REVIEW
Lawlor, John. "'Romeo and Juliet'."
Early Shakespeare. Ed. John Russell Brown and Bernard Harris. London: Edward Arnold, 1961. 123-143.

Thesis: Lawlor objects to the view of Romeo and Juliet as an immature tragedy of fortune. As an example of the view which he opposes, Lawlor quotes and paraphrases G. I. Duthie, an editor of the New Cambridge Shakespeare: "The feud between Montague and Capulet is [in Duthie's words] 'quite unconvincing'; Fate is thus 'nothing more important than a matter of sheer bad luck'; and the protagonists have 'weaknesses of character' (principally a lack of 'mature poise and balance') which are not yet related to their doom" (123). Duthie is dissatisfied with Romeo and Juliet because the lovers are just victims of Fortune, but Lawlor asserts that Duthie's conception of tragedy is too limited. According to Lawlor, Shakespeare would have inherited a medieval conception of tragedy in which "Fortune knows nothing of human deserving" (124), so that the events of tragedy have an "absence of a rationale in any terms less than an unsearchable Divine wisdom" (126). In other words, in medieval tragedy (which Lawlor calls "tragedie") the very fact that the protagonist does not deserve his fate leads to a vision of God's plan.

This is how Lawlor applies this idea to Romeo and Juliet:

The centre of attention in any serious drama must be the over-burdened human figure who is yet an agent. In Elizabethan terms this must mean one who achieves an end which does not minimize, much less cancel, Fortune's power, but which denies her an entire victory. That Death has no final power over the lovers of Romeo and Juliet is therefore not 'an impression' differing from 'the tragic design that Shakespeare obviously intended to produce' (Duthie). Whatever may be discoverable about Shakespeare's intentions, it is wholly consistent with tragedie that out of evil comes not good merely but a greater good. What we see in the close of Romeo and Juliet is not simply a renewal of a pattern disturbed, but its re-ordering; life is not continued merely; it is regenerated. Only thus do we experience the quality of a 'Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear'. It is earth, the realm of Fortune, that is the loser. We see it as 'unworthy' of the lovers, a world of 'less generous passions' (Bullough, p. 277); so this love is placed, fittingly, at once beyond reach and beyond change. Shakespeare, in this at least, has not broken with but rather has reaffirmed the distinctive quality of tragedie.     (127)
This statement appears about a third of the way through Lawlor's essay. The rest of the essay contains sections on tragedies which Shakespeare wrote earlier, the growing maturity of Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare's use of his source, the love poetry of Shakespeare's time, and the portrayal of Fortune in Shakespeare's last plays. All of these sections are intended to show that Shakespeare meant Romeo and Juliet to be a "tragedie."

Evaluation: Lawlor has some valid points, but his writing is wordy and pompous. Besides, the essence of what he says is said better in the Prologue to Romeo and Juliet.

Bottom Line: Looks impressive, but not really worth the trouble.


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   Author: Philip Weller
   Last Modified: 2 April 2002