Romeo and Juliet is a conventional play; and yet an un-conventional play. It is based around tried and tested Shakespearian themes, such as love, tragedy and death. However, it is the only play penned by Shakespeare to begin with a prologue, this itself signifies some importance.
The romantic tale begins with a description of how two ‘star-crossed’ lovers are trapped between two warring families in Italian Verona;
“From forth the fatal loins of these two foes,
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;
Whose mis-adventured piteous overthrows,
Do with their death bury their parent’s strife.”
From the prologue, which acts as an informative text rather than an intriguing introduction, you would possibly feel somewhat cheated as we are told the ending. However, more powerful questions are sparked, the most intense being ‘why?’
To move onto Act three, Scene one, we have just seen the marriage of the two main characters, and we pick up the tale at the point in the play where the audience’s attentions are beginning to wane:
“I pray thee, good Mercutio, let’s retire:
The day is hot, the Capulets are abroad
And, if we shall meet, we shall not ‘scape a brawl
For now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring.”
Here the premise of a fight scene immediately captures the audience’s interest. Shakespeare’s language is incredibly figurative, his use of patheticfallacy in ‘The day is hot’ is necessary because of the total lack of props and scenery, and so every detail of the surroundings needs to be described in the dialogue. The pre-modifier ‘good’ acts as a pacifier, but of course the spectators hopes are now set on a dramatic ‘show-down’ to close the play.
At this point the tension is quickly mounting, through the use of Benvolio’s heated and claustrophobic language, and Mercutio’s repetition of ‘quarrel’. However, in the script there is the simple stage direction ‘Enter TYBALT and others’, we must appreciate this as a play to see as well as hear. Though costumes were almost non-existent, and there was no such thing as dramatic lighting or music, but the audience’s anticipation of a fight would have given energy to the performance.
Tybalt’s register and tone is quite a contrast to the Tybalt we meet earlier in the play. ‘Gentlemen, good den: a word with one of you’ is much more civilised than the angry Tybalt of the party scene.
Benvolio, the mediator, again attempts to sooth the situation;
“Either withdraw unto some private place,
And reason coldly of your grievances,”
Mercutio as good as accuses Benvolio of looking for brawls in the street, but from the evidence above, that is a total reverse. Furthermore, Mercutio actually initiates the fight with Tybalt, even though he pleads his case for innocence to Benvolio only moments before.
Romeo enters this tense scene just as the pressure is about to over flow. His deliberate characterisation is yet another dramatic device employed by Shakespeare to create even more tension in an already over excited scene.
For example, Shakespeare deliberately contrasts Romeo and Tybalt by showing Tybalt as a strong and forceful speaker, with his use of dynamic verbs such as ‘hate’, and his clear denotative language. In comparison, Romeo is deliberately portrayed as an ‘effeminate’ and calming character;
“I do protest, I never injured thee,
But love thee better than thou canst devise,
Till thou shalt know the reason of my love:
And so, good Capulet, — which name I tender
As dearly as my own, — be satisfied.”
Juliet has quite clearly pacified Romeo; making him the less impulsive and irrational character he was at the start of the performance. We begin to identify with Romeo as he pleads with his now cousin-in-law; as we can see that he has shrugged off the impetuousness of youth, to become a rounded character.
Romeo’s influence on Tybalt helps to slow down the action, while also allowing the tension to momentarily dip, and let the audience take a metaphorical breath before the next burst of action.
If the play was put onto a graph, there would be high points and low points, but if the play was to remain at permanently high tension, the following action from Romeo and Tybalt would not seem as dramatic as it would if the graph dipped just before.
The stage direction ‘they fight’ cannot be fully explored on the page, especially how every rendition of Romeo and Julie, hereafter puts a new spin on the declarative ‘they fight’.
Shakespeare’s use of humour closely links in to his use of puns.
Mercutio’s ‘Ay, ay, a scratch, a scratch…’ helps to alleviate dramatic tension with comic relief, so too with the famous pun;
‘…ask for me to-morrow, and you shall find me a grave man…’
After the vivid flash of violence from Romeo he claims he is ‘fortune’s fool’, which makes the audience feel pathos and further identify with Romeo’s impossible position. This all helps to calm down the action, so allowing the tension to mount again for a dramatic final climax.
Act three, Scene one is vital to Romeo and Juliet. It captures the audience as effectively as the prologue, and stops the viewers from feeling restless during the closing stages of the play. It invigorates the audiences after a relatively bland middle stint, and so gives the audience a thirst for the final resolution, and gives the actors the energy to provide it.