In the Elizabethan era a wide and varied mix of people would attend the theatre. Some members of the audience would have attended the theatre to try and educate themselves because they could not afford formal education. Most of the Elizabethan audience members would have been illiterate and would not have come across any of Shakespeare’s work, so they would have expected the Prologue to give them a brief summary of the play. The Elizabethan audience would have been strong believers of fate and the stars, so they would have understood and accepted the idea of “star cross’d lovers”. Though the audience would have a range of sophistication they would all have been able to relate to at least one of the characters. The lower classes would relate to the servants in the play because of their love for rude humour, “Ay the heads of the maids or their maiden heads”, and the middle/upper class to the characters of Tybalt, Benvolio and Romeo.Order now
A prologue is the first speech that is presented in a play. You would normally expect a prologue to give you an overview of the play and possibly introduce some of the characters. The obvious difference between Shakespeare’s Prologue and a modern day prologue is that Shakespeare’s prologue is written in sonnet form. Also it introduces some of the main themes of the play such as untimely death, love and violence “ancient grudge break to new mutiny”. As well as what has already been stated, the prologue gives an indication of how long the play will be “is now the two hours traffic of our stage”.
The Prologue provides the Elizabethan audience with necessary background information by telling them in the first three lines how there has been an ancient grudge that has broken into violence recently. It also reveals that both families have the same nobility and wealth. The mentioning of “star-cross’d lovers” prepares the audience for tragedy and untimely death and love which are some of the main themes of the play. Also star cross’d lovers plays on the idea of fate which is heavily used in the play, in such circumstances as the duel between Mercutio and Tybalt which results in both their deaths and Romeo’s banishment. Another example is of fate at work is when Friar John could not deliver the letter to Romeo from Friar Lawrence which would have saved both Romeo and Juliet from death.
The Prologue in Romeo and Juliet is made appealing to the audience by over stating certain facts and choosing words that will evoke the audiences love for tragedy “The fearful passage of their death mark’d love”, also the prologue establishes the two families as stubborn ruthless rivals.
The theme of violence is clearly reinforced in the first scene as Act 1 Scene 1 begins with the Capulets’ servant talking about the Montagues in a derogatory and insulting manner. Straight away the audience realises that there is bad blood between the families as even the servants have nothing good to say about the other family. This would definitely grab the attention of the middle and upper class theatre goers as the use of language is common and highly insulting, whereas the lower classes attention would have been grabbed when the actual fighting began. This prepares the audience for the fighting and feuding that is to come throughout the play, for example, when Romeo kills Paris in Juliet’s tomb. Humour is used at the beginning of Act1 Scene1 to not only show the Capulets obvious disdain for the Montagues but also to show the fact that the servants are low class commoners and that is why they use rude humour, “Tis known I am a pretty piece of flesh”. “Draw if you be men” this quote not only instigates a fight it also challenges the Montagues servants’ masculinity.
Benvolio is presented as a peace keeper in Act 1 Scene1 to prepare the audience for his further attempts at keeping the peace, in Act 1 Scene 1 this is shown when he tries to put a stop to the servants fighting “part fools, put up your sword you know not what you do.” He would also have been seen as empathetic when Romeo tells him about his woes, and when asked “dost thou not laugh” he replies “No coz I rather weep”. Benvolio’s traits as a peacekeeper affects the life of Romeo, when he has slain Tybalt and the Capulets wanted his blood without hearing the full story. “His fault concludes but what the law should end the life of Tybalt.”
Benvolio’s attempts to help Romeo find a balanced perspective , “Be rul’d by me forget to think of her, By giving liberty unto thine eyes, examine other beauties”, affects the course of the play and is reflected in the final scene where peace and balance are restored to the two families after the deaths of their children. “O brother Montague, give me thy hand. This is my daughters jointure, for no more can I demand.”
Tybalt is established as a fiery hot headed young man who enjoys a fight “what, drawn and talk of peace” This suggests that Tybalt very much enjoys fights and loathes Montagues this love of fighting reoccurs throughout the play, showing him challenge Romeo to fight, “this shall not excuse the injuries that thou has done me, therefore turn and draw” this particular fight leads to both his and Mercutio’s death.
The audience soon realises that Romeo is a very complex character, his emotions play a major part in the way he reacts to situations for example when Romeo is rejected by Rosaline his former love, he locks himself in his room, closes the curtains and wont speak to anyone.
Another example of Romeo’s high running emotions is after he first meets Juliet and is describing her as a bright angel which shows exaggeration as his descriptions are based on the heavenly realms. Also Romeo’s melancholy attitude toward Rosaline’s rejection prepares you for how he will act when he is truly in love and his love is returned, “Did my heart love till now? for swear it sight, for I ne’er saw true beauty till this night” As the play progresses the audience will see further examples of how much a slave to his emotions Romeo is and therefore his reactions and actions to Juliet’s death would not come as a shocking surprise.
In the opening scene (Act1 Scene1) one of the first bits of information the audience learn is how strong the feud between the Montague’s and the Capulet’s is. This is one of the most important themes that run through the play. It leads to the death of servants in fights like the brawl in the beginning of Act 1 Scene 1, relatives such as Tybalt and Mercutio, who favoured the Montagues over the Capulets, on both sides culminating to the most heartbreaking death of all the children of the families, Romeo and Juliet. There is a great deal of contrast in this opening scene, Act 1 Scene1, from the beginning where the house of Montague and the house of Capulet are fighting, to the end of the scene where Benvolio and Romeo are talking about love. Also there is contrast between the characters such as the emotional and lovesick Romeo, and Tybalt the hot headed fiery Capulet.
To answer the question, yes I think Shakespeare was very successful in preparing the Elizabethan audience for the rest of the play. In the Prologue he immediately introduces the two families and their rankings. He also informs the audience that there will be love, death and hatred all revolving around an ancient feud between the two families. In Act 1 Scene 1 we meet four of the main characters who give us further information about the feuding families and also give an insight to themselves and their mannerisms. This scene shows how the play will pan out; in relation to fighting in the forms of the servants, and unrequited love in the form of Romeo pining over Rosaline.