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Aside in Romeo & Juliet

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  • 0:02 Definition of an Aside
  • 0:38 Asides & Foreshadowing
  • 3:18 Asides & Inner Thoughts
  • 5:53 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor
Karen Harker

Karen has taught high school English and has a master's degree in Shakespearean Studies

Expert Contributor
Kaitlyn Danahy

Kate has a bachelor's degree in literature & creative writing from Gordon College. She taught high school literature in India and tutored in the US.

This lesson will explore the ways in which Shakespeare utilizes asides as dramatic devices in the play ''Romeo and Juliet'' and analyze how these asides help audiences and readers understand important aspects of plot and characterization.

Definition of an Aside

An aside is a device used in dramatic literature where a character speaks directly to the audience but usually goes unheard by the other characters onstage. Dramatists like Shakespeare use asides to bridge the gap between audience and the action onstage. Two primary purposes of asides are to foreshadow future events in the play and reveal the innermost thoughts and feelings of a character to the audience. Let's explore a few examples of asides in Romeo and Juliet and discover what specific function these lines have within the scope of the entire play.

Asides and Foreshadowing

Let's first look at Act I, Scene V. This scene is where Romeo and Juliet first meet at Lord Capulet's party. After falling in love at first sight and exchanging a couple of kisses, Romeo and Juliet discover separately that they are from feuding families. Through the use of aside, Romeo and Juliet share their internal revelations with the audience to emphasize the underlying problems in this newfound love. Romeo's aside reads:

'Is she a Capulet?

O dear account! My life is my foe's debt.'

In this line, Romeo shares his disbelief with the audience. 'Is she a Capulet?' is a rhetorical question, meaning that Romeo expects no answer. This question functions as a means for Romeo to express his emotions and draws attention to the dichotomous relationship between the Capulets and the Montagues. The line that follows functions as Romeo's answer to his own question. Notice that he refers to Juliet in this aside as 'my life.' Considering he has only just met Juliet, this phrase indicates the seriousness of his feelings. Most importantly, it serves to foreshadow, or to foretell, Romeo's eventual death when we consider the entire phrase. 'My life is my foe's debt' implies that Romeo's very reason for living now lies in the hands of his enemy.

Juliet's aside reads in a similar manner, but rather than a rhetorical question, she responds to this new information with an exclamation:

'My only love sprung from my only hate!

Too early seen unknown, and known too late!

Prodigious birth of love it is to me

That I might love a loathèd enemy.'

Like Romeo's, Juliet's lines address the audience and reinforce the problematic nature of her newfound love, which comes from her 'only hate,' the Montagues. She, too, has fallen suddenly in love with Romeo, referring to him as her 'only love' despite the fact that she has only just met him. Coupled with Romeo's earlier aside, Juliet's proclamation assures the audience of her love for Romeo. However, the final two lines of the aside are most informative as they provide foreshadowing as well. 'Prodigious' carries an archaic definition here, meaning ominous or predictive. Juliet states that this is an ominous beginning of their love, which, too, foreshadows the tragic fate of the star-crossed lovers at the end of the play.

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Additional Activities

Creative Writing Exercise

In these exercises, you will mix creative writing with literary analysis. Each exercise should be about 300-500 words total. Choose one of the following, and have some fun with it!

Romeo, Wherefore Art Thou Talking to Thyself?

Pick an aside in the play. It could be when Romeo first meets Juliet, or later on in the play. Write a brief scene in dialogue format detailing what would have happened if another character of your choosing overheard the aside. Then write a short paragraph of how that encounter might have changed the trajectory of the play; or, alternatively, how it might not have changed.

Shall I Hear More?

Pick an aside in the play and expand on it as if the aside were a journal entry in the character's diary. What are they hoping for? What are they anxious about? Do they have conflicting emotions? Continue to write several other entries for scenes in which the character you've chosen does not have an aside.

I Pray Thee, Speak!

Pick a scene and a character within that scene who does not have an aside; for example, Friar John when he was prevented from delivering Juliet's letter to Romeo, Benvolio after Mercutio is killed, etc. Write a brief aside wherein the character addresses the audience, expressing what they are thinking and foreshadowing what is to come.

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