The play we are studying was written by a very famous, well known English Elizabethan, Shakespeare. Who wrote over 40 different plays. The plays were so famous that we still study them today in modern society and some have even been made into blockbuster films. The play we are studying is Romeo and Juliet which is a romantic tragedy with love and passion involved. Not only is there love between lovers but familial love as well. Where the “star crossed lovers” are caught in the middle of an “ancient grudge” between their families which will lead to their deaths. In British history this play could be linked to the war of the Roses in the 1400’s which lasted 30 years. The war was fought between the houses of Lancaster and York. The emblems of each family gave the war its name. This suggests that the war could have inspired Shakespeare to write this play which was a big event at the time.
An Elizabethan audience understood second perception of love more than a modern audience as courtly love was more common in their culture. Romeo’s parents and Benvolio are worried about him as they think he is love sick as he has “tears augmenting morning due” many mornings. Romeo’s state of mind seems depressed and melancholy and seems to have symptoms of traditional courtly love. He’s like this as he feels sorry for himself because he only thinks he is in love with someone and they don’t love him back. He talks about Rosalyn quite crudely as he only talks about her beauty and how he wants to lose her virginity. He crudely says, “Nor ope her lap to saint- seducing gold” and complains that she’s selfish as she doesn’t want children to pass on her beauty and that it’s a waste. Also he compares her to the goddess “Dian” and uses oxymorons such as “He’s much to do with haste, but more with love” which suggests he’s slightly crazy and gives the audience the first impression that he is insane.
The type of love Romeo and Juliet have for each other is true love. This creates a problem as their two families are enemies and have an “ancient grudge” against one anther. Religious imagery is used when the lovers talk to each other to show the depth of their love. Shakespeare deliberately makes Romeo know about Juliet’s feelings by creating stagecraft and setting Romeo up in the orchard where he overhears Juliet say her true feelings like the famous line “O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?”. She said that she would have played hard to get and wouldn’t have played games with his affections unless he did and that she wouldn’t have made her feelings public unless he overheard her which he did because of Shakespeare’s stagecraft. This is when the relationship starts and bad decisions start to be made. They talk about their wedding night very sexually and Juliet makes it clear she can’t wait to consummate their marriage by saying “O, I have bought the mansion of love, But not possess’d it, and, though I am sold, Not yet enjoy’d”.
In the opening scenes we learn that the Montagues love and care for their son because they were worried about his state of mind and want to protect him he knows this as they say “glad he was not at this fray”. It’s also really obvious that Lady Montague loves Romeo as she dies of a broken heart when Romeo is banished which shows the depth of her love for him. At the beginning of the play Capulet surprisingly tells Juliet that she has a choice in whom to marry which would shock an Elizabethan audience as this is unusual in their time. This shows that he trusts his daughter greatly. But then very suddenly his attitude changes when Tybalt dies and he wants Juliet to marry quickly so he can have an heir and distract Juliet form grief.
This would then please the audience as this is a way to treat your daughter. But a modern audience would think it was harsh to send your daughter off to someone she does not know and when telling her calls her a “hoe” and wish she was dead. Lady Capulet finds it hard to talk to her daughter as she isn’t around her often, Nurse is more of a mother to Juliet as she has brought her up as her own since she was a baby, this was normal in Elizabethan times. But Lady Capulet does care about Juliet when she tries to get her a good husband but she only cares about wealth and position in society than personality when saying “By having him, making yourself no less.”
Nurse and Friar are portrayed as surrogate parents, which in Elizabethan times was very common for the rich to have someone close to the family to look after the children. Nurse is close to Juliet because she raised her from birth and she is Juliet’s co-conspirator and she is always looking out for her as if she was her own. Shakespeare has adapted Nurse and Friar into the play to act as confidants for Romeo and Juliet so the audience can hear the thoughts and feelings of the lovers being told to someone. Friar and Nurse are the reason there was a wedding without their help they would have never gotten married. With the wedding happening the action speeds along. Friars motive is to become a hero in Verona, he’s very passionate about this because he says “For this alliance may so happy prove, to turn your households’ rancour to pure love.”
Nurse’s motive is a life long devotion to Juliet she is like her own daughter and Juliet is her life. Unfortunately Nurse and Friar fail towards the end of the play with not sending the message to Romeo about Juliet’s sleeping potion he also deserts Juliet out of fear. Nurse gives bad advise to Juliet saying “Romeo is banish’d; and all the world to nothing, that he dares ne’ er come back to challenge you” Juliet does not agree with this so she gets angry and threatens to never speak to Nurse again. Because of this failure Juliet pretends to be dead with the potion which Romeo doesn’t know isn’t real because of Friar and Romeo kills himself which also results in Juliet’s suicide as well. So the people that Romeo and Juliet should trust the most ended up being one of the causes of the lover’s deaths.
Paris has been adapted in the play to add desperation. His character is portrayed as desperate as he is completely in love with Juliet even though he doesn’t know her. He acts as polite as possible to Lady Capulet by saying “Madam, good night: commend me to your daughter” and calling Capulet “lord”. When he dies he even says “Open the tomb, lay me with Juliet.” Even though she obviously doesn’t love him and he’s just been killed by her true love. The Love that Paris feels for Juliet is Dutiful love to his and her family he also feels he has to protect Juliet which was the traditional way of doing things in Elizabethan times.
The language Nurse and Mercutio use is a great deal and verity of euphemism and they crudely talk about sexual innuendo. Mercutio doubts Romeos feelings for Rosaline and he thinks they are just sexual so he teases him with sexual imagery saying things like “An open arse, thou a poperin pear!” Mercutio dies, this means the comic and fun element has been lost therefore we know we only have tragedy to follow. The Nurse may even be more vulgar as she refers to Juliet losing her virginity “thou wilt fall backward when thou host more wit” and compares it to when Juliet was little and she fell and cutting herself as a child. Nurse is expected to talk like this as she is close to the family and is lower class. The deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt shock the audience as well as speeding the play along. Killing a lot of the characters off surprises the audience more when the lovers die creating more sorrow.
Through the play Romeo experiences a lifetime of emotions in a very short time of four days. His perception of love rapidly changes though the play. At the beginning he crudely speaks of women sexually and nothing else. When talks about Rosaline he says “Nor ope her lap to saint- seducing gold: O, she is rich in beauty, only poor, that when she dies with beauty dies her store” this is seen as quite selfish of him to say and that he should decide. But when he meets Juliet his view changes completely and he talks about her being more powerful than the sun and that she’s a life giving sores which lights up the heavens. Juliet starts as a good daughter her respects and appreciates her parents and their wishes. But when she meets Romeo she changes and decides to go against her parents wishes and runs away with Romeo and even gives up her family and makes the choice to never see them again when she fakes her death to be with her lover. Juliet shows maturity when she rethinks about marrying Romeo once he’s banished and thinks about her future when saying “methinks I see thee, now art so low, As one dead in the bottom of a tomb”.
Romeo also matures by not putting himself first before Juliet. He also finds the courage to overcome difficult situations and proves himself to be true and loyal to his commitments. Shakespeare delays their deaths by putting Paris and the Priest in the tomb which keeps the suspense and makes the play more interesting. Romeo and Juliet sacrifice their towns, families even their lives for each other. Romeo and Juliet is a great play because even though the audience knows how it ends people want to read or watch what happens because they want to know the point in the events, experience the climatic moments and find out why the characters motives lead to their tragic deaths. Also the play doesn’t focus on one type of love they show many others including familial, loyalty, politics and passion making the play a lot more interesting. Romeo and Juliet is seen as a great play because it was one of the first love plays of all time which has inspired many others and is being studied and performed today years after it was written.