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The Comparison Between Romeo And Juliet English Literature Essay

This thesis researches and analyzes the comparisons between two great plays Romeo and Juliet and The Peony Pavilion, which have much influence in the history of literature, in order to comparing their conceptions of love, which is main purpose of this thesis. The reason why I write this kind of thesis is that they lived in different countries and had different languages and culture, but the era they lived are similar, especially they dead in the same year—1616 BC—that is so magical. For this reason, I checked a lot of materials about their works and read their plays several times. In this thesis, I will try to find their conceptions of love, and feel about the wonderful and glorious time they lived. In the process of completing my thesis, there are many difficulties: at first, the theses about Shakespeare' s works are easy to find and many of them are so mature that I can learn a lot from them, however, the number of Tang' s plays is just four, and there are a few of papers talking about his plays, so I read lots of old books about The Peony Pavilion. As the popularization of studying the studies of Chinese ancient civilization, the books and works about Tang' s plays are becoming increasing. In addition, the ancient style prose are hard to understand the intension meaning, not mention the translation into English. Finally, I overcome the difficulties and learn more knowledge about literature in that age.

Tang Xianzu, the most gifted playwright of the Ming dynasty, best-known for his masterpiece Mudan ting [The Peony Pavilion], was born at 1550, BC and died at 1616, BC. At the same year, an English great master in drama, William Shakespeare (1564-1616) , was died as well. Judging from the view of the history of world’ s literature, they are two most brilliant stars on drama in the South and the East at the same time. Meanwhile, there are two romantic love story plays, which sound like each other, written by these two uninfluenced writers—“Romeo and Julie” and “The Peony Pavilion”. They have many similarities in theme, play’ s conflicts, images of characters, etc.

They sometimes are similar, and sometimes are different: they have same feelings on love, and they are both romantic, however, they are not same. The reasons are ,to a great extent, linked to their different natural and social environment. The same parts are also concerned with the environment they lived and be influenced. Then, it is useful, and even important to compare their backgrounds and analysis them for further interpretation of their plays and these two masters.

This thesis consists of four parts, the first part introduces the backgrounds of Romeo and Juliet and The Peony Pavilion , the second part studies these two plays themselves analyzing about their unique themes, dramatic conflicts, distinguishing characters and the beautiful languages, the third part explores their conceptions of love, which is the main part of this thesis, and the last part is conclusion.

Ⅱ. The comparison between backgrounds of these two plays

2.1 The backgrounds of Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet was written in the earlier stage of Shakespeare. At that time, with the consolidation of Elizabeth and the initial prosperous capitalistic economy, the Renaissance reached the acme, though it started in Britain late. Thus, Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy so far as to the end of a personal love story is concerned, but regarding its plot expression, ideological trend and love process, this drama full of people-oriented humanistic spirit and uplifting optimism feelings. In this culture background, the love between Romeo and Juliet, which is an outburst of enthusiasm, pure and innocent has spread all over the world in real, warm and straight ways.

2.2 The backgrounds of The Peony Pavilion

On the east side of Earth, where lived a playwright named Tang Xianzu, he lived in the same period of Shakespeare, which was the period of undesirable development by the centralized feudal monarchy of autocratic China. In Song Dynasty, there were two directions researching the Confucian idealist philosophy, one belonged to Cheng Yi and Zhu Xi who standed for objective idealism direction, the other belonged to Lu Jiuyuan and Wang Yangming who represented the subjective idealism direction. But at the age Tang lived, Cheng and Zhu had become dogmatic and rigid, meanwhile, Lu and Wang had topped their thoughts. That is to say that the characters of The Peony Pavilion, Liu Mengmei and Du Li'niang could not pursue their ideal love and happiness through real world just like the way of Romeo and Juliet, the only way they could use was through illusion and in the ghost world. Traditionally speaking, in the realm of Chinese literature and art, it is an eternal theme to perform the love up to affection and sexual. If this beautiful sincere affection is not only destroyed and dissimilated by the feudal ethics, social politics and external environment, but also unable to contend against making the affection free, people's emotion and pursuit are often revealed with the help of illusion and ghost world.

Ⅲ. The comparison between Romeo and Juliet and The Peony Pavilion

In 1959, a famous composer Tian Han, who composed China's national song, visited the monument of Yuming Tang Hall of Tang's in Lin Chuan, Jiangxi Province, the hometown of Tang Xianzu. He composed a poem, which expressed that Tang and Shakespeare were matched in skill and strength about plays, and also Du and Juliet, the two heroines, were a Roland for an Oliver.

3.1 The comparison of themes between Romeo and Juliet and The Peony Pavilion

Drawing the material of their plays from predecessor's rich literature heritage and endowing progressive thoughts, that is the common characteristics of Tang and Shakespeare on the theme dealing.

Romeo and Juliet had drawn its materials from an Italian ancient legend and consulted the long poem The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet which was inserted from the legend by English poet Arthur Brooke. Shakespeare made process and reformed this legend tale, turned this pure love tragedy into a famous play embodied the Renaissance and deeply dag the social roots of the tragedy: the ultimate reason making the lovers dead were the persecution of feudal codes of ethics and feudal hatred filled with flood and guilts. Thus, Shakespeare made this ancient legend tale become a new weapon to propagate humanism.

The Peony Pavilion, another name the notes of returning life, drawn its materials from the story-tellers' script The Notes of Li’niang’ Returning Life of Ming Dynasty. Through the story's heroine Du' s tragedy in real world and comic in illusion, The Peony Pavilion written by Tang deeply exposed the ruthless of feudal ethical codes, displayed the determination of rebels to break the nets of feudal ethical codes and sang the praises of the unyielding struggle for liberation and ideal marriage. It was the first play that exposed the require of personal liberation in Chinese ancient literature. To analysis these two plays' process of theme flowing deformation, it is clear that Tang and Shakespeare are both good at drawing nourishment from each nation's rich literature heritage and carrying forward the progressive thoughts and successful literature experiences. Meanwhile, they did well in managing the old themes with own thoughts to reflect the social reality and contradictions. The themes of these two plays are ancient and distinct, but they fully reflect the spirit of era when Tang and Shakespeare lived-that is praising the liberation and love freedom, blaming the hypocritical and cold-hearted feudal traditional conception and ethics.

3.2 The comparison of dramatic conflicts between Romeo and Juliet and The Peony Pavilion

As we all known, conflicts reflect theme. These two plays' conflicts are diverse for the reason that life and thoughts of Tang and Shakespeare were different.

The conflicts of Romeo and Juliet are the contradictions between humanistic love ideal and feudal family hatred and marriage ideas. Romeo and Juliet were born in two feudal family with deadly feud. For the family's benefit side, they were sworn enemies, for the personal love side, they were lovers. After Romeo was exiled, Capulet counted on his authority of the leader of the family putting his daughter's wish and emotion aside and dictatorially arrange Juliet's marriage. Facing with the press of feudal forces, Romeo and Juliet fought wisely and bravely against as the end of death for love. The basic reason caused this pair dead was the feudal family hatred and feudal marriage idea. Shakespeare assailed the medieval feudal system product-family hatred and feudal marriage. At the end of this play, the fathers of two families quickly waked up to their error when facing with their children's dead bodies, then they became reconciled. Finally, love wined that means the victory of humanistic love ideal.

Since Tang was deeply influenced by Yangming School of Mind, which became one of the dominant Confucianism schools in the mid, late Ming period and Qing period China and Taizhou School, which went to leftism of Wang Yangming, he put forward his theory of up to affection, using affection as ideological weapon counting against the orthodox philosophy of Zhu Xi and Cheng Yi. It is people's love and desire that the affection means, which divided into good and bad. The pursuit of liberal love in The Peony Pavilion belongs to the former. While, it is orthodox philosophy which means feudal ethics that fatter and contain this good affection. In The Peony Pavilion, it showed as the control of Du Li'niang by her parents and her teacher, as well as the heavy psychological load shaped by the feudal ethical code herself. The Peony Pavilion deeply revealed the conflicts between affection and orthodox philosophy fully confirming the effect of affection. As the forward of The Notes of The Peony Pavilion said, People who are like Li’niang are lovers. The love comes out from unknown ways, but since it appears, the love will become deep in heart. The love can make live people dead and dead people alive back. Whoever cannot change live to death or death to live, he is the one that not love to the top.(如丽娘者,乃可谓之有情人耳。情不知所起,一往而深,生者可以死,死可以生。生而不可与死,死而不可复生者,皆非情之至也。——摘自汤显祖《〈牡丹亭记〉题记》)It was the victory of affection that it could make death alive back.

3.3 The comparison of characters between Romeo and Juliet and The Peony Pavilion

The theme (anti-feudal and struggling for the liberation) of these two monumental works are mainly embodied by the heroes, especially their heroines—Du Li'niang and Juliet. They both suffered more than heroes in order to show richer inner world, more brave spirit for contending, and more perfect characters. Even there are similar process of love awaken, they have distinguishing features.

William Shakespeare regarded Juliet as the embodiment of love, showing his humanistic love ideal. At the masque, Juliet and Romeo meeting, she fell love in him and felt how wonderful the life is. However, when she knew the one she loved is son of Montague, she worried, My only love sprung from my only hate! Too early seen unknown, and known too late! Prodigious birth of love it is to me, That I must love a loathed enemy. As for her, it is meaningless for the rank of nobility, whereas, what is important is Romeo who is regarded as the perfect person. It means that she had broken the chains of old thoughts and a quenchless forces raised up from her hot heart. Regardless of the oppose of her family, they pledged to marry with the help of Friar Laurence; after Romeo killing her brother, she was angry, but didn't change her affection; she was forced to marry Paris and played dead against her parents' order; when she waked up, she found Romeo has been dead for her, then, she died for love to express show her great and unchanging loyalty. In the process of revolting her feudal family and control, she grew up to the repel of this period.

Du Li'niang' s father was one of feudal government officials. He strictly educated feudal when Li'niang was child. For instance, Li'niang would be blamed if she took a walk in garden, or she dressed clothes which had pairs of flowers and birds. Li'niang lived as a bird fettering in a cage named feudal. Only in dreams could she satisfied her depressed desire. Her first step from self-awaken to fighting against the feudal ethics and pursuing for the liberation of love was visiting the garden. Seeking the dream stressed Li'niang looked forward to the ideal of love. She sang a song of freedom, If I were free to pick my bloom or grass, If I were free to choose to live or die, I would resign to fate without a sigh, which is the further development of her rebellious character. Then, she got lovesickness to death. For the sake of outstanding her character and pursuit for the happiness, Tang made Li'niang' s ghost meeting with her lover, Liu Mengmei. In the end, she become alive marrying Liu Mengmei. The process of going to death and then returning to life fully expressed the rebellious character of this daughter of the eminent family.

These two heroines are both the rebel of feudal ethics and the seeker of freedom and happiness. But they are distinctive, for the reason of the way of rebelling-Juliet put it into practice, representing the vigor of life, which was come from the Renaissance of the new and developing bourgeoisie and the spirit of the times believing oneself' s strength; Du Li'niang had the longing of love as much as Juliet, but she couldn't contact with young men just like Juliet, because she lived in the boudoir isolated off from the outside world. All she could do was completing her love ideal via dreams and the action of ghost. Judging from this, she had the tendency towards compromise. It is natural and right that Du Li'niang is modest and reserved; and Juliet is warm and open-minded, which was formed by the differences of times and personal thoughts between Shakespeare and Tang.

3.4 The comparison of languages between Romeo and Juliet and The Peony Pavilion

These two plays not only shaped the immortal images of two pairs of lovers, but also impressed us with the unique and characteristic languages. Both of two plays had the poetic languages. That seems to prove a law that brilliant playwrights must be excellent poets firstly.

There are many sentences having poem features in the script of Romeo and Juliet, such as the graceful dialogue when Juliet was waiting for Romeo's appointment, and the classical dialogue between Romeo and Juliet in Scene II, Act II. In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare applied varied kinds of figures of speech, such as rhyme (alliteration, assonance, consonance, double rhyme of antitheses, quatrain every rhyme, eight lines rhyme, sonnets rhyme and end rhyme), beautiful metaphor and puns. In this paper, I will take pun as a brief analysis. Pun is the clever or humorous use of a word that has more than one meaning, or of words that have different meanings but sound the same, which is one of main figures of speech Shakespeare must use in every plays. In addition, it is Romeo and Juliet that has the number of puns most amounting to 175. These puns can play a better function of revealing theme, describing characters, showing the relationship between characters, promoting the development of plot, predicting characters' fate and the structure as well.

e.g. At the masque, Romeo refused to dancing and said with Mercutio,

Not I, believe me: you have dancing shoes

With nimble soles; I have a soul of lead

So stakes me to the ground I cannot move.(William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet Scene IV Act I)

In the three lines, there are two kinds of speech, one is pun; the other is contrast.

Pun—soul and sole Here used the latter use: sole has same sound with soul, having the meanings of the underneath of shoes and the spiritual part of a person.

Contrast—soul and sole It is caused by pun; there are two ways:

(1) You have dancing shoes, with nimble soles; I have a soul(sole) of lead. That means that others have light shoes that can dance easily, but my shoes is so heavy;

(2) You have dancing shoes, with nimble soles(souls);I have a soul of lead. That means that others dance happily, but I am with a heavy heart.

These sentences vividly describe Romeo was worried a lot. This kind of sentences is like a drop in the bucket. Shakespeare's works are filled up with speech which makes eternal.

The Peony Pavilion wins its victory by another characteristic—a hazy beauty. Tang created a set of images about the peony pavilion which containing abundant meanings. This set of images composed mainly of the peony pavilion in dreams, including the side of lake and stone, the bank of the peony pavilion, the font of the peony railing as well as plants such as withy and prune tree. The images of the peony pavilion were the catalyzer and the foil of their love. The peony is both dignified and graceful, elegant and poised. Tang applied the image of peony for reflecting Du' s beauty and youth. In this play, withy and prune tree were their love tokens, the things that poets love to express in poetic form as well as the peony. These images were filled with the beauty of poetic flavor. Moreover, they also changed as the development of plot enriching the content and form. That is a great reason for handing down a good reputation to a hundred future generations.

Ⅳ. The comparison between their conceptions of love from their plays

4.1 Similarities of their conceptions of love from their plays

No matter England or Chinese feudal marriage system, many young people were confined by the feudal ethics. According to the rules of traditional marriage, a marriage should be of equal rank and arranged by parents' order and on the matchmaker's word. Tang and Shakespeare both opposed this kind of marriage. Shakespeare displayed all kinds of struggles pursuing the marriage freedom in his plays and the outlook of marriage values. The outstanding representative of anti-rationalism Tang Xianzu emphasized that the theory of up to affection. He highly praised the spirit of romanticism and the true feelings. He also regarded the affection was one of most natural things in humanity. He showed loving care for humanity by the praise of love and the cherish and pursuit for the fleeting time.

Both Shakespeare and Tang praised loudly the constant love, sneering the false affections. In Shakespeare's works, he maintained that pure love should not attach to matter things. And Tang wrote The Peony Pavilion as a romantic love story through life and death. This kind of love should be honored by humans not merely Shakespeare and Tang.

These two playwrights all held a conception of humanism love and against asceticism. Shakespeare expressed his advancing opinion towards females' chastity. Owing to the influence of Yangming School of Mind, Tang affirmed the rationality of sexual passion. This play described Du met secretly with Liu and had a good time prompted by her instinctive sexual passion. (An Amazing Dream, Scene Ten) The idea of poeticizing the sexual passion was advanced at that time.

4.2 Distinctions of their conceptions of love from their plays

Shakespeare's conception of love was optimistic, which was influenced by the developing prosperous of England capitalist class. The key factor was the Renaissance humanism environment that was good to his works. Shakespeare's conception of love had a spirit of optimism that love was so great that it could beat all barriers. In addition, Shakespeare was so optimistic that bad man could change by the justice and love, and he was tolerant to human's shortcomings.

Tang's conception of love was compromise. Compare with Shakespeare, Tang lived in Ming Dynasty that feudalism was too strong to shake it, though capitalism had been developing. He was trying to find a new way to balance the love and traditional ethics. In his mind, official career was the sign whether life values realized or not. As The Peony Pavilion described, Du and Liu lived together finally because Liu had the scholarly honor and His Majesty helped them. Tang would compromise to achieve his ideal via dreams when the traditional ethics was so strong. Thus, his works had some kind of tragic flavor.

Ⅴ. Conclusion

Living in the similar time, Tang Xianzu and William Shakespeare both had the conception of love against the traditions. They all eulogized the pure and loyal affections and also criticized false affections and asceticism. However, due to the different culture environment and social ranks, their conception of love had characteristics. Regardless of Tang Xianzu in East and William Shakespeare in West, they made a bold trial for the free-based affections, and ruthlessly criticized the feudal ethics—that was advancing and modern at that era. Their humanistic ideals and charms of personality benefit all of humans, which is worth reading again and again.

Through these pairs of comparison, we can generally feel the unique Literature charms of Romeo and Juliet and The Peony pavilion, and also we can find the great achievement they had made. These two plays are magnificent spectacles shining in the river of world literature.


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