REVIEW
Draper, J. W. "Shakespeare's 'Star-Crossed Lovers'."
Review of English Studies 15 (1959): 16-34. Rptd. in Romeo and Juliet: Critical Essays. Ed. John F. Andrews. New York: Garland, 1993. 285-306.

Thesis: Draper asserts that if coincidence and chance make things happen in Romeo and Juliet, the play "is not tragedy but mere melodrama" (285). However, Draper says, it's not chance that makes things happen, but the stars. Therefore, "the theme of the play is . . . , as in Greek tragedy, the hopelessness of defying the heavens' will" (300). To support his thesis, Draper discusses the play in terms of what Elizabethan astrology said about the influence of the stars on different kinds of people during different months of the year, days of the week, and times of the day.

Sample Paragraph:

While "grey-eyed morn smiles on the frowning night" Friar Lawrence is out gathering herbs; he meets Romeo and advises prudence. The next scene is in the late morning. The Nurse, having searched since nine o'clock, at last comes upon Romeo in the company of his merry friends. Her slowness in finding him is stressed both here and in a later scene; but the situation and the dialogue that explain it seem alike without dramatic reason; and perhaps one should suppose that the Nurse, though perhaps by nature mercurial, has, with advancing age, grown phlegmatic or even melancholy. If melancholy, her lucky hours did not begin till noon; and, just after Mercutio says that it is noon, the Nurse finds Romeo, and so can make the appointment for him to marry Juliet that afternoon. Thus the marriage takes place in the time of day dominated by the unlucky melancholy humour, for melancholy was associated with Saturn and his malefic influence. That same fatal afternoon, Mercutio and Tybalt are both killed and Romeo, "fortune's fool," is banished by the Duke. These are the critical hours of the play; and Juliet may well wish the sun's "fiery-footed steeds" to hurry by, for evening will bring less dangerous auspices. So Juliet is wed; and that night the marriage is consummated; but the unfriendly streaks of morning bring in Tuesday, the choleric day of Mars and of dead Tybalt's vengeance, for on that day Romeo's exile starts.   (297-298)

Evaluation: Draper provides a lot of interesting background material on Elizabethan theories of astrology and psychology, but his main assertion is hard to swallow.

Draper says that Shakespeare's audience would have been aware of astrological influences because "though only specialists mastered the more esoteric mysteries of casting a horoscope, yet all classes devoured books of popular astrology" (288), but Draper makes use of "esoteric mysteries." For instance, he says "Tybalt's fight and death on Monday afternoon are quite correctly timed: the day itself was phlegmatic and the time of day melancholy, and consequently martial powers would have ebbed at noon, when the choleric part of the day was over" (290). However, the audience has no way of knowing that it's Monday until two scenes and four hundred lines after Tybalt dies.

In addition, Draper makes a distinction without a difference. The distinction is between the influence of chance and the influence of the stars. If the influence of the stars changes from hour to hour and has different effects on different people, how is that different from the influence of chance?

Bottom Line: Draper sees the play as a very long psychic reading.


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   Author: Philip Weller
   Last Modified: 28 March 2002