By what means does Shakespeare establish the main themes and characters and engage his audience in the Prologue and Act 1 sc I of ‘Romeo and Juliet’? What are our expectations for the play to come?
‘Romeo and Juliet’ is a perennial and universal play, tracking two young lovers, faced with adversity as they try to build they lives together, but inevitably end up dead because of their families’ ancient feud.
Before we even meet Romeo in Act 1 sc I we know he is lovesick when his father and Benvolio are discussing him saying, ‘so early walking did I see your son’, ‘he gladly fled from me,’ and ‘shuts up his windows, locks fair daylight out,’ showing that Romeo just wants to be by himself, he is avoiding his friends and just finding it hard to sleep. When we finally meet him the first thing he says is, ‘is the day so young,’ showing that time is dragging for him. We are shown that love rules you when Romeo says that love’ ‘should be so tyrannous and rough in proof!’ indicating that love has overwhelmed him and it has been afflicted on him. When Romeo says, ‘Grief’s of mine own lie heavy in my breast,’ we see love being presented as suffering and tragic. We see that Romeo has lost himself when he says ‘I have lost myself, I am not here, this is not Romeo, he’s some other where,’ and because he is speaking in the third person we see that he is longing to find himself.
In his description of Rosaline, Romeo says, ‘From Love’s weak childish bow she lives uncharmed,’ showing that his love is not being returned. But we still have an expectation that Romeo will always love Rosaline, when he says, ‘thou canst not teach me to forget,’ and so we don’t expect that by the next act Romeo will be out of love with Rosaline and in love with Juliet. In Romeo’s riddle, ‘this love fell I that fell no love in this,’ we see his ambivalence and his contradictory feelings. He uses the oxymoron, ‘ Do I live dead?’ showing that he has conflicting emotions. The sonnet spoken between Romeo and Juliet in Act 1 sc 5 in which Romeo says, ‘holy shrine and ‘blushing pilgrims shows that they are devoted to each other and it also shows Romeo’s worship of Juliet and courtly love.
In the Prince’s speech we have lots of imagery such as, ‘neighbour-stained steel’ and, ‘purple fountains issuing from your veins,’ showing that their fighting is destructive and that the feud is ancient. When we first meet Tybalt we know that he is going to cause trouble when he says, ‘what, drawn and talk of peace? I hate the word, as I hate hell, all Montague’s and thee,” showing that he is provocative and Shakespeare’s use of tripling emphasises that he is a menace and he really looks down at the Capulet’s.
We know that Romeo hates the fighting when he says, ‘yet tell me not,’ which shows he doesn’t want to know about the fighting and we have the fact that he is not involved in the first fight scene but ironically he still dies. We see there is animosity between the Capulets’ and the Montagues’ when the Prince says, ‘thrice disturbed the quiet of our streets,’ showing that it has happened more than once and it is very unlikely that Romeo and Juliet will ever get together. We see a twist in Act 3 sc I when Romeo says, ‘away to heaven, respective lenity, and fire-eyed fury be my conduct now!’ showing that he is going to avenge Mercutio’s death. This is the moment in the play where everything falls apart.
In the Prologue three keys phrases standout and show us that Romeo and Juliet are fated to love and fated to die. They are, ‘fatal loins’, ‘star-crossed lovers,’ and ‘death marked love,’ which show that no matter what Romeo and Juliet do there fate is already decided and they cannot change the future. In the other acts, we have the repetition of the word ‘star’ in the line, ‘my mind misgives some consequence yet hanging in the stars’ show that Romeo has a sense of foreboding and that all is not going to be right. When Juliet first realises who Romeo is she says, ‘my grave is like to be my wedding bed,’ and ‘my only love sprung from my only hate,’ showing that she is astonished that she fell in love with her family’s mortal enemy, she knows all will not go well in there relationship because her parents will not let her marry him because of the ancient feud between the families. When Romeo kills Tybalt he says, ‘Oh I am fortune’s fool,’ showing it is inevitable that he kills him and the God’s have cursed him. It is Tybalt’s absolute determination to fight with Romeo when he comes to the Capulets’ party, which inevitably decides the two lovers fate.
What is extremely weird about this play is that we are told what will happen before the play begins and yet all throughout the play we are hooked, because we want to know how what happens, happens. There is a contrast in tone from the beginning of Act 1 sc I to the end of Act 1 sc I. At the beginning we have Sampson and Gregory being crude and vulgar and at the end we have Romeo and Benvolio talking about Romeo’s love for Rosaline. There is also the matter of the Public conflict of the families’ and the Private conflict of Romeo. We see the echo of Act 1 sc I to Act 3 sc I which is a theme in five act plays- the twist is always in the third act.
Apart from the issue of love and lovesickness, this play is very irrelevant to 21st century life. For instance Juliet relies heavily on her parents, and she has to have parental consent for everything, whereas in this day and age if we loved someone and our parents don’t approve, it doesn’t matter because there is always a way for people to be together.