REVIEW
Granville-Barker, Harley. "Romeo and Juliet."
Prefaces to Shakespeare. Vol. 2. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton UP, 1947. 300-349.

Thesis: Granville-Barker's essay is an appreciation rather than an analysis. He's interested in the effect of the play, not its themes. He considers Romeo and Juliet to be a work of immature genius, but genius nevertheless, and he focuses on what makes the play effective -- how the plot builds tension, how contrasts between scenes make each one more striking, how the characters are developed into memorable human beings. Here's a sample of Granville-Barker at his best:

     The scene that follows is the most strikingly effective thing in the play. It comes quickly to its crisis when Romeo enters to encounter Tybalt face to face. For this moment the whole action has been preparing. Consider the constituents of the situation. Tybalt has seen Romeo eying his cousin Juliet from behind a mask and its privilege, and to no good purpose, be sure. But in Benvolio's and Mercutio's eyes he is still the lackadaisical adorer of Rosaline, a scoffer at the famous family quarrel suddenly put to the proof of manhood by a Capulet's insult. We know -- we only -- that he has even now come from his marriage to Juliet, from the marriage which is to turn these
households' rancour to pure love.
The moment is made eloquent by a silence. For what is Romeo's answer to be to an insult so complete in its sarcastic courtesy?
Romeo, the love I bear thee can afford
No better term than this: Thou art a villain.
Benvolio and Mercutio, Tybalt himself, have no doubt of it; but to us the silence that follows -- its lengthening by one pulse-beat mere amazement to them -- is all suspense. We know what is in the balance. The moment is, for Romeo, so packed with emotions that the actor may interpret it in half a dozen ways, each legitimate (and by such an endowment we may value a dramatic situation). Does he come from his "one short minute" with Juliet so rapt in happiness that the sting of the insult cannot pierce him, that he finds himself contemplating this Tybalt and his inconsequent folly unmoved? Does he flash into passion and check it, and count the cost to his pride and the scorn of his friends, and count them as nothing, all in an instant? Whatever the effect on him, we, as we watch, can interpret it, no one else guessing. And when he does answer:
Tybalt, the reason that I have to love thee
Does much excuse the appertaining rage
To such a greeting: villain am I none;
Therefore, farewell; I see thou know'st me not.
the riddle of it is plain only to us. Note that it is the old riddling Romeo, that answers, but how changed! We can enjoy, too, the perplexity of those other onlookers and wonder if no one of them will jump to the meaning of the
          good Capulet, which name I tender
As dearly as my own . . .
But they stand stupent and Romeo passes on.

     Upon each character concerned the situation tells differently; yet another test of its dramatic quality. Benvolio stands mute. He is all for peace, but such forbearance who can defend? For Tybalt it is an all but comic letdown. The turning of the cheek makes the smiter look not brave, but ridiculous; and this "courageous captain of compliments" takes ridicule very ill, is the readier, therefore, to recover his fire-eating dignity when Mercutio gives him the chance. And Mercutio, so doing, adds that most important ingredient to the situation, the unforeseen.

     Why the devil came you between us? [he gasps out to Romeo a short minute later] I was hurt under your arm.
But what the devil had he to do with a Capulet-Montague quarrel? The fact is (if one looks back) that he has been itching to read fashion-monger Tybalt a lesson; to show him that "alla stoccata" could not carry it away. But "alla stoccata" does; and, before we well know where we are, this arbitrary catastrophe gives the sharpest turn yet to the play's action, the liveliest of its figures crumples to impotence before us, the charming rhetoric of the Queen Mab speech has petered out in a savage growl.

     The unexpected has its place in drama as well as the plotted and prepared. But observe that Shakespeare uses Mercutio's death to precipitate an essential change in Romeo; and it is this change, not anything extrinsic, that determines the main tragedy. After a parenthesis of scuffle and harsh prose he is left alone on the stage, and a simpler, graver, sterner emotion than any we have known in him yet begins to throb through measured verse.

This gentleman, the Prince's near ally,
My very friend, hath got this mortal hurt
In my behalf; my reputation stained
With Tybalt's slander -- Tybalt, that an hour
Hath been my cousin. O sweet Juliet,
Thy beauty hath made me effeminate,
And in my temper softened valour's steel!
Then he hears that his friend is dead, accepts his destiny --
This day's black fate on more days doth depend;
This but begins the woe others must end.
-- and so to astonish the blood-intoxicated Tybalt! With a hundred words, but with expression and action transcending them, Shakespeare has tied the central knot of his play and brought: his hero from height to depth.     (309-311)
Bottom Line: Eloquent.


PAGE INFO:
   Author: Philip Weller
   Last Modified: 2 April 2002