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    How does Shakespeare guide our responses to the main characters in Romeo and Juliet? Essay

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    In a play we as the audience learn about its characters by their speech, actions, tone of voice and their stage directions. It is usually very easy to see a character’s personality in a play as the playwright usually makes it easy to understand who is “Good” and who is “bad”. It must be remembered that an Elizabethan audience would respond slightly differently to the characters as we do as nowadays people have more cynical views. One character that the audience take immediate dislike to is Tybalt. He is obviously an evil character and consequently one the audience dislikes straight away. In Act I he is aggressive and insulting towards Benvolio, who is trying to keep the peace between the Capulets and Montagues. He says –

    “What, drawn, and talk of peace?

    I hate the word as I hate hell, all Montagues and thee.” His repetition of the word “hate” shows his aggressive nature. From this you can also conclude he is a character who loves to fight, resulting in our feelings of dislike for him.

    On the other hand one character who we feel sympathy for is Romeo, even before he is encountered in the play. Montague and Benvolio first mention him, discussing the way he is acting. We find out he has been troubled for some time, often sighted on his own, obviously upset. This makes the audience feel sympathetic towards him. When we finally encounter him we find out the cause- he is a victim of unrequited love with Rosaline. He says –

    “This love feel I, that feel no love in this.”, meaning he loves but is not loved in return. He comes across as lovesick and confused at the beginning of the play. This is shown through his poetic, exaggerated language throughout Act 1, Scene 1. One Example is his use of oxymorons when conversing with Benvolio. For example –

    “O brawling love,

    O loving hate,

    O anything of nothing first create,

    O heavy lightness, serious vanity.” This shows just how confused he really is. At this point in the play we almost feel that Romeo is pathetic and unworthy of respect, because we have a more cynical view of love but an Elizabethan audience would most likely feel different and show great sympathy for him.

    When Romeo meets Juliet he comes across as a more genuine character, using religious language to describe Juliet’s beauty. For Example –

    “If I profane with my unworthiest hand

    This holy shrine, the gentle sin is this:

    My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand

    To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.”

    He is more smitten now that he realises he didn’t love Rosaline, as shown Act 1, Scene 5. He quotes –

    “Did my heart feel love till now? Forswear it, sight,

    for I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.” Although the audience still think he could be exaggerating again and his “love” may actually be physical attraction (as with Rosaline) and he may be being fickle again, as backed up by the opinion of the Friar. He Says –

    “Young men’s love then lies not truly from their hearts,

    but in their eyes”, He is less pathetic now, more pure and innocent, more blinded by Juliet’s beauty. An Elizabethan audience would be more believing of Romeo, as they strongly believed in fate.

    The fight scene between Romeo and Tybalt is one of huge consequence and one that shows a totally different side to Romeo.

    After hearing news of Tybalt killing Mercutio, Romeo is enraged and seeks out Tybalt to kill him. This shows some similarity with Tybalt, in the way that Romeo can be aggressive and thoughtless of consequence. He seeks him out and kills him in a furious state. Romeo is shocked by his own actions, blaming not himself but fate for what he has done.

    “O, I am fortune’s fool! ” he shouts in act III after killing Tybalt. This gives us the impression that Romeo is irresponsible for his own actions, which makes us lose respect for him. However, to an Elizabethan audience this would have been seen as fate’s fault, as they had strong beliefs in this, and would strongly sympathise with him.

    As a consequence of murdering Tybalt, Romeo is banished from Verona. At this he is heartbroken, as it means he will never see Juliet again. He goes to Friar Lawrence and talks to him about it and what he will do. He acts very immaturely; having a tantrum about having to leave Verona and Juliet, telling the friar he would rather be killed. He says –

    “Hadst thou no potion mixed, no sharp-ground knife,

    No sudden mean of death, though ne’er so mean,

    But “banished” to kill me? “Banished”!”

    It is now that the Friar acts as a father, giving him advice and telling him that he is better off leaving than losing his life. Romeo shows another side of his personality – childishness and immaturity – but this changes at the end when he shows nobility and loyalty to Juliet by taking his life, because he believes she is dead.

    Our opinions of him change throughout the play due to his actions, speech and Friar Lawrence’s viewpoints on him.

    Juliet also changes throughout the play. In Act 1 our initial impression of her is that she is an obedient young teenager. We find out that she is only 13 years of age quite early on in scene 3 of Act 1, when her mother (Lady Capulet) and Nurse discuss marriage between her and Paris. The Nurse says –

    “Ill lay fourteen of my teeth – and yet, to my teen

    It be spoken, I have but four – she’s not fourteen.”

    Also by this speech you can see that the Nurse thinks Juliet is quite mature for her age. We find that the Nurse is the person who cares for Juliet and that Juliet’s mother takes no care of her. This would have been quite normal among rich and important families in the Elizabethan era, but now is seen as strange and irresponsible on the mother’s part. This is backed up by the way Juliet communicates with her mother. Instead of referring to her as mother she speaks to her almost as anyone else would – calling her ‘madam’ or something else respectful. She feels that the Nurse is more of a mother than Lady Capulet herself. For example, she says –

    “Madam, I am here. What is your will?”

    It is made quite obvious that Juliet is not interested in marriage when she states –

    “It is an honour that I dream not of.”

    Elizabethan audiences found arranged marriages in young people normal (again, especially in wealthy or important families) whereas the audiences of today find this notion abstract as it is only practiced in certain religions.

    Juliet’s feelings for Romeo are only proved genuine in act 3 scene 2 when the Nurse enters Juliet’s room when Juliet is desperately waiting for news. The Nurse says –

    “Ah, well a day! He’s dead, he’s Dead, he’s dead!

    We are undone, lady, we are undone.

    Alack the day, he’s gone, he’s killed, he’s dead!”

    And this leads to confusion, as Juliet now believes Romeo was killed. She is heart-broken to hear this news, she says –

    “O break, my heart! Poor bankrupt, break at once!

    To prison, eyes; ne’er look on liberty!

    Vile earth, to earth resign, end motion here,

    And thou and Romeo press one heavy bier!”

    This with the endless exclamation marks shows that the news of Romeos death makes her not want to live in a world without him and that she is quite distressed. This is where the genuineness of her love for him is shown. This is obviously a parallel to what is to happen in the end. When she finds out it is not Romeo that is dead you can tell she is relieved but ashamed that her new husband has murdered her cousin, Tybalt. Juliet changes in act 3 scene 5 by lying to her mother and father. She says –

    “Indeed, I never shall be satisfied

    With Romeo till I behold him- dead –

    Is my poor heart, so for a kinsmen vexed.”

    It is almost as if Juliet has matured since she got married – because she defends herself when her parents try to make her marry Paris. Lord Capulet says she must marry Paris and on hearing of her refusal he threatens to drag her to church and insults her, by saying –

    “Out you green-sickness carrion! Out, you baggage!

    You tallow-face” However despite her fathers aggression she remains polite, saying –

    “Good father, I beseech you on my knees,

    Hear me with patience but to speak a word”. This is seen as mature in these times, but in Elizabethan years this would have been seen as betrayal of her father, which in such a patriarchal society would have been severely frowned upon.

    Later on, in Act 4, Juliet drinks a potion that makes her appear dead as part of her plan to see Romeo again. The first person to see her is the Nurse who appears very upset at the apparent death of Juliet. She says –

    “I must needs awake you. Lady, lady, lady!

    Alas, alas! Help, help! My lady’s dead!

    O well-a-day that ever I was born!

    Some aqua-vitae, ho! My lord! My lady!” This Repetition and exclamation shows how distressed she really is, almost like she has lost a daughter. This makes us (and would certainly make an Elizabethan Audience) feel that Juliet is selfish by not thinking of the Nurse’s and her family’s feelings.

    In the last act she wakes from the potion she drank and finds herself in the Capulet vault, with Romeo, lying dead beside her and her dead cousin. She is heartbroken calling Romeo her “True love” and her “Lord”. She quickly makes the decision to kill herself, first kissing Romeo to scavenge any deadly potion still dormant on his lips, and then stabbing herself with Romeo’s dagger.

    Shakespeare does want us to feel sympathy for Juliet and her situation, and he does it through many ways, the way her mother and father treat her as well as the situations she comes across, like the death of her cousin, the marriage she is forced to go through and the death of her husband. An Elizabethan would audience feel much more sympathy for her than a modern audience would have, because they would believe that her fate was such an unhappy, negative one.

    Lord and Lady Capulet (Juliet’s parents) are a very rich couple, so the upbringing of Juliet would have been done by a nurse anyway, therefore Lady Capulet is not necessarily a bad mother for not being close to Juliet. She has a very formal, impersonal relationship with her daughter, for example she says in Act 3 scene 5 –

    “Talk not to me, for ill not speak a word.

    Do as thou wilt, for I have done with thee.” She is very upset when told that Juliet refuses to marry Paris. She says –

    “Ay, sir but she will none, she gives you thanks.

    I would the fool were married to her grave!” meaning that she is surprised at Juliet’s decision and that any man that would marry Juliet for life is worth marrying herself. She doesn’t at all support or defend her daughter because of the patriarchal society they live in, the fact that a man of such high opinions (like Paris) cannot marry anyone he chooses was unheard of, as well as the betrayal of her father’s wishes by Juliet. It is obvious that Lord Capulet loves Juliet very much, for instants he describes her –

    ” Thou counterfeits a bark, a sea, a wind;

    For still thy eyes, which I may call the sea” Describing her as bark (trees), the sea, the wind, which are all beautiful natural things. It is also apparent that he has only the best intentions for Juliet, as he puts a lot of effort into the arrangements of the wedding. When he finds out that Juliet refuses to marry, he gets very aggressive and cruel towards her, threatening her and calling her names. He says –

    “Thank me no thankings, nor proud me no prouds,

    But fettle your fine joints ‘gainst Thursay next,

    To go with Paris to Saint Peter’s Church,

    Or I will drag thee on a hurdle thither.

    Out you green-sickness carrion! Out you baggage!

    You tallow-face,” meaning that if she does not comply with his plans he will force her to go anyway. He carries on, saying –

    “Hang thee, young baggage! Disobedient wretch!

    I tell thee what: get thee to church o’ Thursday,

    Or never after look me in the face.

    Speak not, reply not, do not answer me.

    My fingers itch.” Stating that if she doesn’t go along with it he will lose all respect for her forever after. The saying of “my fingers itch.” shows how aggressive he really is, as this means that he wants to hit her, which is more shocking to a modern audience than an Elizabethan audience. However our opinion of him changes at the end of the play, when he nobly joins together in peace with the Montagues, after all of the deaths.

    The nurse plays the role of Juliet’s second mother, and this bond is strengthened by the similarity between Juliet and Susan, the nurse’s late daughter, so they play important roles in each other’s lives as Mother and daughter. She calls her a “lamb” and a “lady-bird”, representing Juliet’s innocence.

    The nurse helps with the relationship between Romeo and Juliet by acting as a messenger, a go-between. She is a very frustrating, crude old woman at times, especially in scene 2 of act 3, where she explains that Romeo has killed Tybalt by merely shouting –

    “Ah well-a-day! He’s dead, he’s dead, he’s dead!

    We are undone, lady, we are undone,

    Alack the day, he’s gone, he’s killed, he’s dead!” Confusing Juliet into thinking that Romeo is dead.

    We feel sympathetic for the nurse in act 4 scene 5, when she is devastated by finding Juliet (apparently) dead. She shouts –

    ” O lamentable day! O heavy day! She’s dead, deceased, she’s dead, alack the day! O lamentable day!” the repetition of the “O” shows her misery and sorrow for the death of Juliet. When this is said, the emotional reaction stimulated by the fake death makes the audience feel that Juliet’s actions were selfish and thoughtless.

    Friar Lawrence is to Romeo what the nurse is to Juliet, a substitute parent who cares for Romeo as a son, he says –

    “Too familiar

    is my dear son with such sour company”. The friar also tries to help Romeo and Juliet in a lot of ways, including actually marrying them in act 2, showing his good intentions towards their relationship. The friar also is a character who mirrors the audience’s feelings of Romeo, he says –

    “Holy Saint Francis, what a change is here!

    Is Rosaline that thou didst love so dear

    So soon forsaken? Young men’s love then lies

    Not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes.” Which mirrors our feelings of Romeo’s rapid change of heart in Rosaline. He does it again in act 3, he says –

    “O deadly sin! O rude thankfulness!

    Thy fault our law calls death but the kind Prince,

    Taking thy part, hath rushed aside the law,

    And turned that black word ‘death’ to ‘banishment’.

    This is dear mercy, and thou seest it not.” This also mirrors our feelings of Romeo at the news of his banishment. An audience nowadays has a differing opinion of Friar Lawrence than an Elizabethan audience because he in the Elizabethan era would have been seen as a bad friar and one that aids rebellion. A modern audience would see him as a man who helps lover’s relationships bloom.

    The play covers many themes, some of love, tragedy, death, family feuds, hatred and passion, the most obvious being tragedy. It is a tragedy because the main characters commit suicide at the end because they cannot live without eachother. Some good comes out of the tragedy though, as the Capulets and Montagues join in peace at the end. Romeo and Juliet are in a way to blame for the outcome of their relationship, but the Elizabethan audience would strongly believe that their fates were totally to blame. Shakespeare uses fate a lot in the play to provoke sympathy for those who have unlucky fates.

    In a play we as the audience learn about its characters by their speech, actions, tone of voice and their stage directions, as stated before. Shakespeare uses fate and dramatic irony intentionally to provoke sympathetic reactions to characters in the play and affect our responses and emotions about different situations. Different audiences in different times in differing societies can interpret the play many different ways, which is probably the reason why it was and still is such a popular play today.

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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    How does Shakespeare guide our responses to the main characters in Romeo and Juliet? Essay. (2017, Oct 30). Retrieved from

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