Use of structure in Romeo and Juliet

When analysing structure, think about how Shakespeare has ordered his text - how he has put it together. There are two aspects to consider here:

  • Text level - this is how the text is constructed as a whole, thinking about the opening, middle and ending of Romeo and Juliet. Within this, we are going to look at how a character or a theme progresses and develops in the narrative.
  • Sentence level - this is how the text is constructed at a sentence level. Within this, we are going to look at sentence types, lengths and the ordering of events.

Text level

The play is split into five acts. Below is a summary of what happens in each act.

  • Act 1 - the battle between the two families. The Prince declares the next battle will result in exile. Romeo and Juliet meet and fall in love.
  • Act 2 - Romeo and Juliet decide to marry. Friar Laurence organises and blesses the wedding.
  • Act 3 - Tybalt kills Mercutio. Romeo avenges Mercutio's death by killing Tybalt. Romeo is banished but manages to spend the night with Juliet, consummating their marriage. Capulet decides Juliet must marry Paris and she refuses.
  • Act 4 - Juliet goes to Friar Laurence's where they come up with a plan and Juliet fakes her death so she can be with Romeo.
  • Act 5 - Romeo receives the message that Juliet has died and goes to the Capulet vault. Upon seeing her there, he kills himself with poison; Juliet awakens and kills herself with his dagger. The play ends with the two families reunited.

When analysing the structure of Romeo and Juliet, think about how Shakespeare develops a key theme or character throughout the narrative and plot of the play.

Question

Why does Shakespeare open Romeo and Juliet with a prologue that details the play's content?

  • The audience is aware of its form - a tragic play.
  • The audience is excited about what is going to happen and enthralled with the play's plot.
  • The audience feels sympathetic towards the main characters of Romeo and Juliet and knows that their love will cause their death.

Sentence level

When analysing structure, it can also be looked at from a sentence level - thinking about how a writer has created a sentence and to what purpose. Below is an extract from the play's first prologue.

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.

  • Rhyme - in this prologue there is rhyme, for example: 'rage' and 'stage'.
  • Rhyming Couplet - the prologue ends with the rhyming couplet of 'attend' and 'mend'. This shows that the two words belong to each other, highlighting that if the audience is attentive, the play will mend the conflict of the two families.
  • 'you' - the direct address of 'you' makes the audience aware that the narrator is talking to them directly.