One of the many reasons as to why Shakespeare is regarded as one of the most talented playwrights to have ever existed, is his extraordinary ability to make many aspects of his plays so dramatically effective, to beguile and enthral the audience. Many playwrights have often tried to encompass this element of Shakespeare in their own work, but many without succession, finding themselves incapable of capturing that very essence that makes Shakespeare’s work so effectual. The play “Romeo and Juliet” is a prime example of Shakespeare’s great talent for creating a work of immense dramatic achievement, by using many techniques to further accentuate the raw emotions of the storyline.
On a basic level, “Romeo and Juliet” tells the story of two young lovers, from opposing sides of two families that have shared a life long conflict, and how they strive to be together. The story culminates with the tragic death of both young lovers, and it is this death that eventually ends the feud between the families. However, the many dramatic devices, which Shakespeare uses, serve to intensify the very simplistic storyline, and to present it on a level of greater depth, in a way that increases the enjoyment of the audience with great effect. We can learn this basic outline of the plot from the prologue, which is designed to introduce the story anyway, beginning with the establishment of the two rivalling households, of equal social status, and the “star-cross’d lovers” (Romeo and Juliet), who emerge from these opposing sides, and with the taking of their own lives, “bury their parents’ strife”, e.g. end the ancient family feud.
The prologue is fundamental in introducing the plays focus on the themes of contrast, Capulet and Montague, order and mayhem, and most essentially; love and hate, the pivotal element of the play. The contrasting themes are present throughout the entirety of the play, and build up in proportion to each other, in order to make the play more dramatically effective, and the theme of hate and love is essential in the development of the play.
The scenes prior to Scene Five are imperative in establishing a basis for the scene in which Romeo and Juliet meet for the first time. The audience needs to establish a basic understanding of the central characters in the play, in order to build expectations for when the scene commences, and Scenes One – Four serve this purpose. The sonnet form of the prologue, unusual in the sense that is a form of poetry usually reserved for a lover to give to his beloved, presents the idea of structure and order, being a very structured form of prose, and this initial order is used to create contrast with the immediate scene of disarray that follows. With the arrival of the Capulet servants, and the fighting that ensues, the sharp contrast is shown, and thus we are set up for the rest of the play, which deals with conflicting images, as represented in the initial scene by the way that it is the servants who lead the noblemen to fight, how the violence takes part in broad daylight, as opposed to night, and how the more senior members of the family try to deny their old age and amalgamate with the youths. This first scene is satiated with sexual innuendo, which is present throughout the play, and serves to underlie the love affair of Romeo and Juliet, and how it was forbidden.
Scene One is used primarily to introduce the rivalry of the two houses to the audience, and serves to give an impression of many of the characters that are of substantial significance in Scene Five. For example, we are introduced to Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin, as a violent man, proud of his family name, and always looking for a fight. In contrast, we are introduced to Romeo at the end of the scene, as a lovesick boy, who believes himself to be in love with Rosaline, (although we do not yet know this to be her name), and that this love is unrequited.
It is in Scene Two, that we learn of the Capulet ball, which is to be thrown in order to allow Juliet and her possible suitor, Paris, to meet. Capulet is keen for her daughter to marry, but he is a good father, and does not want her to be unhappy. The use of rhyming couplets serve to move the play on quickly, so that it moves on to the part in which Benvolio and Romeo learn about the Capulet’s ball, and Benvolio suggests that they attend it, with the intention of allowing Romeo to forget about Rosaline.
Scene three is the scene, in which we are first introduced to Juliet, and her nurse, not an extremely pivotal character, but one who is important for providing dramatic information to both lovers, at the end of Scene Five. She is also very close to Juliet, having nursed her from a young age, and probably knows more about Juliet than anybody else does. Her mother is recommending the marriage to Paris, and we become aware of Juliet’s attitude to marriage, “It is an honour that I dream not of.” Which reflects on her young age.
In Scene Four, before Romeo and his friends enter the ball, as a masquerade in order to avoid recognition, we hear of Romeo’s premonitions regarding his own demise. Because the audience already knows a brief account of the play, and what is going to happen, e.g. “A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;” this premonition will interest the audience, as they anticipate what is going to happen next, and will have high anticipations for the following scene, i.e. Scene Five
By the onset of Scene Five, the audience have already learnt a considerable amount with regards to Romeo and Juliet. We know that Romeo believes himself to be in love, and that the fact that this love in unrequited makes him unhappy. Yet, we are also led to believe that he enjoys this feeling, and that the emotion of love makes him happy. This is again another variation of the theme of conflict, and Romeo reinforces this idea with a series of astute paradoxes, “Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health, still-waking sleep.” Which convey almost over dramatised feeling, possibly signifying that Romeo could possibly be exaggerating these feelings, in order to obtain sympathy. He is rather self-obsessed, possibly, and he is very egocentric. He may possibly be experienced in the manners of the heart; perhaps he is accomplished in the ways of love. In contrast, Juliet has led a very secluded life, she does not yet think about these things, and she is very young and inexperienced and seems to contrast Romeo in many ways.
By this point, the audience will have many expectations of what is to come, they will be anxious for the point at which Romeo and Juliet meet, for, despite the title of the play, there are in actual fact very few scenes in which both of the lovers are present. The audience will also know of the feud between the families, and will know that Romeo and Juliet are on opposing sides of this grudge, yet when they meet, the lovers themselves do not immediately know this, making it all the more exciting for the audience, as they wait to see how this situation will unfurl.
The opening of Scene Five is dramatically effective in itself. The scene is introduced with the servants clearing away the dinner, which has obviously just been finished by the invited guests, there is a great bustle of activity, to create a parallel with the fact that this scene is going to be full of activity that is going to be highly significant to the play’s development. This beginning is used to build tension, to frustrate the audience. They wish to see the point in which Romeo and Juliet meet, yet they are being forced to wait. This is a technique used to accentuate the point where they do finally meet, making it all the more dramatically effective. This is also highlighted by the manner in which the servants speak. The audience would know them to be of lower standard, because they speak in a less poetic form of prose, quite unlike the manner in which the characters of a higher standing do, which reflects the level of excitement at this stage in the scene.
When Capulet enters, and begins his speech, his presence and use of language is used to reflect the increase of the level of excitement, as the scene draws ever nearer to the point in which Romeo and Juliet meet. He creates a mood of happiness, encouraging everybody to dance, a scene which contrasts the opening of the play, much in the same way as the theme of love contrasts the theme of hate. He greets the Maskers, inviting them to dance, even hazarding a guess as to who they might be, it is all in light spirits, and he reflects on the days when he was young enough to be a Masker himself. The use of the Masque is important, because it enables the Montagues to enter the party without question; Masquerade parties were always seen to be a compliment to the host, as opposed to an interruption and invasion of their privacy, Capulet is flattered to have them there. Capulet’s speech is designed to further raise the level of excitement in this scene, building up to the climax of the scene, the part that the audience is anticipating i.e. the meeting of Romeo and Juliet.
When Romeo sees Juliet for the first time, he is awestruck by her beauty, and his soliloquy is used to voice his true thoughts, we are hearing what he truly believes at this point, not what he says to the others; no puns, no witty paradoxes, just his true emotions. “She doth teach the torches to burn bright” This metaphor is used to explain that her beauty is so intense, so her beauty burns brighter than the torches, showing them how to shine. This is also highlighted by the phrase, “as rich as a jewel in an Ethiop’s [black skinned or dark skinned person] ear:” which is used to create a contrast, reflecting on the general theme of contrast in the play, in this event, light and dark. She stands out in this dark room, compared to the other women. Her beauty is “too rich for use, for earth too dear!” which implies that her beauty is far too valuable for daily use, i.e. she is extremely beautiful.
He states that she is a “snowy dove trooping with crows” which is a comparison with Benvolio’s comment earlier in the play that he will “make thee think thy swan a crow” referring to Rosaline, who Romeo believes himself to be in love with. At this point, he decides that he was never really in love with Rosaline, because he realises that he is truly in love with Juliet, although he does not know this to be her name yet, “Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight! For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.” The audience is supposed to believe that he truly is in love with Juliet, and that he never really was in love with Rosaline, but believed himself to be. He is a romantic, and is only really happy if he feels as though he is in love, but now he truly is.
This intensity of love is immediately contrasted by the theme of hate, when Tybalt overhears Romeo’s voice, and recognises him to be a Montague. His reaction in instantaneous; an enemy means a fight, and he sends a servant to fetch his rapier. This soliloquy of his immediate outburst of hate is used to make the audience feel sympathy with Romeo, and to create tension. It also accentuates the conflicting emotions that have such a stronghold on the development of the play. The audience is now apprehensive; will Romeo get to meet Juliet? Will Tybalt stop him? Unfortunately for Tybalt, Capulet hears him demand his rapier and chastises him.
His attitude has changed greatly since the opening scene, and he is more ready and willing to try to adhere to the Prince’s request for peace between the two families. Anyhow, it would reflect badly on Capulet if he allowed a fight to take place on his property, as such a prestigious occasion. He demand that Tybalt “take no note of him.” for he is a “virtuous and well-govern’d youth” i.e. he is well behaved. Capulet does not want to see him harmed in his house, and when Tybalt argues, he becomes more forceful, embarrassing and belittling Tybalt in front of the other guests. However, as the theme of love grows in the play, this interaction between Capulet and Tybalt only serves to incense Tybalt’s feeling of hatred, “this intrusion shall / Now seeming sweet convert to bitterest gall.” which grows proportionally to the feeling of love.
It is after this point in which Romeo and Juliet meet, the climax of the scene, to which all other events have been building up. When they converse with one another, they speak together in the form of a sonnet, a popular and complex verse form of fourteen lines with a rhyme scheme of [ABAB][CDCD][EFEF][GG], that was fashionable in the sixteenth century, and was widely regarded as the appropriate medium for romantic poetry. An audience watching this play, in the days of Shakespeare, would have automatically recognised this as a sonnet, by the rhyme scheme. This is used to emphasise the true love that is felt by both characters, and accentuates the way in which the lovers are isolated from the outside world, both definite in their thoughts and intentions, despite Juliet teasing Romeo somewhat.
There are religious overtones in this sonnet, “This holy shrine, the gentle sin…My lips, two blushing pilgrims,” as if Juliet is some holy being, and when he asks for permission to kiss her, which she grants, he then insists that he take back the sin from Juliet, which he had “purg’d” from himself by kissing her in the first place. We are supposed to believe that Romeo is truly in love this time, and that Juliet reciprocates these feelings. The love shown here is much more realistic than the love that Romeo showed for Rosaline. As the two lovers prepare to begin another sonnet, the nurse interrupts them. This is to symbolise the interruptions that the outside world will have in their love, the fact that the society outside of their love will never let them be together.
It is now that Romeo learns of Juliet’s identity, via the nurse, that she is the daughter of the host, and therefore a Capulet, the deadly foe of Romeo’s house of Montague. It is also via the nurse that Juliet learns of the identity of Romeo, previously declaring, “If he be married, / My grave is like to be my wedding-bed” i.e. she will die if he is married, and she cannot marry him. When she finds out that he is a Montague, she is distraught, “my only love sprung from my only hate” the irony of this situation is to dramatically emphasise the contrast between love and hate, and how powerful it’s hold is over the two conflicting families.
The scene then ends with the audience left wondering how the play will develop from here, and how it will unfurl. This scene provides motivation fro the rest of the play to develop, and serves to develop both sides of the love/hate theme.
I feel that Shakespeare has made this scene dramatically effective for the audience. He proficiently builds up the tension, from what the audience has already learnt from the previous scenes of the play, and efficiently creates the tension, which builds upon this information, increasing the audience’s interest as apprehension as to what is going to occur in this scene. By delaying the meeting point of the two lovers, Shakespeare, in effect frustrates the audience, making the meeting point all the more dramatic, whilst at the same time, enabling the characters to voice their true thoughts to the audience.
In addition, Shakespeare also uses this scene to further build up the contrast of love and hate. As he shows the increase of the theme of love, i.e. in Romeo’s soliloquy, this is immediately, and drastically contrasted by Tybalt’s immediate reaction of anger and hatred, which is further deepened by the humiliation that he is forced to endure by Capulet.
These themes could still be relevant to a modern audience; that hate can ultimately destroy love, as symbolised by the death of Romeo and Juliet, and that it can destroy lives. This could be reflected to a modern audience as the effects of war etc. and that we should work together to form a better society, rather than revolving around hate, which eventually brings nothing but pain, which we do not gain from. It should not take hate and demise to eventually unite people.
Therefore, in my opinion, I believe that Shakespeare has effectively made this scene dramatic, both to an audience of his era, and creates relevance to a more modern audience.