Romeo and Juliet

by

William Shakespeare

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Romeo and Juliet: Tone 1 key example

Read our modern English translation.
Definition of Tone
The tone of a piece of writing is its general character or attitude, which might be cheerful or depressive, sarcastic or sincere, comical or mournful, praising or critical, and so on. For instance... read full definition
The tone of a piece of writing is its general character or attitude, which might be cheerful or depressive, sarcastic or sincere, comical or mournful, praising or critical... read full definition
The tone of a piece of writing is its general character or attitude, which might be cheerful or depressive, sarcastic or sincere, comical... read full definition
Prologue
Explanation and Analysis:

The tone of Romeo and Juliet is largely set by the Chorus, whose portentous words open the play and establish a sense of sympathy for and identification with Romeo and Juliet: 

From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife.

Romeo and Juliet is sometimes interpreted as a morality lesson intended to warn young people about the consequences of impulsive decisions and youthful passions. Yet Shakespeare's allegiances seem to lie with the young lovers rather than with the social order that facilitates their deaths. Though the Chorus makes clear that Romeo and Juliet's deaths are inevitable, that inevitability does not diminish the tragedy. Their suicides are "misadventured piteous overthrows" made tragically necessary because of "their parents' strife." It is the Montagues and the Capulets, instead, who must be taught a lesson—they are forced to "bury" their strife after the deaths of their children, which bring dishonor upon Verona and endless sorrow for the families. The Chorus's second round of dialogue, in Act 2, similarly sides with Romeo and Juliet over their families, praising the "young affection" between the lovers and noting that "passion lends them power." 

Shakespeare's tone in Romeo and Juliet is part of a larger pattern in his work. In his plays, Shakespeare often focused on the perspectives of the marginalized or less powerful—particularly women, young people, and social outcasts like Othello, whose race makes him an object of wrongful scorn and suspicion. Even flawed characters (like the arrogant Malvolio in Twelfth Night or the greedy Shylock in The Merchant of Venice) who are mocked or shunned by others garner some sympathy from Shakespeare, who sought to describe the way social hierarchies operate to exclude vulnerable people. At the same time, Shakespeare used many of his plays to critique tyranny and absolute power—whether in the domestic and familial realm, as in Romeo and Juliet, or in the broader political sphere—and advocate for individualism, autonomy, and even outright rebellion. 

Act 2, prologue
Explanation and Analysis:

The tone of Romeo and Juliet is largely set by the Chorus, whose portentous words open the play and establish a sense of sympathy for and identification with Romeo and Juliet: 

From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife.

Romeo and Juliet is sometimes interpreted as a morality lesson intended to warn young people about the consequences of impulsive decisions and youthful passions. Yet Shakespeare's allegiances seem to lie with the young lovers rather than with the social order that facilitates their deaths. Though the Chorus makes clear that Romeo and Juliet's deaths are inevitable, that inevitability does not diminish the tragedy. Their suicides are "misadventured piteous overthrows" made tragically necessary because of "their parents' strife." It is the Montagues and the Capulets, instead, who must be taught a lesson—they are forced to "bury" their strife after the deaths of their children, which bring dishonor upon Verona and endless sorrow for the families. The Chorus's second round of dialogue, in Act 2, similarly sides with Romeo and Juliet over their families, praising the "young affection" between the lovers and noting that "passion lends them power." 

Shakespeare's tone in Romeo and Juliet is part of a larger pattern in his work. In his plays, Shakespeare often focused on the perspectives of the marginalized or less powerful—particularly women, young people, and social outcasts like Othello, whose race makes him an object of wrongful scorn and suspicion. Even flawed characters (like the arrogant Malvolio in Twelfth Night or the greedy Shylock in The Merchant of Venice) who are mocked or shunned by others garner some sympathy from Shakespeare, who sought to describe the way social hierarchies operate to exclude vulnerable people. At the same time, Shakespeare used many of his plays to critique tyranny and absolute power—whether in the domestic and familial realm, as in Romeo and Juliet, or in the broader political sphere—and advocate for individualism, autonomy, and even outright rebellion. 

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