“What classic has most surprised you so far, and why?”
James Joyce statue next to O’Connell street in Dublin.
The classic club meme for February made me reflect upon the, still minute, list of book I’ve read for the Classic Club and made me realise first of all how few I have read up until now, but also how blown away I was by James Joyce. As mentioned in my post about The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man I was quite weary about actually reading a book by James Joyce because I heard from many people how difficult and diffuse it was. I must admit at times it could be a tad difficult to follow, but overall I was amazed by this novel and still think I is one of the best books I read last year. This book has also made me quite curious to read other novels by Joyce (luckily I have to read Dubliners this term for a course) and I learned how to look at it as an Irish story as well.
I always have had a complex attitude towards this Shakespeare play, which I think stems from the connotation that Romeo and Juliet is the most romantic and doomed love-story ever told. To be honest I always thought
Romeo and Juliet with Friar Laurence (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
this was utter nonsense. First of all because it is called the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet and not the romance, so I could understand the doomed section of the story, Yet I have always rejected the idea that it is a romantic story and now I have finally read the complete play I’m still not certain whether it is a love-story at all.
Being arguably the most famous play out of Shakespeare’s oeuvre, I was curious as to what qualified this play to receive the most attention above others. While reading the play I felt that although the play’s focus is often on the romance between Juliet and her Romeo, the power struggle in the background of the play eventually will decide the faiths of the lovers and of Verona. Both the Prince of Verona and Friar Laurence set out to mend the irreconcilable breach between the Capulet and Montague’s whose dormant feud has flared up again. Both Friar Laurence and the Prince seek to mend this feud through different means, yet their plans have no regard for the budding love between Romeo and Juliet, who get caught in the middle of this feud.
Romeo and Juliet’s hasty marriage and courtship can be seen as the result of this feud, especially since both the lovers are manipulated by Friar Laurence who uses them as pawns in his political game. I prefer to see their courtship as budding love rather than a full-blown romance, since both the lovers seem so young and almost childish in their actions prior to their meeting. Romeo’s quick infatuation with Juliet and his dismissal of Rosaline shows how rapidly he switches between lovers.
Juliet on the other hand show relatively more levelheadedness regarding the practicality and possibility of revealing their marriage to their families, especially in relationship to her father’s threat. Yet the only way for Friar Laurence’s plans to succeed is by sacrificing Romeo and Juliet for the peace of Verona. This impossibility of enjoining their married life and their brutal end is what makes their love tragic. The end of the play sees all the young characters dead and the older characters are left behind to reflect upon their deeds and acts that have led to this conclusion.