Romeo and Juliet is a play written by William Shakespeare and was intended for the theatre. The play is set in ‘fair Verona’ in Italy. Italy was regarded as a wealthy, romantic country, an excellent setting for Romeo and Juliet a tragic love story which involves themes of: forbidden love, hate, tragedy, danger, friendship and death. The play has an ironic twist as; Romeo is heir to the Montague family and Juliet is heiress to the Capulet family. These two families are great enemies, we witness this from the beginning of the play; when even servants of the two households are fighting to throughout the play were we see episodes of fighting and bitter rivalry, which in one case leads to the death of Mercutio Romeo’s friend who is killed by Tybalt , Juliet’s cousin who Romeo then kills as an act of vengeance for the death of his friend. Therefore it is ironic that Romeo and Juliet should fall in love but it is even more ironic that these two lovers Juliet and her Romeo have it to die in order for their two rival families to settle their feud.
The balcony scene is set at dead of night, therefore it is dark and darkness in Shakespeare’s times represented evil or something terrible here it is showing the danger open to Romeo as he is outside the Capulet mansion. we are already aware of how viscous the feud between the two families is for example Tybalt discovering Romeo’s presence at the ball calls for his sword, therefore if Romeo is caught there is no doubt that he will be killed. Juliet alarms him several times of the danger ‘If they do see thee, they will murder thee.’, ‘the place of death, considering who thou art’. As well as the danger there is also a sense of intimacy as the scene is set outside Juliet’s bed chamber and the two lovers are alone.
Romeo and Juliet first meet at the Capulet ball. What is ironic about is scene is that both Romeo and Juliet, intentionally go to the ball to look at somebody else; Romeo has gate crashed the ball in order to catch a glimpse of Rosaline a girl who he believes himself to be in love with. Juliet has gone to the ball to look at Paris a supposed suitor who her father has asked to look at and she obediently obeys him. When Romeo and Juliet meet; Paris and Rosaline are immediately forgotten and they are both enticed and drawn together. They share a sonnet which captures the awkwardness yet irresistibility of the moment. The central image of the sonnet is of a pilgrim worshiping at the shrine the pilgrim is of course Romeo and the shrine Juliet. Romeo worships Juliet he feels that Juliet is desirable but untenable like a shrine.
Romeo respects Juliet and feels humble in her presence; he expresses his emotions through religious imagery and vocabulary. He is persistent yet charming in his attentions to Juliet and insists that they do more than touch but kiss they romantically tease and banter with one another through the religious images and metaphors. Juliet tells Romeo who is adamant on kissing her that ‘for saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch, and palm to palm is holy palmers kiss’ she is saying that pilgrims kiss with there hands and not with there lips, that is a proper ‘pilgrims kiss’ this shows us that they are not after sexual satisfaction or triumph but that there love is real and honest. The banter between the two characters would warm the audience and demonstrate the sincerity of their love while making the audience affectionate for the characters and empathise with their situation. The religious imagery in this scene highlights the depth and purity of their love as well as contrasting with Mercutio’s bawdiness and the nurses boorish idea of love she sees it as conquest and sexual she says to Romeo ‘I tell you, he that can lay hold of her shall have the chinks’ here she is telling Romeo that who ever marries Juliet will be rich. Love to her is about materialism and security, as well as being mercenary.
There is also danger in this scene as Romeo is a Montague gatecrasher who has intruded on the Capulet ball. Romeo is overheard and noticed by Tybalt Juliet’s cousin. Tybalt is outraged by Romeo’s comment about Juliet and reacts viciously by sending for his sword, Romeo is defended by Lord Capulet who tells Tybalt that Romeo ‘shall be endured’ as he does not want trouble at the ball, but Tybalt swears for revenge and from this point Romeo and Juliet are doomed and events spiral out of control, as later on in the play Tybalt does seek his revenge but instead of killing Romeo he kills Romeo’s friend Mercutio and then Romeo kills Tybalt as an act of vengeance for the death of his friend but is banished, and when he returns apparent to him at the time Juliet is ‘dead’ but of course she is not dead she has planned her death so that she does not have to marry Paris but Romeo sees her dead and kills himself she then awakes and sees him dead as she cannot live without him she kills herself.
Act 2 scenes 1 is a short scene involving Mercutio and Benvolio, Mercutio is teasing Romeo in order to get him to appear. Shakespeare uses this bawdy, loud scene to contrast with the forthcoming balcony scene which is pure and innocent. Shakespeare also uses different ideas of love to contrast for example Mercutio has a very crude idea of love, I do not think that he believes in love. For example in his Queen Mab speech he makes it clear that he sees love as conquest and sexual excitement and domination. We also see him throughout the play making many course sexual references to the opposite sex ‘as maids call medlars, when they laugh alone. Romeo, that she were, O, that she were an open arse, thou a poperin pear’ here Mercutio is referring to male ‘poperin pear’ and female ‘medlar’ genitals he is trying to tease Romeo about Rosaline as he still believes that it is she who Romeo loves. He believes that men and women are only interested in sexual satisfaction.
Romeo on the other hand has a very special view of love. We witness this from the beginning of the play when we discover that he is suffering from lovesickness, for Rosaline someone who does not retain his affections. Romeo is not in love with Rosaline but is in love with the idea of being in love
‘she’ll not be hit with Cupid’s arrow, she hath Dian’s wit; and in strong proof of chastity well armed, from love’s weak childish bow she lives unharmed. She will not stay the siege of loving terms, nor bide th’ecounter of assailing eyes, nor ope her lap to saint-seducing gold’
Romeo is obstinate that Rosaline is the only woman for him but he is also certain that she is not his and that she does not like him equally. He is self indulgent and allowing in grief and self pity ‘ and private in his chamber pens himself, shuts up his windows, locks far daylight out, and makes himself artificial night’ Romeo is playing with the idea of love he is not actually in love but later when he is in love he recognises that this love was false and that the love he has for Juliet is genuine, Romeo’s whole attitude to love is sincere and real; when he sees Mercutio and Benvolio again after the ball they pick up on this ‘Why, is not this better now than groaning for love’.
Although Romeo is wiser of love he still makes flamboyant declarations of his love for example he swears his love for Juliet by the moon, Juliet tells him not to swear by ‘th’inconstant moon, that monthly changes in her circled orb’ but by himself. Romeo is also persistent and determined we see this at the ball when he is not satisfied with just touching Juliet he wants to kiss her as well and we witness this through a sonnet where Romeo is charming Juliet in order to beg a kiss ‘O then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do: they pray – grant thou, lest faith turn despair’.
Juliet, is only fourteen in the play a young character, at the beginning of the play she is very obedient as her father wishes her to consider Paris as a suitor and asks her to consider Paris at the ball she dutifully agrees ‘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.’ Marriage was considered as an agreement or contract people did not marry for love they married who they were told to marry. When the subject of marriage later emerges Juliet has a very different view she bluntly persists that she will not marry Paris ‘I will not marry yet, and when I do I swear it shall be Romeo, whom you know I hate, rather than Paris.’ This refusal of marriage to Paris could cause her to be disowned by her family ‘Thursday is near, lay hand on heart, advise: and you be mine, I’ll give you to my friend; and you not hang, beg starve, die in the streets, for by my soul, I’ll never acknowledge thee’. Juliet is already married to Romeo and so she either has to risk being thrown out of her home and being disowned or causing a sin of polygamy which is a religious sin, and Juliet’s soul would be sent to hell.
Juliet instantaneously knows that she is in love with Romeo ‘my grave is like to be my wedding bed’ she believes that he is ‘my only love sprung from my only hate.’ Juliet is the more practical in the relationship she brings Romeo down to earth and is more realistic as she suggest that they get married ‘if that thy bent of love be honourable, thy propose’ she is determined
Through the language there emotions and characters become apparent. Even though Romeo has developed from his boyish fancy for Rosaline to his powerful intense love for Juliet he is still prone to making elaborate avowals of his love he puts her on a pedestal and uses many metaphors and similes to describe his affections. He compares her to many things; he calls her the sun ‘It is the east, and Juliet is the sun’ this is an interesting comparison as the sun provides light and warms for the planet making life possible without it we could not survive, therefore Romeo cannot live without Juliet. By using this profound comparison Romeo is saying that life is impossible and unbearable without her and proves to that his feelings towards Juliet are deep and profound we witness how overpowering his feelings are later on in the play when he finds Juliet dead and therefore kills himself as he cannot live without her. When describing Juliet, Romeo uses many comparisons to light and perceives her to be a source of light.
He uses metaphors to describe her appearance and features he says that her eyes are ‘Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven, having some business, do entreat her eyes to twinkle in their spheres till they return.’ He is comparing her eyes to stars and says that they could take the place of thee two most beautiful stars in heaven. Light in Elizabethan times symbolised purity and innocence, Romeo is dazzled by her beauty. He is certain that she is the one for him ‘it is my lady, O it is my love’. Romeo yearns for closeness he says that ‘O that I were a glove on that hand, that I might touch that cheek?’ Juliet is physically above Romeo as she is on the balcony and Romeo is on the ground but Shakespeare also uses this through the language to show that Romeo looks up to her and worships her he refers to her as a ‘bright angel’ he feels like a mortal looking up at an angel over head we are shown that he worships her before in the ball scene when he describes himself as a pilgrim worshiping at a shrine. The fact that Romeo uses lots of religious imagery shows us that his feelings for Juliet are deep and genuine.
Juliet is just as besotted and obsessed with Romeo as he is with her. She knows the grim truth that she is unable to marry him because of the family feud ‘my grave is like to be my wedding bed’ here she is saying that she will die unmarried as she cannot marry Romeo so will have no other. However this does not stop her from thinking of Romeo. Juliet believing that she is alone makes clear her feelings for him she tells him indirectly to ‘deny thy father and refuse thy name’ she says that it is only his name that is stopping them from being together Juliet makes it sound very simple as she believes that a name is only a label it does not matter it is nothing, the audience would be sympathetic towards Juliet as well as being warmed by her expressions and comments; ‘what’s in a name? That which we call rose by any other word would smell as sweet’ she is saying that a rose in, this case, would still smell as sweet even if it had a different name. Unlike Juliet the audience although empathetic would still see that it is a no win situation as she is already bound to Paris. Juliet is trying to find ways in which they can be accepted and later on in the scene she takes the initiative and tells him that if his intention of love is honourable then he will marry her. Juliet is the more practical and sensible and brings Romeo back down to earth. When discover Romeo’s presence Juliet’s fist concern is for Romeo’s safety as he is a Montague outside Juliet’s bedchamber and if he is caught he will be killed. This is her first concern even though he has intruded on her private thought about her love for him showing us that her love for him is selfless.
While declaring her love for Romeo Juliet was unaware of Romeo’s listening and when he emerges from being ‘bescreened in night’ she is shocked and embarrassed as she has disclosed her feelings openly of how passionate she feels towards him and therefore is self conscious and is eager to know his feelings towards her. Although fourteen Juliet is conscious to false declarations of love as she tells Romeo to be honest with her ‘Dost though love me? I know thou wilt say ‘Ay’, and I will take thy word; yet if thou swear’st, thou mayst prove false’ she is warning him not to swear that he loves her as she will know he is lying. later on in the scene Romeo swears his love on the moon she tells him not to swear on the moon but on himself as the moon changes monthly and is changeable. She brings Romeo back down to earth and is rational and level-headed in her thinking. She does not want to appear too forthright and is worried that he may think that she is bold and can be taken advantage of she tells him that she ‘should have been more strange, I must confess but that thou overheard’st, ere I was aware’ she is confessing that she would have been more aloof in her declaration of love for him but he overheard her. She is more annoyed with herself than she is with him who has overheard her as she does not want to be seen to be brash.
Romeo and Juliet was written for theatre in front of a live audience and therefore the audiences’ reaction to the play is of prime importance. The plan of an Elizabeth is of even grater importance to the understanding of the play as Elizabethan theatres were very different from theatres today. Elizabethan theatres were rounded with high galleries and a centre stage which would be surrounded by ‘groundlings’ people of lower classes who would pay very little they stood around the stage. The audience of public theatres were drawn from all classes. The ‘groundlings’ were often likely to be troublesome and noisy therefore it was important to keep them entertained to prevent them from throwing bottles or oranges at the actors. Romeo and Juliet produces many emotions from its audience. The play is set in Verona in Italy which is important as Shakespeare was trying to describe an exotic place where the audience could believe that this tragic love story of Romeo and Juliet could happen
The balcony scene is set at dead of night outside the Capulet mansion which is a very dangerous for Romeo as if he is caught he will surly be killed as he is a Montague. The audience’s reaction to this is one of dread and anxiety. The use of the Nurse in the scene calling Juliet and interrupting them reminds the audience and the characters that there is danger what if it is not the nurse but Lady Capulet instead. It also reminds them that there is another world outside there relationship and how will others react. The audience may have mixed feelings and have reservations as there relationship is speedy and impulsive they have just met and decided to get married the next day. The audience may be surprised by there honesty but also by the fact that they are getting married the next day. The audience is also uncertain of there relationship whether it will work out they are fearful of the future; Tybalt has already sworn to get his own back on Romeo for gate crashing the ball, but more importantly Romeo and Juliet’s families are great enemies how is it going to work out the audience are foreboding the future and are sympathetic towards Romeo and Juliet. The audience would be charmed and warmed by the love between Romeo and Juliet.
The balcony scene is the most famous and important scene of the play and encapsulates it as it involves all of the major themes of the play; forbidden love, danger, friendship, death, tragedy. The scene also develops the characters Romeo and Juliet. The scene has great impact on the audience and produces many emotions.