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    Explore Shakespeare’s Introduction of Romeo in Act I of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ Essay

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    In the play ‘Romeo and Juliet’ Shakespeare builds up a vivid portrayal of Romeo to his audience during Act I by gradually developing his character. At the beginning of the play Romeo is illustrated as isolated and a character who seems to be wallowing in his ‘misery’. Shakespeare conveys this to the audience by manipulating Romeo’s language and making it packed with hyperbole, imagery and oxymoron. Additionally Romeo while in the middle of speaking breaks down and has to think, perhaps Shakespeare is suggesting that his use of elaborate language does not come naturally to him and thus the audience can conclude that Romeo is merely acting.

    In the last scene of the Act I Romeo behaves in a very different manner contrary to how he was conveyed in the previous scene, when Romeo first sees Juliet he proclaims a speech about her beauty, the way in which he expresses this love is much more externally focused than previously, suggesting that the love is genuine. Upon meeting for the first time they share a sonnet, for an Elizabethan this would suggest a pure, authentic love. Shakespeare also uses fate to subtlety suggest to the audience that Romeo is being truthful in his affection for Juliet; in the prologue Shakespeare writes “a pair of star-crossed lovers” this suggests to the audience that Romeo and Juliet are destined to be together, Shakespeare also in Act I often refers to fate implying that the couple are destined to meet.

    It is imperative that Shakespeare introduces Romeo as a character that the audience are concerned about and that they believe that his love for Juliet will eventually be pure and authentic, it is not tremendously important that Romeo is completely faithful, genuine and committed in his love for Juliet soon as the couple meet but rather that the relationship will develop throughout the whole play otherwise the consequent major events later on in the play will be meaningless. Contemporary Elizabethan audiences were used to hearing a play rather than watching one, this meant that they would be much more aware of the language that Shakespeare used, they would be more likely to detect changes in rhyme scheme and variations in characters use of language, Shakespeare even writes in the prologue to Henry V, “Gently to hear, kindly to judge our play” the likely reason for this is that society was a lot less visual than today’s society since the did not have the television or films and the theatre was relatively new to them.

    Shakespeare creates an explicit atmosphere of hatred and conflict right from the opening scene; perhaps he does this in order to juxtapose the character of Romeo with the world surrounding him. By contrasting Romeo’s behaviour to the environment in which the play is set, Shakespeare is able to highlight the difference he has with the rest of society and his solitary demeanour to the audience. The opening dialogue of the Capulet’s servants portrays to the audience the violent and aggressive atmosphere and how much they detest the Montague household, Sampson states that he wishes to fight with the men and then rather crudely abuse the women “I will push Montague’s men from the wall and thrust his maids to the wall”. From this dialogue the audience learn to what extent the two opposing families despise each other.

    Shakespeare then introduces an enormous brawl in the city, as the Capulets and Montagues fight with each other; Tybalt a very aggressive individual exclaims “talk of peace? I hate the word as I hate hell, all Montagues and thee”. This reemphasizes to the audience the intense hatred both parties have for each other .In the first scene a very vicious world full of hate is introduced and the audience is possibly rather astonished at how bad the situation has become. Additionally because of this scene the audience have a brief understanding of the atmosphere in Verona, maybe Shakespeare did this in order to give the audience a better insight into Romeo’s behaviour because if they comprehend the world surrounding him they are more likely to emphasise with his actions and point of view. Furthermore the environment of tension and hatred is particularly imperative because at the end of Act V when the Montagues and Capulets reconcile, there has to be a significant transformation of the attitudes that the two families have for each other due to their children’s death for the play to be meaningful.

    The first mention of Romeo in the scene is in ll-115 when Lady Montague his mother says, “O where is Romeo’saw you him today? Right, glad I am he was not at this fray”. The use of the interjection “O” shows the audience the deep concern Romeo’s mother has for him, the fact that even his own mother does not know where he is provides an initial impression to the audience that Romeo is an isolated child. Lady Montague also expresses her delight that Romeo was not at the brawl, this could possibly mean that he is usually attending these fights and also delivers the audience a subtle hint that Romeo is perhaps acting unusually or different from his normal character.

    His fathers monologue conveys a portrait of a very solitary child; he gives a quite detailed description of how miserable and secluded his son has become, he says about his son “tears augmenting the fresh morning’s dew”, “his deep sighs”, “private in his chamber pens himself” and “shuts up his windows locking fair daylight out”. This speech builds up a disturbing presentation of the character of Romeo. The audience would most probably be thinking of a child who is melancholy, his fathers words “private in his chamber pens himself” gives a description of a child who cannot bear the presence of others and phrases such as “black and portentous” illustrates to the audience someone who is completely miserable and despondent. From Montague’s speech Shakespeare is strongly suggesting to the audience that Romeo is a very troubled state of mind.

    When the audience hear Romeo’s first speech, they notice that he uses a rhyming couplet; however he is not the first to use it. The rhyming couplet is found in the first scene at various places, usually to end a topic or discussion an example is the Prince who uses this poetic technique earlier.

    Our further pleasure in this case,

    To old Freetown, our comment judgement place.

    The Prince uses the rhyming couplet to round off his speech and to conclude the arguments between the two households. Romeo uses the rhyming couplet for the same reason.

    Whose view is muffled still,

    Should without eyes see pathways to his will.

    Romeo perhaps uses the poetic method because he is irritated at Benvolio’s questioning; it seems that Romeo wants an end to the discussion. Following this Romeo says “Where shall we dine? O me, what fray was here yet tell me not, for I have heard it all.” This again reiterates Romeo’s annoyance as he is desperate to change the subject, perhaps Shakespeare is suggesting to the audience that Romeo is rather sensitive about the subject of love and possibly that he takes it very seriously.

    However after a short lapse Shakespeare uses another rhyming couplet:

    “Why then, o brawling love, o loving hate,

    O of anything first create!”

    However he uses the technique in this instance for an entirely different reason. Within the verses containing this rhyming couplet he uses antithesis “o brawling love, o loving hate”. From that moment and onwards his speech becomes full of oxymoron and antithesis, Romeo uses contrasting opposites in very close proximity such as “serious vanity, bright smoke, cold fire and sick health”. ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is full of opposing ideas such as love versus hate and Montague versus Capulet, by using oxymoron and antithesis Shakespeare is able to powerfully express the conflicting ideas that reoccur throughout the play through its use of opposites. Shakespeare is perhaps conveying to his audience the turmoil that Romeo is going through and he is able to encapsulate this through the use of antithesis.

    However in his next speech the audience begin to suspect that he is love is not at all genuine. Romeo tries to make out that the love he feels is authentic; however by manipulating Romeo’s language Shakespeare is able to undermine this. The style in which Romeo’s speaks becomes very hyperbolic, full of imagery and throughout the monologue he uses rhyming couplets, “Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs, being purged, a fire sparkling in lovers’ eyes. The hyperbole and metaphors in his language illustrate to the audience that Romeo is almost pretending and attention seeking, some might deduce that he enjoys being in emotional turmoil.

    This is made even more blatant when Romeo in the middle of his speech says, “what is it else?” He breaks down and has to think to get himself back on track and he even breaks his use of iambic pentameter which is very uncommon for Romeo this portrays to the audience that the use of hyperbole and overly poetic language does not come spontaneously or naturally to him; thus the audience can conclude that Romeo is not all genuine in his emotions and he is merely ‘acting’. Fr Lawrence later on confirms that Rosaline was merely a childish infatuation rather than true love he says in Act II sc 3 regarding her “for doting, not for loving.”

    Shortly afterwards in Act I sc 2 we learn that Romeo’s mystery love is in fact for Rosaline, it is possible that Shakespeare intends to surprise the audience because they are under the presumption that his unknown love is for Juliet. It appears as if Shakespeare is deliberately ‘playing’ with the audience, maybe he does this in order to lighten the tone of the play. Romeo then describes his love for Rosaline saying:

    When the devout religion of mine eye,

    Maintains such falsehood, then turns tears to fires,

    And these who often drowned could never die,

    Transparent heretics, be burnt for liars.

    Romeo an uses an extended metaphor of religion in order to express his feelings for Rosaline; he is saying that he values his love for Rosaline as if it were his religion that he has fervent faith in. Shakespeare is again conveying that Romeo takes love sincerely and that it is an important part of his life.

    Romeo in Act I sc 4 is exemplified by Shakespeare to be a character wallowing in self pity and misery; he is once again being overly poetic “Is love a tender thing? It is too rough, too boisterous and it pricks like thorn.” His of repetition and the personification of love when complaining how he is unlucky in love might irritate the audience; Romeo has been complaining about his love life from the beginning of the play up until this point. Perhaps Shakespeare’s intended effect of illustrating Romeo in this way is to show the profound affect Juliet has had upon his character and how she has transformed his attitude. Shakespeare wants to show the audience how much happier he has become since meeting Juliet in order to emphasise this Shakespeare conveys his character to begin with as very miserable. An example is in Act II sc 4 after vowing to marry Juliet he acts in an exceedingly good mood, “O single-soled jest, solely singular for the singleness” during this scene he engages in a game with Mercutio he uses lots of fanciful expressions and wordplay in this particular quotation he is using sibilance in a light hearted manner.

    The theme of fate reoccurs often in ‘Romeo and Juliet’, in the prologue Shakespeare writes “star crossed lovers” he is suggesting that Romeo and Juliet are destined to be together. In Act I Sc 4 Romeo says “some consequence, yet hanging in the stars” this is the first point in the play which relates back to the prologue; Romeo is saying that he believes that the events in his life are already written in the stars. There are several references to fate throughout the play for example in Act III sc 1 Romeo says, “This day’s black fate on moe days doth spend”. Shakespeare by introducing Romeo as a character, who believes and almost relies on fate enables him to explain some of the coincidences in the play.

    Some of the events in the play appear to have happened by chance alone, for example Romeo only finds out about the Capulet’s feast because he happens to come across Peter, a servant who cannot read, as he is looking for someone to interpret the invitation for the Capulet ball for him. The use of fate could be criticised by a modern audience however a contemporary Elizabethan audience would be far less sceptical about this because many believed in fate, destiny and the importance of stars. The fact that contemporary audience would be less critical of superstition could also justify Romeo’s reasoning when he says that he does not want to go to the Caplet ball because he had a dream the night before that warned him not to go,” I dreamt a dream tonight”.

    In Act I sc 5, when Romeo first sees Juliet he proclaims in a monologue his love for her. However can we believe the veracity of his love? This question can be argued for from both perspectives. Some might think that this love is not at all genuine they could argue that antithesis is still being used, “a snowy dove trooping with crows” to show that he sees Juliet as beautiful compared to everyone else, the antithesis could prove that he is just pretending and they could also dispute that Romeo is in ‘love’ with her just because of her outward appearance “I ne’er saw true beauty till this night” since he has not actually spoken to her yet. However the audience care a lot about this moment; they want to believe that his love is in fact ‘true love’, Shakespeare creates dramatic irony here from the prologue, and the viewers already know that they will fall in love.

    A final point they could make is that in the first scene Romeo had to stop and think in the middle of his speech however in this monologue it is spontaneous proving that the love is genuine. Very shortly after this scene of love, Tybalt becomes enraged that a Montague is at the Capulet ball and wants to make a scene; once again Shakespeare contrasts a scene of Romeo’s character and love to a scene of conflict and hate in order to emphasize Romeo’s behaviour in comparison to the world around him.

    When Romeo and Juliet first meet some might argue that the love they have for one another is sincere and authentic Shakespeare conveys this by making the pair share a sonnet; this is tremendously significant because in Shakespeare’s time Sonnets were exceedingly popular. Poets across England would use them (including Shakespeare who himself wrote a long series of Sonnets). They were usually used to powerfully express a feeling of overwhelming love the poet conveyed in his Sonnet the emotions that being in a deep love would awaken within him. Often in a Sonnet there would be a conceit, which is an extended metaphor that runs throughout, in this particular case Romeo, and Juliet use religion as a conceit. Sonnets were made up of twelve lines of iambic pentameter in an ABAB rhyme scheme then the last two lines would be a rhyming couplet.

    Upon hearing the first quatrain the contemporary audience would be alerted that it was a Sonnet because they were so familiar with its structure. Both Romeo and Juliet share in the Sonnet and are still able to form it together perfectly and respond to each others imagery; Shakespeare uses this as a tool to portray to the strong bond the couple have. However another view is often taken: some think that it is not necessarily essential that the love they have for each other is completely pure and genuine right from the beginning of their relationship, however it is crucial that their love for one another will develop through the course of the play. The most important thing is that towards the end of the play Shakespeare conveys to the audience a love which is indisputably pure and genuine.

    In conclusion, Romeo’s character develops during the first act; Shakespeare initially portrays him as an isolated individual who almost enjoys wallowing in grief, this is evident to the audience because of the way in which Shakespeare manipulates Romeo’s language. He uses poetic devices such as hyperbole, metaphor and antithesis, what makes it clear to the audience that Romeo is merely acting is how he stops to think in the middle of speech. This illustration of a despondent and miserable Romeo continues until near the end of the act. Contrasting the initial impression of him in the last scene of the act the audience observe a different Romeo, although he still possesses some of the character traits that were found in the first scene such as antithesis and exaggeration in his language, his overall disposition has changed. The style in which he expresses his love is much more focused on Juliet rather than himself as observed in the first scene, his temperament is much more joyful than ever before in the act and other elements in his presentation during Act I sc 5 convey this to the audience. The preliminary introduction of Romeo exemplifies to the audience a rather disagreeable character however his temperament slowly becomes more content and by the end of the Act I upon his first sighting of Romeo is portrayed as overjoyed in his new love.

    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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    Explore Shakespeare’s Introduction of Romeo in Act I of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ Essay. (2017, Nov 06). Retrieved from https://artscolumbia.org/explore-shakespeares-introduction-romeo-act-romeo-juliet-26518/

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