Violence and conflict are central to Romeo and Juliet. Discuss this theme with reference to at least three scenes in the play.
‘Romeo and Juliet’ is a tragic play, which is about the love of two star-crossed lovers who take their life because the households, Capulet’s and Montague’s have an ancient grudge. Shakespeare doesn’t deliver the reason for the conflict between the feuding families to the audience, therefore he may be giving us knowledge of how dangerous arguments can become if they’re not kept under control.
Although it is a play about love, there are many scenes that contain violence and conflict. The play opens with a fight and ends with deaths. This essay will discuss the key scenes, Act 1 Scene 1, Act 3 Scene 1 and Act 3 Scene 5.
William Shakespeare commences ‘Romeo and Juliet’ with a brief outline of the oncoming stage performance. He inaugurates the performance with the prologue, which can also be described as a sonnet. Shakespeare applies this form to briefly summarise the story of Frankenstein. The chorus sets the scene for tragedy by presenting the two young protagonists as victims of fate, whose lives are marred from the outset by the enmity between their families: “From forth the fatal loins of these two foes / A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life.” Although Shakespeare embraces this poetic form to depict the play’s main issues, he has adopted this method to portray another major theme: how fatal and destructive arguments can become if they’ve been provoked by imprudent and meaningless reasons- the deaths of the protagonists ceased the ancestral conflict between the two households, the cause of which is unknown to the audience throughout the duration of the play. This is significant because Shakespeare highlights the ridiculousness of the fights between the two households.
Proceeding towards the first scene, Shakespeare introduces the play with two servants of the Capulet household, Gregory and Sampson: ‘Enter Sampson and Gregory, with swords and bucklers.’ Whilst ambling through a street in Verona, Sampson voices his abhorrence for the house of the Montague’s, with bawdy banter. The two servants begin to exchange lecherous statements about physically conquering the male members of the Montague household and sexually conquering the females: “I will take the wall of any man or maid of Montague’s.” Gregory responds to this punning remark made by Sampson by applying a proverb, “the weakest goes to the wall,” which suggests that the feeble must yield to the powerful. Therefore, Gregory states that if Sampson takes the wall, he will become the impotent one: “That shows thee a weak slave; for the weakest goes to the wall”.
This comment spoken by Gregory, only offers Sampson another opportunity to become more boisterous and compose even bigger egotistical responses: “True; and therefore women, being the weaker vessels, are ever thrust to the wall: therefore I will push Montague’s men from the wall, and thrust his maids to the wall”. Gregory continues to respond to Sampson’s articulation: “The quarrel is between our masters, and us their men.” Gregory clarifies that the dispute is between the male members of the Capulet and Montague household, therefore Sampson should not involve the women. Regardless of gender, Sampson avoids Gregory’s advice and moves further into the conversation: “‘Tis all one, I will show myself a tyrant: when I have fought with the men, I will be civil with the maids; I will cut off their heads”.
These declarations produced by Sampson indicate that he will behave repulsively with the women. A “maid” is another term for a “virgin”, consequently Sampson delivers his ruthless intentions of compelling the women of the Montague household to lose their “maidenheads” or “virginity” to him. After perceiving this information about Sampson’s personality, as spectators of the play, we could be overwhelmed by agitation and overcome with fury, because of his acrimonious responses towards the Montague household. Others may find this remark rather amusing. Also, the audience could be left in a great shock after knowing that the conflict between the two families is so serious that Sampson would be prepared to commit such a menacing and hideous act.
During this moment, Gregory notices two servants approaching from the Montague household: “Draw thy tool, here comes of the house of Montague’s.” Consequently, Gregory constructs a scheme with Sampson to arouse a fight with the Montague’s, without breaking the law. After viewing the serving men of the Montague household, Sampson delivers a timid response to Gregory: “Quarrel, I will back thee.” Shakespeare has intentionally occupied the idea of embodying Sampson into a timorous individual because it develops humour within the play, and this grasp’s the viewer’s attention magnificently. Gregory replies to Sampson by reciting another joke about him: “How, turn thy back and run?” Gregory interrogates Sampson by questioning his loyalty. He demands to know if Sampson will “back” him by turning his back and running away.
Sampson, who has portrayed himself as an arrogant individual becomes uneasy with the idea of them beginning the fight first, and so he suggests that they allow Abram to do this: “Let us take the law of our sides, let them begin.” Hence, Gregory evokes the idea of walking past Abram and displaying a frown before him, however, Sampson proposes an even better plan: “I will bite my thumb at them.” This was known as a highly insulting gesture. Shakespeare unfolds the seriousness of prejudice and how it can lead to escalating violence. Abram responds to the obscene expression illustrated by Sampson by questioning him, like so: “Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?” Held amidst utter confusion, Sampson confirms with Gregory if the law will be on their side if he admits to publishing the gesture at Abram: “(Aside to Gregory) Is the law of our side if I say ay?” Acknowledging the answer produced by Gregory, Sampson denies of biting his thumb at Abram, but admits to biting his thumb. This verbal confrontation between the servants is almost flourishing into a brawl.
Gregory attempts to get the Montague’s to generate a fight by asking Abram if he is quarrelling with them. Gregory’s efforts to do this become unsuccessful. Sampson puts forth a statement: “I serve as good a man as you,” to which Abram replies, “No better.” Sampson answers: “Yes, better, sir,” and thence entered Abram’s anger, thus advanced a riot. However, the main cause of the brawl was when Sampson uttered: “Draw, if you be men.” This is supposedly the most dramatic part of the scene, because the argument between the servants progresses into a vicious fight. Through the origin of the brawl, rife as it is with sexual and physical bravado, Shakespeare introduces the important theme of masculine honour. Men must defend their reputation whenever it is transgressed against. Also, it is significant that the broil between the Capulet’s and Montague’s ruptures first among the servants. Shakespeare has deliberately focused the viewer’s attention on the servants because the attitudes of the servingmen in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ have been modelled on the behaviours of their masters, and therefore, society.
At this moment, Shakespeare introduces Tybalt, a kinsman to the house of the Capulet’s. Noticing Benvolio’s drawn sword, Tybalt presents his own and humiliates him: “What, art thou drawn among these heartless hinds? / Turn thee, Benvolio, look upon thy death.” Tybalt states that Benvolio should be ashamed of himself for drawing his sword among such inferiors. Benvolio provides a mature reply: “I do but keep the peace. Put up thy sword, or manage it to part these men with me.” Although, Benvolio explains that he is simply trying to keep the peace, Tybalt protests at this utterance and says: “What, drawn, and talk of peace! I hate the word, / As I hate hell, all Montague’s, and thee. / Have at thee, coward.” Tybalt professes a hatred for peace, as strong as his hatred for the Montague’s and attacks. The inclusion of “hate hell” within Tybalt’s confession is recognized as emotive language. Shakespeare has used this technique to have an immediate effect on the audience and intrigue them emotionally. Also, by placing repetition (I hate…/As I hate hell…), within his affirmation, Shakespeare emphasises the central theme of ‘Romeo and Juliet’, which is hate.
The brawl spreads as more citizens become involved. Shakespeare provides excellent characterisation of Benvolio as thoughtful and fearful of the law and Tybalt as a hothead.
The riot between the two households allows Shakespeare to capture the audience’s attention with ease, because there would be a lot of movement and action on the stage.
Shakespeare then presents the masters of the feuding families. Capulet demands for his sword, “Give me my long sword, ho!”, and Montague insists on participating in the brawl but Lady Montague prevents this from happening, “Hold me not, let me go.” A while after the heads of both households appear on the scene, Shakespeare greets Prince Escales with his train, who quells the riot with a long speech. The Prince commands the fighting to stop on penalty of torture: “If ever you disturb our streets again/ Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace.” The conflicts between the Capulet’s and Montague’s seemed to divide and disturb all of Verona. Forbidding any further outbreaks of violence on pain of death, Prince Escales departs with his train and Lord Capulet, whom he will be having a direct conversation with, regarding this matter. Shakespeare evidently wants to portray the Prince as an important individual, who occupies the social and political pinnacle. Shakespeare allows the Prince to speak in blank verse because he is trying to represent him as a nobleman, as opposed to the servants. Shakespeare uses this effect sparingly, with strong and powerful words to help reflect the character of the Prince.
Throughout this scene, Shakespeare has exposed the consequences of arguments which hold futile causes. The affluent households bring death upon themselves, when there is no need for it and they wouldn’t have to face such difficulty if the Capulet’s and Montague’s were not blinded by honour and hatred.
Act 3 Scene 1 unwraps with Benvolio and Mercutio touring through a street in Verona, beneath the scorching fireball. Within this scene, Shakespeare has inserted dramatic devices to create tension and conflict. Moreover, Shakespeare uses a range of language devices to create a number of different moods, atmospheres and effects for the audience.
Benvolio submits an instruction to Mercutio: “I pray thee, good Mercutio, let’s retire/ The day is hot, the Capels are abroad/ And if we meet we shall not scape a brawl/ For now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring.” Benvolio struggles to usher Mercutio away from the specific area where the Capulets are likely to arrive, therefore he mirrors Mercutio’s temper and compares it to the torridity that surrounded them. The recommendation made by Benvolio allows the audience to recognise him as a mature and concerned individual. As viewers of the play, we would be aware of the instructions made by the Prince that anyone who disturbs the peace of Verona again, shall be exterminated, consequently Shakespeare depicts Benvolio as a peacemaker. Mercutio notifies Benvolio that he possesses a similar temper to any man in Italy, and so should not criticize others for their short fuses: “thou art as hot a Jack in thy mood as any in Italy.”
The differing opinions of Mercutio and Benvolio unbalance the atmosphere. The effect of the unstable atmosphere, causes dramatic tension, which unsettles the audience, resulting in anticipation as to what could happen next. Failing to persuade Mercutio to migrate to another location in Verona, Benvolio notices the Capulets approaching: “By my head, here comes the Capulets.” However, when Tybalt enters with his allies, Mercutio responds insouciantly: “By my heel, I care not.” The formation of Mercutio’s agitation delivers the idea that he is prepared to arouse a battle, even though he is familiar with the Prince’s warning. Shakespeare has shown Mercutio and Benvolio as contradictory characters, because they’re personalities differ extensively. Mercutio’s extravagant attempts at provoking a fray with Tybalt become ineffective, because he is eager to communicate with Romeo: “Mercutio, thou consortest with Romeo.” Although “consortest” implies “to associate with”, it can also refer to Mercutio being homosexual. Mercutio interrupts Tybalt with another exclamation: “Consort? What, dost thou make us minstrels? And thou make minstrels of us, look to hear nothing but discords.” Consort may also indicate “to sing in concert with”, therefore Mercutio deliberately takes it in this sense and acts highly humiliated. “Here’s my fiddlestick, here’s that shall make you dance”- this is another attempt by Mercutio to inflame a fight with Tybalt.
This punning remark spoken by Mercutio may illustrate him drawing his sword from his scabbard or exposing his masculine genitals to make Tybalt dance. Benvolio tries to relax the atmosphere and tranquilise the situation brewing between the noblemen. Furthermore, Benvolio advises Mercutio and Tybalt not to fight in public and requests them to take the quarrel elsewhere: “We talk here in the public haunt of men/ Either withdraw unto some private place/ Or reason coldly of your grievances/ Or else depart; here all eyes gaze on us.” However, Mercutio shows no concern towards Benvolio’s suggestion and replies: “Men’s eyes were made to look, and let them gaze/ I will not budge for no man’s pleasure, I.” This informs the audience that Mercutio will not withdraw from the argument.