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As I write this post, Valentine’s Day 2023 is almost here, and in honour of this most romantic of all holidays, we want to share a story first published 426 years ago. You know the title of the story already – it’s Shakespeare’s The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.
What, you say? I don’t know that title.
Well, that very wordy title is exactly what it was called when it was first penned, but today we know it simply as Romeo and Juliet, a play that stands alone as the most iconic love story of all English language love stories. And despite its shortened title, all the joy and pain of true, young love is contained within this story, and no other poem or play is more associated with romantic love than is this tragic tale of two “star-crossed” lovers.
Vocabulary tip: The term “star-crossed” is used when a relationship appears doomed to fail. The meaning derives from astrology, whose adherents believe that the stars control human destiny.
Spoiler alert: the young lovers die in the end.
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“It’s in the prologue of Romeo and Juliet that Shakespeare introduces his new phrase “star-crossed lovers”—and the “stars” (fate, luck, destiny?) do seem to conspire against these tender young lovers.
Romeo is a Montague, and Juliet a Capulet. Their families are enmeshed in a feud, but the moment they meet—when Romeo and his friends attend a party at Juliet’s house in disguise—the two fall in love and quickly decide that they want to be married.
A friar secretly marries them, hoping to end the feud. Romeo and his companions almost immediately encounter Juliet’s cousin Tybalt, who challenges Romeo. When Romeo refuses to fight, Romeo’s friend Mercutio accepts the challenge and is killed. Romeo then kills Tybalt and is banished. He spends that night with Juliet and then leaves for Mantua.
Juliet’s father forces her into a marriage with Count Paris. To avoid this marriage, Juliet takes a potion, given her by the friar, which makes her appear dead. The friar will send Romeo word to be at her family tomb when she awakes. The plan goes awry, and Romeo learns instead that she is dead. In the tomb, Romeo kills himself. Juliet wakes, sees his body, and commits suicide. Their deaths appear finally to end the feud.”
Two households, both alike in dignity
(In fair Verona, where we lay our scene),
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
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.
The fearful passage of their death-marked love
And the continuance of their parents’ rage,
Which, but their children’s end, naught could remove,
Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage;
The which, if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.
… as a free PDF from the respected “Folger’s Shakespeare Library”
[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]Brenda de Jong-Pauley, February, 2023
PS. Would you like more Shakespeare? Yes?
Read our popular post, “Shakespeare: Ten Favorite Quotes and a Beautiful Apology.”
Shakespeare’s Language of Love: 14 Romantic Quotes
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