Significance of Act and Act Scenes in Character Development

Categories: Romeo And Juliet

Act 1 Scene 5 and Act 3 Scene 1 are two of the most significant scenes in Shakespeare's play 'Romeo and Juliet'. Each contain important turning points which set the scene for the rest of the play and help to develop and vary the character's personalities.

In Act 1 Scene 5, great tension is mounted because the audience know that Romeo is not a welcomed member of the Capulets' party, but in being there, he finds love at first sight. The reason that Romeo is at the party in the first place is that his cousin, Benvolio, tries to take his mind off Rosaline and suggests finding a new woman.

This suggests that Benvolio is a kind, considerate character, and his name is probably linked to the word 'benevolent,' another word for considerate.

Rosaline infatuates Romeo, but he does not feel true love in this infatuation:

'Feather of lead, bright-smoke; cold fire, sick health,

Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is!

This love feel I, that feel no love in this.

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There are a series of oxymorons from Romeo in this passage. The use of this language develops the moping aspect of his character.

Before they arrive at the party, Romeo gives a speech relating to death, 'Some consequences yet hanging in the stars', meaning in-directly that death is nearby, creating tension. This is the first of many examples of Romeo's fatalistic character - he believes that something significant will happen in the near future.

Shakespeare refers to light and dark on many occasions, one being in Romeo's speech.

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Later on in the play, Romeo refers to Juliet as 'light' e.g. being the good in his life. He also refers to her in holy terms suggesting she is 'pure' and perfect, 'she doth teach the torches to burn bright', creating the image that Juliet is very pure. This suggests that Juliet is life enhancing to Romeo; she makes life worth living.

The beginning of Scene 5 starts with the Capulets' servants, they seem very rushed in their activities, and there is a great sense of urgency. There is a use of exclamation marks to give an atmosphere of how rushed everything is. The sentences are short and used in them are lots of imperative verbs e.g. 'Take' and 'away with the joint stools' there is a great anticipation of the party and final adjustments are being made in great panic. This section of the scene is intense and tension-filled, because normally in the play, time is slow when the lovers are not together, and fast when they are in each other's company.

To liven up the scene and put it on a high note, Capulet gives a welcoming speech. Classical style music could be played throughout this scene to show that it is a ballroom dance from the start. However, the music should quieten when the welcoming speech commences. Capulet's language shows that he is in charge. He is jovial and includes humour to get guests in the 'party' mood. 'She that makes dainty, she I'll swear hath corns'. It reveals that Capulet has got a sense of humour and is also rather crude. Later on in the speech he then goes on to welcome Romeo and the other masked Montagues:

'Welcome, gentlemen! I have seen the day

That I have worn a visor and could tell

A whispering tale in a fair lady's ear,

Such as would please: 'tis gone, 'tis gone, 'tis gone:'

Masked balls were a custom of the time, and they gave uninvited guests such as Romeo and Benvolio a chance to be anonymous. This part of the speech shows Lord Capulet's mood to be happy and joyful as he is telling them about the times when he used to wear a mask and tempt young ladies.

The audience is aware of the hostility between the Montagues and the Capulets at this point, which adds tension. There has been a recent fight in the square started by the servents, so this adds further hostility. We also learn that Juliet has been requested by Paris to be his wife and they have plans to meet at the Capulet Ball. This shows Shakespeare's intentions for the play to be about fate - Romeo just happened to come across an illiterate servant delivering the invites and it was that party that Paris decides to introduce himself to Juliet.

Shortly after the speech, Romeo notices Juliet but she does not notice him at first. The actor playing Romeo could be spying on Juliet, at which point the music playing in the background should change to a slower dance which is more romantic. This may help to mark the moment at which Romeo first sees Juliet and perhaps make it that much more special. Romeo must almost be staring constantly at Juliet to show his captivation by her beauty. They could also be spotlighted, which would add a touch of romance and passion to their first glimpse of each other. Hopefully, this will show love at first sight. Another good idea to show how much they are overcome by each other would be to have an obvious attention point such as a balloon popping. Everyone else could react to it apart from Romeo and Juliet. Little things like this, I believe, would increase the suspense and tension dramatically.

Romeo sees Juliet with Paris, and he describes her in a romantic manner. He uses very passionate language, describing her as a 'Snowy Dove trooping with Crows'. This metaphor suggests how beautiful and peaceful she is among the 'crowd'. This is another comparison to lightness and darkness. There is an irony to this sentence because in the end it is Romeo being with Juliet that ends his peace. He also describes her as a 'rich jewel', conveying to the audience his romantic character and Juliet's beauty, innocence and purity. These descriptions imply that Romeo believes he has found the woman which Benvolio was intending, and this is also tying in with the theme of fate. A few lines on Romeo has forgotten his love for Rosaline when he says:

'Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight!

For I never saw true beauty till this night.'

This speech shows Romeo's mood as happy and full of love as he begins to talk in rhyming couplets. It is different to the mood of the scene at the beginning, when the servant's speech was short, because Romeo's speech is long and poetic. This kind of speech ties in with the historical element of the play, because Romeo is being portrayed as a traditional courtly lover and a poet, because of his long, descriptive sentences and the deep meaning behind them.

'The measure done, I'll watch her place of stand,

And, touching hers, make blessed my rude hand.'

Romeo is still talking in rhyming couplets, giving an impression of adoration. There is a tender element about his language, but there is also a blasphemous quality emphasised by the remark about his 'rude hand.' The audience at the time may have been shocked at this comment and Romeo's behaviour.

When the lovers first meet the atmosphere is very tense and lively. As young Juliet is dancing there is a sense of ambience when Romeo spots her, 'What lady's that which doth enrich the hand of yonder knight?' Romeo describes himself as a knight, and this is related to the social-historical element of the play. The knight is a traditional hero in romantic stories, so Romeo tries to convey this aspect of his character. In Baz Luhrmann's production of the film Romeo is dressed as a knight, so Luhrmann was clearly trying to get across the fact that Romeo is traditionally portrayed as a courtly lover. There is also a sense of how something so good has led Romeo to his death, and the audience is aware of their short future together, whilst they are completely oblivious. This is an example of great dramatic irony.

When the lovers first fall in love, it is the exact same time as Tybalt notices Romeo. The differing reactions of both Capulet and Tybalt are the main creators of the tension. It makes the audience tense, as they know how Tybalt and Romeo are enemies. When Capulet sees an enraged Tybalt he asks, 'Why, how now, kinsman, wherefore storm you so?' The actor playing Capulet should be in complete contrast to Tybalt who is irate. Capulet must enter enjoying the party but must be curious to find out why Tybalt is so angry. 'Tis he, that villain Romeo'. The actor playing Tybalt must say this line spitefully with emphasis on the word villain. This will help the audience build up Tybalt's character as a malicious person.

When Tybalt tells Capulet, he doesn't feel angry, and says 'Content thee, gentle coz, let him alone.' In this line Lord Capulet tells Tybalt that Romeo is a well-mannered and dignified young boy, who causes no trouble and that he would not see any harm in him coming to his house. His mood is very calm but he also tells Tybalt he does not want his party ruined: 'you'll make a mutiny among my guests.' It is known from previous scenes that Tybalt is very proud of the house of Capulet, so it is now a suspicion of the audience that Tybalt will end up causing Romeo pain and anger. Tybalt disagrees with Capulet's comments and goes on to say 'I'll not endure him'. Capulet snaps his reply back to Tybalt by saying 'He shall be endured'. Capulet is now being very aggressive with Tybalt for trying to overthrow his master's orders. This shows the power Capulet has over Tybalt. He insults him by calling him a 'goodman boy'. This would be a double insult to Tybalt as he calling him a 'goodman' which means not a gentleman, and to call him 'boy' increases insult to the previous one. Throughout the rest of the scene Tybalt is evidently uneasy knowing that Romeo is at the party but cannot do anything. This creates tension, as the audience knows what a short-tempered character Tybalt is. 'To fleer and scorn at our solemnity?' Shakespeare uses tautology in this sentence to enhance the viciousness of Tybalt's character. 'Tis a great shame', showing Tybalt is ready to start a fight with Romeo, bringing out his short temper.

When Romeo and Juliet are together, all other hatred seems to disappear, and they are in their own world, excluded from the rest of the party, as their only concern is to love each other and be happy. There is an immediate rapport between them - Romeo starts off the love sonnet talking in rhyming couplets, and Juliet immediately follows his lead, speaking with the same language structure. This is one of the methods Shakespeare uses to show love at first sight.

When they talk to each other the speech is holy and pure, e.g. the mention of 'pilgrims' and 'saints.' These words are metaphors emphasising the love between them. At one point there appears to be a degree of teasing from Juliet. 'For saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch, and palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss'. Religious imagery plays a big role in this speech. There is a blasphemous feature to the sonnet, with the use of the word 'palm', conveying images of touching and intimacy. It also expresses images of Palm Sunday, and 'prayer' suggests communication and worship. Romeo speaks to Juliet as though she is a 'saint', making the audience think once again of purity and perfection. To Romeo she is a 'shrine', a place of worship and focus that is now in his life.

Romeo uses tautology when he says 'the gentle pain is this'. The words 'gentle' and 'pain' being used next to each other are contradictive and they help to show Romeo's infatuation with Juliet.

The sonnet ends all of a sudden to be confronted with the Nurse's part of the scene. As a consequence, they are they are broken away from their isolation as they are interrupted abruptly from each other. This is very rare as normally nothing can break them from their time together. 'Madam, your mother craves a word with you' this is when the Nurse first enters to break the conversation. This part of the scene is very tense, as it seems that the lovers will be broken up from their enjoyment with each other. While Juliet is gone to find her mother, Romeo has a chance to find out whom he has just met. He asks nurse, who tells him she is a Capulet and daughter of Lady Capulet. Romeo is shocked, he says:

'Is she a Capulet?

O dear account! My life is my foe's debt!'

Romeo now knows his love is a Capulet and that his future love life depends on them. Romeo and Benvolio think it is time to leave as the best of the ball is over and the longer they stay the more unrest they cause.

As Romeo is leaving with the other guests Juliet takes her chance to find out the identity of her lover. She asks nurse the identity of a few of the leaving guests, then that of Romeo. Nurse does not know of him at first, so she goes to find out. Juliet adds:

'If he be married,

My grave is likely to be my wedding bed.'

This follows the theme of fate and how she almost predicts her fate without knowing it.

When Juliet asks the Nurse for Romeo's name she is very reluctant to tell her, creating suspense in the audience who are waiting for Juliet to find out that he is a Montague and how a relationship would be almost impossible for the two because of the family's hatred for each other. 'His name is Romeo, and a Montague.' She is very heartbroken and let down when she finds that love could not be as his Montague upbringing prevents this. Her dismay is evident when she says 'My only love sprung from my only hate'.

Baz Lurhmann chooses to end this scene with Tybalt's rhyming couplets:

'I will withdraw, but this intrusion shall,

Now seeming sweet, convert to bitterest gall'.

Tybalt is angry with Capulet for allowing Romeo to stay at the ball but there is nothing he can do to prevent it, although it is evident from these lines that Tybalt is plotting against Romeo.

Act 3, Scene 1 sees a climax in the play. Tension is created through an intricate use of word play and it is evident from the start that something will happen. The scene opens with Mercutio and Benvolio walking through Verona. Benvolio senses danger and wishes to leave:

'The day is hot, the Capels are abroad,

And, if we meet, we shall not 'scape a brawl,'

Here, it seems, fate steps in and utilises Mercutio's stubborn, proud and jovial nature. Mercutio not only refuses to leave but he begins to welcome the prospect of conflict and mocks Benvolio. Mercutio's name, like Benvolio's, has a meaning behind it. It sounds like the word 'mercurial' meaning 'alert' and 'irritable.' This ties in with Mercutio's personality because he can explode into anger without warning and at the slightest thing. This is evident in this scene because he seems to want a fight with anyone throughout. The name 'Mercutio' also sounds like the volatile substance Mercury. This again sums up Mercutio's character in much the same way, because 'volatile' means 'explosive' and 'unstable'.

The Capulets enter the scene, headed by Tybalt, Juliet's cousin, who has issued a challenge to Romeo. Mercutio defies and ridicules Tybalt. Romeo enters and refuses Tybalt's challenge to fight. Disgusted and egotistical Mercutio insults Tybalt. This part of the play shows a childish side to the men, they fight and quarrel like children. The audience have been anticipating Romeo and Tybalt's fight since the party, but due to the nature of Mercutio, he wants to take part in the fight.

Mercutio is also disgusted at the fact that Romeo has been a coward and not accepted Tybalt's challenge:

'O calm, dishonourable, vile submission!'

These are powerfully descriptive words, which express Mercutio's feelings of disgust. Mercutio also addresses Tybalt as 'Good King of Cats,' perhaps a reference to the fact that Tyblat's name could be interpreted as 'tabby' - a type of cat.

Mercutio is a comical person; he is the character in the play that likes to make jokes and is not a serious person:

'Tybalt you ratcatcher, will you walk?'

This pun is on the subject of fencing, and Mercutio often makes puns on this subject; another example of this is when he compares a fiddlestick to a sword. These puns show the audience that the subject of violence is always present in Mercutio's thoughts.

Tybalt slays Mercutio, and as he is dying he says 'A plague o' both your houses! I am sped.' Now he is being serious. This shows that he is angered by the feud between both houses, which is the cause of his death. The phrase 'A plague o' both your houses' is repeated three times as Mercutio is dying and this emphasises the amount of damage that the feud between the two houses has caused. His curse is fulfilled at the end of the play when Romeo and Juliet die. He then blames Romeo for his wound saying that he was the one that caused all this trouble:

'No, 'tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church door, but 'tis enough, 'twill serve.'

Another characteristic of Mercutio is that he is a comical character, and even as he dies he is still making jokes:

'Ask for me tomorrow and you will find me a grave man.'

This is a reference to death; Mercutio will be dead but he will also be in a grave mood. Shakespeare uses a lot of unpleasant imagery of death such as 'They have made worms meat of me'. This evokes a sense of horror amongst the audience as it makes them realise just how terrible Mercutio's predicament is. Mercutio then dies.

After Mercutio dies Romeo becomes furious, he says ' This day's black fate on moe days doth depend; This but begins the woe others must end.' This means that this day's misfortune casts a sense of foreboding over the days to come. He also blames Juliet's beauty for Mercutio's death:

'O sweet Juliet,

Thy beauty hath made me effeminate,

And in my temper softened valour's steel!'

When Romeo kills Tybalt he realises the 'misfortune' that this will cause when he says:

'O, I am Fortune's fool,' once again referring to fatalism.

Romeo is contemplating how his actions have been those of fate or fortune. Fortune has now fulfilled its latest desire by killing Tybalt. If the Prince, the apparent keeper of law and order in Verona, finds Romeo he will have him killed and Romeo knows that his death would destroy Juliet.

The prince is outraged with what happened but because Mercutio was also killed, instead of giving Romeo the death sentence he banishes him. For Romeo, this is worse than being killed because he has to spend his life regretting killing Tybalt and is forced to stay away from Juliet.

The Prince's language is very poetic and powerful. This shows that he is an authoritative and important character:

'Therefore use none. Let Romeo hence in haste, else, when he is found, that hour will be his last' shows that the Prince is very commanding as he has declared banishment to Romeo, and if he is found he will be killed.

These two scenes in the play are arguably the most important, because they represent major turning points in the story line. They are also very dramatic scenes, particularly the fight scene in which two of the most important characters in the play are murdered. Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare's most famous plays, and will always remain one of the most tragic plays of all time, 'For never was a story of more woe, than this of Juliet and her Romeo.'

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Significance of Act and Act Scenes in Character Development. (2020, Jun 01). Retrieved from

Significance of Act  and Act  Scenes in Character Development
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