In 1594, before he became one of the greatest writers in English history, William Shakespeare wrote the play Romeo and Juliet with the intention of selling out the 3000 seater theatre, The Rose. A theatre like the Rose would work and perform with the knowledge that, for no apparent reason, they could be shut down at any time at the whim of the master of the revels. Romeo and Juliet was the first of Shakespeare’s play to out-sell his rival writer Christopher Marlowe.
The play drew in audiences because of its content of deceit, murder and tragedy. Shakespeare lived in a highly patriarchal society, as was the society in which Romeo and Juliet is set. The play revolved around a feud between two high class families: the Capulets and the Montague’s “two households both alike in dignity”. The families are both typical high status Italian families: loud, outgoing, strong minded and very quick to anger. This creates tension in the audience as violence is very likely with families like these. Violence would be a main entertainment in the plays of Shakespeare’s time, and the audience would be searching for characters with a violent nature from the start of the play. They quickly find characters with different views on violence: Benvolio, a peace loving person “I do but keep the peace” and Tybalt: a very fiery person who always seems to be looking for a fight, “what, drawn and talk of peace? I hate the word”. Shakespeare never tells us why this feud exists or why their families are such enemies, but he makes it clear that the hatred between the households is strong and ancient: “from ancient grudges brake to new mutiny, where civil blood makes civil hands unclean”. This quote from the prologue also creates tension, as the audience has already witnessed a fight between public members but nobody was killed and no blood was spilled. This will leave the audience in anticipation of when somebody will be killed.
Because of the society that Shakespeare lived in, the idea that two people of high status families could marry for love and without the consent of their parents was very revolutionary. Romeo and Juliet is such a story, as the plot revolves around two people whose families hate each other, and whose fathers would never give their consent to allow them to marry.
Up to Act 3 Scene 1 of the play, the story revolves around the meeting and falling in love of the two protagonists of the play: Romeo and Juliet. The two meet at a party given by the Capulets, which Juliet attends as she is Lord Capulet’s daughter. Romeo gate crashes the party with his best friend Mercutio, neither are invited but, as it is a masked ball, they see it as a chance to have some fun. No one notices that Romeo is attending the party uninvited except for Tybalt, who is cousin to Juliet. Romeo sees Juliet and falls instantly in love with her. “O she doth teach the torches to burn bright”. Juliet wants to know who Romeo is, and asks her nurse, who tells her that: “his name is Romeo, and a Montague, the only son of your great enemy”. To which Juliet replies in despair “my only love sprung from my only hate”. Tybalt notices the attraction between Romeo and Juliet and watches angrily as they talk.
They are forced to meet in secret, with only Juliet’s nurse and Friar Lawrence knowing about them. Juliet’s nurse sends messages between Romeo and Juliet, giving them a chance to talk and arrange meeting spots. Friar Lawrence encourages them and even agrees to marry them, believing that the marriage would end the feud between the Montague’s and the Capulet. Friar Lawrence says “in one respect I’ll thy assistant be: For this alliance may so happy prove to turn your households’ rancour to pure love”. Romeo and Juliet marry in secret after knowing each other for two days. The only witnesses to the marriage are Friar Lawrence and Nurse.
The marriage of these two creates irony and tension, leading up to the dramatic events of the play that occur in the pivotal scene: Act 3 Scene 1. In this part of the play, Mercutio and Benvolio are relaxing in the town square. “The day is hot, the capels abroad, and if we meet shall not scape a brawl” says Benvolio when he notices that Tybalt is also in the square. This reinforces his love of peace and also tells the audience that the chances of a fight is high. When Tybalt arrives asking for Romeo, the audience’s fears are confirmed and the tension is increased as it appears that Tybalt wants to find Romeo to hurt him. Mercutio answers with a joke and an insult, as neither likes the other. Mercutio and Tybalt are alike in the way that they both like fighting, are quick witted and both would resort to violence if they had to.
Up until now the tone of the discussion has been light, but this changes when Tybalt says” thou consortest with Romeo”, angering Mercutio by suggesting that he is a homosexual. Mercutio tries to joke it off by saying “Consort? What, dost thou make us minstrels” but he is still angered by the suggestion that he and Romeo are gay, and he takes it as in insult towards him and Romeo. Mercutio turns the argument into a fight by saying: “Consort? Dost thou make us minstrels? And thou make minstrels of us, look to hear nothing but discords. Here’s my fiddlestick, here’s that shall make you dance. ‘Zounds, consort!”. As the argument becomes more serious, the audience knows that the prospect of a fight is more probable, and they also know that at least two people die in the play, from what is said in the prologue: “a pair of star crossed lovers take their life. The two star crossed lovers have already been established in the audiences minds as Romeo and Juliet. This creates tension as the audience doesnt know if the first fight in the play will be the last, if Romeo and Juliet will die in this scene or the outcome of the scene will cause them to kill themselves.
Romeo arrives and Tybalt instigates trouble by calling him a villain. Romeo’s passion has already been shown in the way that he falls out of love with Rosaline, who he couldn’t stop talking about in earlier parts of the play, and falls in love with Juliet, as soon as he sets eyes on her. This passion would make the audience nervous about how Romeo would react to being called a villain. Romeo is not angered by the comments as he feels a love for Tybalt as they are now cousins because of the marriage, even though Tybalt does not know it. Romeo says: “I do protest I never injured thee, but love thee better than thou canst devise, till thou shalt know the reason of my love”. This creates tension as the audience knows that Romeo and Juliet are married but none of the other characters know this. The audience does not know whether Romeo will tell Tybalt of the marriage to try and stop the argument, or what Tybalt’s reaction will be to being told that Romeo loves him.
Before Tybalt can respond to Romeo’s claim that he loves him, Mercutio, angered by Romeo’s refusal to fight, interferes with the argument and challenges Tybalt. Romeo tries to intervene and stop them fighting: “Gentlemen, for shame forbear this outrage! Tybalt, Mercutio, the Prince expressly hath forbid this bandying in Verona streets.” Romeo steps between the two, but Tybalt mortally wounds Mercutio with his sword. Mercutio curses both Montague’s and Capulet alike: “A plague a’ both houses! I am sped.”
Dramatic tension is dramatically increased now as the audience has witnessed one death but feel as though another death will occur, as in his anger Romeo seeks revenge. Tybalt comes back finding Romeo challenging him showing a new side to Romeo. “This shall determine that.” They fight and eventually Romeo overcomes Tybalt and kills him. This is a totally new side to Romeo we haven’t seen yet as he has been portrayed as a gentleman and a peaceful person much like Benvolio. This is perhaps the turning point in the play as Romeo’s violent side has been exposed and leaves the audience wondering whether this is his true personality or whether it was a one off burst of rage. This turning point signifies the play is moving faster to the dramatic conclusion, building up the dramatic tension for later in the play
Up until now Shakespeare has lulled the audience into a sense of false security. The tone of the play has been one of fun and romance and quite light. Act 3 Scene 1 changes this, as Shakespeare introduces violence and bitter argument.
Only when Tybalt falls does Romeo seem to come to his senses and cries to the heavens “I am fortunes fool” meaning that he had been incredibly unfortunate in losing his best friend and becoming a murderer on the same day as getting married to the woman he loves.
Benvolio tells the Prince and Lady Capulet what has happened, and Lady Capulet demands that Romeo must die: “Tybalt, my cousin! O, my brother’s child! O Prince! O husband! O, the blood is spilled of my dear kinsman. Prince, as thou art true, for blood of ours, shed blood of Montague.” The anger of Lady Capulet leaves the audience wondering what she will do and what will be the fate of Romeo.
These actions signal a change of heart in the play. The marriage of Romeo and Juliet was to have cemented the rift between the two warring families, but now, in a very short scene, all this is undone. The rift has widened significantly, and Lady Capulet is now calling for the death of the young Montague. Up until now the hatred between the two houses has been kept in check, but now lady Capulet is angrily calling for Romeo to be killed. Tension is now increased as the hero of the play is suddenly in danger of being killed if he tries to see Juliet and the audience does not know what Romeo will do or how he will react to being told that he cannot see Juliet without being in risk of being killed.
This scene is probably the plays most exciting as it is very fast paced with a lot of entrances and exits, violence, fighting and exciting. The scene has greatly changed the persona of the play, as Romeo began the scene as somebody who had just got married and was happy, he ends the scene as a wanted man and a murderer, and the play seemed to have become much darker.