Ribner, Irving. Patterns in Shakesperian Tragedy.
New York: Barnes and Noble, 1960.

Thesis: Ribner's general purpose to "to treat Shakespeare's development as a growth in moral vision" (1), and he describes Romeo and Juliet as "a tragedy in which man is not destroyed by evil; in spite of his own weak and fallible nature he is able to learn the means of overcoming it and thus attain a victory in death, the tragic price of such knowledge" (25).

Evaluation: Ribner is a persuasive writer, but his strong Christian orientation sometimes leads him into saying more than he can support from the text of the play. For example, look at this paragraph:

Shakespeare uses the story of the lovers to explore the operation of divine providence, the meaning of a fate which in the ordinary affairs of life will sometimes frustrate our most careful plans. Shakespeare's play attains a cosmic scope such as no telling of the story had ever had before, and in its totality it affirms the justice and the mercy of God. Romeo and Juliet are not mere pawns in the larger cosmic scheme, their death a necessary sacrifice for the greater social good. The lovers, in spite of their death, attain a victory in their own right which reflects the restoration to health of the world they leave. Romeo, upon whom Shakespeare concentrates, learns to overcome evil by a process of growth which culminates in his recognition of the harmonious order of God, and his acceptance of death as the necessary end of life within God's perfect plan. There is no retribution for sin in Romeo and Juliet so far as the lovers are concerned, for there is no sin.   (27)

This is all very inspiring, but Romeo never says anything about "God's perfect plan"; instead, he says he's going to "shake the yoke of inauspicious stars."

Bottom Line: You don't have to be a committed Christian to follow Ribner's argument, but it sure helps.