Romeo and Juliet: one of the greatest known story’s of all time. Before having seen it acted on the stage or having read the script, people are aware of the storyline and are captured by this tragic love story about “a pair of star cross’d lovers”. The reason for this fame may come from the way the play deals with themes that were not only important in the late sixteenth-century, but are still relevant in today’s society (love, hate, conflict and death to name but a few) or possibly because of the appeal the play has to all ages; romance, action, comedy – it has it all!
To begin the play – a dramatic prologue that adds a suspense which continues throughout the play: a sense of foreboding every time anyone mentions anything ominous.
Although the prologue gives away what is going to happen, it does not seem to ruin the rest of the play. Rather than not wanting to see the end of the play, the excitement is heightened – the audience wants to know why the “star cross’d lovers take their life”.
The prologue also sets the scene, establishing the conflict between “two households, both alike in dignity”, and their “ancient grudge” and telling us the play is set in “fair Verona”. It leaves us with no surprises, giving us a basic summary of the play in the form of a poetic sonnet. One conflict we have with ourselves after the prologue is ” who should we side with?” i.
e. which household is more in the wrong? The aim of the prologue in Shakespearian times was to attract the attention of the rowdy audience, who would have been talking and laughing – making a great deal of noise – without any of the action being lost to them.
Act one, scene one starts like a comedy might; with two servants of the house of Capulet exchanging jokes that end up becoming quite smutty. This offers the audience a relief from the heaviness of the prologue and sets up the stage for more important characters to the play to enter. These two characters, although not appearing within the play again, are important to the first scene, as they show how easily the conflict between the two houses can start up and how quickly, once started, it grows; the status being raised from servants of both houses, to the young people all the way up to the Lords and Ladies. The beginning of this scene also builds up the characters of Benvolio, the peacemaker, and Tybalt, the warrior. Benvolio enters, with the purpose of stopping the fight, he is a calm, diplomatic person with good intentions, but
Tybalt’s entrance and speech about hating “peace…all Montagues and thee (Benvolio)”, arouses his anger and he has to defend himself against the violent nature of Tybalt. The Lords both want to get involved in the fight, but their respective wives try to hold them back, before the entrance of the Prince, who quickly ends the public brawl.
The Prince is a sensible, respected character, yet he does not have the power to quash the “three civil brawls” which were “bred of an airy word”.
After the fight, Lord and Lady Montague talk to Benvolio , trying to make out how the fight started, trusting Benvolio to give them an honest account, which he does, and also to ask him about their son, Romeo, who has been acting in a very despondent manner. They are glad that wasn’t involved in the fight, but are also concerned about him, so Benvolio agrees to find out what is wrong with him.
When Benvolio speaks to Romeo, he tries to talk some sense into him, however Romeo refuses to listen and insists on using romantic, flowery over-the-top language to describe his love for a woman who cannot or will not return it. But in this scene, the person on whom Romeos affections are placed is not revealed. Romeo speaks in oxymorons, e.g. “O brawling love, O loving hate, O anything of nothing” etc and contradicts the generally agreed upon image of love, according to Romeo love is hurt, pain, bitterness and misfortune. Romeo’s speeches in this scene make him seem like a very volatile character because of his negative views of love. He is so adamant in his professions of love, yet he is too emotionally driven and overly excessive in his language. He is infatuated with “the mystery woman” and Benvolio offends him because he is unable to control himself and jokes about the strength of Romeo’s feelings, implying that he will be in love with someone else soon enough.
When Romeo finds out about the fight, he is disgusted, obviously not one to take part in the conflicts of the two houses, and does not think it is worthwhile to continue fighting.
The second half of scene one is a total contrast to the first half; part one is loud and action filled, part two is quiet and emotional, part one is about many characters, part two is centred around Romeo. The second part of the scene is also a lot more personal.
Scene two starts with a conversation between Lord Capulet and Paris, the Count who wishes to marry Juliet. Lord Capulet is very happy that the Prince ordered for the peace to be kept between the Montague’s and the Capulet’s (“But Montague is bound as well as I, in penalty alike; and ’tis not hard, I think, for men so old as us to keep the peace”).
Paris is trying to persuade Lord Capulet that girls younger than Juliet are happily married and have had children, but Lord Capulet wants to wait for two years (until Juliet is sixteen) until she will let Paris marry her because she is very precious to him as the only one of his children to have survived. He agrees to consent to the marriage, as long as Juliet likes him, but is still unhappy about the arrangement. This is a contrast to the way he acts later in the play, threatening to disown Juliet if she refuses to marry Paris (act 3, scene 5). Lord Capulet then invites Paris to a party that he is holding that night, where he will meet Juliet.
This part of the scene is an good illustration of the patriarchal society of the time – Juliet’s father picked out the man he wants her to marry, and begins to arrange the details.
Lord Capulet then send out a servant with the invitation list, however the servant cannot read and therefore stops to ask someone to read it to him. The people he stops happen to be Romeo and Benvolio. It is this section that we find out the name of Romeos love – Rosaline.
When Romeo enters, he is still expressing his sorrows in a melodramatic manner, while Benvolio is trying to persuade him to find someone else but is scorned by Romeo. When Romeo finds out that Rosaline is supposed to be one of the guests at the Capulet party, he is very anxious to find out where the party is being held, and gets very impatient with the servant. The servant finally tells him and departs, and Benvolio urges Romeo to attend the party, saying that he will find him someone so beautiful that Rosaline will look ugly in comparison. Romeo retorts to this with a speech saying that if he ever found another woman as beautiful as Rosaline, it would be like finding an idol greater than God, and that his eyes should be turned to fire and burned out of his head.
Scene three is an unusual scene because it is one of the only scenes in the whole play which is focused solely on the relationship of the three women in the Capulet household – Lady Capulet, Juliet and the Nurse. The scene is quite a personal one. In this scene, we see the closeness between Juliet and her Nurse, clearly contrasting with the formality she has towards her mother and we get a detailed insight into the personality of each of the women.
The Nurse is an appealing character to the audience because of her humour, very similar to that of the servants at the very beginning of the play -quite smutty, a relief from the tension at some points.
The Nurse was the one who looked after Juliet ever since she was a baby, and because of this has almost become a part of the family.
She has a long speech about Juliet in her childhood, which emphasises the strong bonds between them, but the speech has quite a rude theme, and therefore according to the Nurse’s personality she feels the need to repeat it several times, to the humour of the audience. She is a confident character, loud and talkative, and unable to control herself at times. She has to add her point to everything and insists upon being included in the conversation as much as possible. Almost everything she says has some sexual undertones or innuendos, showing that she has quite a one-track mind. Her speech is very long, quite descriptive and very repetitive.
Lady Capulet wants her daughter to have money, status and fame rather than love in her marriage, and therefore encourages Juliet to meet and fall in love with Paris, telling her of his good looks and wealth.
She is very impressed by Paris, and glad that he has taken a liking to Juliet, but more for the added status it will give her family.
She cannot wait to have Juliet married off (unlike her father who wants to wait a while) and reminds Juliet that she herself was married and pregnant at fourteen. She is very to the point about Juliet’s marriage, as if she wants to get it out of the way. She is a very contrasting character to the Nurse.
Juliet is a very dutiful and submissive daughter towards her mother and behaves in a very meek and obedient way. For example, when asked if she could ever fall in love with Paris she says “I’ll look to like, if looking liking move. But I’ll no more deep will I endart mine eye than your consent gives strength to make it fly”. This is a total contrast to the way Juliet comes across later, after meeting Romeo, when she defies her parents wishes so as to break her engagement with Paris. She is vague about her views on marriage and waits until her mother appears happy at the prospect before expressing her own (more subdued) happiness.
In this scene, she seems to be a very demure character, and quite timid as well. She is very conscious of what her mother thinks of her and very anxious to please her, therefore acts as she thinks her mother wants her to act and tries her hardest to please her.
Scene four – Romeo is getting ready to go to the ball along with his best friends, Mercutio and Benvolio. This is the first scene in which Mercutio appears and he seems quite strange. He is very different from Romeo, although they are best friends, as he seems to be more of a feisty character, more physically driven, but just as passionate about expressing himself as Romeo is. He also is a character who is likely to become carried away, which is where Romeo comes in, helping him to know when to stop. He is highly strung and quick tempered, but at the same time loyal to his friends.
There is a sense of tension and brooding excitement in this scene, giving it an atmospheric feel, but also a forewarning, relating back to the prologue, coming from the description of the scene – dark, torch-bearers, drums etc.
Romeo is having doubts about going to the ball, worrying about being recognised, still infatuated with Rosaline and unable to be consoled. Mercutio is fed up of Romeo’s moping behaviour and confronts him. They have a conversation in which they both retaliate quickly and (slightly) jokingly to what the other says, to the annoyance of the other. Mercutio makes fun of Romeo, while Romeo turns everything Mercutio says into a play on words. Then Mercutio comes into his own with a long speech about “Queen Mab” – the fairy who is responsible for a persons dreams. The speech starts off quite light hearted, but all of a sudden, towards the end turns quite sinister, but Romeo stops Mercutio before he can go over-the-top and changes the subject. Then Romeo voices his grievances saying “I fear too early; for my mind misgives, Some consequence yet hanging in the stars shall bitterly begin his fearful date with this night’s revels.” This leads us back to thinking of the prologue’s forewarning of death and tragedy.
The pace of the scene started off quite normally, getting faster and faster throughout Mercutio’s speech and then finally almost stopping when Romeo stops Mercutio.
Scene five – the party – the climax of act one. This is a very busy scene – a party, lots of people, food and drink, everyone having a good time.
The scene starts with the frantic activity of the servants anxiously rushing around, trying to make sure that everything is perfect, and making sure that nothing goes wrong.
Lord Capulet shows himself to be a good host, giving a rousing speech to the guests and starting the merriment. He then steps back with his cousin, to let the younger guests begin dancing. Tybalt, upon noticing Romeo, goes straight to Lord Capulet, who refuses to let the arrival of one who has done him no harm spoil the evening and tells Tybalt to leave Romeo to his own devices and to have fun. He is very conscious that it is his jkob to ensure everyone has a good time that he want no scenes, and as he sadi earlier, he is quite happy with the idea that Montague’s and Capulet’s have to keep the peace..When Tybalt rebels against this order, Lord Capulet becomes very firm and insists that Tybalt Leave Romeo alone. This speech shows that Lord Capulet does not tolerate being undermined or disobeyed and does not like his position being condemned.
Meanwhile Romeo has caught sight of Juliet and is astounded by her beauty. His language to describe her is very different to his earlier language describing his love for Rosaline. He can find nothing bad to say about Juliet, compares her only to good things and describes her only using the prettiest of adjectives, similes and metaphors. His earlier lust for Rosaline only serves to make his love for Juliet seem even more romantic than it is and shows that his love for her is real. However, he does not realise who she is, yet when he begins to talk to her, neither of them think to introduce themselves, adding more to the obvious “love at first sight” clichï¿½ that applies to them. They are both so distracted by the other that nothing else matters and the whole world seems to revolve around just the two of them.
In the following speech they play a word game with each other, each twisting the others words into a new meaning and testing the other, then finally they kiss. It is a moment that the audience have been waiting for since they began talking and as they talk – whilst holding hands – the anticipation grows until finally they kiss. They have fallen totally in love, so when each finds out that the other is (as Romeo says) “My life is my foe’s debt” or (as Juliet says) ” My only love sprung from my only hate” there is too much between them to just go back and forget what happened. This is where the scene ends, leaving the audience waiting with eagerness to know what happens next.