© 2013 Steve Campsall
Some easily corrected errors occur when students write about stage plays of this kind - avoid losing marks in your coursework and exam essays by following these basic tips:
While working on your essay, never leave go of the notion that you are writing an essay about a play, something that was, first and foremost, created for the stage, not the page - something for an audience to watch as well as hear.
Even though you may have watched the play as a
video, DVD, you should be absolutely certain to discuss aspects of the
stage production as
if you had seen it acted on a stage in a theatre.
Your essay is, technically speaking, an analytical essay. This means that your writing must be based upon your own analysis of the play and a discussion of how some of the key scenes contribute to the whole effect of the play on its audience (see this page for more help) you must base your essay on a discussion of some of the important effects the writer has created through careful choices of language and drama with a particular purpose in created by the writer. In a play such as 'Romeo and Juliet', this means writing about the effects and purposes of not only the poetry and language chosen by Shakespeare, but also of the action on stage, too - especially to Shakespeare's highly effective and important uses of dramatic devices and conventions such as dramatic irony, soliloquy and asides.
You also need to avoid referring to the play as if it were a story: remember, it was written for the stage, not the page!
It is always more effective to write your essay as if you were a member of the audience:
what you (as if you were in the theatre watching the play) see and hear on stage, taking account of what has already happened,
what the effect is of you being in the privileged position of knowing more than do some characters on the stage (i.e. the effects of dramatic irony),
how what you have seen so far prepares you for what is yet to happen.
ROMEO AND JULIET
'Romeo and Juliet' is thought to have been written in 1595 or 1596. The story was adapted by Shakespeare but it is his version that is known to old and young the world over. It is a tragic story of forbidden love. The whole episode of Romeo and Juliet's meeting, falling in love, marriage, and tragic end, takes place within five days.
In the Prologue we are presented with a brief summary of the play. Strangely, the summary includes mention of the tragic ending. This begs the question 'why?' - why would Shakespeare want us to know the ending before we have even watched the play? Nobody knows the actual answer to this but we can make educated guesses. Even though we know what the outcome of the play will be, we still want things to work out for Romeo and Juliet. We begin to look for someone to blame... Who is responsible for this tragedy? It is then that we begin to realise that the guilt does not rest with any one character.
What did Friar Lawrence think he was doing, secretly marrying two youngsters in the full knowledge that their parents would not agree? Why did the Nurse encourage Romeo, only to do a complete U-turn after Juliet and Romeo were married? How could Lord and Lady Capulet be so insensitive, expecting Juliet to marry Paris, a man she hardly knew, and so soon after her beloved cousin's death? And so we could go on...
The Prologue is written as a sonnet, and sonnets were a popular form of poetry in Shakespeare's time; they were a traditional and respected poetic form that usually dealt with a theme of requited love. A sonnet has 14 lines with a set rhyme scheme and a fixed rhythm called ' iambic pentameter' (di-dum/di-dum/di-dum/di-dum/di-dum); this helps to create a sense of harmony and acts to link the ideas expressed in the sonnet.
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'Discuss the Importance of Act II Sc ii and Act IV sc. ii to the play'
Both scenes are crucial to the play for different reasons:
Act II Scene (ii)
Act II Scene (ii) illustrates the intensity of Romeo and Juliet's love. This love contrasts with the artificial 'courtly love' played out by Romeo for Rosaline earlier in the play. This is the scene in which Juliet proposes marriage. Remember that Juliet was not yet even 14 years old. In those days it would have been very unusual for a woman to do the proposing but, as we learned when Paris talks to Lord
Capulet, not all that unusual for teenagers to become married. Many marriages were arranged by parents and were based on suitability, not love - and, of course, this is the conflict of the play: Lord Capulet wants his daughter to marry Paris and the wedding between Juliet and Romeo remains a secret.
There is an element of danger in this scene and both parties are aware of the suddenness of their passion. Juliet makes several references to names and unlike Romeo, seems very aware of the precariousness of their situation. Both Juliet and Romeo have misgivings - she that, 'It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden...' - he that, 'all this is but a dream'. Shakespeare uses dramatic irony to remind us of the events to come: 'Alack, there lies more peril in thine eye...'
Act IV Scene (iii)
Act IV, scene iii is a stark contrast to the orchard scene. (Be wary of calling Act II scene (ii) The Balcony Scene as there is no actual mention of a balcony at all... The orchard scene was full of images of light and hope, whereas this scene contains terrifying thoughts, darkness and despair. The language is no longer poetic but full of fear. The intended is that Juliet's fear is made apparent through the of the punctuation and structure of her speech.
It is a significant scene because Juliet does not know what the potion contains. She asks many questions to this end. It is somewhat ironic that she imagines various outcomes but not what actually happens.
The scene once again shows the extent of Juliet's love for Romeo because despite her terror, she still takes the potion: She would rather be dead than live without Romeo or be forced to marry another.
Shakespeare uses various techniques to intensify the dramatic nature of Juliet's speech, for example, when Juliet is at last alone in her chamber she says, 'I have a faint cold fear thrills through my veins...' The of the alliteration of the 'f' sound here has an important it creates a shivery sensation, allowing us to sense Juliet's horror at what she is about to do.
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Shakespeare's Life and Times is perhaps the cream of all web sites on the Bard.
Here is another excellent site that offers a very comprehensive guide to Shakespeare including play texts.
Check out the Shakespeare Web for something different.
Shakespeare's Theatre provides fascinating insights into the presenting of plays in Shakespeare's day.
This is the world's oldest web site on Shakespeare!
Don't forget to visit the world famous Royal Shakespeare Company's site.
For a free study guide to this and other Shakespeare plays, click here.
And here is a link to an Internet guide to writing about the play 'Romeo and Juliet'.