In this I’m going to talk about the five main dramatic qualities Shakespeare has included in Romeo and Juliet; humour, pathos, suspense, determinism and arranged marriages. Also will say which of these interest me the most and how. To a contemporary audience the idea of fate and arranged marriages would have been particularly appealing.
The first element I will talk about is humour. This is an important element in the play as ‘Romeo and Juliet’ uses a wide range of humour; wordplay (puns), slapstick, dramatic irony and irony. In Shakespeare’s time puns were a popular method of entertaining as can be seen from the play. Tybalt’s remark in Act 1, scene 1, lines 57-58:
“What art though down amongst these heartless hinds”
This is aimed to create humour as Tybalt is punning on heart (hartmale deer) mocking Benvolio for fighting with the servants.
Throughout the play, the nurse is the main comic character. She has a garrulous and bawdy sense of humour. She is also somewhat earthy. One of her comments about Juliet is a clear reference to pregnancy:
“Nay less! Nay bigger women grow by men.”
This is typically of a vulgar nature. The nurse also provides oppurtinities for slapstick (pantomime comedy, consiting of boisterous activities)as does “passado” and “punto reverso”. The nurse bein a comic, again adds humour. For example, in Act 2, scene 4, the nurse is hilarious as she puts on aires and graces in order to come across as a more important person:
“God ye morrow gentlemen… my fan Peter…”
This is somewhat amusing. The audiences pleasure for mocking the nurse is reflected in Mercutio’s vulgar teasing. He has a mocking humour which is quick witted (even his name suggests he is mercurial) This is known as comedy of situation. The appearance of the nurse in Act 2, Scene 4 is an ideal example of slapstick comedy. Mercutio uses the common method of humour in the play to mock the nurse. One of these is puns:
“No hare, sire, unless a har, sir, in a Lenten pie, that is something stale”
Mercutio teases Romeo seizing every opportunity to make sexual puns. Sexual innuendo is used a lot. (In Act 2. scene 1, Mercutio says- “though a pop’rin pear”)
The regular use of puns in the play indicates the vast delight in puns to a contemporary audience. I have gathered this from Act 2, Scene 4, where Benvolio and Mercutio compete in puns. Even at the moment of Mercutio’s death, some of Mercutio’s last words are that of wordplay:
“Ask me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man”
This adds a humorous nature to that fact that tomorrow he will be dead. To me this is an example of juxtaposition of elements/emotions as Act 3, Scene 1 contains pathos (which is en elements I will analyse in thorough detail) and humour placed next to each other. (it is pathetic that Mercutio dies but humorous that he makes witty puns) This emphasises the two dramatic qualities making the humour more interesting. Wordplay appealed to a contemporary audience but it is contrived to a modern day audience.
Humour is an umbrella term, so it can include a more subtle type of humour, that is, dramatic irony. Dramatic irony is a theatrical method used to crate an interesting on-stage atmosphere. Dramatic irony is where characters are engrossed in a plot on stage, in a film etc, but are unaware of an upcoming twist in the plot. However the audience are fully aware of what is going on. There is more than one occasion when this method is used. For example when the nurse teases Juliet about any news of Romeo. We see Juliet is desperate for Nurse to declare any news of Romeo, when she pleeds:
“Jesu, what haste. Can you not stay a while? Let me be satisfied is’t good or bad.”
Also another time dramatic irony is used in the play is where Juliet weeps for Romeo’s departure. But Capulet and Lady Capulet mistake her tears for Tybalt’s death. They ask her if she is
“Evermore weeping for her cousins death.”
This is dramatic irony, as the audience/readers understand that Romeo’s departure is infact the genuine reason for Juliet’s upset. Also the idea/plot of the play in itself is Dramatic Irony, as the story about Romeo and Juliet continuing to see each other and love one another, brings forth this important element of humour (the two households are oblivious to their children’s secret affairs)
Another example of dramatic irony is where instructions are given in Act 4, to “go waken Juliet” and to “trim her up.” However the audience have already realised that the potion has put her in a deep sleep, when Father Lawrence says:
“And in this borrowed likeness of shrunk death.”
There words allow Juliet to overcome her dilemma (or atleast that was the purpose of the plan!)
Pathos is another dramatic element that is evident throughout the play. Pathos is the feeling of sadness felt in the audience. Romeo and Juliet contains many pathetic scenes (pathetic indicating sadness and misery) the first which is encountered in the play is that of Romeo’s pathetic character when he grieves for Rosaline, who does not return her love. He is somewhat melancholy, obvious because his “sad hours seem so long.” And he speaks of how “griefs of mine speak heavy in my breast.” This shows the severity of Romeo’s broken heart and sets the tone of how love is an important theme throughout- “here’s much to do with hate but more with love.” One scene inparticular contains a great deal of pathos. This is Act 3, Scene 1, when Mercutio’s death causes Romeo to mourn and the dire outcome is further murder and death. A phrase which portrays the pathetic nature of Mercutio’s death are those of Benvolio, these are:
“Brave Mercutio is dead”
Romeo’s deep regret after killing Tybalt, directly after Mercutio’s death is also pathetic- Romeo sorrowfully cries:
“For then I hope thou wilt not keep him long but send him back.”
When Capulet flies into a towering rage over Juliet’s refusal to marry Paris, this can be said to be a moment of pathos. This conveys to the audience Juliet’s scrutinising situation of loving Romeo but having to marry Paris. However this scene may also be humorous as sometime Capulet is portrayed as a bumbling fool:
“Hang thee disobedient wretch… out on her hiding!”
Therefore the audience feel a sense of empathy for Juliet. Juliet’s loneliness in this situation is portrayed even more when, shockingly the Nurse betrays Juliet. She is the woman Juliet was closest to, yet, she speaks badly of Romeo and urges her to marry Paris. She compares Romeo as a “dishclout to him” and has “not so fair an eyed as Paris hath.” Furthermore it is evermore pathetic when Juliet declares her misery in the lines “myself hath power to die.” This informs the audience of Juliet’s desperate situation.
The Capulet’s mourn for the loss of their daughter, or should I say what the believe to be Juliet’s, this is also very pathetic and upsetting. They show deep sorrows when saying:
“Accursed, unhappy, wretched day!”
Another point I will make on the subject of pathos is that it is evermore created when Romeo tries to stab himself in Act3, Scene 4.
Juliet’s genuine death obviously created pathos, grief and sadness and also, when she falls on Romeo’s body and dies, this shows the sad situation that the feud the two families had caused. The fact that Paris also loved Juliet is poignantly pathetic.
Finally, the whole play ends on a note of pathos, as at then end the following is spoken:
“For never was a story of more woe than that of Juliet and Romeo.”
(These words are that of the Prince when he speaks of the deaths) This is direct evidence to suggest that Romeo and Juliet was a play of much pathos.
The third dramatic quality found in the play is that of suspense. Suspense is created throughout Romeo and Juliet to create tension within the audience and to create curiosity and eagerness to see what will happen next. Right from the start, suspense is created as we are told in the chorus the fate of Romeo and Juliet; they are a “pair of star crossed lovers.” As a result, suspense is created because the audience will be left on a cliffhanger as they wait to witness these deaths.
Equally, the main plot of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ builds a feeling of suspense, as the questions is asked of what the outcome of the affair will be. One scene In particular is included in the play to achieve the effect of suspense. This is the scene of the Capulet party. The audience await Tybalt’s reaction. He reacts be declaring that the Prince will “doom thee death.” When the Prince enters this scene, the suspense reaches a climax when he lingers over what will become Romeo (he teases the audience) We wonder if Romeo’s death will be announced:
“We now the Prince of his dear blood doth we owe.”
The second chorus creates more suspense, as it states that danger besets the two lovers. This is to remind us of the current situation of fate, to keep the suspense.
We see that in Act 3, Romeo and Juliet begins to reach a climax. This is evident when Romeo hastily snatches the dagger, and the only restriction is the nurse, when she removes it from his hand. Romeo grabs the dagger quickly, and on impulse, thus creating this suspense. The audience’s initial reaction is to wonder what Romeo will do.
When Juliet seeks Friar Lawrence for help on the situation, tension is created as it is asked how Juliet will solve the dilemma. There is suspense when Juliet says she is willing to commit suicide. She says that if “all else fails” she “hath power to die.” When I first hear Juliet’s long soliloquy I questioned whether or not she would survive. We realise that she “longs to die.” Finally, some of the premonitions throughout create suspense. For example when Romeo see himself “so low… as one dead at the bottom of a tomb.” This indicates that something terrible awaits Romeo (these are the words of Juliet as Romeo departs after their brief visit, just before Romeo goes to Mantua.)
Now I shall analyse the aspects of Romeo and Juliet that a contemporary audience will find appealing. In the time of the Elizabethans the idea of believing in fate and the idea that our lives were already planned through the stars was not thought of as unusual (as it perhaps would be today) The thought of fate and determinism is used throughout the play to appeal to a contemporary audience in the form of premonitions and lines referring to heaven. The theme of determinism is introduced right from the start of ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ We see that they are “star crossed lovers.” This informs the audience how the two lovers are ill fated.
We are made aware of the theme of determinism because of things that go wrong by chance and the premonitions that Romeo and Juliet have about their deaths. Accidental determinism is introduced where Benvolio and Romeo enter in Act1, Scene 2, because they question the idea of the hand of fate. This is because they did not enter at the time the servant read the guest list, they wouldn’t have gone to the Capulet party, and so therefore it is questioned whether or not the entire incident of Romeo and Juliet falling for each other would have took place. It is accidental also when Tybalt and Mercutio quarrel. It again refers to the hand of fate, when Mercutio is stabbed from under Romeo’s arm. Romeo speaks of determinism again when he says ‘o I am fortunes fool.” Thus means that Romeo thinks his life has already been planned, and his is somewhat unfortunate. This implies that our lives are controlled by “a greater power than we can contradict.”
Accidental determinism occurs when Capulet brings forward the wedding date for Juliet and Parris. This is once again the hand of fate getting in the way of Friar Lawrence’s plans (it gives him less time to contact Romeo in Mantua) we see how Capulet has forwarded the date of the wedding when he says “we’ll to church tomorrow.” Another example of determinism is where Juliet declares that the stars are planning disasters and the dilemma of marrying Parris.
She declares, “heaven should practice stratagems upon so soft a subject…” The most ideal example of determinism is where Balthasar reaches Romeo before the Friar can. This once again leads to disaster, and hence indicates the idea of the hand of fate. Furthermore, another ideal reference to determinism is where the Friar says, “a greater power than we can contradict has thwarted our intents.” These are the chilling words of the Friar, as he realises the disaster of what has happened.
Moreover, the theme of determinism is brought out by the premonitions Romeo and Juliet have, which is evidence to indicate how fate was a popular issue between Shakespeare’s contemporaries. Romeo for example, “fears to early” some “consequence yet hanging in the stars.” This once again, refers to the hand of fate. Juliet has a forewarning that something terrible is going to happen- she experiences a feeling of foreboding on learning Romeo’s name. Juliet has yet another premonition, as she “sees herself as one dead in the bottom of a tomb.” Additionally, we are made aware of Shakespeare’s interest in determinism when Romeo gazes at Juliet’s beauty, before drinking the poison. He says:
“And shake the yoke of inauspicious stars.”
Therefore we see determinism as an important idea explored by Shakespeare.
Another idea that would have been of interest to the Elizabethans is that of arranged marriages. The idea of arranged marriages is introduced early on in the play. Paris and Capulet discuss the issue of arranging Juliet’s marriage. Capulet shocks the audience by saying how it is Juliet’s choice to freely marry Paris- his “will to her consent is but a part.” This would have caused shock, due to his liberality.
Similarly, the idea of arranged marriages would have been normality to a contemporary audience, but to the twentieth century, when couple freely choose to marry whom they want,, it would be shocking. Today we have the choice to first choose a career and then get married. The only strange thing about Juliet’s vows to Romeo was that he was a Montague. Age and experience simply did not come into it. Although not everyone in the play approved, including the Nurse. She claims that it can “result in dangerous birth, diminution of nature, brevity of life and such like…” This is a similar attitude taken in today’s society- we do not see marrying at a young as acceptable.
As daughters were not economically self-supporting, the father would choose the man she would marry. Juliet plays the role of a model daughter when she states how he has the final decision:
“Than to your consent gives strength to make it fly.”
This is shocking to a modern day audience, as we do not see arranged marriages as normality. However, Shakespeare also challenges the conventional wisdom of arranged marriages as we sympathise with Juliet and her dilemma. Juliet’s reaction towards the issue of marrying Paris later on in the play, earns her father’s anger. Equally her mother has no sympathy. She coldly says:
“Talk to me not, for I’ll not say a word.”
The dramatic irony in this creates empathy towards Juliet’s dilemma.
Many young girls suffered arranged marriages to settle family feuds. These are obviously not the grounds for future marital harmony. In 1595 (when ‘Romeo and Juliet’ was written) marriages were for financial stability, rather than love. Parents would choose their partners on their behalf. We are made aware that “younger than she are happy mothers made.” It is all based on the stereotype that young people lacked the maturity to choose their own partner.
In conclusion, ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is a play that appeals to a modern day audience and a contemporary audience. The play is timeless because it deals with relatable family issues, It shows why Shakespeare is on of the greatest playwrights ever. Personally enjoyed the suspense in the play as it constantly kept me on the edge of my seat. The intellectually challenging scenes throughout the play attained my interest. I enjoyed Shakespeare’s use of imagery and language. For example:
“So we grew together like to a double cherry lovely cherries moulded on one stem, so with two seeming bodies but with one heart.”
This creates the image of Romeo’s love for Rosaline at the beginning of the play.
Above all, I am interested in Shakespeare’s use of metaphors, personification and elaborate language to portray emotion, in particular love, For example I find the following quote moving:
“Night’s candles are burnt out and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops, I must be gone and live, or stay and die.”
This is somewhat intriguing, and a beautiful line.
Finally, I am still intrigued to find out which house caused the disaster and what the feud of the two households was. This proves that Shakespeare was a genius and mastered the art of amusing our curiosity and creating suspense. Shakespeare’s plays are as popular today as they were in his time. They appeal to both audiences due to the poignant mixture of pathos, humour, suspense, arranged marriages and determinism. I think that Shakespeare is challenging the accepted view of the time by making us side with Capulet rather than Montague. Its issues and feelings are those that we of a 21st century can identify with.