Essay on A Marxist Reading of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet

A) Write a critical commentary on key aspects of either Act 2 Scene 2 or Act 3 Scene 5.

B) Indicate briefly how you would read this extract using one of the approaches studied so far in Peter Barry’s Beginning Theory other than the liberal humanist approach.

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Part A

Act Two, Scene Two of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is a romantic and poetically lavish scene. This emotionally abundant section of the play contains the love passages and fanciful imaginings of the young lovers. But while it is eloquent and delightful, it is also essential in detailing certain character developments, drawing attention to recurring themes and setting the tone of the remaining play.

Throughout Act One the characters of Romeo and Juliet reflect their ignorance about love and the union of marriage. Their immaturity is clearly depicted by Shakespeare, perhaps so Act Two would prove a greater contrast. In juxtaposing Act One with Act Two we are made aware of the changes that have occurred between the main characters.

While Romeo retains his flowery and romantic eloquence during Act Two he sheds his moody adolescent behaviour. Romeo comes to express his complete devotion to Juliet in Act Two Scene Two thus presenting the audience with a more mature, emotionally honest main character. Romeo demands ‘Th’exchange of thy love’s faithful vow for mine’ (2.2.127), declaring his intention to be wed to Juliet and henceforth eternally committed.

Juliet also undergoes a change in character, far removing herself from the naive fourteen year old of Act One, she becomes increasingly strong and practical (Spencer 67). At the beginning of the play Juliet talks of marriage as ‘an honour that I dream not of’ (1.3.67) but by Act Two Scene Two it is Juliet who brings about the subject of marriage, encouraging Romeo to arrange their wedding. Romeo may have insisted on declaring their love for each other but Juliet takes it a step further ‘thy purpose marriage, send me word tomorrow’ (2.2.144).

The haste in which Romeo and Juliet declare their love for one another and begin to arrange their marriage sets the tone for the remaining play. The sudden urgency that they must marry and be together brings about their downfall. Constantly ignoring warnings by the Friar that they should not rush but go ‘wisely and slow/They stumble that run fast’ (2.3.90), Romeo and Juliet become victims of the…

…ony, often relating then back to issues such as conflicts between social classes, the oppression of working classes, and the support for those in positions of power.

A Marxist approach to Act Two Scene Two of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ may involve taking the ‘overt’ action of Juliet rebelling against her father to marry Romeo and investigating the ‘covert’ content. Thus, a Marxist critic may find Juliet represents the working classes of Verona, while her father represents the ruling class. In that case, Juliet’s rebellion would be seen as a threat to the ruling class, or may be depicting some hostility between the masses and bureaucracy that was prevalent at the time the play was written.

The outcome of Juliet’s rebellion is the death of both Romeo and Juliet. A Marxist critic may argue that the fatal ending of the play was Shakespeare’s covert way of reinforcing the dominant social structures adhered to at the time. It could be interpreted as a subtle message suggesting the uprising of the working classes will result in tragedy, loss or death.


Barry, P., ‘Beginning Theory’, Manchester U Press: New York, 1995

Shakespeare, W., ‘Romeo and Juliet’, Penguin Books: London, 1967


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