Shakespeare’s portrayal of conflict is evident in a variety of ways. The audience’s perception of the emotional and physical conflict relies on the language of the characters, character actions and the contrasting scenes reflecting the contrasting conflicts. Moral, emotional, religious, social and private force conflict are all expressed and explored through the play. How successful has Shakespeare been in investigation these forms of conflict for effect on the audience?
Romeo and Juliet is a tragic drama that consists of several elements of comedy, romance and tragedy. The play was written by William Shakespeare allegedly between the years 1591 and 1596 and was first printed in 1597.
The story was already well established in the Elizabethan era and was introduced to the English audience by the poet Arthur Brooks from his adaptation of ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’. Several details and aspects of Shakespeare’s play have been directly incorporated from Brook’s poem and such appropriation of other stories and use of existing material is characteristic of Shakespeare.
The characterization and the constant use of contrasting images of disarray, love, admiration and connections with society, religion and family would appeal to the audience through its use of tragic downfall, human destruction and relation of mankind to tragic action.
The public or social institutions that either explicitly or implicitly oppose the existence of their love include families and the placement of familial power in the father, law and desire for public order, religion and the social importance placed on the masculine order. These societal institutions provide an obstacle for Romeo and Juliet and combine to create a profound conflict for the couple.
There are several conventions incorporated into Shakespeare’s plays, sonnets and texts. The tragic hero was commonly used and was a nobleman of prosperity and status. Generally, the character had some moral weakness or imbalance which eventually led to their emotional or physical downfall. Some examples of these are Macbeth and his ambition, Romeo and his emotions and Othello and his jealousy.
Another convention that was consistently used was a character that was responsible for restoring or maintaining order in the face of disruptive or anarchic behaviour (Prince Escalus and Theseus) and a figure that represented such disorder and disturbance (Mercutio, Tybalt, Bottom and Pluck). External influences such as fate and supernatural were also included, and the downfall of an innocent is apparent are several of his plays, including Mercutio’s, Banquo’s and Desdemona’s death.
A philosophical aspect is also frequently used, involving issues and themes such personal identity, the importance of love in human existence and the power of language to help or hinder communication.
The portrayal of conflict through the use of specific language is identifiable in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
The use of antithesis and oxymorons expresses and exaggerates conflict through its use of direct or exact oppositions and contradictory phrases. The contrast between light and dark is a consistent visual motif and is used to provide a sensory contrast and a suggestion of opposed alternatives. An example of such light and dark imagery is evident in act 3 scene 5, when exiled Romeo remains with Juliet and pretends that it is still night and the lightness is the darkness: ‘More light and light, more dark and dark our woes’.
The opposition of fate and free will and the inevitability of predetermined action are also addressed several times in the play to create a concept that permeates and influences the audience’s perception of the events. The opening scene in Romeo and Juliet states that the couple are ‘star crossed lovers’ and that a power vested in the movement of the stars dominates their activity. The characters awareness of the existence of fate can be interpreted through the character’s constant visions and omens. Upon the news of the death of Juliet, Romeo exclaims: ‘then I defy you, stars!’ and reinforces the concept that the love between Romeo and Juliet is in opposition to the decrees of destiny. It can then be annotated that the feud between the family of Montague and Capulet, Friar Lawrence’s plan to reunite the couple and the tragic timing of Romeo’s suicide and Juliet’s awakening were manifestations that brought out the unavoidable outcome of the lover’s death.
Both the connections and oppositions between love and violence and the perception that love is the cause of violence is a notably distinguishable opposition in the play. The love shared between Romeo and Juliet is at the point of inception associated and linked with death. After Tybalt discovery of Romeo at Capulet’s feast, he is determined to kill him and threatens Romeo by stating: ‘I will withdraw, but this intrusion shall, Now seeming sweet convert to bitt’rest gall.’ In addition to this, after the meeting of Romeo and Juliet, they are constantly consumed by thoughts of suicide and the willingness to experience it. In Act 3 scene 3, after Romeo is banished from Verona, Romeo brandishes a knife in Friar Lawrence’s cell and threatens to kill himself. Three scenes later, Juliet also express her determinacy of experiencing suicide and withdraws a knife in the presence of Friar Lawrence to show her disagreement about marrying Paris. This constant reference to death is repetitive until the final inevitable conclusion of the suicide of both Romeo and Juliet.
An oxymoron is a rhetorical figure in which incongruous or contradictory terms are combined to create a sense of conflict through the unbalance and instability of the phrases. An example of such a language device is apparent in act 3 scene 1, where Romeo reflects on the brawl through the use of oxymorons and oppositional words: ‘O brawling love, O loving hate’. These contradictory words emphasise the love versus hate theme and supports the concept that love is a cause of violence.
Personification is a figure of speech in which inanimate objects or abstractions are endowed with human qualities or are represented as possessing human form. Shakespeare uses several examples of personification when portraying the image of Death as Juliet’s husband: ‘And death, not Romeo, take my maidenhead’. This exaggerates and relates to the underlying theme of conflict and bereavement within the play.
Juliet is one of the principle personages in the play and her progression of her maturity and individuality is a key aspect of the appeal of her character. At the beginning of the play she is expectant of her fourteenth birthday and is portrayed as being innocent, sheltered and naï¿½ve. She is reluctant to take part in adult conversation and appear to respect her mother’s authority. She shows discomfort discussing the subject of sex and commands the Nurse to cease her recital of a sexual joke at Juliet’s expense.
When Lady Capulet mentions Paris’ interest in marrying Juliet, Juliet replies: ‘I’ll look to like, if looking liking move: But no more deep will I endart mine eye
than your consent gives strength to make it fly’. This response seems childish in its obedience and in its immature concept of love, and may be interpreted as a passive resistance and an implication of her acquiescence to her mother’s control.
After Juliet’s acquaintance with Romeo however, she develops maturity and liberation from her prior social moorings. The death of Tybalt and the banishment of Romeo results in Juliet coming to a logical conclusion that her love and devotion to Romeo is her guiding priority.
This development from a shy, reserved girl to a self assured, loyal and capable woman appeals to the audience through the concept of characterisation. The progression and advancement of a character’s mental and physical state would intrigue and attract the audience as they witness the advancement of a character steadily throughout the play.
The patriarchal power structure inherent in Renaissance families, wherein the father controls the action of the family places Juliet in a vulnerable position and provides her with a moral and societal conflict that results in the death of her and Romeo. The law and the emphasis on social civility demands terms of conduct with which the blind passion of love cannot comply.
Mercutio is both the prince’s kinsman and Romeo’s friend and confidant. He establishes himself as a character of great importance and acts as a force to decrease the prospect of the power tragic fate. He relies on satire and serves as comic relied to the melancholy mood of Romeo. Mercutio both possesses an intense friendship for Romeo and a strong dominion of male honour. His courage in defending the honour of his friend results consequently to his death. In contrast to Romeo’s idealization of love, Mercutio ridicules it, perceiving it only as sex. He loves incorporating sexual double meaning into his phrases and his imaginative creativity can be seen as feverish and neurotic.
The conflicts that Mercutio manages throughout the play include violent conflict, anger and the importance of masculine honour.
Shakespeare’s alteration of scene contrasts and contrasting forms of physical and emotional conflict is evident throughout the play and appeals to the audience through the inducement of stimulated and excited responses.
In act 1 scene 1, there is a rousing physical conflict between the Montague and Capulet household which purposely attracts the audience’s attention and provides background information on the family rivalry. The opening scene of the play establishes a majority of the major themes and introduces the importance of masculine honour in Verona, where a man must defend his respect whenever it is transgressed verbally or physically against. This concept of masculine honour exists in all the divisions of the social hierarchy and acts a principal cause of the physical and violent conflict in the play.
The establishment of conflict between the two households and feelings for each other is directly approached in this scene and immediately create a societal conflict for Romeo and Juliet. After the prince arrives and institutes the death penalty for any one who disturbs the peace again in the streets of Verona, the stakes for letting private passion overwhelm public sobriety rises to a new level and results in the banishment of Romeo. The Prince’s warning also institutes a better understanding of the severity of the conflict and donates the audience with an acceptance of the familial conflict between Romeo and Juliet.
In the first scene of act 3, there is a build up to fighting and fatal violence that results in the death of Mercutio and Tybalt and an emphasis of masculine world in which notions of honour, pride and status are prone to erupt in a fury of conflict. The danger of the play’s social environment is a dramatic tool that is incorporates by Shakespeare produce a romance that more susceptible to violence and disorder. Romeo accepts the responsibilities upon him by the social institutions of honour and family duty through his use of the term effeminate, which is applied by the public world of honour upon those things it does not respect.
The arrival of the Prince results in the banishment of Romeo to preserve the public peace of Verona. The Prince unwillingly thwarts the love of the couple, and the relationship of Romeo and Juliet puts Romeo in danger of violent reprisal from both Juliet’s kinsmen and the state.
In act 3 scene 5, the theme of language versus reality occurs again as Juliet claims that the lark is truly the nightingale and that the day has not yet befallen. In the confrontation with her parents after Romeo’s departure, Juliet overthrows the patriarchal power structure inherent in Renaissance families. The conflict against the familial power of the father is one of the underlying contests for Juliet. The defiance of her father expresses her maturity gained through her relationship and sexual experience with Rome. Her refusal to marry Paris provides insight on her limited powers and becomes a primary reason of the consequent tragedy.
In the final act, the deaths of Romeo and Juliet occur in a sequence of compounding stages. Throughout the play, Shakespeare has held up the possibility of suicide as an inherent aspect of intense and dramatic love and considers this suicidal impulse as an element as much part of it as the romantic euphoria. The double suicide in the play represents the fulfilment of love and the self-destructive impulse that has surged and flexed beneath their love. Juliet tries to kill herself with a kiss: an act of love intended as violence. When this fails, she stabs herself with a ‘happy dagger’, ‘happy’ because it reunites her with her love. This results in violence being the final deed of profound love.