Romeo and Juliet

by

William Shakespeare

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Romeo and Juliet: Satire 1 key example

Read our modern English translation.
Definition of Satire
Satire is the use of humor, irony, sarcasm, or ridicule to criticize something or someone. Public figures, such as politicians, are often the subject of satire, but satirists can take... read full definition
Satire is the use of humor, irony, sarcasm, or ridicule to criticize something or someone. Public figures, such as politicians, are often the subject of... read full definition
Satire is the use of humor, irony, sarcasm, or ridicule to criticize something or someone. Public figures, such as politicians... read full definition
Act 1, Scene 1
Explanation and Analysis—Romeo as Petrarchan Lover:

Shakespeare uses Romeo’s infatuation with Rosaline at the beginning of the play to satirize the figure of the Petrarchan lover: a yearning man who voices his affection for a distant female lover, who is either unable or unwilling to return his affections. Shakespeare's audiences would have been familiar with the Petrarchan lover—a common type in Elizabethan poems and plays, derived from the poetry of the Italian poet Petrarch—and would likely have seen similarities between Romeo and this figure while recognizing Shakespeare's sly critique. 

Like a Petrarchan lover lamenting his unrequited love through emotional confession, Romeo's descriptions of Rosaline are lyrical, plaintive, and seemingly exaggerated, provoking scorn and disbelief from his kinsmen. For instance, Romeo laments that Rosaline is "rich in beauty, only poor / That, when she dies, with beauty dies her store” (a reference to her vow of chastity, which will lead her to die a beautiful virgin). Yet Mercutio later calls her a “pale hard-hearted wench," suggesting that Romeo’s obsession with Rosaline is unfounded and that his unquestioned desire for her has clouded his judgment.

However, before Act 1 is even over, Romeo has forgotten all about Rosaline and transferred his affections to Juliet (prompting Friar Laurence to jokingly ask, "Is Rosaline, that thou didst love so dear / So soon forsaken?"). This split-second change of heart corresponds with the absurdity and pomposity often demonstrated by the Petrarchan lover, who may be too fixated on his own passions to actually understand the woman he is deifying—and who might therefore fall out of love just as quickly as he fell in love. Similarly, Romeo appears more obsessed with the idea of love than with Rosaline herself. He carefully probes his own feelings but neglects hers altogether (for example, faulting her for taking the vow of chastity without considering her motivations for doing so).

Though Romeo is not an entirely satirical character—he is complex and fleshed-out—Shakespeare seems to use his behavior in Act 1 to subtly mock and undermine the Petrarchan lover's personality and characteristics. The superior alternative, Shakespeare suggests, is the engaged, thoughtful lover Romeo becomes when he meets Juliet and seeks out a relationship with her. Juliet serves as Romeo's equal, as opposed to an unwitting object of desire. 

Act 2, Scene 3
Explanation and Analysis—Romeo as Petrarchan Lover:

Shakespeare uses Romeo’s infatuation with Rosaline at the beginning of the play to satirize the figure of the Petrarchan lover: a yearning man who voices his affection for a distant female lover, who is either unable or unwilling to return his affections. Shakespeare's audiences would have been familiar with the Petrarchan lover—a common type in Elizabethan poems and plays, derived from the poetry of the Italian poet Petrarch—and would likely have seen similarities between Romeo and this figure while recognizing Shakespeare's sly critique. 

Like a Petrarchan lover lamenting his unrequited love through emotional confession, Romeo's descriptions of Rosaline are lyrical, plaintive, and seemingly exaggerated, provoking scorn and disbelief from his kinsmen. For instance, Romeo laments that Rosaline is "rich in beauty, only poor / That, when she dies, with beauty dies her store” (a reference to her vow of chastity, which will lead her to die a beautiful virgin). Yet Mercutio later calls her a “pale hard-hearted wench," suggesting that Romeo’s obsession with Rosaline is unfounded and that his unquestioned desire for her has clouded his judgment.

However, before Act 1 is even over, Romeo has forgotten all about Rosaline and transferred his affections to Juliet (prompting Friar Laurence to jokingly ask, "Is Rosaline, that thou didst love so dear / So soon forsaken?"). This split-second change of heart corresponds with the absurdity and pomposity often demonstrated by the Petrarchan lover, who may be too fixated on his own passions to actually understand the woman he is deifying—and who might therefore fall out of love just as quickly as he fell in love. Similarly, Romeo appears more obsessed with the idea of love than with Rosaline herself. He carefully probes his own feelings but neglects hers altogether (for example, faulting her for taking the vow of chastity without considering her motivations for doing so).

Though Romeo is not an entirely satirical character—he is complex and fleshed-out—Shakespeare seems to use his behavior in Act 1 to subtly mock and undermine the Petrarchan lover's personality and characteristics. The superior alternative, Shakespeare suggests, is the engaged, thoughtful lover Romeo becomes when he meets Juliet and seeks out a relationship with her. Juliet serves as Romeo's equal, as opposed to an unwitting object of desire. 

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