In the play The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare creates tension and dramatic effects by his use of contrasts; this is illustrated in the variety of characters, the language they use and the many themes within the play: fate versus freewill, love versus hate, youth versus age, Mercutio versus Tybalt, comedy versus tragedy and light versus dark. This constant interchange between what is expected and what is actually presented is the key to the drama; Romeo himself notes “… here’s much to do with hate, but more with love.” An Elizabethan audience were perhaps a challenge to keep entertained, were often easily bored and impatient and required not only the balance between active, violent fight scenes and those of a more gentle, romantic nature but also within scenes, characters themselves are contrasted in terms of age, status and personality. Additionally, there are contradictions and interesting opposites revealed in the actual language used. For example, many arguments expressed in this play serve to highlight the complex and conflicting emotions felt by the characters; all of which would have intrigued an audience of the 1590’s as much as it does now.
Firstly, in the Elizabethan age theatre productions did not have at their disposal the array of sophisticated technology that are able to create spectacular effects on modern stages. Shakespeare’s dramatic effects were achieved through language: Elizabethan audiences relied on the spoken word to carry them through a play. In “Romeo and Juliet” Shakespeare exploits language for dramatic effect most particularly in his use of oxymoron to highlight the contrasts and opposites in the play. The Chorus in the prologue tells us of the protagonists “death-marked love” and Romeo, commenting on the mess and chaos left by the opening clash between the Montagues and Capulets declares that all emotions are linked, “O brawling love! O loving hate!” thus establishing the play’s emotional complexity. His confusion at this early part in the play is down to his love for Rosaline and his choice of words, “feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health” seem doom laden and at odds with expressions of love. Contrast this with the beautifully poetic response of Romeo when he first sees Juliet and compares her to a “rich jewel in the Ethiop’s ear”, contrasting her brightness and preciousness to the dark skin of an African.
He further uses contrasts to create a similar effect with the metaphor of describing her as a “snowy dove trooping with crows”. This contrast between the way in which he expresses his earlier infatuated love to up until now, emphasises the truth behind his line that he “ne’er saw true beauty till this night”. Furthermore the danger surrounding Romeo and Juliet is heightened after their first meeting when Juliet, after discovering that Romeo is an enemy of her family declares that she must “love loathed enemy”: Later, after their encounter at her balcony, Juliet cannot bear to say goodbye and the striking expression, “Parting is such sweet sorrow” again reinforces to the audience how their love is from the start tinged with sadness. Not long after their first meeting, for reason of both fate and freewill, Tybalt is killed by Romeo resulting in banishment of Romeo. Here, Juliet’s response of rage and disbelief is expressed with oxymorons that highlight her conflicting feelings towards her lover, “beautiful tyrant” and “fiend angelical”. The audience can understand her pain and grief.
Interestingly, youth and age is a very important contrast throughout the play. Firstly, there is a huge difference in age between Lord and Lady Capulet as Lord Capulet is much older than his wife. This is mainly portrayed to the audience visually. In Act One, Scene Three Lady Capulet reveals that she was the same age as Juliet (“not fourteen”) when she was her “mother much upon those year”. To a modern audience this is extremely shocking to be married before the age of fourteen and to have had a child, this has a huge dramatic effect on them. Also this suggests that Lord and Lady Capulet’s marriage was arranged and/or forced, which also would amaze a contemporary audience. However an Elizabethan response might have been rather different. It was considered normal for women to have very little, if any say in their marriage as Elizabethan women were raised to believe that they were inferior compared to men.
Also girls were allowed to marry after the age of twelve, even though thirteen is still young even in the Elizabethan era it would not have stunned the audience. Two scenes later in Act One, Scene Five the audience find out that Lord Capulet is fairy old as he illustrates this to the audience at the Capulet’s party that he said he once put on a mask and “whispered a tale in fair lady’s ear” but now he thinks that time has gone and he is happy to watch the youth do what he once did before. This clearly reveals the age gap between this married couple. This is eye catching and tension is created, certainly for a modern audience who may feel uncomfortable and somewhat unnerved by the striking age differences (which could be highlighted or not, depending on directorial interpretation).
As expected by the audience, the inequality in their age means that there are many flaws in their relationship; the discontentment presented creates on stage a conflict that the audience is discomforted by, but cannot help but watch. For example Capulet, responding to the Nurse’s suggestion to go to bed replies that he has stayed up all night “for lesser cause, and n’er been sick”. The younger, and perhaps frustrated Lady Capulet quickly replies with a curt accusation that he has been a “mouse-hunt” in his time but that she “will watch him from now on”. This of course infers infidelity on his part and perhaps unhappiness on hers. Again, depending in the director and actors different effect could be achieved; Lady Capulet could be whispering this under her breath in a heated way or she could just be saying it very jokingly to Lord Capulet.
Furthermore, another example of youth and age is that of parent and child, such as Juliet and Lady Capulet. Even though Juliet and her mother are very similar ages, only having thirteen years between them, there are still many differences. For example their views of love could not be more contrasting. Lady Capulet thinks of love and marriage more as business. She establishes this by saying “Ladies of esteem are already mothers”; whereas Juliet thinks love is about passion and dedication as she responded to Romeo with, “My love as deep; the more I give to thee, / The more I have, for both are infinite”. The Elizabethan audience believed that love was not an essential ingredient for a successful marriage so Lady Capulet’s view of marriage would not have shocked them, however it would most definitely shock a modern audience.
Moreover, Lady Capulet is very unused to parenting. She almost seems nervous to be around Juliet. In Act One, Scene Three she calls the Nurse back unable to tell Juliet about Paris alone, “Nurse give leave …” “come back again”. This is dramatic as Lady Capulet contrasts with the Nurse who is very motherly and loving toward Juliet. Lady Capulet also seems ineffectual and therefore Juliet has a lack of guidance contrasting with the Nurse further. This itself has a dramatic effect on the audience, as they are concerned about Juliet’s welfare.
Additionally, Juliet is very naï¿½ve compared to Lady Capulet. For example in Act One, Scene Three she replies to Lady Capulet saying she will only love Paris as much as her mother’s “consent gives strength to make it fly”. This clearly shows how naï¿½ve she is, as she cannot control how much she can love someone. This causes the audience to feel empathetic towards her. However, the audience sees glimpses of the women she will become in this scene. For instance, Juliet makes many witty replies to her mother like, “It is a honor that I dream not of”. This gives the audience a sense of fore boding for her future.
The third example of youth and age in Romeo and Juliet is between Tybalt and Lord Capulet. The most predominant difference between these characters excluding age is the difference in personality. This is clearly shown to the audience at the Capulet’s Party. When Tybalt realizes that Romeo was present he fumes up and tells Capulet that he “will not endure it”. This argument between the two characters is very short though intense. This has a dramatic effect as the audience has a sense of apprehension. This scene is made more dramatic as Romeo and Juliet’s first meeting immediately follows it. There is dramatic irony here as Romeo is unaware that the Capulets know he is at their party. Within the romantic scene underlying it is hate and danger.
Furthermore, a contrast to be considered is between fate and freewill. As unexpected, there is a lack of freewill within the play. For example, the one major performance of free will is the deaths of Romeo and Juliet – their suicides. Although Friar Lawrence did have a major role to play in the build up to their deaths, it was their own decision to kill themselves as illustrated by Juliet, “… O happy dagger! / This is they sheath; there rest, and let me die”. The fact that there is a contrast within that line, “happy dagger”, shows the complexity of death that followed immediately after that line. In some sense the death is happy as she could perhaps be with Romeo as they are both dead, but it is also a dagger that is going to cause her death. The audience feels grief and despair as the female lover, like the male lover, passes away. However, in my opinion the more dramatic death is that of Romeo. His, perhaps the only act of free will almost tears the audience apart, even though the audience is fully aware that Romeo is going to die, as mentioned at the start of the play by the chorus, they yearn him to survive and realise that Juliet is not dead. There is a conflict between what the audience knows and what they wish for. Additionally the use of dramatic irony in this scene, the fact that Juliet is actually alive, creates a sense of anticipation. Waiting for her to awake, the audience hopes that there will be enough time to save Romeo.
Moreover, fate is a power or force that has the ability to predetermine occasions in your life and is unalterable as it is your destiny and is therefore, fixed. The Elizabethans thought that this power directed entire lives, similar to the modern belief of God and also that everything is meant to happen. In the first few lines in the play, the Chorus tells the audience that Romeo and Juliet are “star-crossed”. This suggests to the spectators that the characters are not in control of their lives and that something more powerful is. This makes the audience feel unnerved and uncomfortable. This sense of fate continues throughout the entire play. Interestingly not only do the audience realise this but also the characters.
There are many moments in the play where the main characters directly cry out or speak to fate and fortune. They also realize, especially Romeo that fate and destiny does not want the lovers to be together happily. When Romeo finds out that Juliet is dead, he shouts, “Then I defy you, stars,” completing the suggestion that the two lovers, Romeo and Juliet are in opposition to what is ‘meant’ to happen. Ironically, Romeo effectively helped fate become real because his acts (along with Friar Lawrence) resulted in the deaths of the two lovers. fate works in all of the events surrounding the lovers: the feud between the two families which resulted in the deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt, the sequence of accidents that destroy Friar Lawrence’s plan to get Romeo and Juliet together and most of all heartbreaking timing of Romeo’s suicide and Juliet’s awakening. These events are said to be acts of fate that made it impossible for the lover to be together.
Undoubtedly, there are many acts of fate within the entire play as mentioned on the previous page. Early on in the play the audience realise that Juliet is fated to be married. This is shown to us by the nurse’s implications, “I might live to see thee married once”. This gives a sense of for-boding and apprehension. Also, perhaps the audience may feel a hint of sympathy towards Juliet, as the audience knows her fate that follows quickly after her marriage. This is eye catching as all the other acts of fate make it harder for Romeo and Juliet to be together however this is one of the only actions of fate that brings them together.
In contrast to acts of fate stated above, there are many actions of fortune that prevent Romeo and Juliet being together. It is almost as if Romeo foresees the future when he has a dream that “my lady came and found me dead”. In this scene Romeo also specifically talks to Fate, “O I am fortune fool!” This illustrates the fact that Romeo sees himself as the subject of amusement for fate. When he cries out “Then I defy you, stars,” after learning of Juliet’s death, he declares himself openly to be destiny’s enemy and does what he thinks fate does not want him to do however whilst doing this he effectively helps the stars. This gives the sense of fore boding and anticipation. Additionally the dramatic irony used almost irritates the audience as they see Romeo do something that an only make things worse but there is nothing the audience can do to stop him, they almost feel helpless.
However, within the play is that between comedy and tragedy. Shakespeare uses the structure of the play to interchange these two genres successfully to create tension and dramatic effects. An important example of this is Romeo and Juliet’s first meeting. This scene is incredibly passionate and romantic. However it is interesting to see that there is even a contrast within this scene as while Romeo and Juliet are isolated in romance, Lord Capulet and Tybalt are having a heated argument. To perhaps emphasise the serious as well as passionate atmosphere in this scene, the scene before is extremely funny and amusing: with Mercutio joking with Romeo by saying, “O then I see Queen Mab hath been with you” and there is a lot of laughter and the mood is light-hearted. However, the scene changes rapidly as Romeo states, “Some consequences, yet hanging in the stars” the audience is now on the edge of their seats in anticipation as they feel that Romeo’s life is threatened. In contrast the next scene where Romeo and Juliet first meet, it simply starts with everyday domestic matters and the servants joke among themselves making the audience feel slightly relived as they laugh at the jokes and the contrast between the scenes makes the jokes seem funnier. Additionally the contrast between the Queen Mab speech and Romeo and Juliet’s speech makes their first meeting yet more romantic.
Furthermore, the contrasts between comedy and tragedy within the structure of the play is the heat- breaking fight scene between Mercutio and Tybalt and also Romeo and Tybalt. This scene can be interpreted in many different ways, though the main emotions and feeling within the scene are that of rage, grief, tension and danger. The audience is affected greatly by the two deaths in the scene because just before, Romeo and Juliet get married. Not only does the audience grieve for Mercutio and Tybalt but also for the newly married couple as they have not yet been married for a full day and almost instantly grave fortune has ruined their marriage. This is intensified even more as in Act Three, Scene Two, after the deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt is Juliet mourning for her cousin and her husband. Yet again increasing the audience’s empathy and grief for the married couple.
In conclusion, one can confidently propose that the dramatic effect of the contrasts and opposites in “Romeo and Juliet” derives from the variety of different themes, protagonists and language. By having this, Shakespeare makes the play more interesting and gripping. Unlike modern times, Shakespeare did not have the diverse range of facilities to make his play more attention – grabbing, such as lighting and sound effects that technology provides today, instead he achieves this through his use of language. He also uses many contrasting themes such as Youth and Age. He shows distinct contrasts in age between Lord and Lady Capulet. This creates tension in the audience’s mind, as their relationship is full of flaws and mistakes.
Shakespeare also decides to include the opposite, fate and freewill in his play. There is a lack of freewill throughout the entire play, only the suicides of Romeo and Juliet themselves. Opposing this, there are several events of fate, for example early on in the play the audience realise that Juliet is fated to be married and that it is fortune that prevents Romeo and Juliet from being together. In order to keep the audience involved in the play Shakespeare uses the contrast between comedy and tragedy effectively. By using the structure of the play, he creates the two emotions by using these dramatic techniques to keep the audience’s attention. All these clever techniques used by Shakespeare make the play gripping and enjoyable to watch.