How does Shakespeare Create Atmosphere?

Categories: William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare creates atmosphere in this scene by using a number of effective techniques, in this essay I will be discussing how these techniques create such a tense and suspenseful atmosphere that truly captures and engages the Elizabethan audience. Firstly, Shakespeare uses dramatic irony in this scene by the entrance of Romeo, the audience are aware that he has just came from marrying Juliet, however the characters on stage are not. The fact that the characters are unaware of this information has a strong influence over their actions that would be different if they knew the truth.

This thought will raise the tension in the audience. Another example of dramatic irony being used in this scene is when Romeo tries to explain to tybalt that he loves him and wants to make peace,” But love thee better than thou canst devise , till thou shalt know the reason of my love.” Here the audience understand why Romeo loves Tybalt because he has just married his cousin, however Tybalt thinks Romeo is being sarcastic and this angers him further, while Mercutio perceives Romeos words as giving into tybalt and not defending the family name, he finds this disgusting.

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“O calm, dishonourable, vile submission!”

Shakespeare shows how words can be interpreted in many different ways, another clever device. Dramatic irony is also used when Tybalt says “Here comes my man,” as Romeo enters, this reveals that Tybalt has no interest in conflicting with Mercutio, he is here to fulfil his revenge against Romeo for crashing the party.

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The audience realise this because they have heard Tybalt plan his revenge in Act 1 scene 5, “Now seeming sweet, convert to bitt’rest gall.” As the characters on stage do not know of this plan, the dramatic tension is increased. Secondly, Shakespeare emphasises the contrasting themes of this play to create atmosphere within this scene; the first example is the stark contrast between the calm and loving cool night setting and the tense, violent, stifling hot setting of this scene. The sharp change of setting would automatically create a sense of uncertainty and give the play more suspense and the audience have now witnessed that the play could twist unexpectedly. The main themes of the play, love and hate, contrast heavily in this scene. We witness Romeo tenderly approach Tybalt with love and peace “And so, good Capulet, which name I tender as dearly as mine own, be satisfied.”

The harshly contrasting words of Tybalt help to emphasise how deep the feud is between the two families “Thou art a villain.” Romeo enters the scene in a bubble of bliss and new love for his bride but he flees the scene after slaying Tybalt in a state of blind furious revenge. As Mercutio dies, Romeo blames his love for Juliet for making him weak and unable to save his friend.”Thy beauty hath made me effeminate”, this reflects the view of women at the time, as Elizabethan’s believed that if a man was too much in love this made him weak. The importance of masculinity in those times is also shown in Mercutio’s disgust when Romeo refuses Tybalt’s challenge for a duel- a traditional masculine act of protection and defence of nobility. This would create atmosphere as masculinity and femininity are another contrasting theme. Shakespeare uses the role of fate to create atmosphere throughout the play, it appears as fate has choreographed the events to happen in a certain way to result in the tragic end to Romeo’s and Juliet’s love story. Romeo mentions fate and fortune frequently he seems have trust in it and hopes he will be guided into something good. “But he hath the steerage of my course direct my sail!”

After Mercutio’s death Romeo refers to the incident as “This days black fate.” Again the belief that this greater power has control over the sequence of events is presented to the audience. If fate is this ruthless who will be its next victim? This question of the audience will contribute to the suspenseful atmosphere. Fate is personified when Romeo cries after slaying Tybalt “O, I am fortune’s fool.” This shows that Romeo feels that fortune is playing around with his life and he has no control over his actions and choices, I think Romeo’s belief in fortune relates to how his character is revealed in this scene. Relating to fate, some of the characters seem to have premonitions of the future, Romeo feels that there will be more trouble to come “This days black fate on Moe days doth depend.” This gives an eerie hint to the audience on the black fate that will strike Romeo and his Juliet. Benvolio at the beginning of the scene can sense that trouble will start because of the heat and suggests to Mercutio that they retire “And if we meet we shall not scape a brawl, for now these hot days, is the mad blood stirring.”

The reference to “mad blood” hints of the blood that is shed in a Romeo’s mad frenzy of violence, and gives the audience the effective image of the heat and anger boiling Romeo’s blood. Finally, fate seems to find a voice in dying Mercutio who claims “A plague a’ both your houses!” which ominously forecasts the plague of death which strikes the lovers at the end of the play. Atmosphere is visually created by the quick and action packed fight scene, two lives are lost in a relatively short time this would have been very dramatic and emotional too watch, having a dazed effect on the audience. The fight scene would have presented Tybalt’s swords skills and Romeo’s furious passion, showing that the battle could go either way, creating a very excited but suspenseful atmosphere. One of the main contributions to the atmosphere is Shakespeare’s choice and style of language; we must remember that Elizabethans went to hear a play and how effective the language was had a key role in gaining their support of the play.

Shakespeare uses rhyming couplets to creative an effective atmosphere, when lady Capulet discovers that Romeo has killed tybalt she says “I beg for justice which thou, Prince, must give: Romeo slew Tybalt, Romeo must not live.” This is effective because rhyming couplets conclude a thought and seal it as definite; this foreshadows the future as Romeo does not live, as a result of killing tybalt, because if not for this action the next sequence of events leading to his death wouldn’t have occurred. Atmosphere is also created by Mercutio’s style of lines, Mercutio speaks in prose a line that is usually given to a common or small character, but Mercutio is a gentlemen from a wealthy background therefore he is not using prose to reflect his social class, but to reflect a negative and lowly view of a subject. In this case Mercutio describes Benvolio’s temper “Thy head is as full of quarrels is and egg is full of meat.”

The audience will realise that it is not the peacemaker Benvolio Mercutio is describing, but that he is describing his own troublemaking characteristics. Talking in prose shows that he feels this lowly and shameful part of his characteristics. Wordplay was another technique used to create atmosphere that was very popular with the Elizabethans, Shakespeare inputs this in Romeo’s response to Tybalt’s challenge as Romeo answers changing the words only slightly. “The love I bear thee” Romeo responds with “the reason that I have to love thee”, while “Thou art a villain” becomes “villain am I none”. “Boy, this shall not excuse the injuries...” is met with “I do protest I never injured thee”. Finally the direct challenge: “Therefore turn and draw” is countered with “And so…be satisfied”. The revelation of characters in this scene is a one of the aspects of the atmosphere created, firstly Romeo reveals his impulsive and irrational nature when he chooses to avenge over a friends death rather than spare Juliet the loss of losing him and her cousin.

It is also revealed that Romeo is very immature and cannot handle the concept of taking responsibility, only has he just been married and he blames Juliet for his weakness causing Mercutio’s death, linking back to his quote on fortune, Romeo seems to think he cant control anything and that it is all fates fault. Never once does he admit his mistake in killing Tybalt, instead he says fortune is controlling him for fun “O, I am fortunes fool.” He also personifies fury as if it is not his own actions but as if they are being controlled by fury. “And fire-eyed fury be my conduct now!” In conclusion all of these techniques I have discussed, tie together a fantastic knot of suspenseful and captivating atmosphere, that advances the plot and provides the first exciting twist of the play.

Updated: Nov 01, 2022
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How does Shakespeare Create Atmosphere?. (2016, Jun 07). Retrieved from

How does Shakespeare Create Atmosphere? essay
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