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6lectureRomeo - Romeo and Juliet 1 tragedy plot-structure...

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Romeo and Juliet 1: tragedy, plot-structure and bawdy language Lecture structure: 1. The nature of theatrical tragedy and the plot structure of Romeo and Juliet ; 2. The opening scene. 1. The nature of theatrical tragedy and the plot structure Comedy traditionally ends in a marriage and tragedy ends in death. Sir Philip Sidney, a famous Renaissance poet, said in 1595 that “Comedy is an imitation of the common errors of our life” while Tragedy “openeth the greatest woundes, and ... maketh Kings feare to be Tyrants”. (Philip Sidney, An Apologie for Poetry , 1595) A Midsummer Night’s Dream has all the makings of a tragedy (with a daughter’s disobedience to her father). Romeo and Juliet has the same set of possibilities: it concerns a love affair and disobedience to one’s parents. (And it certainly doesn’t have anything really to do with Kings or tyrants, so it is already playing with our expectations of what a tragedy might be. It could turn out to be a comedy: it has all the ingredients.) In fact, the play has very similar ingredients to A Midsummer Night’s Dream up to Act 3 . Plot structure as Shakespeare might have understood it: There were various theories about how to construct plays in Shakespeare’s time, largely taken from Greek and Roman writings, such as Aristotle’s Poetics . In very simple terms, you can think of the plays’ structures as: Acts 1 and 2 set the scene and explain who the characters are (sometimes called the ‘exposition’ and sometimes called the ‘protasis’); Act 3: there is a turning point or a reversal in the hero’s fortunes (called ‘peripety’ by Aristotle, but sometimes called ‘epitasis’ or ‘complicating moment’); Acts 4 and 5 move towards the conclusion, also known as the ‘catastrophe’ (which literally means an ‘overturning’).
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