“Romeo and Juliet” is a play written by William Shakespeare. It is a very tragic play mixed with comedy and romance.
The Prologue tells us a brief outline of the story. Some would say it ruins it. In this essay I’m going to attempt to explain why the play never fails to keep its audience on the edge of its seat.
“From ancient grudge break to new mutiny.” This part of the prologue tells us that there is an argument that has gone back generations but has recently been caused to flare up again. It doesn’t tell us why there is the fall out nor tell us when it started or flared up again.
” Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.” This tells us that they are dragging the local citizens into the fights. As innocent people are being involved, everybody is involved either directly, emotionally, by marriage or by blood. And that many people are being killed there is that many funerals it is becoming “unclean”
“From forth the fatal loins of these two foes,
A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life.” This is probably the most important part of the prologue as this is where the play builds up to. It tells us that each family bore a child, one male, one female. The two have been destined to be together and fate causes them to fall in love. It does not tell us yet which belongs to which family. It goes on to say they kill themselves. It does not, as of yet, give any information as to why they do so but it gets the desired effect. The shocked emotion flows from us aside the saddened and angered ones intriguing us as to find out why this has happened.
” Whose misadventured piteous overthrows,
Doth with their death bury their parents strife.” This is telling the audience that they had been trying to be together but couldn’t. Even though they had tried with their entire power put together to be with each other, their parents were just too powerful causing their attempts to look pathetic in comparison. They are ‘misadventured’ because the family is just trying to kill each other but all Romeo and Juliet want to do is know the other is safe. This is quite ironic when you consider how they do die. They think the other is dead so kill themselves which is just a deception of their bodies as they are not, so after all they were safe except from themselves. They are deeply in love but their families are so hateful they do not notice or do not care how much they are hurting their children.
After the death of the two young lovers, the parents realize how stupid and petty they have been. So they call a truce and become friends sealing the grudge as ancient. As we later find out at the same time they make friar Lawrence’s hopes when marrying the couple come to fruition. He marries them because he believes it may stop the fighting, and although Romeo and Juliet end up dead the quarrel stops. So evil occurs for the better. There is also a play on words. The prologue says “bury” the strife, but Romeo and Juliet were buried at the same time. So there is terrible irony written into the prologue.
” The fearful passage of their death marked love,
And the continuance of their parents rage,” The lovers created themselves a “fearful passage” as their emotions took them into dangerous situations. For example, on the balcony scene if the lovers had been caught Romeo would have been killed. Another example is the secret wedding. If the two were found out they would probably have been disowned if not murdered. Although it was all in the name of love, they were constantly living in fear. So although the lovers didn’t get to be together long before their unfortunate end, they gave a fearful passage. The “death marked love” could have a deeper meaning than first meets the eye. The obvious is that they died. This would give ‘death marked love’ but as they would have been killed if they had been found out and narrowly escaped on frequent occasions, it also gives another perspective to the situation. Throughout the entire play, the parents don’t stop arguing and feuding, so that is the co-starring subject of the film. Their parents are too wrapped up in the fight they don’t realize how petty the argument is. Until the dramatic and tragic death of their children, they don’t care. The quarrelers don’t know how much they are hurting their children. Don’t know or don’t care. When being performed the director can portray them differently but this is how Shakespeare does it as a director.
The prologue then goes on to say that this all happens in the next two hours and if we will be patient the actors will try to show us how it really happened. When the audience considers that all this will happen in a matter of hours, they think it must be a pretty intense play.
Another reason that after the prologue tells you the story the play keeps you enthralled is the use of extremely powerful and emotion evoking words and phrases. These words capture the imagination and makes you wonder how? Or why? The most evocative words are: –
Dignity, mutiny, foes, life, misadventured, piteous, overthrows, death, bury, strife, love and continuance. Some emotive phrases are: ancient grudge, civil blood, fatal loins, star-crossed lovers, fearful passage, and parent’s rage.
“Romeo and Juliet” just on its own is a very complex plot, but upon closer examination the lovers are also trapped in sub-plots. Shakespeare uses this device to keep up suspense in the audience because even though the main plot is intense, he decided to create more tension by having other storylines. The main plot of “Romeo and Juliet” tells of two youths meeting by chance at a masked ball, fall in love immediately. The twist is that the youths are children of two enemies. They meet again secretly, get married with Romeo’s servant and Juliet’s Nurse present. Due to a fight between the famillies they get seperated, they manage, taking phenomenal risks, to see each other again. Alas the time comes when they must leave each other, and due to a very unlucky and untimely mix-up they both commit suicide. Other than Romeo and Juliet only 3 other people know about their love, Frair Laurence, Balthazar, and Nurse Capulet. Then when everything gets out in the open the parents reconcilliate and that’s more or less the lot.
Romeo’s subplot starts with the fact he is lusting over Capulets niece. He thinks he is in love with her but she’s not interested in males. Romeo secretly thinks the reason the families think they hate each other is because they love each other but are confused by the emotions. His best friend Mercutio invites him to a ball. Next at the ball, he meets Juliet, and falls in love. He meets up with her later and arrange to get married the next day. After the wedding, he goes to his friends to find Mercutio and Tybalt arguing. As he is now married and wishes to cause no trouble with the Capulets he declines the offer of a fight. Mercutio dies in Romeo’s place. As an act of insane revenge he kills Tybalt. Romeo thus gets banished and cant see his wife anymore. Due to the mix-up Balthazar tells Romeo that Juliet is dead. Romeo buys a very powerful poison and lies next to Juliet’s comatose body and consumes it.
Juliet , on the other hand, has a very different story to tell. Her mother and father wish her to get married to Count Paris. She meets Romeo and the story is the same as Romeo’s. Then after he is banished her parents try to arrange the marriage. In desperation, she goes to the friar who gives her a sleeping potion, which will make her appear to be dead. She drinks it and wakes to find Romeo dead next to her. She uses his weapon to commit suicide.
All of this going on in the two hours would create really heavy tension within the audience.
The play is set over 5 days, Sunday to Thursday. When the audience realise it is all put into 2 hours, they rightly believe this must be a very hectic play. There will not be a dull moment and there is never a chance to relax. The play starts on Sunday morning with the brawl, by Tuesday night Romeo and Juliet are married and by Thursday Romeo and Juliet are dead and the feud over with. The speed of the play adds tension to the whole performance causing the audience to be captured.
“Romeo and Juliet” is set in Verona, Italy. As the 16th Century citizens didn’t have any transportation or the money to cover the costs if they did, there wasn’t any holiday’s abroad. So in their imaginations, which had to be vivid at the best of times, Italy would be picturesque, peace with everyone and everything and the type of place you fell in love. So, Shakespeare used this vision to the best of his advantage. We are supposed to dislike the parents because of what they are doing to their children. As we end up feeling for the lovers we end up frustrated at Capulet and Montagues pettiness. All the tragic happenings and the parents feuding are made to look worse than what they actually are. This is because not only are they going against Veronian rules but also they are going against the whole of Italy and disturbing the tranquillity. Elizabethans would not have television or radios so they would become very bored very easily. For example, to try and realize how it must be I will compare two televised films. “The Simpson’s” and “Gone with the Wind”. “The Simpson’s” deals with serious matters in a humorous way. It keeps people entertained the whole way through. It appeals to people because they can just sit and watch it no matter what mood they are in. If they are in a good mood they laugh at Bart and his antics or at Lisa trying to change the world. If we are in a bad mood the whole film is so light hearted it cheers us up. If we feel romantic we can watch Marge and Homer. It suits all ages and so everyone would watch. The film “Gone with the Wind” has no comedy and as some people would put it the film tends to “drag on” and be boring to most. Shakespeare knew this and used this theory to keep his audience enthralled although the play has a very serious moral and very tragic grounds he has mixed this with comedy and caused it to act kind of like subliminal advertising. The main character for comedy is Mercutio. He makes a lot of sexual references to non-sexual related things. Today we would say he is dirty minded! Although there was not a lot of comedy parts it was enough to keep the audience interested. Friar Lawrence attempts humour when he tells Romeo to be careful not to fall when he asks him to betroth him and Juliet later that day. The Nurse is humourous when she won’t tell Juliet what Romeo said. She is taking the Mickey out of Juliet. There are more comedians in the play but Mercutio is by far the wittiest character.
He uses puns a lot through Mercutio. Most of these are of a sexual nature i.e He makes lots of sexual references in act 2 scene 1. One pun that is not sexual but is one of Mercutio’s most memorable pun’s is in act 3 scene 1 where Mercutio has been stabbed by Tybalt. He says:
Mercutio: Ask for me tomorrow,
And you’ll find me a grave man.
He is saying he is dying.
The idea of the feud keeps the audience enthralled. The idea of some duels would provide a lot of entertainment for Elizabethans. Stage fighting techniques would be exceptional in Shakespeare’s day. The first brawl is in the first scene, first act. It shows the Montague boys joking, at the Capulet’s expense, when they meet. The main Montague cousin, Benvolio, tells Gregory and Sampson to leave the Capulets alone. The Capulets do nothing to antagonize the Montagues but are then provoked by Sampson. Sampson doesn’t seem to be at all bright because he asks Gregory everything.
Sampson: (Aside to Gregory) is the law on our side if I say ay?
Gregory: (Aside to Sampson) No
Sampson and Gregory decide to cause trouble by provoking them. Sampson bites his thumb at Abram Capulet, which was a major disgrace and insult in those times. To cover up for causing trouble he says they can take it how they want. Abram calmly asks if he is doing it at them. To which they reply, they do bite their thumb. Abram repeats his line with more emphasis on the “at us “. The Montagues say no not at them, but they do. This then follows:
Gregory: Do you quarrel sir?
Abram: Quarrel, sir? No sir!
Sampson: If you do sir, I am for you. I serve as good a man as you.
Abram asks only the same? No better, but then they are distracted by the re-entrance of Benvolio. Gregory says say better Benvolio will help us. So Sampson does as he is told which gets Abram angry and says they are lying. Sampson then tells them to fight. Benvolio intervenes trying to keep the peace. Then Tybalt leader of the Capulets, enters and tells Benvolio to fight. He refuses and asks Tybalt to help him keep the peace. Tybalt says he hates peace as much as he hates hell, all Montagues and him. This causes a fight that Prince Escalus breaks up.
In Shakespearean times this would be very exciting as there would be no way of seeing a fight acted out without televisions and the like. This battle is quite ironic as Benvolio is trying to keep the peace whereas Tybalt is trying to cause trouble therefore proving they are opposites. The Montague’s and Capulet’s consider themselves to be opposites because of their feud and any mention of them being similar to one another would be an insult worthy of death. This would keep the audience enthralled as they would be hoping for another fight.
Tybalt likes to fight as he considers himself to be the best of the best where fighting is concerned. He shows this in act 1 scene 5. Tybalt discovers Romeo is at the mansion. He is so blood thirsty that he has no qualms about fighting with Romeo about it. When his uncle, Capulet, asks him what is wrong with him and Tybalt tells him, He tells him to leave Romeo alone and do not do anything. Tybalt is not happy and says he will not put up with it, he is stopped dead by, “He will put up with him.” Capulet humiliates Tybalt by throwing insults at him. Tybalt wants to show Romeo who’s boss. Tybalt thinks Romeo has gone to laugh and scorn their celebration when he has just gone to have a good time. Why Capulet tries to subdue him it doesn’t tell us. It implies it is because he doesn’t want his party ruined although it could be because Capulet is fed up of fighting but does not want to make the first move to reconciliation. It could also be because he is on his last warning from Prince Escalus, and if he starts a fight he will be killed.
The feuds are not between Montague and Capulet directly but between the kinsmen. Gregory and Sampson’s taunting cause the brawl not the masters telling them to go and start a fight. The kinsmen like trouble but it is at the masters’ expense although they probably think they are doing right by acting the way they do.
There is another fight in the play which is probably the most important. This one is between Tybalt and Mercutio. Tybalt challenges Romeo to a duel after the wedding although this is unknown to Tybalt. Of course, Romeo does not want to fight with the Capulets as he is married to one and to hurt one of the family would hurt Juliet. So, Romeo walks away from the fight. Tybalt goes after him trying to force him to fight. At this point Mercutio intervenes. He does this to protect Romeo although he considers him to be a coward for walking away. Romeo tries to stop Mercutio and Tybalt fighting but is too late. Mercutio gets stabbed under Romeo’s arm and consequently dies. Before he dies he curses the families. He says: ” A plague on both your houses.” The Elizabethans were very superstitious so this would bring fear from the audience thinking it will come true, when it does. He curses both the houses and Tybalt dies, Romeo gets banished and then both children die. When Mercutio dies Romeo is so angry he kills Tybalt. As soon as he does he regrets it but alas it is too late. Romeo gets banished and so cant see Juliet anymore.
There is another battle at the end before Romeo sees the apparently dead Juliet. It is between Romeo and Count Paris. Paris goes to lay flowers across Juliet’s grave but is interrupted by Romeo. As Romeo is a Montague he thinks he has gone to trash the tomb. He hasn’t of course but Romeo fights in self defense and Paris dies. There are a lot of misunderstandings in the play which lead to fights that shouldn’t occur. This is what life is like in a lot of cases. The feuds would be exiting because they get to see real fight before their eyes which they otherwise wouldn’t see. This wold be a major thing because unlike us, they can’t turn on the television and watch a fight better than those. Prince Escalus has a lot to say about their fights. He was getting tired of all the fighting and after the fight in act 1 scene 1 says whoever starts the next fight shall die. Alas, when Romeo slays Tybalt, the Prince understands that Romeo did as the law would have done but as he took it into his own hands he must be punished. Banishment. At the end when Romeo and Juliet die it is very touching and gives the audience something to think about. This means although the play has comedy the end is as Shakespeare had planned the entire play very tragic.
As Romeo and Juliet are children of two enemies, they must keep their relationship secret. This would create suspense in the audience as they are waiting for them to be caught. This would keep them enthralled. There are lots of things that show this. There is irony with the meeting. They meet at a masked ball, when they meet and fall in love they know they must keep their love “masked”. Also, Romeo must keep his masked his mask on during the party so concealing his true identity as they must conceal their love. In the famous balcony scene, Romeo and Juliet meet secretly. Even at the beginning of this scene, Romeo is hidden from Juliet. The only person Juliet can trust about their relationship is her nurse who brought her up instead of her mother. The only person Romeo trusts is his servant, Balthasar, who later is his best man at their wedding. So when Juliet needs to find out details of the illicit wedding she sends the nurse. They have to keep the wedding night secret too so the nurse warns the lovers when lady Capulet is ascending up the stairs to her chamber. The idea of all the secrecy builds tension within the audience. It also constructs fear because if Romeo and Juliet get caught they will be killed because of their association with each other. This is ironic as although they are not found out they die because of the relationship.
The fact alone, that Shakespeare explores the theme of love at all would interest the audience. Romeo and Juliet fall in love even though it is against a background of hate. This could be because when they first meet they do not know they are enemies, but a main moral in “Romeo and Juliet” is you cant help who you fall in the love with. But, one thing a lot of people mistake is the difference between love and hate. They are both extremes of opposite emotions. Romeo realises this from an early age and thinks the feuders love each other but do not know how to handle it. He is right. Love and hate often get confused because the feelings are so strong. They normally form through one another. If you love someone its easy to hate them and vice versa, but love does strange things. For example Juliet is an obedient girl. She shows this when her mother asks her if she could love Paris. She replies,
Juliet: I’ll look to like if looking liking move
But I’ll no longer endart mine eye,
Than your consent to make it fly.
So she is doing the proper thing but when Romeo comes along she doesn’t care what her parents say so this shows that love changes your perspective on everything. They say that kids see things as they are without the complications adults would see and that’s how the lovers see it they love each other, that’s all that matters. Neither Romeo nor Juliet agree with the fighting and then they do the opposite of hating each other. This shows irony.
In this play lots of types of love are displayed. Paris loves Juliet courtly. He asks her fathers permission before marrying her and brings her flowers e.t.c.
At the beginning Juliet loves Paris dutifully. She excepts his wooing because her mother and father want her to. Both Romeo and Juliet display true love for each other. They want to be married because they love each other not because anybody else wants them to. Mercutio gives lots of references to sexual love especially between Romeo and Rosaline. Mercutio only makes these references to be humerous. It is quite ironic he should talk about Rosaline sexually because she has decided to stay chaste.
Lots of Linguistic devices are used throughout the play. Shakespeare shows this by using lots of oxymoron throughout Romeo and Juliet. In act 1 scene 1, Romeo chides Benvolio because of the fray. He says:
Romeo:… Why then O’ brawling love O’ loving hate
O’ anything of nothing first create.
It is showing how naï¿½ve he is, as this is his impression of love.
Others Romeo uses are: Heavy lightness, serious vanity, feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health, still-waking sleep. Juliet also uses some:
Beautiful tyrant, fiend angelical, dove-feathered raven, wolfish-ravening lamb, damned saint and honourable villain.
Similes are used often by all characters. Benvolio uses one saying “they go like the lightening” that’s a simile because it contains LIKE in a comparing context.
When Benvolio sys things like “Steel Points” and “Fatal Points” he is using these as a metaphor for swords.
There is a lot of pathos in “Romeo and Juliet”. For Example, when Capulet tries to force Juliet into marrying Paris, you can feel Juliet’s frustration. Also you can feel Romeo’s distress when he finds that Juliet is dead.
Shakespeare used sonnets in “Romeo and Juliet”. A sonnet is a 14 line poem, rhyming every other line for the first 12 then comes a rhyming couplet. Each line contains 10 syllables. Examples of sonnets are the prologue and the end of act one, Romeo and Juliet’s first meeting, and lady Capulets talk of Paris.
There is more poetry throughout the play for example when Romeo and Juliet kiss, their lines finish Purged/Urged and Took/Book. At the end poetry is used too, like this Hand/Demand, Set/Juliet, Brings/Things, Head/Punished and Woe/Romeo. There are more devices used but these are the main ones.
All of these devices, would keep the audience enthralled as it is showing how clever Shakespeare is. The Elizabethans probably figured, if he was good with words, he would probably have a good imagination.