Luigi da Porto originally wrote “Romeo and Juliet” in a prose format. Shakespeare took the basic story line and transformed it into a play. The affair of the two lovers lasted a period of several months in the original prose whereas Shakespeare dramatised the play into a period of five days. This could well have been a deliberate ploy on Shakespeare’s part to emphasis the tragic nature of the story. The action begins shortly before nine o’clock on a Sunday morning in the middle of July and ends at dawn the following Thursday. The time of events in the play is very precisely accounted for. The only discrepancy is in the matter of the sleeping potion. Friar Laurence tells Juliet that she will awake forty-two hours after she takes it and on Wednesday morning he sees her asleep from the potion, but on Wednesday night, about twenty-four hours after she has taken the potion, he expects her to awake soon, and she does.Order now
Shakespeare’s play opens with a prologue. It tells us twice that Romeo and Juliet will fall in love, die, and so bring about the end of the feud between the Capulets and the Montagues. And all this will be shown in “the two hours’ traffic of our stage” This immediately creates a sense of haste as it tells us that a lot of action will be happening in a very short period of time.
The play begins on a Sunday. It opens with two servants of the Capulet household, Sampson and Gregory talking of the feud between the Capulets and the Montagues. When Abram and another Servingman (Montagues) enter, the two houses begin to jest with one and other. Gregory says to Abram, “Do you quarrel, sir?” Abram replies, “Quarrel, sir? No, sir.” They continue to jest until Benvolio appears. Suddenly, when Benvolio and Tybalt enter, the street in Verona becomes host to a violent brawl. Benvolio tries to stop the fighting by asking the brawlers, “Put up your swords. You know not what you do.” but he is ignored and suddenly finds himself in the middle of a riot. This continues the theme of haste through the first act as from a simple argument a brawl suddenly develops. In the afternoon the invitations are sent out for the Capulet’s party.
In the third scene Lady Capulet urges Juliet to marry Paris. During their conversation a servant rushes in with an urgent message: “Madam, the guests are come, supper served up, you called, my young lady asked for, the nurse cursed in the pantry, and every thing in extremity. I must hence to wait; I beseech you, follow straight”. Lady Capulet responds to the servant and tells her daughter that Paris is waiting for her. The Nurse also urges Juliet on, saying, “Go, girl, seek happy nights to happy days”. The Nurse and Lady Capulet both expect Juliet to make the most important decision of her life in the next few minutes. This emphasises the haste of the play.
At the entrance of the party Romeo suddenly becomes reluctant to enter, and his friends urge him to hurry. Romeo answers them by saying, “I fear, too early: for my mind misgives / Some consequence yet hanging in the stars”. In other words, Romeo feels he is rushing into danger. Nevertheless he enters the party.
During the ball Romeo and Juliet meet but are soon separated by the Nurse, who was sent to fetch Juliet by Lady Capulet. The two lovers meet later that evening in Capulet’s garden. After Romeo has overheard Juliet saying that she loves him, and after he has sworn his love for her, Juliet says, “Although I joy in thee, / I have no joy of this contract to-night: / It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden; / Too like the lightening, which doth cease to be / Ere one can say ‘It lightens,’ Sweet, good night!” But Juliet decides to ignore her reluctance and before Romeo departs they agree that Romeo will make the arrangements for their wedding and let her know of them by nine o’clock the next morning. This is extremely hasty as at this stage they have only known each other for a matter of hours and earlier on in the day Romeo had been lovesick for Rosaline, also a Capulet. He had told Benvolio, “In sadness, cousin, I do love a woman.” When Benvolio suggested that they go to the Capulet party and that he would show Romeo “other beauties”, Romeo was adamant that he could feel no love for anyone other than Rosaline, telling Benvolio, “Thou canst not teach me to forget.”
Romeo visits Friar Laurence at dawn on the Monday. He tells the Friar that he is in love with Juliet and that he wants to marry her. The Friar says to Romeo, “Holy Saint Francis! What a change is here!” as he is aware of the suddenness of Romeo’s change of affections but Romeo is adamant that his hasty actions are heartfelt and asks Friar Laurence to perform the marriage ceremony on the same day. Once the Friar agrees, Romeo is in a hurry to get on with it; he says, “O, let us hence; I stand on sudden haste”. Friar Laurence replies by giving Romeo some advice; “Wisely and slow; they stumble that run fast”. This is a hint that the story, which is hasty, will end in tragedy.
The Nurse goes to meet Romeo to find out the arranged time of the marriage. When the Nurse returns she urges Juliet “Then hie you hence to Friar Laurence’ cell. / There stays a husband to make you a wife.” While Friar Laurence and Romeo are waiting for Juliet to arrive, the Friar advises Romeo to “love moderately; long love doth so; / Too swift as tardy as too slow” but just then Juliet appears, running as swiftly as she can to her love.
After seeing Romeo at the Capulets party, Tybalt, Prince of Cats, had sent a challenge of a dual to Romeo. At first Romeo refuses but is forced to avenge Mercutio’s murder. Romeo kills Tybalt an hour after his marriage to Juliet and is immediately banished by the Prince. Romeo flees to Friar Laurence’s cell. The Friar tells Romeo to go to Juliet. He says a hasty farewell to the Friar and hurries away. Meanwhile, Paris once again comes to Capulet to ask for Juliet’s hand in marriage. At first Capulet says that Juliet is mourning the death of Tybalt and that it is late, but Capulet is a hasty man and suddenly decides that the marriage should go ahead. As soon as he has decided that Juliet will marry Paris he starts making the arrangements. He says, “Wife, go you to her ere you go to bed; / Acquaint her here of my son Paris’ love”. Lady Capulet does not go to Juliet immediately but waits until early the next morning.
At Tuesday dawn Romeo and Juliet’s one night of married happiness ends. As Juliet is telling Romeo that it is not yet near day the Nurse rushes in to tell Juliet, “Your mother is coming to your chamber: / The day is broke; be wary, look about”. Romeo jumps out of the window to flee to Mantua, unaware of the fact that this was to be his last time of seeing Juliet alive. Lady Capulet then tells Juliet of her marriage to County Paris. Juliet fiercely refuses and when her father threatens to disinherit her she makes haste to Friar Laurence’s cell.
Meanwhile Paris tells Friar Laurence that he wants him to perform the wedding ceremony between himself and Juliet. Knowing Juliet is already married, the Friar tries to raise objections. He says, “On Thursday, sir? The time is very short”. Paris replies, “My father Capulet will have it so, / And I am nothing slow to slack his haste”. This dialogue reminds us of the suddenness of Capulet’s decision to marry of Juliet as soon as possible. Juliet then arrives at the cell. She is in a bad state and announces, “I long to die / If what thou speakest speak not of remedy”. The Friar replies, ” … if thou darest, I’ll give thee remedy”. He gives Juliet the sleeping potion and she returns home to tell her father that she is willing to marry Paris. When Capulet hears of Juliet’s new attitude and willingness he is so happy that he decides to bring the day of the wedding forward. He says – to no one in particular – “Send for the County; go tell him of this: / I’ll have this knot knit up to-morrow morning”. This creates a major change in direction of the plot as Friar Laurence had planned on having more than sixty hours to get Romeo back to Verona; now suddenly twenty-four of those hours are gone because Capulet has suddenly moved up the wedding date from Thursday to Wednesday. On the Tuesday evening Juliet takes the Friar’s potion saying, ” Romeo, Romeo, Romeo. / Here’s drink. I drink to thee”.
On the Wednesday morning Juliet is found to be ‘dead’ by the Nurse. Away in Mantua Romeo is awaiting some joyful news concerning Juliet when he is interrupted by the sudden appearance of his servant Balthasar. Balthasar quickly delivers the news of Juliet’s ‘death’. Romeo’s response is swift and simple: “Is it even so? then I defy you, stars!” Romeo asks for no reason of Juliet’s’ death but hastily decides that he will go and commit suicide at Juliet’s side. He says to himself, “Well, Juliet, I will lie with thee to-night. / Let’s see for means: O mischief, thou art swift / To enter in the thoughts of desperate men! / I do remember an apothecary…” Romeo is so desperate to lie with Juliet that he asks the apothecary for “a dram of poison, such soon-speeding gear / As will disperse itself through all the veins / … As violently as hasty powder fired / Doth hurry from the fatal cannon’s womb.” This shows that even as the tragedy is coming to a climax, hasty decisions are still being made and that hasty actions are still being completed. Once in the Capulet tomb Romeo kills Paris and after viewing Juliet he drinks the poison.
Early on the Thursday morn Juliet awakes to find Romeo lying dead alongside her. She decides, “I will kiss thy lips. / Haply some poison yet doth hang on them / To make me die with a restorative.” The ‘haste’ of the poison is significant at the end of the play as when Juliet kisses Romeo his lips are still warm indicating that she is only marginally too late. If the poison had not been so ‘hasty’ then the play may not have ended as tragically. When hearing a noise in the background she hastily snatches Romeo’s dagger and kills herself. The Prince is called to the tomb and at the end of the play the Montagues and the Capulets and united. The last sentence is that of the Prince. He says “For never was a story of more woe / Than this of Juliet and her Romeo”. This final sentence sums up the tragedy of the play.
As the entire play takes place in a period of five days Shakespeare includes characters, which have great depth. He uses them to keep the plot realistic. He makes especial use of the Nurse and Capulet. He successfully uses their emotions to put Juliet and her Romeo into perspective. Shakespeare also makes it clear that Capulet is an old man although he has a daughter just out of childhood and a wife of twenty-eight years or so. At the party Capulet says, ” I have seen the day / That I have worn a visor and could tell / A whispering tale in a fair lady’s ear, / Such as would please. ‘Tis gone, ’tis gone, ’tis gone!” This contrast between youth and age is deliberate, as Shakespeare wanted to emphasis the fading energy of youth.
Overall it cannot be disputed that Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy of haste. It is a tragedy as it sees the death of five characters: Mercutio, Tybalt, Romeo, Juliet and Lady Montague. It is hasty because of the personalities of Tybalt and of Capulet, Friar Laurence’s actions and Romeo and Juliet’s passionate love for each other. I believe it would have been impossible for Shakespeare to create such an intense plot with such varying emotions if it had remained in its original form rather than being compressed into a time-span of just five days.