Narrative Techniques in "Romeo and Juliet"
William Shakespeare employed numerous literary devices and narrative techniques in "Romeo and Juliet." From foreshadowing to monologues to dramatic irony, the entire narrative is compact and effective. While some of the techniques are obvious, such as the heavy use of foreshadowing, some are slightly harder to spot, such as his use of framed narration.
"Romeo and Juliet" begins with direct narration. It seems that the narrator, in this case the Chorus, is speaking directly to us, the audience. Without modern special effects or movie soundstages, Shakespeare relied, in part, on the Chorus to paint the setting in words for the audience. While the Chorus opens several acts in the play, there is otherwise little use of direct narration. Instead, Shakespeare made use of highly descriptive dialogue. It is through their dialogue that the characters reveal the majority of the narrative. This figure of speech is one of the literary terms that is harder to spot in this Shakespearean work.
With indirect narration, the audience doesn't know who the narrator is or to whom he is speaking. William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet contains little stage direction, and the narrative voice switches constantly between the characters. In most cases, the characters are speaking to one another, but at times characters break into monologues, providing the audience insight into the character's thoughts. The dialogue is not directed toward another character, nor is it directed at the audience. For example, in the classic balcony scene, Romeo gives the audience an excellent description of his view of Juliet in his, "But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks?" monologue.
Framed narration is cleverly concealed in the play. In framed narration, the story begins and ends in a first person voice, but everything in the middle is third person, or in the case of a play being portrayed by characters other than the narrator. The narrator is essentially telling us somebody else's story. In "Romeo and Juliet," the entire storyline is framed by the Chorus and the Prince. This juxtaposition of the different point of view being used enables the readers to better understand the star-crossed lovers in Verona and relate to them more. The Chorus leads us into the story, while the Prince, essentially acting as a final narrator, finishes the framing by reflecting the opening lines given by the Chorus. Other characters, like Rosaline, Mercutio, Tybalt, and Friar Lawrence, being shown through these different lenses too offers a great opportunity for discussion in any English class.
Act II, Scene 3, is only one example of foreshadowing. Friar Laurence speaks of the different uses of plants, both healthful and harmful. He later uses his knowledge to give Juliet her deathlike appearance. Juliet foreshadows her own death in Act III, Scene 2, saying, "I'll to my wedding-bed; And death, not Romeo, take my maidenhead!" She then foreshadows Romeo's death in Scene 5 with, "Methinks I see thee, now thou art below, As one dead in the bottom of a tomb." The foreshadowing adds to the dramatic effect here and in several other places throughout the play.
"Romeo and Juliet" is a technique-dense play that can be used as a model for almost any of the narrative techniques, of which there are dozens. Some other techniques to watch for are: soliloquy, allusion, alliteration, connotation, simile, oxymoron, figurative language, hyperbole, dramatic irony, metaphor, motif, personification and symbolism. Shakespeare’s use of these literary elements is situational and makes Romeo & Juliet the classic play we know today.
Michael Mason has a Bachelor of Science in psychology and a Master of Education in education. He has taught high school language arts and adult-level GED classes. He currently teaches adult basic education classes in a medium security detention facility. Prior to his career in education, he was a manager for a successful hotel company and a 911 dispatcher.