Romeo and Juliet is a play which can be described and perceived in many ways but the plot and the core of the story has the ingredients of a tragedy. A tragedy in the sense that even though the play revolves around ‘love’, in the end, ‘hate’ prevails. Shakespeare manages to create drama throughout the play with many other factors such as, anger, romance, excitement, comedy and tension. Of course, I am only analysing the scenes in Act 1, but even so, there is drama in abundance for the audience to be enthralled. The prologue sets the story up perfectly summarising what the play is about and even how long it is, whilst the scenes which follow, all have different focal points such as the drama of scene one, the comedy of scene three and the love and romance of scene five. All of these scenes are dramatically interesting for the audience, through use of language, emphasis on the ‘ancient grudge’ and many other aspects.
The prologue is at the beginning of the play and gives the audience the details of the plot, and reveals that there is going to be a tragic ending. The prologue is a sonnet. A sonnet is used for various reasons. It may set the scene for a film as it can usually help people to understand the storyline better. It also rhymes which gives a poetic aspect. The prologue lets us know that not only will the play be a story of love but it will also feature an essence of hate.
At the beginning of the prologue, it sets the scene, it tells us ‘In fair Verona where we lay our scene.’ It then briefly describes the two families – the Capulet’s and the Montague’s. It lets us know that the families are enemies by saying ‘Two households both alike in dignity …….. From ancient grudge break to new mutiny’. This is telling the audience that both of the families are similar in a way, in the sense that they are well respected with high standards, but yet, an old grudge between them causes bad feelings. An old disagreement between the families will soon turn to a new conflict.
The prologue then goes on to say ‘Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean, from forth the fatal loins of these two foes, a pair of star-crossed lovers take their life.’ By saying this, it is telling the audience that from two civil families, who are enemies to one another; two children were born. These two children were lovers that were destined to be together but were led to take their lives. So already, the audience knows that there is going to be a death in the play. The death of these lovers forces the families to end the feud. It informs the audience of the general outline of the play foreshadowing future events and tells of a ‘fearful passage’, which shows the dangerous journey Romeo and Juliet travel on throughout the play. Summarising the entire play is useful as many members of the audience may be poorly educated and this would enable them to understand the storyline better. There are also many oxymoron’s used such as ‘death-marked love’, ‘fatal loins’, and ‘star-crossed lovers’, which intertwine the contrasting themes. This intertwining helps to build up tension and express how the pivotal themes contrast. The oxymoron also helps to tell the audience that the storyline will not be predictable.
Conclusively, the prologue helps in getting the audience to understand the background story of the play and prepares them for the tragedy to come.
Act 1 Scene 1 begins with two servents of the Capulet household, Sampson and Gregory. The two men are discussing work. Shakespeare adds comedy to the conversation by using ‘puns’. By doing so, the topics of discussion quickly change and soon they are talking about the feuding between the Capulet and the Montague households. Even though the two men are talking about violence they are still joking and playing with words. This shows that they do not take the fighting seriously as it has become a part of their everyday lives. Of course, when Tybalt, a figure of violence and hatred appears, the other characters become fearful and fail to find the situation humorous.
In the conversation between the two men, Shakespeare makes referances to rape and murder. Again, this shows it is a common feature of everyday life.
“Tis all one, I will show myself a tyrant: when I have fought with the men I will be civil with the maids; I will cut off their heads’
‘The heads of the maids?’
‘Ay, the heads of the maids, or their maidenheads, take it in what sense thou wilt.’ Here Sampson is telling Gregory that the fighting is not just between their masters – it involves the whole of the Capulet household, including them. He says that he will kill all the Montague men and cut off the heads of their women. He then plays with the words and implies that he will sexually abuse them. There is an oxymoron (love versus hate) at the beginning of the first scene when Benvolio and Tybalt are together and a fight is about to break out. Benvolio who symbolises peace and love, is trying to convince Tybalt, who symbolises hate and anger, that the fighting is wrong and it should be left to be dealt with by the two Lords, Old Capulet and Old Montague.
“I do but keep the peace. Put up thy sword or manage it to part these men with me.” Benvolio is asking Tybalt to help him stop their men from fighting – to which Tybalt replies, “What, drawn and talk of peace? I hate the word, as I hate Hell, all Montagues and thee.” Tybalt is comparing Benvolio and his family to Hell – this, an implication that they are all equally as bad. Lords Montague and Capulet then enter the scene and they are just as bad as each other. As soon as Old Capulet sees the fighting he demands his sword is given to him. To which his wife replies “A crutch, a crutch! Why call you for a sword?”, she is telling him he is too old to be fighting and that he should be asking for a walking stick instead of his sword. Neither of the wives will let their husbands fight, they too see the stupidity and how far it has gone.
The prince then enters, a large crowd of attendants alongside him which shows that he is a powerful man. Prince Escales is the ruler of all Verona – people fear him but they love him as well because he is their protector however, it takes him a long time to get their attention. The prince makes a long speech about what has happened to Verona because of the fighting. He calls his subjects “enemies to peace” meaning that they aren’t fighting each other, but peace. The prince will not lay the blame on either Capulet or Montague, he is aware that the fighting is caused by both families.
In his speech Prince Escales uses animalistic metaphors as does Tybalt in the first few pages of the play found on line fifty six.
“What art thou drawn among these hartless hinds?” – not only is this a phrase but a metaphor, it is also a pun. Tybalt is punning on the words heart and hinds, a hart being a male deer and a hind being a young female deer. By doing this Tybalt insults Benvolio and is mocking him for apparently fighting with servants. The other animalistic metaphor used is found in the prince’s speech as he tries to grab the attention of his subjects.
“What ho, you men, you beasts!”- the prince is saying that they are no better than animals, and that they are acting like animals with all this constant fighting. He blames both families but the speech is not only aimed at the quarrelling. He also speaks of how the feuding is tearing apart their city.
In Act 1, Scene 2, Romeo enters the scene, he is sad and can only think of a mystery woman who he believes to be in love with. Benvolio asks why Romeo is sad, his answers are clumsy and confusing.
“What sadness lengthens Romeo’s hours?’
‘Not having that which having makes them short.” His answer shows he is confused about his own feelings. What he is trying to say is that he is sad because Roseline, the mystery woman, doesn’t return his affection. His love for Roseline is of course not real, he is merely infatuated with her, but he believes that he is in love with her.
When Romeo sees that another fight has happened he is not surprised. His next few lines are full of oxymorons and juxtaposition which highlight the point being made, that the fightings is pointless, but also his feelings of confusion. From lines 170-176 he makes a short speech. To begin with, it is about the feuding but it gradually moves back to his so called love for Roseline. One of the first oxymorons used is “loving hate” when Romeo says the fighting has a lot to do with hate but more to do with love – possibly a love of fighting. Through this single quotation we understand why Romeo is confused. He is sad because his ‘love’ is unrequited. Love is all about happiness and joy but Romeo feels none of this, so naturally he knows it isn’t right. However Romeo’s pain shows that with the joys and pleasures of love come pain and sadness. We see that pleasure and pain are linked with love and hate.
Shakespeare uses more oxymoronic phrases to highlight Romeo’s confused feelings. From lines 170 to 176, Romeo’s speech is full of opposing words, for example;
“o heavy lightness, serious vanity,” – these oxymorons make Romeo’s confusion stand out so it is clear to the audience what is going on.
Also, aside from the oxymorons, there is another theme that Shakespeare makes, yet goes unnoticed by many. In every version of “Romeo and Juliet” Romeo is seen as a peaceful, loving, sensitive character. This is shown in the way people speak of him. In the play it is difficult to sense a change of tone in a character’s voice unless the audience are witnessing a performance. A good example of showing that Romeo has a peaceful nature would be after the first fight in the play. Benvolio is with Lord and Lady Montague, Romeo’s parents, and he is explaining how the fight broke out. His words are punchy, quick and seem violent – alliteration is used to give off this atmosphere. Once Benvolio has finished Romeo’s mother speaks. It is almost as though she did not hear a word Benvolio said, as if she was in her own world worrying about her son.
“O where is Romeo? Saw you him today? Right glad I am he was not at this fray.” Her words are gentle and her tone is soothing. This summing up Romeo’s character.
Shakespeare brings comedy in to the play with the servants speaking in colloquialisms, for example, the servants talk about sexual natures
‘ Ay, the heads of maids, or their maidenheads take it in what sense thou wilt’, this means cut off the maids head and then take there virginity – which at the time the audience would see this as quite funny so this would make them interested in the play.
Shakespeare uses characters that clash with each other to create drama and tension, for example, Benvolio the peacemaker clashes with Tybalt who says,
“What! Drawn, and talk of peace? I hate the word, as I hate hell, all Montague’s, and thee. Have at thee, coward!”
Shakespeare puts them close together so it builds up tension in the play.
He also uses dramatic devices to build excitement into the play as he brings action and tension into the play by having two families, the Capulet and the Montague’s having a big fight in the market square. This makes the audience interested and their attention is caught on the play. Another dramatic device is when the Prince arrives in the middle of their fight, soon as the Prince arrives in the play, it all stops, and everyone goes quiet, this makes the audience detect a tense atmosphere between the two families. The prince says,
” If ever you disturb our street again, your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace”
By looking at the comment you can tell that the prince has a high authority and that people respect him.
There is a lot of historical, cultural and social context in Romeo and Juliet, for example, the fight scene begins with an old Italian insult of someone biting their thumb at one another, this causing the big feud between the two families, the Capulets and the Montagues. The people of that century respected and looked up to authority in Elizabethan times a prince that kept the order and there was a strict hierarchy of power and wealth which is shown in the play by the prince giving orders and stopping the feud between the two families. When the play was written in the Elizabethan times the culture of the people, was to get married very young which is shown by Romeos and Juliet age, Romeo was about sixteen and Juliet was fourteen, in our time the 21st century people don’t get married until there in their twenties.
If a modern day audience went to the theatre to watch this play it wouldn’t be acceptable because in the play Sampson expresses his opinion about women,
“Tis true and therefore women, being the weaker vessel, are ever thrust to the wall”
A ’21st century’ audience would not agree with this because we are all equal and he refers to women as being the weaker sex which wouldn’t be seen as acceptable in our times.
In Act One, Scene Four Romeo, Mercutio, and Benvolio are on their way to a masked ball in Capulet’s mansion. Benvolio has an invitation and is going to slip Romeo and Mercutio in. Romeo is still miserable; even though he knows Rosaline will be at the party and he will have a chance to see her. Mercutio tries to cheer up Romeo with an imaginary story about ‘Queen Mab’. Shakespeare includes extremely interesting and dramatic characters in his play; one of these is Mercutio, who is Romeo’s best friend and is lively, witty, daring and these characteristics keep the audience entertained, and interested in the play. He also is very changeable as we can see when he talks about ‘Queen Mab’, this particular speech adds to the dramatic quality of the play. He is always living his life on the edge and always looking for something new and exciting to do. He is constantly playing on words, using two or more meanings. Romeo once describes him as, “A gentlemen…who loves to hear himself talk.” As displayed in his Queen Mab speech in Act I Scene IV, he is very imaginative. Mercutio believes that you should chase after what you yearn for. “If love be rough with you, then be rough with love.” Mercutio teases Romeo, in Act I Scene IV: “Romeo! Humours! Madman! Passion! Lover! Appear though in the likeness of a sigh.”
This demonstrates how he misunderstands Romeo’s love for the Capulet, Juliet. Mercutio is a generally free and independent character and doesn’t realize how anyone can be so dependant or want a single person so much. Mercutio wants to live his life on the spur of the moment. He is not interested in being dependent on anyone. Mercutio’s character is vital to the main plot. This is because it is he who convinces Romeo to attend the Capulet’s party, where he meets Juliet. Romeo is very reluctant to go at first, as he is still lovelorn over Rosaline who rejected him. “Is love a tender thing? It is too rough, too rude, too boisterous, and it pricks like thorn.”
It is solely because of Mercutio’s persuasions that Romeo attends the gathering. There he meets a woman to tend his broken heart, a woman he describes thus; “The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars, as daylight doth a lamp; her eyes in heave would through the airy region stream so bright. That birds would sing and think it were not night.”
In terms of Queen Mab, this is an elf that makes trouble by creeping into people’s dreams at night, ‘the angry Mab with blisters plagues’, ‘gallops night by night…through lovers brains and then they dream of love’. This scene illustrates Mercutio’s character as being quite loud, quirky, and comical, almost, mercurial. He tells Romeo that ‘if love be rough with you, be rough with love’. Romeo tells him to be quiet, ‘peace, peace, Mercutio, peace’, and reveals how he feels something bad is going to happen at the party; ‘I fear, for my mind misgives…some consequence yet hanging in the stars…shall bitterly begin this fearful date’, ‘By some vile forfeit of untimely death…that hath the steerage of my course’. Shakespeare creates a huge build-up of tension for the next scene and this enthrals the audience.
In Act 1 Scene 5, Shakespeare creates an atmosphere of tension by using a variety of techniques to create a sense of excitement, romance and the undercurrent of danger. Shakespeare plays with the audience as there is strong love between Romeo and Juliet but the mood changes to one of conflict. The audience can sense the danger coming from this but the tension lowers when Lord Capulet calms Tybalt down. This scene does make the audience tense because of the changes in mood and their knowledge of tragic consequence at the end of the day. This scene is about the first meeting of Romeo and Juliet falling in love, unaware that their family have an ancient grudge against each other.
This scene is a pivotal one as it is when Romeo and Juliet meet and fall in love at first sight, “What lady’s that which doth enrich the hand of yonder knight.” This scene also creates tension in the audience as there is conflict between Romeo and Tybalt and Lord Capulet and Tybalt. The mood changes dramatically in this scene. There is excitement at Lord Capulet’s party because of the dancing and jubilant atmosphere created, “Welcome gentlemen! Ladies that have their toes unplagued with corns will walk a bout with you.” Then there is romance forming with Romeo and Juliet and on the other side there is danger when Tybalt sees Romeo at the party. Danger is created here because Tybalt thinks that Romeo is at the party to mock. He tells Lord Capulet that Romeo, an enemy is at his house. Capulet then calms Tybalt down and says, “Let him alone”.
Already from this scene, the audience are aware of the rising tension being created between the characters. They are aware that there is going to be more tension created between the two families and the consequences will end severe, as their children are falling in love. Dramatic irony is created because the audience are aware that Romeo is a Montague and Juliet is a Capulet which the two star crossed lovers do not. The audience are still interested in the story developing even though they know what’s coming. Also, the audience know that Romeo has a bad feeling and is very nervous about Tybalt who is almost inflamed by his presence, “Fetch me my rapier, boy”.
The scene begins with the serving men preparing for the party. It starts the party atmosphere with hustling and bustling and the serving men getting very busy. This scene sets up an obvious change of mood and then it contrasts with the later mood development in the party. There is contrast with the atmosphere as it is loud, bright, extravagant and happy. There is no threat in the beginning of this scene as it is quite welcoming because of the jubilant atmosphere and the jolly mood of Lord Capulet as he jest to the guests, “More light, you knaves, and turn the tables up;” Every-one is invited into the party atmosphere.
The significance of the party being a masked ball is that the Montague’s can get into the party without their identities being revealed or exposed. This is linked to when Romeo and Juliet meet. They do not seem to know that they are enemies and can just show how much they love each other.
When Romeo spots Juliet the soliloquy contrasts with the previous lines. This is because the previous lines show the Capulets welcoming people, “Welcome gentlemen”. There is a jolly atmosphere, but then when Romeo starts to speak to Juliet, everything goes silent and becomes very serious. This creates a lot of tension as the audience would want to know what is happening at this precise moment. Whilst saying the soliloquy, Romeo does not know Juliet’s name, so he compares her to something precious, “As a rich jewel in an Ethiop’s ear”. He talks to her about her beauty and tells her that she stands out like black and white, “So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows.” Shakespeare uses metaphors and similes to describe her standing out against the, “Cheek of night.” From the previous lines, Romeo has completely forgotten about his first love, Rosaline, and concentrates on Juliet but then when it comes towards the end of the soliloquy he asks himself a question “Did my heart love till now? Forswear it sight!” This shows that he made a mistake in thinking he was in love with Rosaline.
Whilst Romeo is saying this romantic soliloquy, one of the Capulets, Tybalt catches a glimpse of him. This does have an impact on the audience. It raises the tension in the audiences as the mood goes from love to hate and conflict. It makes the audience think that there is going to be a fight between Tybalt and Romeo and that the consequences are going to be bad. Tybalt says, “Fetch me my rapier boy,” because he is inflamed by Romeos presence and his authority to enter the Capulets house.
When Lord Capulet says, “Take no note of him” it lowers the tension for the audience as he says to Tybalt to leave Romeo alone, “Do him disparagement.” He tells Tybalt that he is duty bound to make sure Romeo is not insulted in his house. He does not want any violence going on as he is the host of the party. Shakespeare uses language such as, “Tis he, that villain Romeo”, to emphasise what Tybalt thinks of Romeo. Capulet’s words have an effect on Tybalt as he is told to leave Romeo alone. It changes the mood as Tybalt becomes stubborn and disloyal to Lord Capulet. Capulet then gives Tybalt an order, “He shall be endured.” Tybalt has challenged Capulets authority so then he has to reassert it. This creates conflict between the characters. The two Capulets continue to argue with tension mounting, Lord Capulet insults Tybalt, “Goodman boy” which asserts his authority. The mood for Lord Capulet changes as he tries to quite down Tybalt and continue with the party. The relationship between Romeo and Juliet now seems possible because Lord Capulet refuses to listen to Tybalt and Romeo stays at the party.
When the two lovers meet they use religious imagery to show how much they love each other, “This holy shrine, the gentle sin is this.” This is associated with the sonnet as this also shows how much Romeo is in love with Juliet. They are also together when the sonnet is heard which also makes it holy as they use religious wording.
When they meet, they feel so in love with each other but they don’t have a clue as in the later consequences. This rises the tension in the characters as the audience know about this and want to know when they discover the situation they are in. Juliet feels much stronger about Romeo as she is already in love with him, “If he be married, my grave is like to be my wedding bed.”
From this scene there are strong and romantic emotions displayed by the characters. There is sadness at the end of the scene as the ‘two star cross lovers’ find out that they are both from families with a grudge against each other. Hate is displayed by Tybalt too towards Romeo as they are each others “Foes.” These emotions that are displayed in the scene become a big impact on the audience as this makes the scene more interesting.
The historic content in this scene affects the audience too. This is because in those times, you would have to know your lover well before you would be able to kiss them. In this case, Romeo and Juliet kiss each other the first time they meet. However, Romeo and Juliet’s meeting and falling in love is not all perfect as it is rooted in irony. Both Juliet and Romeo were reluctant to attend the ball but went along anyway; Romeo to see Rosaline and Juliet to see Paris. Their meeting sets the story moving and is the initial incident of the tragedy.
Shakespeare uses Juliet’s Nurse to bring Romeo and Juliet out of their fantasy world and back to reality. Romeo is the first to find out that he and his love are part of rival families. Juliet is forced to go and see her mother; it is then that he finds out that she is a Capulet as the Nurse tells him that ‘Her mother is the lady of the house’. He was stunned and startled to find out that the girl he loves was the daughter of his father’s enemy, ‘Is she a Capulet? My life is my foes debt’. Shakespeare uses dramatic irony when Juliet finds out who her love is as she asks her Nurse about three separate men at the party, saving Romeo for last so she did not cause suspicion. Juliet, like Romeo, is surprised when she learns of her love’s identity. The Nurse informs her that he is Romeo, the only son of the Montague family. Juliet is heart-broken that she loves a ‘loathed enemy’.
They are left in despair as they both realise the danger of their situation being from two enemy households, ‘my only love sprung from my only hate’. Juliet says ‘my grave is like to be my wedding bed’ and the final rhyming couplet of the second sonnet ends with ‘bitterest gall’, both of these ominously link to their fate.
This scene does make the audience tense because of the changes in mood and the tragic consequence at the end.
In conclusion as well as the themes the language and styles used by Shakespeare that have an effect on the way that the audience thinks about the play, the depth of character that is created by Shakespeare is also very effective. That is when all of these things are put together they make ‘Romeo and Juliet’ such a complex plot and have the desired effect on the audience. Throughout Act 1 and probably the rest of the play, Shakespeare shows that love and hate are inextricably linked; where there is one, there is always the other. Consequently, love is presented in a negative way showing it as vicious and dangerous and even true love can result in something destructive as it is constantly mixed amid hatred.
The amount of tension William Shakespeare can manipulate an audience into feeling is quite extraordinary, and proves once more why he is still being studied and performed four hundred years after his death. He was absolutely exceptional in the way he perfected the use of each technique. His most effective method, in my opinion, was that of dramatic irony followed closely by the use of oxymorons. All in all, I think Shakespeare builds up tension exceptionally well which makes the first act of the play emotional, exciting, funny, and ultimately a dramatically interesting story for the audience.