The Capulet Tomb
The Capulet Tomb
This chapter addresses Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the single literary work that best captures the mortal poetics at the center of this book. In Shakespeare’s sources for the play—Italian stories that circulated widely both on the continent and in England—the characters Romeo and Giulietta anticipated that, following their deaths, their souls would immediately be reunited in heaven. The tragedy in these versions was at least partially softened by the idea that the lovers would share some form of meaningful afterlife. When Shakespeare reworked these materials, he stripped away any expectation that Romeo and Juliet’s love might continue posthumously. The profoundly terminal nature of Romeo and Juliet’s love is not simply understood as a loss, however: it is also their love’s enabling condition. This play is the period’s strongest example of both the poetic and emotional power that comes from denying any form of erotic transcendence. The chapter concludes with a brief consideration of Antony and Cleopatra, in which Shakespeare revisits the question of two lovers’ suicides and their prospects for the afterlife within a pagan, not Christian, context.
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