In “Romeo and Juliet”, Shakespeare uses various means to make the first meeting of Romeo and Juliet as powerful on stage as possible.
The play begins with a prologue, which on its own is not very significant. However, with a prophecy of “star crossed lovers” undertaking a “fearful passage of their death-marked love”, an atmosphere of expectancy is created. The audience would anticipate the meeting of the lovers whom fate has brought together, and this creates tension in the audience, which builds up as they wait for the couple to meet.
The first scene of the play is very violent – which is surprising for a romantic play. Also the audience is introduced first hand to the bitter hatred between the Montagues and Capulets. Shakespeare introduces the play with such aggression for a reason. As the audience knows, this is a romantic play but they soon realise “it is a play much to do with hate, but more with love”. This makes the audience wonder how, out of so much hate, such an intense love could be born.
Shakespeare uses contrasts such as love and hate, aggression and tranquility in order to make the first meeting more powerful on stage. For example, in Act 1 Scene 1 (line 61), Tybalt expresses his hatred, “…talk of peace? I hate the word, as I hate hell all Montagues and thee.” Shakespeare emphasises these contrasts as much as possible with the themes of hate and aggression dominating until the first meeting of Romeo and Juliet. The aim of this is to have a more powerful effect when the long awaited for contrast comes.
Another technique that Shakespeare employs, in ensuring the power of the meeting on stage, is language. When the audience is first introduced to Romeo, he appears confused or in a poor state of mind – to emphasise this point Romeo uses a variety of oxymorons in six lines of speech (lines 167-172 of Act 1 Scene 1). However, when Romeo meets Juliet for the first time he speaks in a sonnet. Romeo was speaking differently before using oxymorons and rhyming couplets but he then reverts to the usual way of speaking in Shakespeare’s love poems, in sonnets. This adds to the dramatic effect as the audience notices the character’s sudden change in his use of language.
Furthermore, the meeting of Romeo and Juliet is made more powerful by the use of religious imagery. Romeo compares Juliet to a saint and more religious references are made throughout their conversation (profane, holy, shrine, sin, pilgrims, devotion, palmers, faith, purged, trespass). The reason for using religious imagery is to show the audience the strength of their emotion and the love they feel for each other; also it is showing that their love is worthy to be supported.
A director of the early scenes of the play could use visual and audio effects to make the meeting more powerful. Visual and audio effects would be more powerful than subtle things, which can be recognised in text such as sonnets (this would apply to a modern audience who would not be accustomed to different styles of poetry such as sonnets).
At the beginning of the play some clear contrasts are established, some of the most obvious are hate, aggression, love and tranquility. In order to make the meeting stand out from other scenes, a director could emphasise these contrasts as much as possible with the themes of hate and aggression dominating until the meeting itself, the aim of this is to have a more powerful effect when the contrast arrives. For example, in Act 1 Scene 1 when there is a brawl, the actors involved could use facial expressions displaying anger and accompany that with a harsh tone of voice – this could be applied to when Sampson challenges some Montague servants in line 54 “Draw, if you be men. Gregory remember thy washing blow”.
To add to the dramatic effect, the prologue could be repeated after Act 1 Scene 4 (when the decision is made to attend the party) and before Act 1 Scene 5 (when Romeo and Juliet meet at the party). The effect that is intended to come from this is one of anticipation where the audience realises that the prophecy made in the prologue will begin to take effect. In addition, the audience will also be aware that something important is about to happen due to the repetition and this will make the meeting more powerful as the audience are expecting something significant to come soon.
Moreover, the sound effects and lighting will be very powerful tools in increasing the power of the meeting to the audience. The main occasion where this will come into effect is from the prologue being repeated to the meeting itself. The sound effects would be some classical music, which would be made up of instrumental pieces but no vocals, as that would not be appropriate with characters speaking on stage. This music builds up gradually and ends abruptly at the meeting of Romeo and Juliet. This music would increase in erraticness or tempo when there is a scene such as when Tybalt wanted to pick a fight with Romeo for attending the party, this would be part of the build up. This would serve the purpose of engaging the audience in the emotion of the coming scene. This in turn would make the scene more dramatic.
Lighting would also play a key role in this scene, in turn with the music increasing in volume the lighting would decrease in brightness gradually and by the meeting there would only be enough light to make out figures of the characters on stage. At this point – when Romeo and Juliet meet, a spotlight would be shone on them. This signifies the importance of this meeting and focuses the attention of the audience making the scene very powerful as it grabs the attention of the audience.