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Common Themes in Tragedy PlaysResearch Proposal

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Romeo & Juliet vs. Antigone

The author of this report has been asked to compare and contrast two major plays from the history of literature. Those two plays are Romeo and Juliet and Antigone. Indeed, they are quite alike in many ways but they are also quite different as well. Rather than the author of this report relying solely on personal perception and analysis, there will indeed be a review of scholarly sources and opinions and they will supplement what is analyzed and spoken of in this report. While there are some notable and obvious differences between the two productions, there are also some striking similarities.

One major similar between the two plays is that both of the female leads, those being Antigone and Juliet, die at a tragically young age. In the case of Juliet, she commits suicide upon learning the fate of Romeo at the end of the play. In the case of Antigone, she hangs herself near the end of her story. In fact, both Juliet and Antigone commit suicide at the climax of their respective stories. The run-up to each suicide was rather similar as well. In the case of Juliet, she committed suicide after Romeo had done the same. In the case of Antigone, she decides to hang herself to avoid execution. Yet another similarity between the two stories is the reaction of the love interest. Romeo committed suicide and then Juliet did so in reaction to this. With Antigone, the gender order was reversed. Antigone hung herself in her cell and then Haemon stabbed himself in reaction. This was followed by Eurydice slitting her own throat.

Another very common thread between the two stories are noble/royal people getting into a scuffle about leadership and rivalries. Indeed, there is a very strong battle in Antigone. Upon the death of Oedipus, the edict given down is that Eteocles and Polynices are to share leadership from one year to the next. At one point, it comes to a point where Eteocles is to cede power to his brother and he refuses to do so. Polynices and his six foreign princes march on Thebes and the brothers end up in a duel where both of them die. This is how Creon ends up becoming king. In the case of Romeo and Juliet, there are the brawls and fights between the Capulets and the Montagues. There is fighting as well as, just as one example, Tybalt and Benvolio get into fights.

In both stories, fighting and discord is supposed to be suppressed but it does not work. Later in the story, Tybalt and Mercutio get into a duel and it ends with Mercutio dying. Indeed, this leads to the fact that both stories involve an order of peace and compliance and a duel shatters the peace in both instances. The aftermath from those duels leads to the tragedy in both plays. The culmination of both stories is a situation where at least two people (or three in the case of Antigone) die as a direct or indirect result of the duel in the plays in question. Another common thread is that an expected marriage is what leads to both women killing themselves, at least in part. With Antigone, part of the problem is the fact that she buried Polynices against the orders of Creon. In the case of Romeo and Juliet, Juliet is expected to marry Paris in the wake of Romeo killing Tybalt. Juliet is swayed at first and almost second-guesses herself but she resolves that Romeo is her love and that she will remain loyal to him.

A major difference between the two stories is that Juliet's "suicide" at first is actually a ploy. This is what leads to Romeo finding her, thinking her dead and then killing himself. Antigone is a whole different matter in that she dismissed the idea of marrying her way out of trouble and she actually commits to ending her life. Antigone is much more like Romeo in that Romeo killed himself upon the ostensible death of Juliet. Juliet than follows suit when she realizes what Romeo did in reaction to what he thought was going on. One major difference between the two plays is that Antigone killed no one. Her "crime" was putting some dirty on Polynices even though she (and others) were told not to. This was because it was deemed that only Eteocles would buried even though he was supposed to cede control and did not. In the case of Romeo and Juliet, there was a lot of death and destruction from one of the people that committed suicide. Regardless, there were many murders and suicides in both plays. Romeo was enraged at the death of Mercutio and eventually ended up killing both Tybalt, the man who killed Mercutio, and Paris, the man to whom Juliet was to be married.

The author is asked to seize on two common themes or similarities between the two plays, one would be the use of death as a way to effect change or to prove a point. Whether it be suicide, duels/fights or outright murder, both plays are full of death and destruction. Beyond that, both plays are full of people that are having rules, guidelines or expectations imposed on them and they refuse to agree to them. Further, most of those expectations relate to family, nobility and who is ordained to be the better or more beneficial solution. Often times, the rules and orders do not make sense. Indeed, it is not really fair or proper to dictate to Juliet who she should marry and why. But of course, such was the normal order of things. Juliet obviously and completely defied this even if she had some doubts here and there. It was not reasonable in the long run, at least not to Juliet, and she defied the expectations of the nobles involved to the very end even though she had a clear way to escape her problems, even if it would have been at the expense of whom she truly loved.

Antigone was similar in that she defied and order regarding the two men who dueled to the death. In that case, the order being defied was also ostensibly a bad and illogical one. After all, it should be expected that there would be some violence or at least some discord given that Eteocles and Polynices were supposed to share the throne. It was Eteocles, and not Polynices, that broke that arrangement. Even if Polynices responded with brute violence and force, he is not the one that broke the agreed-upon arrangement. Antigone apparently saw it that way as well but refused to let Polynices go unburied. He was left to rot by the leadership and per the orders but Antigone would not stand for it. Like Juliet, she had an apparent "out" of her situation in the form of getting married. However, she refused to do so and she went to her cell and ended her life.

One major difference that occurs between the two plays in light of all of the death and destruction is the ultimate reaction and outcome involved. In Romeo and Juliet, it turns out that the death and destruction has led the Montagues and Capulets to discard their fighting and get alone. In Antigone, Creon is basically the only major character left unscathed and he is alone. The guards are seemingly indifferent so there is not really anyone else that is emotionally invested in what did happen or what could happen in the future. With Romeo and Juliet, the sight of their dead fellow noble-people leads them to discard peace. With Antigone, Creon basically has nothing left to salvage because all of the people involved are all dead. Both plays obviously and intimately involve people that felt they were entitled to what they wanted and they were willing to defy orders or even kill to get what they wanted. Tragically, death and destruction of some sort, whether it be suicide or murder, was often the in-kind response offered to the situations in play.

As noted above, the other major common theme of the two plays is that there is a defined and specific hierarchy and division of people. One could say that this sort of division persists to this very day. Whether it be race, class or something else, people are very much divided by these things and there are often very harsh mistakes when those rules and expectations are violated. Just as one example, Romeo and Juliet was greatly defined by two warring families and the fact that a man from one family and a woman from the other fell in love. In many circles of today's life, this sort of thing can still persist. People rarely kill over such matters nowadays but the struggles and rivalries that emerge are real and obvious to those paying attention. For example, a white person being romantically involved with a black person is still taboo to many… [END OF PREVIEW]

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