REVIEW

Brooke, Nicholas. Shakespeare's Early Tragedies.
London: Metheun, 1968.

Thesis: Brooke's chapter on Romeo and Juliet seems to be about the interplay of comic and tragic elements, but it's hard to find a thesis in his grandiose prose. Take a look at the final paragraph of his essay:

The play is overall suspended between two major ceremonies: the dance-betrothal of Act I, and the wedding-funeral of Act V. Between them it projects a double climax in Act III, which is in both parts entirely unceremonial: Mercutio's death, and Romeo and Juliet's clandestine consummation (with rope ladder to the balcony and so on it has the air of stolen love). What is real is perceived between these opposite polarities of ceremony and unceremoniousness; and both are contrasted with a persistent consciousness of a noisy, bustling, healthy, bawdy, shabby vitality which is sustained throughout. This sense of contrasts is almost endlessly multiplied (I have said nothing of, for instance, the friar's 'philosophy') and focused in the persistent punning, quibbling, and paradox-mongering in the verse. About all these things it is, no doubt, over-emphatic -- like Titus, it is an overloaded play; but brilliant in its controlled multiplicity. And the final sense we may have of a hot-house atmosphere, a slightly cloying over-sweetness, is no accident, for it is just that with which it is concerned: a highly perceptive exploration of the love-death embrace of the sonneteering tradition, which regards both its superiority and its inferiority to the world of common day.   (106)
Notice that although Brooke begins a sentence with the phrase "What is real," the "real" is never defined or described; it floats about on a cloud of hot air, hidden in the tangle of "opposite polarities of ceremony and unceremoniousness," which are "contrasted with a persistent consciousness of . . . vitality." (Questions: Is there something unconscious about polarities? Is that why they are contrasted with "consciousness"?) And you might think that it's crucial to understand the relationship between "the love-death embrace of the sonneteering tradition" and "the world of common day," but that relationship is defined only by the weasel-verb "regards."

Bottom Line: Forget it.


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   Author: Philip Weller
   Last Modified: 27 March 2002