REVIEW
Van Doren, Mark. "Romeo and Juliet."
Shakespeare. New York: Henry Holt, 1939. 63-75. Rptd. in Romeo and Juliet: Critical Essays. Ed. John F. Andrews. New York: Garland, 1993. 3-11.

Thesis: Van Doren surveys several of the most prominent characteristics of Romeo and Juliet: The "furiously literary" (3) quality of the first part; the impression that "everything is sudden" (5); the "brilliant shutter-movement of black and white, of cloud and lightning, of midnight and morning" (6); the "wide difference between what the protagonists intend by the term ["love"] and what is intended by others" (7-8); and the sense that "the hearts of the hearers [i.e., the audience], surrendered early, are handled with the greatest care until the end, and with the greatest human respect" (10).

Van Doren at his best:

At any rate their career derives its brilliance from the contrast we are made to feel between their notion of day and night and the normal thought about such things. Normality is their foe, as it is at last their nemesis; the artificial night of Juliet's feigned death becomes the long night of common death in which no private planets shine. The word normality carries here no moral meaning. It has to do merely with notions about love and life; the lovers' notion being pathetically distinguished from those of other persons who are not in love and so consider themselves realistic or practical. One of the reasons for the fame of "Romeo and Juliet" is that it has so completely and clearly isolated the experience of romantic love. It has let such love speak for itself; and not alone in the celebrated wooing scenes, where the hero and heroine express themselves with a piercing directness, but indirectly also, and possibly with still greater power, in the whole play in so far as the whole play is built to be their foil. Their deep interest for us lies in their being alone in a world which does not understand them; and Shakespeare has devoted much attention to that world.   (7)

Bottom Line: Van Doren's love of the play shines through.


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   Author: Philip Weller
   Last Modified: 3 April 2002