Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare


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Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Many people consider a tragedy to be a play or story, which includes
an element of death and disaster, the play Romeo and Juliet fits into
this category. With their fate already mapped out, Shakespeare ends
the secret love affair of Romeo and Juliet with their deaths. The
tragedy has a didactic purpose; Shakespeare wants the audience to
learn how to avoid making the same mistakes as the characters.

Shakespeare cleverly begins the play with a prologue, which sets the
scene for the rest of the play. The prologue tells us about an
“ancient grudge” between two families and how only the deaths of
“star-crossed lovers”, one from each enemy, could end the feud. This
brief revelation of the plot of the play allows the audience to
concentrate on how and what led to the two lovers deaths instead of a
surprise ending with death. The fact that the prologue is written as a
sonnet emphasises the theme of love. A sonnet typically uses very
elaborate and poetic language and this can be seen in the prologue,
such as “their death-marked love”. However this also creates a theme
of violence and death, which carries on throughout the rest of the
play by mentioning “civil blood makes civil hands unclean” and “their
parents rage”, it sets the scene for the rest of the play.

The opening scene of the play is in complete contrast to the prologue.
We go from a sonnet describing love in very elaborate and poetic
language to the coarse and sexual language of two servants. This
extreme contrast grabs the attention and interest of the audience
straight away. The scene begins with two servants of the Capulet’s
basically “egging each other on” to fight the enemy. Sampson, the
seemingly more hot headed of the two, brags about being “in choler”
and that he will “draw” his sword in order to defend the Capulet’s.
Gregory, on the other hand, is much more sensible and in response to
Sampson’s claimed bravery states that “to move is to stir, and to be

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valiant is to stand: therefore if thou art move thou runn’st away”.
There is also a lot of sexual language used, particularly by Sampson,
he declares hat he “will be civil with the maids: I will cut off their
heads”. At the time the play was written, an Elizabethan audience
would have found this coarse, sexual language and the puns hilarious.

The arrival of two of the Montague’s servants puts Sampson and
Gregory’s boasting of their superiority to the test. Once again,
Shakespeare injects humour into the scene by the servants biting their
thumbs to one another and sarcastically repeating “Sir”. The heated
argument soon turns into a fight and brings about a lot of action onto
the stage. In comparison to the prologue, the stage would now be
filled with commotion; Shakespeare purposely uses this busy visual
effect to increase the interest of the audience.

The entrance of Benvolio into the play is very different to that of
Tybalt. The audience immediately sees the peace-making ways of
Benvolio by trying to calm the servants down by saying, “put up your
swords, you know not what you do”. Whereas the arrival of Tybalt is
very dramatic showing his aggressive and violent behaviour towards the
feud. Tybalt relates the word “peace” to his hatred of “hell” and
calls Benvolio a “coward” for asking him to “put up thy sword, or
manage it to part these men”. This reckless behaviour inevitably leads
to them fighting and causes a riot in the street including civilians.

The involving of the civilians refers back to the prologue “where
civil hands makes civil hands unclean”. Shakespeare gives the audience
a taste of what is going to happen in the rest of the play by
including the fight so early on. This emphasise to the audience the
importance of the feud and how it affects the innocent civilians of
Verona.

Shakespeare uses the arrival of Capulet, Lady Capulet, Montague and
Lady Montague to once again humour the audience. Both Capulet and
Montague see the fight and request for their swords to join in. Both
wives hold back their husbands saying that they are too old to fight
and “a crutch, a crutch! Why call you for a sword”. However, the
eagerness of the husbands to join the riot once again shows the
audience the extent of this “ancient grudge”.

The arrival of the Prince Escales also shows the effect of the
“ancient grudge”. At first the Prince is unable to even stop them
fighting and resorts to calling the men “beasts” giving us an idea of
how out of control the fight is. The Prince gives the culprits a
warning by saying “if ever you disturb our streets again, your lives
shall pay the forfeit of peace”. This warning sets up the whole
tragedy by clarifying what the audience has already been told, it is
inevitable that there will be at least one death in the play. To
emphasise this point even more to the audience, Shakespeare has
written the Prince’s speech in iambic pentameter.

After the brawl is over, Montague, Lady Montague and Benvolio talk
about Romeo. Shakespeare cleverly uses this conversation to increase
the anticipation of the audience, as they have not even seen Romeo at
any point so far. They talk of Romeo’s depressive state of mind with
his parents obviously being worried about him. Montague says that
Romeo “makes himself an artificial night: black and portentous must
this humour prove”, this suggests that something bad is going to
happen. Benvolio agrees to find out what is wrong with Romeo and the
audience finally meets Romeo.

Benvolio discovers a love sick Romeo who seems to be avoiding any
human contact. Romeo talks of an unrequited love where Rosalind
refuses to love him back; he even says that “she hath Dian’s wit”
meaning that Cupid’s arrows are missing her. To emphasise how confused
and sad Romeo is, Shakespeare uses oxymorons, “O brawling love, O
loving hate”, “feather of lead” etc, everything is not what it seems
to Romeo. Elizabethan’s would have considered Romeo’s behaviour to be
perfectly normal and acceptable, but today, it could be thought to be
immature and self-centred. Benvolio tries to convince Romeo o “examine
other beauties” but he claims, “Thou canst not teach me to forget”.
However, the audience know that it is not Rosalind that Romeo ends up
with which could be an argument about whether Romeo’s elaborate way of
speaking about his emotions in this Act 1 are artificial.

All of the themes of love, hate, conflict and fate in the play are
actually introduced in Act 1 Scene 1. Shakespeare does this to make
sure that the audience are able to grasp the actual point of the play.
What the play is about is told immediately, when Romeo is talking of
his love for Rosalind, he actually sums up what the play is about in
just one line, “Here’s much to do with hate, but more with love”.

In conclusion, the events and themes, which are shown in Act 1 Scene
1, predict the future tragedy. The combination of love and hate is
bound to end with death. The audience hasn’t even seen or heard of
Juliet yet which emphasises Shakespeare’s point of the whole play.
Shakespeare wants the audience to concentrate on how the characters
come to their tragic end so they can learn from its didactic purpose.


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