Building Tension in Romeo and Juliet's Act Scene

Categories: William Shakespeare

These lines begin the prologue of the famous 'Romeo and Juliet', a play full of tragedy, love and fate. Throughout the play we see that fate plays one of the largest roles in the plot. The play begins by stating that Romeo and Juliet will be affected by fate. It explains to the audience that Romeo and Juliet are doomed from the start, "From the fatal loins of these two foes, a pair of star-crossed lovers take their life." This shows what fate already has in store for them before they are born.

It displays that fate will be a large factor in the story and the end will be tragic. It also shows that the two that are born to love are born into a bitter and hateful grudge between the two families. Their "star-crossed" destiny is as if fate has given them an unlucky place in life. All of these things allow us to believe that fate will determine the out-come of the play.

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One of the most crucial and yet pivotal parts of the play is Act 3, scene 5, seen through arranged marriages, rage and consequences.

You could say, that Romeo and Juliet had just too much bad luck and the play leaves you thinking "if only..." If only the messenger had delivered the letter, if only Juliet had woken up sooner ... there are so many unfortunate chances in the play. This essay will seek to describe how the playwright builds up tension and excitement in Act 3, scene 5.

Just before this scene, we see Romeo attend a party to try and forget about his heartache, and has soon fallen in love at first sight with Juliet, but problems occur when Romeo discovers that she is part of the rivalled family of the Capulet's, although no problem is too big for the love that Romeo and Juliet share.

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During the very famous scene on the balcony we see the two lovers agree to secretly marry the following day. Friar Lawrence agrees to marry them in an act to stop the feuding of the rival families.

Shakespeare's tone is tragic when dealing with the fate of the two lovers. He does this by hinting through the expressions of love how happy this marriage might have become. The tragedy is in the fault of the families and their feud. On a different note, when Romeo and Juliet get together, the tone changes and becomes very romantic. The imagery during these scenes add to the emotions and feelings of love. Shakespeare uses Iambic pentameter as a way to emphasise the emotion in the speech almost as if it is mimicking a heart beat creating extreme emotion using a line of ten syllables. He also uses monosyllabic lines to convey the characters emotions. Shakespeare uses oppositions in the language to reinforce the tragic situation using light versus dark, death versus life, fate versus free will, past versus present and water and drowning imagery.

At the start of Act3, scene 5 Romeo and Juliet are waking up together after their first night of being man and wife. The beginning of this scene is very important because it shows the audience how much Romeo and Juliet actually love each other, they do not want to separate. Juliet begins by suggesting that they have been awakened by the nightingale and therefore it must still be night: "Believe me love, it was the nightingale." However Romeo introduces an element of tension, which alerts the audience to the precariousness of their situation. This is shown when Romeo says "I must be gone and live, or stay and die." Romeo's use of the word "die" emphasises for the audience the danger that he is in. This moment is tense and exciting for the audience because they know that Romeo could get caught at any time. Their language is passionate and intense as Romeo agrees to stay and face his death.

During Act 3 scene 5 we see Juliet talking to her mother. From this conversation we perceive Lady Capulet as a cold, distant women who's more interested in her social superiority rather than her responsibilities. Lady Capulet's use of mainly declaration result in her sounding bitter and detached, far from a loving, maternal figure, Lady Capulet is cold and vengeful. We see this when she says, "Do as thou wilt, for I have done with thee." Creating the impression that she has better things to be doing with her time. Juliet's relationship with her mother seems withdrawn and distant, like she feels she can't even call her mother, "What villain, madam?" With this in mind Juliet must feel abandoned without a motherly figure to guide her, resulting in Juliet turning to the nurse for guidance and advice, "What say'st thou? Hast thou not a word of joy? Some comfort, nurse." The Nurse is Juliet's confidant; she has cared for Juliet all her life and cares for her now. She talks about her in a way a mother does and clearly enjoys the relationship: "Faith, I can tell her age unto the hour". This relationship is contrasted with the one Juliet has with her mother; Lady Capulet, which is more formal, "Madam I am here, what is your will?"

Due to Juliet's distant relationship with her mother, when she is asked why she is crying, "Why, how now, Juliet!" she replies, "Let me weep for such a feeling loss." With Romeo banished from Verona and her cousin brutally murdered, Lady Capulet unknowingly assumes that she is weeping over her lost cousin, "Well, girl, thou weep'st not so much for his death," although, the audience are aware that Juliet is speaking in two meanings: one for her cousin and one for her star crossed lover, who she thinks she will never be able to see again. Juliet continues to say "And yet no man like he doth grieve my heart." Through this, Lady Capulet, yet again assumes she is grieving over her cousin, even though the audience knows that she is referring to her lover; that Romeo upsets her like no other man but the pain is caused through the love that they share. Lady Capulet is completely unaware of the true meaning behind what her daughter is saying, allowing Juliet to easily trick the one person who is 'theoretical' supposed to know Juliet the best. The audience finds the dramatic irony quite enjoyable because Lady Capulet is unaware of her true feelings.

Lady Capulet's speech is full of dramatic irony since her hope of poisoning Romeo anticipates the method he chooses to take his own life in the final act of the play. When Juliet discovers her mothers plans of life changing revenge for Romeo, "Shall give him such an unaccustom'd dram," Juliet does not immediately suggest her true feelings but covers them up by saying, " Indeed, I never shall be satisfied with Romeo, until I behold him-dead-". Juliet uses the pause as a cover up of two meanings. The gap between him and dead is extremely important because she is saying that she wants to be with Romeo and only says 'dead' to cover up her true feelings of love. Juliet feels horrified of her mother's plans and tries to think of a way to stop the completion of the plans, "Madam, if you could find out but a man to bear a poison, I would temper it;" implicating she will deal with the poison, allowing her to obliterate the plans and to give her lover a chance to live for the reason that she cannot live without him. Through the effects of Lady Capulet's plans the audience will feel tense and dissatisfied and will feel abhorrence towards Lady Capulet.

When Lady Capulet announces the 'exciting' news to Juliet, "Hath sorted out a sudden day of joy," Juliet replies with a conflicting response, "I will not merry yet." Lady Capulet is brutally calculating - her venomous ire at Juliet's refusal to marry Paris leads her to say that she wishes "the fool were married to her grave." While Juliet's mother reacts with extreme bitterness, Juliet handles herself with striking maturity. No longer the dutiful teenage daughter of the Capulet's, she is a young woman, a bride, a wife. Her answers are skilfully truthful yet pragmatically deceptive. In response to her mother's attack she replies, "Not proud... but thankful... proud can I never be of what I hate; but thankful even for hate, that is meant love." This makes the audience feel excited end yet anxious because of Juliet's bravery to defend herself. Juliet's interaction with both her mother and her father in this scene confirms the failure of parental love because their sole concern is with a socially acceptable marriage that will improve the wealth and status of the Capulet family rather than the happiness of their daughter. Juliet's reaction shocks Lady Capulet, her mood journeys from revengeful, to impulsive, to rage. This creates tension between Lady Capulet and Juliet.

As Capulet enters, tension instantly arises; any respect he had for Juliet evaporates into authoritarian, patriarchal ranting as Capulet shouts epithets, calling Juliet "baggage" and "carrion" for refusing his order. Capulet now uses Juliet's youth to mock her reluctance to marry, calling her a crying child and "whining puppet." Capulet has degraded his daughter to chattel - an item to be brokered for value. In his fury, Capulet threatens Juliet with violence and disinheritance if she continues to disobey him, "hang! Beg! Starve! Die in the streets, For by my soul I'll ne'er acknowledge thee." As the scene continues to unwind Capulet says, " Nor what is mine shall never do thee good...I'll not be forsworn," and storms out. The tension is forced by Capulet's rage, repetition, blasphemy, insults and imperatives. Again we see iambic pentameter with Juliet's reply; " Is there no pity...In that dim monument where Tybalt lies." This emphasises Juliet's desperation to not get married. Capulet is horrified with his daughter's response to the proposal and feels extremely offended to be spoken to by his daughter in such manner and reacts in repugnance. The audience sympathise for predestined Juliet having to deal with patriarchal control and arranged marriages. This all causes tension for the audience; they are frightened for Juliet and her unfortunate fate. Juliet has had to cope with so much starting with the death of her cousin and having her husband banished. This seesaw of emotions makes us feel sympathy for Juliet.

After Capulet leaves the room Juliet is left with Lady Capulet and the nurse. Juliet turns to her mother asking for pity, she pleads, "O, sweet mother, cast me not away...if you do not, make the bridal bed in that dim monument where Tybalt lies." Lady Capulet is certainly not going to speak up on Juliet's behalf, and she seems to be disgusted with her daughter and does not believe it and doesn't care. She says, "Talk not to me...I have done with thee." Leaving Juliet with the nurse. Juliet turns to the Nurse for comfort and asks: "How shall this be prevented?" The Nurse offers her a very unpleasant solution: since Romeo is banished and cannot return to openly challenge the marriage, she advises that Juliet marries Count Paris, "I think it best you married with the county." She extols him as "a lovely gentleman" who is "so quick, so fair" when compared to the "dishclout" that Romeo is. Due to the fact that Romeo is as good as dead "your first is dead" and useless to her because of exile, this second marriage "second match" will be better than her first marriage "for it excels your first" and will make Juliet happy.

Juliet cannot believe her Nurse's repugnant attitude: "Speakest thou from thy heart?" Not only is the nurse urging Juliet to commit bigamy, which was both illegal and a sin but also she has chosen an easy way out to the problem. However, she shrewdly covers up her feelings and deceives the Nurse by claiming that she is somewhat comforted: "Well, thou hast comforted me marvellous much." As the nurse leaves, Juliet is feeling extremely alienated, each member of Juliet's family has abandoned her and she is in need of support. Juliet will go alone to Friar Laurence's cell "to make confession and to be absolved" after displeasing her father - she asks that the Nurse tell Lady Capulet "I am gone." She trusts Friar Laurence, but she also trusts herself; if he can't help her, she has the strength to kill herself, "If all else fail, myself have power to die."

The tension stays increasingly high, we see Juliet suffer through heartache, failure of parental love, controversy, patriarchal control and arranged marriages. Juliet is feeling alone, the fact that she is lying to her closest friend, "thou has comforted me," the nurse, shows how abandoned she is feeling. Her very last hope is Friar Laurence and yet if he does not help the only way to set herself free is to give up her life, which could have been immense if it were not for the family feuding. Juliet feels afflicted and abandoned, which should not be known of, by such a young girl.

Act 3, scene 5 is an incredibly exciting scene for the audience, firstly because there is a constant reminder to death which does not allow the audience to forget about Romeo and Juliet's fate. Secondly Act 3, scene 5 is significant for it is the most pivotal scene of this tragic play. This scene reveals the results of past activities and begins a series of tragic misunderstandings and fatal reactions. It also shows the transformations occurring amongst characters and their relationships with one another. Lastly the tone of the play is revealed through the language, Shakespeare presents these changes as well as forewarning the eventual tragedy: Romeo and Juliet's death. Fate is a key character in this play. There are many occasions where it would have been possible for a different ending had things been different: if the Montague's and the Capulet's didn't have a feud between them, if Romeo had lusted after Rosaline, if Romeo hadn't met Juliet... One of the many transformations presented in this scene is that of Romeo and Juliet's love for one another. Romeo and Juliet's love makes the transition from infatuation to a deep and sincere love. Throughout the play Shakespeare explores the destructive power of passion, the influence of fate and chance, the theme of divided loyalties and fatal flaws. Dramatic irony, radical changes in the characters' language and behaviour and references to death, themes of passion, loyalty, hatred, fate and time all have a huge dramatic impact to the whole play. All of these points make up the foundation layer to 'Romeo and Juliet' creating excitement for the audience.

I think an audience in 2007 would feel exactly the same, although it would be much more difficult for them to understand the language. Romeo and Juliet has recently become much more recognized and understood because of a modernised version with actors such as Leonardo Dicaprio. People have begun to understand it more and realised the true story behind it. Although a lot of people do prefer the original version where the juxtaposition of light and dark, the injection of comic moments, and the beauty of the language of love further enhance the play and make it a classic for all time. The play gives the audience an opportunity to allow our minds to be as imaginative as they desire and to comprehend the diverse meanings behind play. It is a play attracting various types of viewers ranging from romantics to fate believers. The modernised version of the play gives children who do not find Shakespeare an interesting subject to learn about, a new angle of Shakespeare's most loved tragic romance. It inspires children and adults of all ages to make an effort to appreciate the play much more. In conclusion I feel this is a play, which builds up tension in a variety of ways creating an effect of excitement, anticipation, expectation, devastation, and most of all passion.

Love is naturally the play's dominant and most important theme. The play focuses on romantic love, specifically the intense passion that springs up at first sight between Romeo and Juliet. Love is a violent, ecstatic, overpowering force that supersedes all other values, loyalties, and emotions. The powerful nature of love can be seen in the way it is described, or, more accurately, the way descriptions of it so consistently fail to capture its entirety. This love so strong they are willing to die for each other. By the end of Act 3, scene 5 the tension is explosive for the audience written through a magical way leaving the audience feeling every emotion from devastation to contentment. This is the mystery and magic of Shakespeare we will never be able to understand.


Updated: May 03, 2023
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Building Tension in Romeo and Juliet's Act Scene. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

Building Tension in Romeo and Juliet's Act  Scene essay
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