The 2017 AP English Literature Free Response Questions focus on varying themes and are each structured differently. For an overview of the three prompt types you may encounter read The Ultimate Guide to 2016 AP English Literature FRQs. Here we will discuss the third FRQ prompt which allows you to choose a particular work of literature as the focus of your essay.
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare is a play about a boy and girl who fall in love against their families wishes leading to turmoil, war, and untimely death. Herein we will discuss how to determine if the given prompt is appropriate for this particular literary work and give you an idea of what to review before your exam.
Romeo and Juliet Themes for AP English Literature
In order to choose a literary work to answer your prompt, it’s important to examine the themes which are outlined in the assigned essay. If the theme is not relevant or well established in a work, you will do well to choose another title to examine. The following are the main themes which you may discuss in your Romeo and Juliet AP English Lit Essay.
All encompassing love is the main theme of Romeo and Juliet. The type of love Shakespeare wrote for this romantic tragedy was fast to enthrall the young duo and superseded all other loyalties and priorities.
Violence and death are intertwined in this work both in connection to love and hatred. None of the violence we see in the play is premeditated, but rather emotional response to something that takes place. We see revenge killings, battles based on nothing but bravado, and desperate suicide.
Family honor is an important theme throughout the story. In order to uphold the honor of their families, the men fight and disrupt the peace. The women are expected to marry as they are told and hold their tongues.
The cruelty of fate is another theme we see throughout the play. In the description of Romeo and Juliet as star-crossed lovers, the chorus suggests their love goes against the fates. The characters themselves are aware of bad omens and this determination to go against fate is what causes Romeo to take his own life, only moments before his bride awakes from her faux death. In the end, they are only together in death, a true tragedy of fate.
How to Use Romeo and Juliet for the 2017 AP English Literature Free Response Questions
Romeo and Juliet is a classic Shakespearean play, with which you should be familiar. It may well be a viable choice for the AP English Lit free response question. However, that is dependent on the question. Each year the 3rd FRQ is different, and the CollegeBoard supplies a list of suggested books to reference for your essay. The absence of a book from the list does not disqualify it from use, that being said; it’s important to know how to choose which book to use for the given analysis.
In preparation for your exam, it’s a good idea to read previous years’ free response questions posted on CollegeBoard. The following review is for the 2016 FRQ prompt.
2016 FRQ 3: Many works of literature contain a character who intentionally deceives others. The character’s dishonesty may be intended to either help or hurt. Such a character, for example, may choose to mislead others for personal safety, to spare someone’s feelings, or to carry out a crime.
Choose a novel or play in which a character deceives others. Then, in a well-written essay, analyze the motives for that character’s deception and discuss how the deception contributes to the meaning of the work as a whole.
Although not listed for this prompt, Romeo and Juliet does have various deceptive characters and actions which work to shape the play. The most notable being Juliet who fakes her own death to avoid marrying a man her father has chosen. A thesis for this position might look like the following.
In Romeo and Juliet, Juliet is faced with a forced marriage to Paris and to avoid this she fakes her own death, rather than openly defy her family. Her plan is to use this deception to escape with Romeo, from Verona. However, the fates work against her, causing Romeo to learn of her death and come to view her corpse, unaware that she is still alive. This deception causes the story to take an especially tragic turn as Romeo, determined to be with his love, commits suicide. As he lays there embracing her body, she awakens only to see the true price of her cowardice. As he dies in front of her, Juliet is faced with the choice to join him or suffer alone. She, of course, chooses to kill herself, thus her own deceit is the hand by which she dies.
Supporting your thesis you should cite various scenes from the play and offer a well-thought-out analyzation. In the first excerpt, Juliet is dreading her arranged marriage to Paris. She states that she fears nothing as she fears a life without her Romeo. In the next stanza, Juliet has acquired a potion from the Friar which is said to make her look dead for a time, in order to allow her to run away with Romeo, as opposed to facing her family. She fears that the Friar might actually aim to kill her, to cover up his marrying her and Romeo. However, she resolves that she would prefer death to marrying Paris, and thus she drinks the poison. Romeo comes upon Juliet, in the next passage, unaware that she still lives. He weeps for her loss and looks upon her lovingly as he drinks a vial of poison to join her in the afterlife. In the last two excerpts Juliet awakes to find Romeo is dying. She attempts to share in his poison by kissing him. When that fails, she kills herself with a dagger.
“O, bid me leap, rather than marry Paris,
From off the battlements of yonder tower,
Or walk in thievish ways, or bid me lurk
Where serpents are. Chain me with roaring bears;
Or shut me nightly in a charnel house,
O’ercovered quite with dead men’s rattling bones,
With reeky shanks and yellow chapless skulls.
Or bid me go into a new-made grave
And hide me with a dead man in his shroud
(Things that, to hear them told, have made me
And I will do it without fear or doubt,
To live an unstained wife to my sweet love.”- Juliet, Act 4
“What if it be a poison, which the Friar
Subtly hath ministered to have me dead,
Lest in this marriage he should be dishonored,
Because he married me before to Romeo?
I fear it is. And yet, methinks, it should not,
or he hath still been tried a holy man…
Romeo, Romeo, Romeo! Here’s drink. I drink to Thee.”- Juliet, Act 4
“How oft when men are at the point of death
Have they been merry, which their keepers call
A light’ning before death! O, how may I
Call this a light’ning?—O my love! my wife,
Death, that hath sucked the honey of thy breath,
Hath had no power yet upon thy beauty.
Thou art not conquered. Beauty’s ensign yet
Is crimson in thy lips and in thy cheeks,
And death’s pale flag is not advancèd there.—
Tybalt, liest thou there in thy bloody sheet?
O, what more favor can I do to thee,
Than with that hand that cut thy youth in twain
To sunder his that was thine enemy?
Forgive me, cousin—Ah, dear Juliet,
Why art thou yet so fair? Shall I believe
That unsubstantial death is amorous,
And that the lean abhorred monster keeps
Thee here in dark to be his paramour?
For fear of that, I still will stay with thee
And never from this palace of dim night
Depart again. Here, here will I remain
With worms that are thy chamber-maids. O, here
Will I set up my everlasting rest,
And shake the yoke of inauspicious stars
From this world-wearied flesh! Eyes, look your last.
Arms, take your last embrace. And, lips, O, you
The doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss
A dateless bargain to engrossing death.
( Kissing Juliet)
Come, bitter conduct, come, unsavoury guide!
Thou desperate pilot, now at once run on
The dashing rocks thy seasick weary bark!
Here’s to my love! Drinking. O true apothecary,
Thy drugs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die.”- Romeo, Act 5
“What’s here? A cup, closed in my true love’s hand?
Poison, I see, hath been his timeless end.—
O churl, drunk all, and left no friendly drop
To help me after! I will kiss thy lips.
Haply some poison yet doth hang on them,
To make die with a restorative.”- Juliet, Act 5
“O, happy dagger,
This is thy sheath. There rust, and let me die.”- Juliet, Act 5
2015 FRQ 3: In literary works, cruelty often functions as a crucial motivation or a major social or political factor. Select a novel, play, or epic poem in which acts of cruelty are important to the theme. Then write a well-developed essay analyzing how cruelty functions in the work as a whole and what the cruelty reveals about the perpetrator and/or victim.
Although Romeo and Juliet is not on the list of works for this prompt, it would be a sensible choice. A thesis for this free response question would be as follows.
In Romeo and Juliet, cruelty is most prevalent in the dismissal of personal feelings for family obligations. The idea that your family will denounce your very existence, based on your disobedience, is contrary to the idea of familial love and central to the main plot. Romeo and Juliet are forced to hide their love because of the cruel idea that family pride is more important than love and happiness. This leads to all the struggles and eventual death of the star-crossed lovers.
To support this thesis you will want to cite various scenes that illustrate this throughout the play. Remember to argue cohesively for your analysis. In the first excerpt, Juliet laments that she loves a man she is sworn to hate by way of her family’s feud with his. In the second passage, Juliet is prepared to marry Romeo in order to solidify their love, leaving her own family. In the third passage, Romeo is upset to learn of his banishment caused by the murder of Tybalt. This murder which he did try to avoid by refusing to fight for no reason, other than social convention required by their families. However, after Tybalt murders Romeo’s best friend in his place, he exacts his revenge. In the fourth and fifth excerpts, Lord Capulet expects Juliet to marry his friend upon his command. He basically asserts that he owns her and since she is his he will give her to his friend. To cement the idea that family pride is more important than individual life or happiness, Lady Capulet also tells her daughter she will wed Paris, and to make the best of it.
“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 loathèd enemy.”- Juliet, Act 1
“O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name,
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.”- Juliet, Act 2
“Thou canst not speak of that thou dost not feel.
Wert thou as young as I, Juliet thy love,
An hour but married, Tybalt murderèd,
Doting like me and like me banishèd,
Then mightst thou speak, then mightst thou tear thy Hair,
And fall upon the ground, as I do now, Romeo throws himself down.
Taking the measure of an unmade grave.”- Romeo, Act 3
“God’s bread, it makes me mad.
Day, night, hour, tide, time, work, play,
Alone, in company, still my care hath been
To have her matched. And having now provided
A gentleman of noble parentage,
Of fair demesnes, youthful, and nobly ligned,
Stuffed, as they say, with honorable parts,
Proportioned as one’s thought would wish a man—
And then to have a wretched puling fool,
A whining mammet, in her fortune’s tender,
To answer ‘I’ll not wed. I cannot love,
I am too young. I pray you, pardon me.’
But, an you will not wed, I’ll pardon you!
Graze where you will you shall not house with me”- Lord Capulet, Act 3
“An you be mine, I’ll give you to my friend;
And you be not, hang, beg, starve, die in the streets,
For, by my soul, I’ll ne’er acknowledge thee,
Nor what is mine shall never do thee good:
Trust to’t, bethink you; I’ll not be forsworn.”- Lord Capulet, Act 3
“Marry, my child, early next Thursday morn
The gallant, young, and noble gentleman,
The County Paris, at Saint Peter’s Church,
Shall happily make thee there a joyful bride.”- Lady Capulet, Act 3
In conclusion, Romeo and Juliet has many themes you may find helpful for the last Free Response Question on the AP English Literature Exam. When reading the prompt and deciding on what literary work to use for your essay, remember to choose a subject where the theme outlined in the given instructions is prevalent.
In the case of Romeo and Juliet all encompassing love, death, violence, family honor and the cruelty of fate are a few of the more prominent themes discussed. However, as we saw with the above prompt examples, this story has many underlying themes which you may examine for your Romeo and Juliet AP English Lit Essay.
For more help preparing for your AP English Literature exam, we suggest you readThe Ultimate Guide to 2016 AP English Literature FRQs and The Ultimate Guide to 2015 AP English Literature FRQs. And, for writing advice for the AP English Lit free response questions, Albert.io’s AP English Literature section has practice free response sections with sample responses and rubrics.
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