- Calderwood, James L. "Romeo and Juliet: A Formal Dwelling"
- Shakespearean Metadrama. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1971. 85-119. Rptd. in Romeo and Juliet: Critical Essays. Ed. John F. Andrews. New York: Garland, 1993. 85-117.
Thesis: Calderwood envisions Romeo and Juliet as a "metadramatic" battleground on which lyric language struggles against dramatic form. In Calderwood's opinion, both sides lose, and the result is that the play is too poetic to be tragic. His fundamental disdain for the play may be seen in the following passage:
In line with her nominalistic "A rose by any other word" Juliet would rebaptize Nature, transforming lark and daylight into nightingale and meteor to the end that time stand still. Romeo allows himself to be persuaded that "it is not day," but as soon as he does so Juliet's lyric preoccupation is gone: "It is, it is! Hie hence, be gone, away!" (3.5-25-26). As it operates in the wide world, language may be less pure than the lovers would wish, but it stands for a view of reality that neither lover nor poet can safely ignore. Time, light, larks, and the usual terms for them remain intransigently themselves, answerable to their public definitions. The lover who withdraws entirely from the world into an autistic domain of feeling must pay for his pleasure with his life, as Romeo would were he to remain in the orchard. By the same token the poet who reshapes language in the exclusive light of his own designs, turning his back on his audience and creating not a truly individual but merely a unique style, must pay for his eccentric pleasures with his poetic life. There is no great danger of that here since the trouble with the lovers' style is not eccentricity but conventionality. The purity it aspires to, like that of the Petrarchanism to which it is uncomfortably akin, is too easily come by. And judging their language this way, I should be quick to add -- that is, grading it down for poetic diction and a superabundance of rhetorical figures -- is not to impose on the play a modern bias against rhetoric but to accept the implications of the play itself and to honor Shakespeare's own standards, which are implicit in his gradual estrangement over the years from an enameled, repetitive, lyrical style in favor of one that is concentrated, complex, and dramatic. (99-100)In other words, the poetry of Romeo and Juliet is too poetic, and Shakespeare wrote better later on.
Bottom Line: A lot of verbiage about verbiage.