Romeo and Juliet is one of William Shakespeare’s most famous plays for one main reason; it keeps the audience gripped and in suspense throughout the play. However this is not achieved through clever writing and screen play alone, this suspense is maintained by Shakespeare using a timeless method of getting someone’s attention; by showing the audience conflict. This magnificent play is all constructed around this simple 8 lettered world conflict, some form of confrontation and in Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare shows three types of conflict Verbal, physical and emotional.
As Humans it is in our nature to try to avoid conflict however often it is unavoidable and is even necessary in the pursuit of happiness. This is what Shakespeare is trying to show in his plays, the bitter reality of life which may sound depressing now however showing this struggle for happiness is the best way for Shakespeare to enthuse and entertain his audience.
Romeo and Juliet is a perfect example of one of his plays. This play is about Romeo and Juliet “a pair of star crossed lovers” that “take their life”, this one line summarises the whole play, two lovers that reach an “untimely death” in a desperate attempt to be together and this struggle occupies the “two hours traffic” of the stage. In this essay I will explore how Shakespeare conveys this conflict so well without even the use of special effects, lighting or fancy props.
Even before the play has begun Shakespeare sets the scene with an explosive prologue in the form of a sonnet which outlines the plot and more importantly the conflict. As early as line 3 Shakespeare writes; “from ancient grudge break to new mutiny” which immediately suggests violence and therefore death which of course is physical conflict. However it does not stop there the prologue continues to say “doth with their death bury their parent’s strife” the word “death” suggests physical conflict and “bury their parent’s strife” suggests verbal/emotional conflict. This line like the other shows the conflict between the “two houses both alike in dignity”; however this line also shows how the families can put all the hatred behind them and somehow reach peace. Again more conflict is conveyed in line 10 when the prologue mentions their “parents rage” which suggests verbal conflict and potential physical conflict between the two families which develops as the play progresses.
This prologue outlines the play, it sets the scene “fair Verona” and shows all the three types of conflict that we witness in the play and the prologue prepares us for this. Shakespeare makes a bold decision in giving away the end of the play in the prologue however I believe that this comes to fruition. As the play builds up in a crescendo of conflict and the plot unravels; the audience start to become so involved in the play and the characters that they even start to hope and even believe that it will all work out even though there is a voice in the back of your head constantly reminding you that it will all end in tragedy and true to the voice it does. This prologue seems like a gamble however Shakespeare knew that giving the story away so early on will further the theme of conflict and even bring it upon the audiences mind, on whether everything will go according to plan or not. This technique that Shakespeare cleverly makes use of helps to build the suspense and add to the conflict in the play.
This conflict that we are prepared for in the prologue is certainly lived up to in Act One Scene One which kicks off with an abusive exchange of insults which then leads to a “civil brawl” between the Montagues and the Capulets.
This scene begins with Sampson and Gregory (Capulet servants) boasting about how they are superior to all Montagues and what they would do if they came across one. Sampson states that he will “strike quickly” which is a direct reference to physical conflict so therefore builds tension, they then go on to say how they will “thrust…maids to the wall” and take their “maidenheads” (virginity) this banter is their way of gearing up
For a fight and as the audience know that they this verbal conflict will “break” to “new mutiny”.
The Capulet servants then get their wish when Abram and other fellow Montagues enter, the Capulets immediately see an opportunity to mock, offend and therefore prove their superiority to the Montagues. First Gregory suggests that they “frown” at them, however Sampson seems to go one further and bites his thumb at Abram and the Montagues which is an insult and a “disgrace” to them “if they bear it”. Upon seeing this gesture Abram is enraged and confronts Sampson by saying “do you bite your thumb at us, sir?” scared by this aggression Sampson nervously replies “I do bite my thumb sir” Abram repeats this question obviously dissatisfied by Sampson’s first answer. Consequently Sampson backs down. Disappointed by his friend’s answer Gregory asks Abram if he “quarrels” (wants a fight) and he replies “no, sir” this conflict then escalates as Sampson says “I am for you, I serve as better man as many” surprised that Sampson has not used this opportunity to insult him replies “no better?”. A nervous Sampson stalls until he spots one of his “master’s kinsman” and uses this to quickly embarrass the Capulets so says “yes, better” which ignites the flame and this scene climaxes with a fight.
This confrontation slowly builds up to become the “3rd civil brawl”, this verbal conflict brought about by the servant’s point scoring slowly builds tension which reaches climax when they fight (physical conflict). However if the fight then continued from there the suspense would be lost, Shakespeare sees this and maintains the tension by introducing a new character; Benvolio Montague the peace keeper and cousin of Romeo immediately tries to break up the fight by saying “put up your swords you know not what you do” however this “peace” is short lived, soon after Benvolio’s entrance the pugnacious cousin of Juliet Tybalt tips the balance in favour of a fight and undoes all the work of Benvolio who desperately tries to “keep the peace.” They are then involved in a small confrontational exchange where Tybalt tells Benvolio to “look upon thy death”. This clash between good and evil builds the tension; a fight for a whole scene would be boring however the tension builds and is enhanced by the verbal conflict. These exchanges of harsh words keep the audience guessing and therefore on the edge of theirs seats gripped and wondering what will happen next. After the explosive fight the Prince enters and severely warns them against fighting again “under penalty of death” this adds yet more tension and increases the suspense because we know that they are going to fight again and know that when they do the consequences will be horrendous.
Act one scene one is crucial because like the prologue lays the foundations for the play, it shows the relationship between the two houses and the way that each family deals with their problems, by fighting. This all prepares us for the tragic end; however this scene not only prepares us it also entertains and enthuses the audience so we forget about the prologue and start to feel attached to the characters and their fate, so therefore become involved in the play.
However this play isn’t about violence, death, physical or even verbal conflict. It is a love story and true to this theme when we first meet Romeo at the end of Act one Scene one he is in love but not with Juliet, but is mourning that is love is “unrequited” with a fair young lady that goes by the name of Rosaline. In this scene Benvolio is trying to comfort young Romeo who is out of Rosaline’s “Favour”. Romeo pours his heart out to Benvolio, he talks of how his “hours seem long”, Benvolio however as no time for his naive cousins ramblings and suggests that he “examines other beauties” consequently Romeo reluctantly agrees. This conversation between Romeo and Benvolio shows the
emotional conflict within Romeo’s heart, this over the top reaction of Romeo gives us an insight into the character of Romeo; we can see that he is a lover rather than fighter which later on in the play builds tension as he is forced out of his shell to ironically fight for his love which will have devastating results.
After this talk the Montagues then illegally attend the Capulet’s party and this is where Romeo and Juliet first meet and where yet more emotional conflict occurs within Romeo and now Juliet’s heart when they discover the true identity of each other. However before this occurs the presence of the Montagues is noted by fiery Tybalt who consequently asks for his “rapier” to kill the “villain Romeo” however before Tybalt can “stir one foot to seek” his “foe” Lord Capulet rebukes him and explains how “Verona brags of him to be a virtuous and well governed youth” however Tybalt is reluctant to back down and says to his uncle “I’ll not endure him” which provokes Lord Capulet to violently respond “he shall be endured, Capulet is adamant that Tybalt will not create a “mutiny” among his guests. So Tybalt reluctantly agrees to “endure” him however as the audience have seen Tybalt in action in the first scene we know that the feud with Romeo will not end there so keeps the audience guessing when Tybalt will confront young Romeo which adds to the tension and therefore the conflict.
Unlike the other conflict scenes that I have described in my essay this is internal, within a family so shows just how argumentative Tybalt actually is, if he can be so rude and aggressive towards his own family what could he be like towards his enemies such as the Montagues?
Then after this exchange between Tybalt and Capulet Romeo and Juliet meet for the first time. They exchange some flirtatious remarks kiss briefly numerous times however are then interrupted by the nurse who takes Juliet off to see her mother and tells Romeo that Juliet is the daughter of the lady of the house and a Capulet. She then goes on to tell Juliet that Romeo is a Montague and “the only son of your great enemy” Upon hearing this devastating news both Romeo and Juliet are covered in melancholy, Romeo had just got over Rosaline and now was faced with yet more trouble, where as Juliet could see the irony and was devastated that her “only love” was sprung from her “only hate”, which sums up the emotional conflict between these two young lovers, they had a choice of whether to “refuse thy father and deny thy name” and be together or to stay true to their families and look for love from a more acceptable family. It is this burning question inside their hearts that drives the conflict within themselves and leads to such extreme measures in the end which eventually leads to their deaths.
This scene is also crucial in the build up of tension and conflict between the two families especially between Romeo and Tybalt. After the party Tybalt then goes looking for the “villain Romeo” however comes across Mercutio first and kills him instead of Romeo. This conflict between the families also leads on to the secret marriage between Romeo and Juliet who do it out of fear that their families will try to tear them apart from each other. The party is the turning point in the play, there is no longer a light hearted element to the play, people start to be murdered, things get serious as the plot unfolds and the prospect of death just adds to the conflict between Romeo, Juliet and their families.
After Mercutio and Tybalts death in act three scene one Juliet is left in her room in great distress when the nurse tells her of the days events, it begins with the nurse entering Juliet’s room crying out in sorrow “he’s dead” which Juliet thinks is Romeo, however she is then relived to find out that he is alive however is distressed to find out that Tybalt is actually dead and killed by Romeo. This brings her into turmoil and
emotional conflict within herself, she feels that she should be mourning her cousin’s death and hate Romeo for what he has done however is more concerned that Romeo has been banished rather than with Tybalts death. This marks Juliet denying her father; she is starting to forget her family and to care about Romeo above everyone else. She immediately takes Romeo’s side which shows her love for him and that he is the closest to her heart but brings great emotional conflict within herself because she is confused about how she should feel towards Tybalt and Romeo.
In act three scene five after Romeo and Juliet have said their goodbyes, the nurse enters, then the mother and proclaims that she will marry next “Thursday morn, the gallant, young and noble gentleman… Paris” however instead of being grateful for a husband she is mortified as she is already married and exclaims how she would sooner marry “Romeo…rather than Paris” which is ironic as she is actually in fact married to Romeo however Lady Capulet sees Romeo as a murder an this is what Juliet is trying to say, that she would rather marry a villainous murderer who killed her cousin than marry Paris. Then Lord Capulet enters with a much more stern approach to Juliet’s ungrateful attitude when he has found her such a “worthy gentleman”. When Juliet still states that he will not make her a “joyful bride” Lord Capulet explodes full of rage and bombards her with a diatribe of insults, such as a “disobedient wretch”, a “curse” and a “tallow face”.
At this point the Nurse and Lady Capulet try to defend Juliet however they cannot stop him as he is a man and the head of the house. At this time it was unheard of for a woman let alone a child to disobey their fathers and someone doing this would have been revolutionary and this is why Capulet gets so “hot” because he is not used to being challenged let alone by his daughter. This scene shows again how there is conflict within families and again it is within the Capulets and shows the relentless abuse and verbal conflict that Juliet has to go through for Romeo and this increases the tension, she has no choice now, he father has disowned her, the mother and the nurse couldn’t stop him and Romeo was in Mantua.
Desperate times call for desperate measures so Juliet calls upon close Friend of Romeo Friar Lawrence for help, and he gives her a potion so she will appear dead and go to the tomb where Romeo would go and rescue her so they could escape together, however Romeo did not get this message and went to the tomb finding her dead and kills himself. She then wakes up to find him dead so she then kills herself. This one last twist shows how the conflict between the families has led them to do desperate things in order to be together, they felt they had no choice and true to the prologue their love was “death marked” and true to the theme of the play it was a tragic ending however we didn’t want to see this, we chose to ignore this because it is in our nature to want a happy ending but this play shows how sometimes it just isn’t possible.
Romeo and Juliet is a timeless classic that features the timeless theme of conflict and although it was written over 400 years ago still has relevance today, teenagers today still face protective parents, families at war and even forbidden love. Everyone can relate to Romeo and Juliet one way or another and that is what makes it such a great play that is relevant to all generations.