Romeo & Juliet Comprehension Questions

Instructor: Wendy A. Garland

Wendy has a Ph.D. in Adult Education and a Master's Degree in Business Management. She has 10 years experience working in higher education.

In this lesson, we will look at questions which will help us better understand William Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet.' This will include questions about themes, characters, and overall setting of the play and will be divided into section with that in mind.

Background

The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare's early plays. It is likely based on an earlier Italian story, and uses themes such as clan politics and religion to tell a love story of two teenagers, hopelessly in love and impetuous as ever.

Because of this, there are many important questions that arise while reading the play. Some have to do with the play itself; its structure and themes, while others concern the characters and their attributes. With all that in mind, let us begin.

The Play

  • How does the accelerated timeline effect the play? Does it seem realistic, or is it a story telling device?

This play is jam packed with action, which makes its 4-day time span hard to believe. However, Shakespeare used the intensity of the love between Romeo and Juliet to give more weight to all their decisions, adding to the pressure they feel and giving them as little time as possible to consider their actions.

  • Why does the play take place in Italy instead of England?

There could be a few reasons why Shakespeare chose Italy as the setting for Romeo And Juliet. First among them is that Italy as whole, and Verona especially, lends itself more to romance and intense passion and love than England would.

Second is the fact that by the late 16th Century, the Church of England had established Protestantism as England's religion, so Shakespeare chose a Catholic country for his play. That way, he could use its elements, such as confession, in his play to greater effect.

Historically, and even politically, Italy has always had a history of family feuds spanning decades or even centuries. While this is not exclusive to Italy, it helps make for a more believable setting for the feuding Capulet and Montague houses.

Lastly, it is commonly believed that Shakespeare based Romeo and Juliet on an earlier Italian work. Shakespeare then may have simply paid tribute to the original story by basing it in Italy, its country of origin.

The Themes

  • Describe the role of passion in Romeo and Juliet.

Passion plays a major role in Romeo and Juliet, whether it comes from love or from hate. It constantly seems to push some of the characters toward violence. Tybalt's instant decision to kill Romeo after he sees him crashing a Capulet party stems from the passionate hatred he feels toward any and all things Montague.

More importantly, however, is the extreme passionate love that Romeo and Juliet feel for each other at first sight. This uncontrollable passion drives them both to rash decisions, including constantly threatening suicide at the sight of the slightest problem.

  • How is death used in Romeo and Juliet?

Death is always present in Romeo and Juliet, even when no one actually dies. Besides the constant threats of suicide from both Romeo and Juliet, we also face death with Tybalt and Mercutio, and fear it when Romeo climbs Juliet's balcony.

We face that fear again when Juliet threatens Friar Laurence with a knife, and see a nonviolent version when Lady Montague dies of grief over Romeo's exile. This constant threat of death sets us on edge, further enhancing the impact of the scenes where death actually occurs.

The Characters

  • Who are the main characters in Romeo and Juliet?

Capulet - Patriarch of the Capulet family, husband to Lady Capulet, and Juliet's father. He is given to occasional fits of rage, but is also wise, and commands much respect. Capulet truly loves Juliet, but is unaware of her true feelings, which is why he thinks Paris, a relation of Prince Escalus of Verona, is a good match for her to marry. He is also a bitter enemy of Montague, though no one knows why.

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