In Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare employed two specific aspects of life in Renaissance Italy to create the circumstances of his story. The first was the history of bloody inter-family quarrels that ravaged Italian cities during the Renaissance era. The second was the fashionable approach to love based on the poetry of Petrarch. But Shakespeare did not merely adopt the stories of chroniclers who "delighted in exaggeration and enjoyed recounting bloodcurdling deeds" (Plumb 33). Nor did he use the Petrarchan tradition uncritically. Instead he modified the civil wars of the period into a pointless family feud that takes place in a stable state and he contrasted the unreal pose of the Petrarchan lover with the experience of a young man who is truly in love. Civic peace and true love are two states to which human beings aspire. The two families' failure to achieve the first results in a world in which there is no room for the second.
By understanding the contrast between an orderly world and a disorderly one and the contrast between true love and the pretense of love, it becomes possible to understand the play's tragic quality. To the modern reader it often seems as though Romeo and Juliet are simply being punished for the behavior of others. The idea that they are fated to die for love seems contrived and false. But the play makes a great deal more sense when it is understood that the two families had created a world where something as important as love could not prevai
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s of the families could be given as some sort of justification for the fighting. It would, in other words, make some kind of sense. Without these dimensions it is merely blind hatred that has no cause other than tradition. The feud works against the ideal which is a peaceful state whose stability is guaranteed by a strong prince. The Prince admits that by failing to curb the violence soon enough, by "winking at [their] discords," he has lost two of his own relatives and shares in the...