“Romeo and Juliet” is the tragic tale of forbidden love, fate and destiny. The prologue is important as it introduces these key themes and creates dramatic irony. It is introduced by a chorus – to give us a commentary and summary of the action. The dramatic irony whets the audience’s appetite for the play, and the prologue helps the lower class audience understand the storyline easier. Act 1 Scene 1 grabs the attention of both the higher and lower classes of audience with the use of poetry for the higher classes and the comical influences would draw the lower classes into the play.
Modern film adaptations of “Romeo and Juliet” – such as Baz Luhrmann’s version – appeal to modern audiences because of special effects, lighting and sound. Shakespeare on the other hand used only the language he wrote down and the space on the stage in front of him to create dramatic tension and hold the audience’s interest.
Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” originated from an English poem, “The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet” by Arthur Brooke. It was published in 1562 and was written in the popular style of the sonnet. Shakespeare’s main change to the poem was the duration of the events that took place. Instead of taking three months, the proceedings took a mere five days. This increased dramatic tension in the story by speeding up the pace, showing us that the nature of young love is passionate and impulsive.
The audience would have already been familiar with the story as they would have known the original version. The prologue introduces what you are about to see, and brings up the key themes of the play such as fate and death. These are explained with phrases such as “star cross’d lovers” which gives the implication of fate romance and death, as there is a mythology that the stars are symbols of a dead person (in the heavens), and they are romantic symbols. The prologue creates dramatic tension because the audience is told exactly what will happen, and this illustrates that the future is set in stone and cannot be changed. The form of the prologue is a sonnet – a love poem about suffering and pain. This again highlights the key themes and creates dramatic irony and suspense, as the story of “Romeo and Juliet” is about the suffering and pain of young love.
The episodic structure of Act 1 Scene 1 creates a fast and exciting pace, involving the audience; never letting them get bored. The fight scene is very quick and exhilarating in pace, and heightens the suspense of the scene. Whereas this is very swift and tense part of the Act, it largely contrasts with Romeo’s lament. He is very calm and deep – talking about his vast emotions of love for Rosaline. The juxtaposition of the characters and events create a lot of dramatic tension as we know that Romeo will eventually be involved in one of these feuds because of his love.
The contrast between the sombre and melancholy tone of the prologue and the humorous, vulgar beginning of scene1 is to involve both the lower and upper classes of the audience. The lower and less mentally involved classes of the audience would relate to the humour of the first scene, “We will not carry coals…no for then we should be colliers”, whilst the higher more intellectual classes of audience would appreciate the more meaningful structure of the prologue, “where civil blood makes civil hands unclean”.
The use of the props such as the swords they are carrying and the gesture of biting the thumb “I do bite my thumb, sir” holds the suspense of the audience and increases dramatic tension with the suggestion of potential death and violence. The biting of the thumb increases the dramatic tension even more because it was used to trigger violence.
Humour is used in this banter to appeal to the lower classes, and the light-hearted conversation and joking about the violence between the Montague’s and the Capulet’s suggests that the feud has been going on for so long that it isn’t taken seriously any more.
The pun “collar – choler” introduces the theme of anger leading to death right from the beginning of the play as “collar” means the hangman’s noose, and “choler” means anger. Also the pun on the “heads of the maidens – or their maidenheads” shows the attitude towards women in that time was that they were just objects to be used. The male servants joke about how they will rape the women servants and take their virginity. The attitude back then was that women were not valued if they didn’t have their virginity. This again shows the women to be animals or things to be used and discarded. The patriarchal system of the day shows this as Juliet was forced to marry Paris against her will. This also shows the different attitudes of Romeo towards women. He has respect for women and shows this by idealising them. This links in to the key theme of love.
Dramatic tension is built through the fight scene and Prince’s speech through the juxtaposition of characters of different classes, who use language for different purposes. The Prince’s speech is written in verse, rather than prose and he uses complex sentence structures, showing his higher social status, “If ever you disturb our streets again, your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace!” and also once again appealing to higher-class members of the audience.
The language used during the fight scene contrasts to this as it is prose, and quite comical, “Do you quarrel sir?” “Quarrel sir! No sir.” As the Prince appears the tone of the scene sobers and his ideas as well as his language contrasts to that of the servants, as he speaks in verse. His threat to the families “on pain of death” increases dramatic tension as we already know that two people will die as a result of the information given to us from the prologue.
In the Romeo and Benvolio scene, Lady Montague’s comment about Romeo “right glad I am he was not at this fray” proves ironic because we as the audience know he is going to die anyway. When the characters start talking about Romeo, the mood changes from dramatic to calm and the key theme of love becomes predominant. The oxymorons used by Romeo here (“loving hate”, “feather of lead”) express his confusion and the inner conflict he has between his family and love. “Loving hate” shows how he feels about love in that love is also like hate.
The metaphors Romeo uses for love increase and create dramatic tension because he describes love as a “choking gall”. This means poison – and we know that he dies from drinking poison. I would describe the language he uses as poetic and meaningful. This shows his tender attitudes towards love, but at the same time there is a darker side to it. He shows that he craves and relies on love. He is in love with the idea of love, rather than love itself, “alas that love, whose view is muffled still, should without eyes see pathways to his will!”
Act 1 scene 1 introduces the audience to the characters and their relationships to portray the situation and inform us of their personalities early on in the play. In the Baz Luhrmann version, lighting sound and special effects are used to greater highlight the key themes and also create dramatic tension. In the fight scene, tension is built by the use of dramatic sound and the characters raising their voices. The louder the music the louder the voices become. The tone and the speed of the action create tension as well.
Fire was used to symbolise violence and anger. It shows destruction and therefore creates more dramatic tension. There are clear advantages and disadvantages to filming rather than staging it. Many takes can be shot to get the perfect atmosphere and film can be altered to create a mood whereas on a stage mistakes can be made, and there’s the risk that the atmosphere may be lost.
In the end, the prologue rings true and Romeo and Juliet die the tragic deaths foretold before. I think it is the most inspiring and beautiful love story ever old and there will never be another one like it; “For there never was a story of more woe, than this of Juliet and her Romeo”.
Courtney from Study Moose
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