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    Examine how Shakespeare uses key features of language to create tension, drama and atmosphere in Act 1 scene 5 of Romeo and Juliet Essay

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    Romeo and Juliet is a play set in a city called Verona in Italy, about two “star crossed lovers”, who fall in love at first sight, Unfortunately Romeo, is a member of the Montague family who are sworn enemies of the Capulet household, to which Juliet belongs. The path of true love is not going to be as straight as the two teenage lovers would wish for. It is a play with many twists and turns, not knowing what will be lurking around the next corner.

    Ignoring the fact that they should be enemies, they try to further their love for one another, embarking on a torturous path, Juliet had the heart rending decision of which road to take; the one laid out for her by her father, which appears to be straight forward, but not what she truly desires, to marry Paris who is eminently suitable. Alternatively, Juliet could take the path with Romeo, and disobey her parents, travelling a dangerous and twisted journey.

    The scene that I will be focusing on is Act 1 Scene 5, when the two destined lovers first lay eyes upon each other. They meet at a Capulet masked ball, where Romeo and his associates have turned up to, much to the fury of Juliet’s cousin Tybalt, “Prince of Cats”. Tybalt is well known in the city to find enjoyment in brawls. So, this spells out a torrid time to come for Romeo. However this is not the main aspect of this scene. This scene is very important for later events in the play because, here you really get the idea how much these two people want each other, and what they are willing to do get it. It also confirms the pure hatred Tybalt has for all Montague’s, and now especially Romeo. Tybalt’s anger is shown towards the end of the scene when he makes a speech about “Now seeming sweet convert to bitterest gall.”, which means “What is good for now, will change into a curse”.

    First of all, William Shakespeare is well known for his use of imagery when he was writing plays in the 15 and 1600’s. Imagery was needed more so at that time than plays would do now, because there were not any proper sets, there would just be a curtain towards the back of the stage. So to create a setting he would need to do it using imagery through his script. He could do this by referring to things which were not there e.g. the moon, a valley, things in the distance. Shakespeare would tell the audience whether the setting was in the evening, morning or afternoon using this descriptive technique. In that period all of the actors were men they took both male and female roles, another reason why imagery was hugely important.

    The scene is started off with a group of servants, who are frantically trying to get everything sorted for the party, with the first servant (Peter) telling the others to do their jobs, and getting quite agitated over the whereabouts of fellow servant Potpan. You can see that Peter is getting more and more angry because, he is delivering short sharp orders to the staff and also almost everything he says is ended in either a question mark or an exclamation mark e.g. “Where’s Potpan, that he helps not to take away? He shift a trencher? He scrape a trencher!”. This translates into “Where’s Potpan? Why isn’t he helping us clear the table? He should be moving and scraping plates!”. This shows great use of imagery, because it plants a rushed frantic display atmosphere in the audiences head even though they don’t see any decoration. After the servants have left, Lord Capulet, Lady Capulet, Juliet, Tybalt, Nurse and the guests enter.

    Lord Capulet performs a speech, which Shakespeare has used to set the scene brilliantly. He uses Lord Capulet’s character to set a happy relaxed, scene by making a joke at the beginning, about the women who refuse to dance obviously have corns on their feet, when he says “Ladies that have their toes unplagu’d with corns will walk a bout with you.- Will now deny to dance?”. After his introduction to the evening, with his unmistakably brilliant joke, Lord Capulet makes a point of there being a time when he could wear a mask and still charm a lady, and how that time is gone, and then he starts the music and eggs everyone on to dance especially the ladies, but tells his cousin to sit down for they are “past their dancing days”. This whole speech creates a relaxed welcoming mood for all of the guests. This is one way in which Shakespeare creates an atmosphere within the audience.

    Now we move onto, what I believe to be, one of the most important moments in the play. The first acquaintance (which the audience has been expecting, due to the Prologue) of the two inevitable “lovebirds”. Shakespeare again creates an atmosphere through the actors, however this time he uses Romeo to create a light romantic feel. He does this using small words and phrases, such as: “she teaches torches to burn bright”, “she hangs upon the cheek of night” (referring to her as a star), “a rich jewel”, “a snowy dove”. Some of the phrases used are metaphors. All of the metaphors and figurative language compare Juliet’s beauty to darkness, and how she outshines all light. Light to dark is a good comparison for they can mean many things, for instance: good to evil; right to wrong; joy to fear; rewards to consequences; life to death, the list is endless. This creates a great atmosphere all around the entire audience because, the metaphors used are really strong and meaningful. It also helps Shakespeare’s need for imagery. It does this by having so many metaphors, it leaves the audience constantly comparing them in their mind, and this means that there would have been no need for any special lighting effects and such.

    Another example of imagery would be when Tybalt recognizes Romeo’s voice after his speech, and wishes him dead. We already know of Tybalt’s hatred of everything under the name of Montague, from earlier in the play, for example in act 1 scene 1 Tybalt tells Benvolio (a friend and cousin of the house of Montague) he “hates all Montagues, and thee”, however wishing Romeo in particular dead shows that now his eyes are firmly fixed upon Romeo’s head. This dampens the atmosphere previously created by Romeo. There is tense atmosphere within the audience because they know that Romeo dies (because of the prologue) and now they are wondering whether or not it is Tybalt who kills him. He tells his uncle Lord Capulet of a Montagues presence, but his efforts to kill Romeo fall short, as Capulet brushes him aside and says, “Content thee, gentle coz. Let him alone. He bears him like a portly gentleman, And, to say truth, Verona brags of him To be a virtuous and well-governed youth. I would not for the wealth of all the town Here in my house do him disparagement. Therefore be patient. Take no note of him. It is my will, the which if thou respect, Show a fair presence and put off these frowns, An ill-beseeming semblance for a feast.”

    This means that Capulet is telling Tybalt to “leave him alone he’s not hurting anyone, besides he’s got a good reputation for being a good lad, so if you respect me, leave him be”. Through this small conversation Shakespeare creates a lot of rise and fall of tension because, the audience expect Lord Capulet to say, “Off with his head” or something along those lines, but he doesn’t. Tybalt continues to try and persuade his uncle, but Capulet doesn’t even seem in the slightest bit concerned. At the end of the scene Tybalt’s parting words tell the audience how he will get his revenge ; “Now seeming sweet will soon turn to bitterest gall.” which is one of my favourite lines in the play. It leaves the audience in deep expectation, more so because there is a prologue, they know he will die before the end of the play. Just not how he dies.

    When Romeo and Juliet first meet and instantly want to spend the rest of their days together, the audience already know what the outcome at the end of the play will be. The audience know that eventually they will both die, so as well as there being a light, airy, romantic atmosphere, there is a deep curiosity within the audience “How will these two die” “When will these two die” “Who” “What” “Where” all of these questions, with no answers as yet, keeping them engaged with what’s unfolding before their eyes. Some people criticized Shakespeare for giving away the ending in the starting Prologue, but I think it adds to the effect, and what makes Shakespeare such a good play writer. The aspect which makes it so good is the dramatic irony. The audience know what will happen further on in the play so when Juliet says to nurse, “If he be married, my grave is like to be my wedding-bed.” this creates dramatic irony, because the audience know that it will be the death of her, this has an effect on the audience because, it reminds them that they will not survive, leaving them constantly referring back to earlier parts of the play, which in the long will help it stick in there head (after all it is a tragedy).

    Romeo and Juliet has lots of examples of dramatic irony. The biggest example is in the chorus. The audience knows the plot and the ending basically they read the whole play knowing what will happen. In act one scene five, Romeo and Juliet dance together not knowing that the other is from their enemy’s families. The audience is informed on this. When the nurse enters in act 2 scene 4, the characters just think that the nurse is just a stranger yet we all know from before, the nurse is there to talk to Romeo about Juliet. Act three scene one, Romeo tries to tell Tybalt how much he loves him but Tybalt can’t understand not knowing that Romeo and Tybalt’s cousin Juliet were bride and groom. In the same scene Romeo gets in trouble for both Tybalt’s death and Mercutio’s death when Tybalt took Mercutio’s life. In the latter part of Act 3, Juliet’s parents and Paris constantly tell Juliet that she will marry Paris and that she needs a man so she would not be so sad, and the whole time she has her marriage with Romeo of which everyone else is clueless about. Also when everyone thinks that Juliet is crying over Tybalt’s death, the audience knows that the crying is for Romeo. The very beginning of act four Paris thinks that Juliet will want to marry him, Juliet we know despises Paris. In scene five of act four

    everybody thinks that Juliet is dead, but earlier the audience already knows about Friar Lawrence’s sleeping potion, and Juliet just looks dead. In act five scene one Romeo leaves Mantua while a letter is being sent to him, but he doesn’t know of the letter and thinks that Juliet is dead. In scene three Paris thinks that Romeo has come to do bad things to the bodies of the Capulet monument, the audience knows that Romeo had come in love and because of Paris not knowing this it ends up in his death. Friar Lawrence is on his way to get Juliet so that Romeo could be informed but Romeo is already there still totally clueless and drinks poison to his death. Friar Lawrence arrives where dead Romeo is and Juliet wakes up and asks where Romeo is when he is there the whole time.

    If I were to be the director I would set this scene a lot like director Baz Luhrmann did in the 1996 modern interpretation of the play. I would set it in a grand ballroom with maybe a large band or orchestra playing, with drapes and party decorations everywhere, in the present day (so it can have relevance to a younger audience as well as an older one), and it would be a fancy dress party. I think that having the scene set as a fancy dress party is a great idea because, it is modern and relevant to the present day, also it would add a sense of humour to the play from the funny costumes, for instance, dressing Capulet up in a giant dog costume. It would be lit by bright lights, until the moment when Romeo and Juliet meet, where I would have them both under a red light each with everyone else continuing the party. The music at this point would be slow and romantic. The language would be kept to the original. Dressing Lord Capulet up in a giant dog costume, would be great because, as I mentioned, the comedy value, and also it would reflect his personality because, he does seem like the type of person who would enjoy a laugh and is very devoted to his family, but also has a side of him which will snap and bite.

    At the very beginning of the scene I would have the first servant Peter sat down cocktail in hand shouting out orders to the mad rushed servants. They could be running around with their arms full with plates and crash into each other, for comedy value. As soon as the Capulet’s and guests arrive Peter could fly up from out of his chair and run off looking busy. Setting this part of the scene like this would be good because, it has begun with the audience having a good laugh, warming them for Capulet’s speech. It is a good point to introduce some humour as there are not very many “laugh out loud” points in the play, and a performance needs to make the audience laugh to draw them in and make it appealing to a wider audience because as well as tragedy and tears, having the occasional “chuckle”, is what people want today in films and performances.

    Another issue to discuss is women’s place in society in Elizabethan times. In the 1500’s women had to rely on the men of the family to do everything. Even when it came to marriage the father chose who they had to marry. As Juliet was very young, she said that she had not given marriage too much thought. Juliet’s father, Lord Capulet, however had already been discussing his daughters wedding with Paris (act 1, scene 2). So because Juliet does not know a lot about life or especially marriage, why does she marry Romeo? Is it because she is na�ve, courageous, foolhardy or does she really believe that Romeo is her true love? I do not believe that she is courageous for she only confronts her father once (even though that took a lot of bravery), she went behind his back which shows cunning but not courageousness in my opinion.

    She is definitely not foolhardy for she is fully aware of the consequences, her father has clearly told her the options she has, but she ignored them. I do not think that she really can know if Romeo is her true love or not, because she is still very young and has been shut off from the rest of the world all of her life. This leads me to the conclusion that she is na�ve because she does not have much experience about life.

    I think having an arranged marriage is extremely selfish of the parents, it ignores what their son or daughter wants, and concentrates on what they will gain, which is mainly money, land, allies e.t.c. It would be difficult for a couple in those days to be completely independent because of families not liking the groom because he is not rich enough, or he has no noble heritage, so in some ways it is almost easier and better for the women to marry who they are told to, despite it not being what they really want. I would react by simply saying no. Of course today it would be seen as unacceptable to force two people into marriage, but at that time there were two choices; marry who was arranged for you or be disowned by all of your own family.

    In conclusion, Shakespeare uses many techniques with language to create tension or an atmosphere, for instance: he uses a Prologue to give the audience an idea of what is to come leaving them in continual suspense and anticipation; metaphors which can set a romantic scene e.g. Romeo’s speech includes lots of metaphors and creates an atmosphere within the audience; writing in sonnets which makes the performance roll and flow with a certain grace; dramatic irony, this is one of the most powerful aspects of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, it leaves the audience waiting for the moment in which they die. My personal view on the scene, is that it is one with twists and turns, leaving you guessing, keeping you on the edge of your seat thinking “what’s he going to do?” “how will he react?”. Which is a masterpiece creation from Shakespeare. The rise and fall of tension throughout the scene, is the best uses of the key features of language, because it leaves the best impression on the audience, which is one minute happy and romantic e.g. the meeting of Romeo and Juliet, to Tybalt promising to kill Romeo, which creates a great atmosphere, because the audience knows from earlier in the play what Tybalt is really capable of.

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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