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About this Lecture
In this module, we think about the presentation of love in the play, focusing in particular on: (i) the ways in which Shakespeare engages with contemporary love poetry, e.g. the echoes of Sir Thomas Wyatt in Benvolio’s description of Romeo (“Pursued my humour not pursuing his, | And gladly shunned who gladly fled from me”, 1.1.124-8); (ii) Shakespeare’s engagement with the ‘bookishness’ of love – love as it appears in the poetry of Homer, Virgil and Petrarch, etc.; (iii) Romeo and Juliet’s shared sonnet in Act 1, Scene 5, and the meaning of Juliet’s comment that Romeo kisses “by th’ book”; (iv) the fickleness of love; (v) the paradoxes of love and the use of oxymoron to describe it (“O brawling love, O loving hate”, 1.1.174); and (vi) the (destructive) power of names in the play – most notably that of Romeo himself – and the inability to shed one’s name.
In this course, Professor Helen Smith (University of York) explores Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. In the first module, we imagine a trip to the theatre in the late 16th century, thinking about the literary, historical and theatrical context of the play. After that, we think about the presentation of love in the play, before turning in the third module to the themes of books and bookishness, reading and being read, and the extent to which Romeo and Juliet’s unique publication history might impact our interpretation of the play. In the fourth module, we think about Romeo and Juliet as a play to be acted and seen – the physicality of the actors, the importance of posture and gesture, etc. in interpreting the play – before turning in the fifth module to the critical history of the play from its earliest viewers such as Francis Meres and Samuel Pepys (“the worst [play] I have ever seen in my life”) to the direction of scholarship in the twenty-first century.
Note: We used the Arden edition of the play (Third Series, ed. René Weis). Students using a different version of the play may encounter slight differences in both the text and line numbers.
A graduate of Glasgow and York, Helen taught at St Andrews and Hertfordshire before returning to York in 2004. Her wide-ranging interests embrace Renaissance poetry, drama, and prose; history of the book; feminist literary history and theory; religion and conversion; the history of reading; and materiality.
Helen has published more than thirty articles and chapters on topics ranging from the printing of Shakespeare’s early plays to the links between reading and digestion, the cultural and domestic presence of animals, the imaginative connections between physical illness and spiritual trial, and the many uses of early modern paper.
Her first monograph, Grossly Material Things: Women and Book Production in Early Modern England (Oxford University Press, 2012) was awarded the Roland H. Bainton Literature Prize and the DeLong Book History Prize. Helen is co-editor of Renaissance Paratexts (Cambridge University Press, 2011; paperback 2014), The Oxford Handbook of the Bible in Early Modern England, c. 1530-1700 (Oxford University Press, 2015; awarded the Roland H. Bainton Reference Prize), and Conversions: Gender and Religious Change in Early Modern Europe (Manchester University Press, 2017).
Cite this Lecture
Smith, H. (2020, January 21). Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet - Love [Video]. MASSOLIT. https://www.massolit.io/courses/shakespeare-romeo-and-juliet/love-2e46dde3-6401-41d0-857f-4125dc69b185
Smith, H. "Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet – Love." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 21 Jan 2020, https://www.massolit.io/courses/shakespeare-romeo-and-juliet/love-2e46dde3-6401-41d0-857f-4125dc69b185