Andrews, John F. "Falling in Love: The Tragedy of
Romeo and Juliet." Romeo and Juliet: Critical Essays. Ed. John F. Andrews. New York: Garland, 1993. 403-422.

Thesis: Andrews opens his essay by asking this question: "What did a dramatist of the 1590s want the 'judicious' members of his contemporary audiences to see and hear, and how did he expect them to feel . . . ?" (403). Andrews' first step in answering this question is to define catharsis as "clarification": "The sense of mental relief, psychic release, and spiritual insight . . . that a member of the audience enjoys when he or she is able to make sense of a sequence of happenings" (404). Andrews' next step is to define how Shakespeare's audience would have made sense of Shakespeare's play. Citing the theology of St. Augustine and the philosophy of Boethius, Andrews asserts that the love between Romeo and Juliet is "cupiditas (misplaced or inordinate love)" (408). So far, Andrews' argument seems to be one that is drearily familiar in the scholarly discussion of Romeo and Juliet -- the assertion that Romeo and Juliet earn their fate by loving too much. This familiar moralistic argument often characterizes the lovers' love as self-destructive or selfish; Andrews, however, doesn't take that path. Instead, he argues that even though their love is cupiditas, "we cannot help responding with sympathy for their predicament and admiration for the courage their consecration to each other inspires" (410). Thus our sympathy joins with our understanding to produce the "clarification" which tragedy provides. This is how Andrews puts it:

     But how should all of this affect an audience experiencing the drama? Ultimately, like most of Shakespeare's tragedies, Romeo and Juliet appears designed to leave us with an enhanced appreciation of what it means, in Christian terms, to be human. If we've profited as we ought to from the action, we will know the protagonists better than they know themselves. And we will understand -- alas, in a way they do not -- what brought their story to its grievous denouement.

     And how will we appraise the "Death-markd Love" (Prologue.9) of these beautiful and pitiable youths? If we have attended to what we have seen and heard, our sentiments will echo the humility and compassion implicit in a sixteenth-century cleric's prayer of thanksgiving. As he witnessed a small company of wrongdoers being carted off to their dooms, he said "But for the grace of God, there goes John Bradford."     (416)

Bottom Line: Very scholarly, but clear and persuasive.