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FORM AND STRUCTURE

OVERALL STRUCTURE

Romeo and Juliet has five acts. As we have seen before, the first two acts follow the rules of a comedy, and the last two follow the conventions of tragedy. Besides this, shape is given to the play by the Prologue and the three appearances of the Prince.

The Prologue, which reminds us somewhat of ancient tragedies, tells us the sorry fate of the characters we're about to meet.

The Prince appears at the beginning of the play when the feud is introduced. He's angry at the disturbance and the threat of violence, but nothing deadly has happened yet. The Prince appears at the next climax, after the deaths that change the course of the play. He adds to the climactic events by banishing Romeo. The third time he appears is at the end. Prince Escalus sums up the Prologue, says that everyone is punished, and that there's never been a sadder story.

SCENES

Shakespeare is a master storyteller. Scenes happen very quickly in this play, alternating from tragic to comic, hurried to lazy, scenes between the lovers to scenes about those who unwittingly cause their downfall.

Shakespeare also compares characters by having them appear in scenes soon after each other. Often scenes with the Nurse follow scenes with Mercutio; scenes with Paris are frequently next to scenes with Romeo.

PUBLIC PEOPLE AND PRIVATE PEOPLE

Another way Shakespeare makes the play interesting is to show us how characters act in public and then how they act in private. For example, in the first scene, we see the Montagues when they come to fight the Capulets; then we see them talking in private after everyone else has left. The funniest example of this is in Act I, Scene v, when Lord Capulet goes from his public image to his private temper in the same speech.

This makes us ready for Act III, when the public feud crashes in on the private lives of Romeo and Juliet.



CONDENSED TIME

Shakespeare's biggest change was to shrink the timeframe from months to a period of five days. He emphasizes this by showing us all five dawns: On Sunday morning, Romeo walks in a grove of trees at dawn and later meets Benvolio; Monday's dawn finds him reluctantly leaving Juliet in the orchard. The next morning, he leaves his new wife to flee to Mantua; Wednesday morning, Juliet is discovered dead. The play ends on Thursday morning, when the Prince and the families find the dead bodies in the tomb.

This condensed time makes the play highly dramatic. Events are very rushed. Things happen so fast that characters must make snap decisions. There is no time for explanations, and there are no second chances.

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