Romeo and Juliet; an Elizabethan play and quite possibly Shakespeare’s most renowned; a tale of love and a catastrophic tale of tragedy. Even the title itself when mentioned sets off an image of romance, but what exactly is it that makes this so special? The dramatic devices used by Shakespeare himself are particularly interesting. Act III scene I itself is considered to be the main turning point of the play.
Mood is an important aspect in a play like this, especially considering the genre of the play (a tragedy). A tragedy is a type of play characterized by the representation and dramatic management of misfortune, disasters, and/or the death of the main characters. It will normally achieve such with an unexpected twist or similar. The mood of a play relates mainly to the way it plays with the emotions of an audience, and with this being a tragedy there will be an expected negative outcome and certain techniques to achieve this. For example, dramatic irony; this is when the audience know something that the characters in a particular scene don’t. This occurs on a few occasions, like when the audience know how Romeo and Juliet are wedded together from a previous scene and when Romeo says to Tybalt “and so, good Capulet, which name I tender as dearly as my own…” saying that he loves the Capulets as much as his own house/family.
This is a surprise and evidently (has its effects on Tybalt) because Romeo’s family (the Montague’s) and the Capulet’s have been at the point of shear rivalry for years. There include other examples throughout this scene portraying this technique, however there is something else involves which relates alongside irony; pathetic fallacy, like personification it gives inanimate nouns an attribute of human feelings so that it reacts along with the mood of the play; my example being a quote from Benvolio “these hot days, is mad blood stirring.” This relates to the weather (which is a common example in pathetic fallacies), relating the hot weather to the tempers of the men.
In this he is saying that the hot weather is making everyone cross and irritable, using it as an early warning to the events that will turn out. From this, tension is created as the audience knows something bad is coming, but don’t know when or in what form.
Another technique present is Peripateia, which can only be described as a plot reversal where a character’s situation changes dramatically from secure to vulnerable (especially in this example.) Structure is ideal in Romeo and Juliet. This is a very eventful part of the play, with the fact that is features many events and that it is where everything seems to go wrong and the play take a turn for the worse. It’s also ironic in a way how this does directly follow Act 2 Scene 6, which shows the wedding between Romeo and Juliet. This impacts the audience as from a happy scene (the wedding) to complete shock at two deaths and the banishment of Romeo.
The scene can be split into 5 shock points which gradually add to the tension, starting with when Mercutio and Benvolio wait for the Capulets to arrive, and Mercutio trades insults with Tybalt when they do; language comes into play a lot in this part and I will cover this later. Secondly there is when Romeo is challenged by Tybalt yet refuses, this however only appears to wind him up all the more. Next is when Mercutio fights Tybalt and is fatally wounded when Romeo intervenes; this literally peaks the anxiety levels, leaving thoughts racing through the audiences minds as to what will happen next etc. and finally when Benvolio gives an account of events to the Prince, who banishes Romeo from the city of Verona.
There is a chaotic feel during this scene, when acted out in a theatre the characters would be running on and off the stage wildly to show the panic of the situation. The fact that it is the scene following the happy turnout for Romeo and Juliet (their wedding) the Peripateia comes as a shock to the audience. As well as this, at the end of the scene when Prince says “immediately we do exile him hence,” leave the entire scene at what could be described as a cliff-hanger. The effects of this obvious, it would shock the audience and leave them definitely in suspense, waiting to see what will happen in the following scene.
In this scene Shakespeare uses many language devices, this to create tension as well. Even from the beginning the characters hint that bad is to happen, an example being how Benvolio (who is normally the who goes out looking for the fight) says and almost pleads of Mercutio that they should leave as the Capulet’s are near in order to avoid a fight. He does this with the line “I pray thee, good Mercutio, let’s retire:” just the language that he uses shows anxiety in what he is saying, and when performed in front of an audience the actor would of need to portray this. I have noticed that throughout the scene all of the characters are constantly playing on the others words and trying to get one up on each other, which turns into a verbal battle in itself. Constantly during the first parts of the scene Tybalt often uses the words “sir” and “gentlemen” addressing Mercutio and Benvolio, showing that he still has respect for him clearly stating his fight is with Romeo and not him. Mercutio however continues this word play teasing him almost.
Tybalt starts with “gentlemen, good e’en; (evening;) a word with one of you” Mercutio then replies, “but a word with one of us? Couple it with something: make it a word and a blow.” In this he is taunting Tybalt and almost telling him to hit him or challenge him. A later example is yet another play on words, Tybalt says “Mercutio, thou consortest with Romeo -” however the word has two separate meanings as observed by Mercutio in this next quote. “Consort? What, dost thou make us minstrels” Consort in this case from the word meaning a group of musicians, why take offence by this though? This is because in Elizabethan times minstrels/musicians were servants. However, this does tell us something about Mercutio; that he is extremely witty and quick thinking.
Moving further into the scene the language used by Tybalt to Romeo is used purposefully to make him feel small undermining him with words like “boy,” saying he doesn’t have what it takes to call himself a man. Normally in today’s culture one would simply ignore comments like that, but in Elizabethan days they weren’t taken lightly or as a joke. When Romeo is correlated to as simply “boy” the tension would work its way through the audience, with thoughts like ‘is he going to do anything?’ or ‘will he accept Tybalt’s challenge?’ This torture continues, as he calls Romeo a “villain” meaning peasant, or basically a low class citizen. This is made all the worse as Romeo comes from one of the rich high class families of Verona. But Tybalt gets it back from Mercutio with many threats “alla stoccata” however this was only something said to challenge him.
Certainly the most effective line in the scene is “a plague on both your houses” said as Mercutio’s last words; this is for two reasons, first the impact of the line, a plague being a strong word in itself meaning in this case ‘a curse.’ The audience know this may come back round and affect the families, coming back into dramatic irony. And secondly, it poses the question ‘will Mercutio live or die?’ however it may make the scene slightly more predictable in some cases and less of a surprise as the twists unroll.
Now to end with a conclusion to the original question; how does Shakespeare create tension in Act 3 scene 1? The dramatic techniques are certainly presentadding to the tension of the scene. Act 3 scene 1 harvests maybe some of the most important events of the play, which have been executed to the highest degree by Shakespeare in this re-write of the story in Arthur Brooke’s poem. The feel and ambience of the play, fools around with the audiences minds with suspense, pure anticipation as to what will occur next. The play itself and especially this scene seem to portray a series of unfortunate events, one thing leading to another and the mistakes mounting up.