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  • All of Shakespeare’s tragedies have a tragic hero, or ‘protagonist’ who is put into a situation of conflict which he must resolve. A combination of bad luck and misjudgment lead to the hero’s death. He is often a man of high social standing:

Romeo and Juliet are both wealthy citizens of Verona


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  • Tragedies are tales of harshness and injustice. They chart the downfall of a hero, whose own death leads to the downfall of others.

Romeo, Juliet, Tybalt, Mercutio, and others all die in the play.


  • All of Shakespeare’s tragic heroes have a flawed nature or blind spot that leads to a terrible decision that leads to his destruction.

Romeo’s impulsive or hasty nature leads to many bad decisions throughout “Romeo and Juliet”. Romeo’s killing of Tybalt as revenge in Act 3, Scene 1 is one example of Romeo making an impulsive decision that backfires against Romeo in the play. Romeo’s impulsive decisions in Act 4 and particularly in Act 5 play an even larger role in his downfall as well as Juliet’s.

Aristotle on Tragedy


  • Catharsis is a medical term meaning ‘purgation’ (synonyms: rid or remove). By means of purgation, an organism rids itself of noxious substances and so is healed. In his Poetics, Aristotle (384-322 BC) writes that tragedy should succeed in ‘arousing pity and fear in such a way as to accomplish a catharsis (i.e. purgation) of such emotions.

By the end of “Romeo and Juliet” the reader must decide whether true Catharsis has occurred and whether true healing can begin. At the end of any tragedy (particularly Shakespearean tragedy) the audience must feel the ‘worst’ is over and rebuilding of lives can properly occur.

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