At the beginning of Act 1 Scene 5 the audience are full of anticipation and expectation. The two feuding families, the Capulets And Montaghue’s, had just had a major disagreement resulting in a fight breaking out in the town. The Prince threatened them and stated that if he saw any of the families fighting again they would be sentenced to death!!
That same night, Capulet is holding a ball and Romeo (a Montague) decides to go, in order to find his true love Rosalyn. At the end of Act 1 Scene 4 Romeo has had a premonition that the night’s events will ultimately lead to his untimely death. This premonition increases the tension and creates a high level of expectation and a feeling of dread and pessimism amongst the audience.
Act 1 Scene 5 opens with the servants preparing for the ball. As Shakespeare’s theatre did not have any sophisticated scenery, this was a method of signalling to the audience that a new scene was beginning. The atmosphere is created and changed by the lighting. For example, the lighting can be dark, which creates the illusion of a gloomy atmosphere, or it can be lighter, indicating a bright and cheerful atmosphere. When this bright illumination is utilised, it can also make the audience optimistic and almost believe that something good is going to happen purely because of the lighting.
Shakespeare has Capulet make a dramatic and spectacular entrance to the ball accompanied by a gaggle of beautifully dressed guests. This is a contrasting atmosphere as it temporarily lightens and cheers the audience, keeping them interested all the time. There are many guests thronging the ball and many guests in masks. This adds to the rising tension because the audience are aware that Romeo is amongst the masquers and this leads them to become concerned that Capulet is going to recognise him. The tension decreases when Capulet relates that he used to be a masquer himself. Capulet greets everyone with respect and in a most hospitable and charming manner. He jokes with the ladies and tries to impress them, all the time making his guests feel welcome and adding to the jollity of the evening, he even instructs his servants to ‘bring more light’ and to ‘quench the fire’. Shakespeare also has the servants discussing surreptitiously smuggling in women, which adds humour to the occasion. All of this relaxes the general atmosphere and tension that Shakespeare has built up.
Shakespeare suddenly awakens the audience with Romeo’s first sighting of Juliet because he has Shakespeare talking to a servant in a very private manner and using terms which indicate that he is quite smitten with Juliet. We know that Romeo is excited to see Juliet because his language goes from being prose to poetry. We should also remember that he originally came to the ball to see his ‘true love’ Rosalyn. Romeo waxes lyrical about Juliet’s beauty, describing her in many different ways such as ‘she doth teach the torches to burn bright’, ‘it seems she hangs upon the cheek of night as a rich jewel in an Ethiop’s ear’ and likening her to a ‘snowy dove trooping with crows’. These references create a fantastic image of Juliet, associating her with light, a precious stone or gem and again as a whiter than white dove that makes those around her seem ugly and crow-like.
During all of this, Tybalt (a Capulet) over hears Romeo and then realises that there is a Montague is in the house. Tybalt thinks that Romeo is disrespecting the Capulets so goes and tells Capulet. This sudden changes the atmosphere from a dreamy romantic one to a confrontational one. The language that Tybalt uses when speaking to Capulet is very short, abrupt, commanding sentences, which suggests that Tybalt is not very happy at Romeo. Capulet reverses this and commands Tybalt to stop and to tolerate Romeo for fear of disrupting the evening. Capulet handles the situation in a way that firstly tells the audience he is wary of the Prince’s warning about the ongoing family feud and also in a manner which illustrates that he is in command of his family. He talks down to Tybalt and says ‘you are a saucy boy’ whilst dismissing him in a firm manner. At the same time as Capulet is commanding Tybalt he has also got to keep the party flowing as well, he does this by trying to joke around. Tybalt is painted as a fiery character and uses very aggressive language with Capulet and he challenges Capulet’s authority by saying that he will get some kind of revenge on Romeo in the future, which makes the tension shoot back up. Because of Capulet and Tybalt’s argument Romeo has been given time to approach Juliet.
To make the first meeting between Romeo and Juliet dramatically effective, Shakespeare uses contrast. He precedes the meeting with the row between Tybalt and Capulet and the abrupt, short use of sentences and aggressive language for example, ‘I shall not endure him’ and ‘you are a princox, go;’ This atmosphere is completely changed at Romeo and Juliet’s first meeting by the use of a sonnet, this contrast with the rest of the scene as it uses a set rhythm and rhyme scheme. Shakespeare creates a lot of intimacy between Romeo and Juliet by Romeo starting the sonnet and Juliet finishing it. It is unusual to have two people involved in a sonnet and this makes the audience think that they are meant to be together. Romeo and Juliet continue through the sonnet, each sentence building on the last with Romeo associating Juliet with a shrine, indicating her saintliness, and Juliet likens Romeo to a pilgrim. Their language makes you think that they are alone and being very intimate, their speech is gentle and flowing and their movements gentle and unrushed, in total contrast to the preceding scene.
After the first loving meeting between Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare again makes the atmosphere full of foreboding when both Romeo and Juliet find out the true identities of the other. It emphasises the deep feeling between the families and drives home to the audience what they probably already know, that their love will cause them both to put their lives on the line for each other.
To summarise, Shakespeare makes the scene dramatically effective by constantly, and sometimes suddenly, changing the mood and atmosphere between jolliness, aggressive and romantic, thereby keeping the audience on the edge of their seats and keeping them in anticipation of what might happen next.