Tension is also derived from actions within the main plot. The losing of the letter regarding Juliet’s artificial death is one example. The fact that the plan forged by Friar Lawrence comes so close to working, torments the audience to the point of tragedy. The loss of Mercucio who is a very appealing character is a blow to the emotional empathy of the audience. But this contrasts with our sense of justice in the death of Tybalt. Shakespeare is preparing the audience for further heartbreak, he is slowly picking away at the seams and manipulating the audience’s loyalties.
Furthermore, there is the obvious opposite of gender: boy and girl, that exists between Romeo and Juliet. This is the generic root of all conflicts as far back as the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. There is a conflict between every couple of note within the play.
Lady Capulet, who was very young herself, when she married and married to an older man, is only too happy to see her daughter married off “the county Paris at St. Peters church will happily make thee there a joyful bride”. This harbours a subtle suggestion of a desire for more freedom within her own life. There is also the possibility that Lady Capulet is worried about Juliet’s safety as it is clear that Capulet has a fierce temper. “Give me my long sword” and that she views him as being past it “a crutch, a crutch”. There is a similar tension to this within the Montague household but the wife here appears to have a placatory role.
“Thou shalt not stir one foot to seek a foe”
The nature of Romeo and Juliet’s love is different to that of both the head families ‘ couples: this may be the cause of the secrecy of their relationship. Both Romeo and Juliet know that, should their parents find out about their love, the strength of it will not be persuasive enough to make them allow it. They will not understand the love between Romeo and Juliet, because their love is based on convenience and arrangement, whereas the love between Romeo and Juliet is pure passion and devotion, to the point of death: true love. Something the adults presented to us appear never to have appreciated. This less passionate love is however commonly associated with the Italian way of life.
The Italian society of Verona is patriarchal; definite male dominance is portrayed throughout the play. Male characters such as Sampson, Gregory, Tybalt and Romeo all make crude sexual jokes at certain points in the play. “I will cut of the heads of maids”; (Sampson) referring to the notion of the loss of virginity and:
“O wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied”, a displeased Romeo, in spite of his unmeasurable love for Juliet, is annoyed by her teasing, the implication being that because he is male, he should get what he desires.
The Capulet parents, as the age gap suggests, are clearly the products of an arranged marriage, (a system that allows no female choice). As parents they hope for the same for their daughter because it has worked for them. Compliance with parental wishes was the custom of the time.
Judging by modern standards, a lack of respect for women is evident. The male is the head of the household. He speaks to women in whatever terms he pleases:
“Peace, you mumbling fool!
Utter your gravity o’er a gossip’s bowl, for here we need it not” (to the nurse)
“Hang thee young baggage, disobedient wretch!” ( to Juliet)
The central drama arises from Juliet’s challenge to the status quo in refusing to marry Paris and disobeying her parents. The mother – daughter relationship is one of the strongest bonds in humankind. No bond exists however between Juliet and her mother. The maternal side of Juliet’s early years was attended to by the nurse, not Juliet’s mother. “Tis since the earthquake now eleven years and she was weaned I shall never forget it”. Having lost her own daughter ‘Susan’, it is clear
that Juliet has become the nurse’s replacement daughter.
However, another side of this coin exists. Juliet’s mother wishes to marry off Juliet aged 13, just as she was, ” I was your mother much upon these years”, in order to have a life of her own. “Well, think of marriage now”.
Such is the state of many social relationships motivated by money. Shakespeare presents us with a society in which Respect from children is not earned but demanded, not given but taken.
It is from an in-built expectancy of obedience and respect that the troubles between Juliet and her father begin. Juliet herself does not feel comfortable in delivering her decision. She says “Madam I am not well”. It is assumed that this is because of Tybalts recent demise. Lady Capulet says “Evermore weeping for your cousin’s death”. Juliet then openly though very shrewdly ponders her situation in front of her, biological mother. “Indeed I never shall be satisfied with Romeo till I behold him ~ dead ~ is my poor heart so for a kinsman vexed”. This sentence assigns the term death neither to Romeo nor to Juliet’s heart. This is dramatic irony at its most effective and is a continuation of the star-crossed lover theme established in the prologue. It is left to the reader to decide. She makes a decision to sacrifice her family relations, as she will have been aware of what kind of reaction she would get.
” Now by Saint Peters church he shall not make me there a joyful bride”, ” It shall be Romeo whom you know I hate, rather than Paris”.
Juliet’s intelligence is shown here when she mentions Romeo. She speaks with a double meaning.
All of this culminates in Act 3 scene 5 when Juliet is presented with an impossible situation. Her father, whom she has obeyed all of her life, asks her to marry Paris. This she cannot do, as she is already married to Romeo. She has two options: she can either tell them the truth; that she is already married to the son of her father’s worst enemy, who has just been banished for killing Capulet’s nephew Tybalt – something she did in secret without his permission, (not an auspicious option.), or she can look for alternatives . She does this by seeking the advice of a trusted adult: Friar Lawrence.
Shakespeare suggests that It has never previously been considered by either Lady Capulet or Capulet himself that Juliet might refuse to marry Paris. This may explain why the reaction, [however understandable, due to Capulet being accustomed to obedience] was so violent. Capulet feels insulted because, in accordance with the times, he has done his ‘duty’ in finding Juliet a wealthy husband. Lady Capulet likewise regards him as “gallant, young and noble”. She though is torn between her emotions. On the one side her fear of Capulet is indubitably the motivation for comments such as ” I would the fool were married to her grave” and ” fie fie are you mad”. But on the other hand she tries to calm things, thinking of her daughters well being? Or her own? “You are too hot”.
Capulet’s genuine attitude is revealed in this scene through his increasing anger. He loses his temper and imposes his authority without question. Shakespeare, very cleverly, uses Capulet’s language to change the mood of the scene. Capulet’s mood reflects the mood of the scene.
He enters the scene using pathetic fallacy: “But for the sunset of my brother’s son it rains downright”, to comfort Juliet whom he thinks is crying for Tybalt. He uses flowery imagery in his language and the extended metaphor of the sea, to cloud the thinking of Juliet and so soothe her thoughts. “Thou counterfeits a bark, a sea a wind: for still thy eyes, which I may call the sea, Do ebb and flow with tears; the bark thy body is sailing in this salt flood; the winds thy sighs”.
This slowly changes to a mood of disbelief and later anger. He uses repetition and asks questions as you do when you are in that state “How, how, how, how? Chop logic?”. The threat of violence is brought to the front now as Juliet still defies him. This is used to finally regain control and make her do as he wishes. “My fingers itch”
The Nurse and Friar Lawrence show qualities that could be recognised as more modern parenting techniques, when speaking to Romeo and Juliet. The friar calls Romeo his “good son”. The Friar attempts to prove to Romeo the potential error in his actions through democratic persuasive words of advice. “Young men’s love then lies not truly in their hearts but in their eyes”, ” How much salt water thrown away in waste”
The nurse in defence of Juliet is extremely brave and stands up to Capulet. “You are to blame, my lord, to rate her so.” She does also however display perverse intentions when she makes unsuitably suggestive remarks about Paris and Romeo earlier in the play. “Romeo? No, not he, though his face be better than any man’s” and ”
An eagle madam, hath not so green, so quick, so fair an eye as Paris hath. Beshrew my very heart.” When she finds Juliet in her false state of death she finds place for the phrase “God forgive me” within her speech. She is evidently aware of her part in what she believes to be the suicide of Juliet. She feels she has allowed her personal intrigue to interfere with Juliet’s best interests at best, at worst, she has been a contributory factor in her death.
The end of the play shows us lessons learnt the hard way. Two families, feeling the same senses of grief, understanding each other’s plight, make their peace. A statue is erected, perhaps an attempt to prevent any reoccurrence. The Prince sums up ” a glooming peace this morning with it brings; the sun for sorrow will not show his head. Go hence, to talk more of these sad things. Some shall be pardoned and some punished; for never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo”. Age is not a factor in learning and the actions of children in this case, teach the older generation profoundly.