REVIEW
Rabkin, Norman. Shakespeare and the Common Understanding.
New York: The Free Press, 1967.

Thesis: Rabkin's general thesis is that Shakespeare (and every other great writer) "changes our way of seeing by doing through art what can really be done no other way: fusing as complementary to one another and simultaneously valid total responses to life that would seem to be contradictory" (16). Regarding Romeo and Juliet, Rabkin asserts that lack of moderation is fatal to the lovers, but their lack of moderation makes them admirable. This is the way he puts it:

Thus we feel at the end of Romeo and Juliet as we do at the end of every Shakespearean tragedy: We have watched not the process of nemesis, or of fortune, or of retribution, but rather the playing out of an awesome dialectic in which what is most worth prizing in the hero is set complementarily against the wisdom that the world for good reason advises. The play's expressed judgment is against impetuosity and irrationality as destructive, but the valuation it implies is a judgment in favor of precisely these qualities as the foundation and essence of a transcendent love. Juliet's wedding invocation to the friendly night and Romeo's love of night and blackness suggest their growing up, as we have seen, to a view of love which simultaneously incorporates and refutes Mercutio's; Romeo's rejection of a chaste interest in Rosaline for a love that is of the body as well as of the soul leads ironically to his fulfillment in a death which does not merely happen to him, but which he chooses, and which means a good deal more than it did in Brooke's tragedy of fortune that served Shakespeare as source. Were love simple -- were it not, to recall the myth Shakespeare set out in Venus and Adonis, the cursed mingling of two unreconcilable worlds, two kinds of experience, two opposed drives -- we could find Romeo and his bride either right or wrong. But in a universe whose values are always complementary there is no such simple judgment to be made.     (183)
Bottom Line: Recommended.