The crest is supposed to represent an affiliation with a person or cause the man is willing to die for, such as Sir Lancelot wearing the scarf of Queen Guinevere, wife of King Arthur. How many men would be willing to give their life for Ralph Lauren?)

Paris dies for Juliet. Romeo dies for Juliet. Juliet dies for Romeo. Mercutio dies for the Montague family. Tybalt dies for the Capulet family (because he cannot understand that Romeo is trying to end the feud by offering a hand of friendship). The reasons for the dislike and the feud are never revealed.

All these deaths are the result of honour, not nature (for Capulet hints at previous deaths due to natural causes when he tells Paris that Juliet is the one child he has left).

There are five variations of honour which the play reflects:

  1. The Honour of Tradition
  2. The Honour of Family
  3. The Honour of Courtly Love / Perfect Love (akin to adoration)
  4. The Honour of Friendship
  5. The Honour of Debt

Others may be divined and discussed: These are starting places.

At bottom, I suggest that this is a good time to Socraticly discuss "What is Honour"? Try to elicit understanding of the roots of the concept.

You may also contact me directly at martin@aller-stead.com