How does William Shakespeare create tension?

Categories: William Shakespeare

From the minute the play starts the audience are aware that the "star crossed lovers" Romeo and Juliet are going to die, this makes it clear that the play is a tragedy. A Tragedy is a traditional form of theatre where the main characters in the play die as a result of their tragic flaw, for example in the tragedy play Macbeth, Macbeth's vaulting ambition leads him to his death. Romeo and Juliet's flaw is the powerful love between them and it means their relationship has to be secret and this leads to Mercutio being killed by Tybalt and Romeo then killing Tybalt.

The consequences of Romeo revenging Mercutios death by killing Tybalt means he is banished upon death.

When the play was written 'Romeo and Juliet' was already a well known story but the version that William Shakespeare borrowed did not include the love theme William Shakespeare added the love theme into the story. The play Romeo and Juliet was written in 1594, and in this time women particularly were under their parents influence and there was no free choice on who you could marry.

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Teenage Rebellion was unthinkable because your parents would kick you out and in this time a woman was unable to get a job and with no money it would be hard to find a husband; this is why Romeo and Juliet's marriage was secret.

How a play is structured is an important way of creating tension for the audience like in Act 1 of 'Romeo and Juliet' it introduces the theme of love and hate between the two families Montague and Capulet.

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There is also a fight between the two family's servants because they hate each other but Tybalt (Capulet) turns up and the fight becomes even bigger than before. The reason Shakespeare kills off Mercutio and Tybalt in Act 3 is that now all the action can focus on Romeo and Juliet. In the scene were Mercutio is slain, this point is often looked at as the points were the play becomes a tragedy. If Romeo hadn't avenged Mercutios death the outcome would have been very different and Romeo and Juliet's actions from this point are due to this scene.

Having themes run throughout a play is another way of creating tension for the audience. This scene (Act3 scene 1) contains the theme of passion, when Benvolio is advising Mercutio to leave the area where the Capulet's are going to arrive but Mercutio is ready for a fight and is going to stay no matter what.

Benvolio says 'for now these hot-days is the mad blood stirring.' This means that the hot weather has shortened people's tempers including Mercutios. When Tybalt arrives and Tybalt and Mercutio start to fighting. Romeo accidentally gets in the way and Mercutio is struck by Tybalt's sword, it is a mortal wound which kills him. As Mercutio is dying he says 'A plague on both your houses.' After Mercutio dies and Romeo kills Tybalt, Romeo starts crying and this is a passionate cry emphasises the way he is losing the control of his destiny and is subject to fate. This creates tension because the audience know the final outcome from the start.

Shakespeare was a master of characterisation, the characters in this scene have been skilfully created previously and act exactly how the audience expect them to, based on their previous behaviour, such as at the party Mercutio is showing off, he is loud full of himself and hot tempered this shows that it is Mercutios nature to fight and not back down. Also Mercutio cannot stand Romeo's capitulation towards the Capulet's and this angers him even more Mercutio also says 'O calm, dis honourable, vile, submission' and this creates tension because Mercutio forces the fight on Tybalt.

In a play which would be performed to an audience who could barely read and write, it was important for Shakespeare to include rich metaphors and poetry which would entertain and stimulate them; his language is littered with deeper meanings and puns. For example when Benvolio says for now these hot days the mad blood stirring this means that the hot weather has shortened peoples tempers and they are more likely to snap and start a fight, this line adds tension as well because there is going to be a big fight but Mercutios short snappy sentences show that he is ready to fight and it creates tension and anticipation to see Tybalt and Mercutio fight.

The stage craft is a vital part of the tension in this scene where Shakespeare keeps the weather hot so it gets people irritable. Mercutio is in the mood for a fight because of the weather and he wants to cause to cause trouble. Shakespeare makes Tybalt arrive before Romeo so he has a chance to tangle and mix with Mercutio. Shakespeare only makes the reasons why Romeo won't fight Tybalt to make Mercutio angry about Romeo's capitulation towards the Capulet Family.

To conclude, I feel that Shakespeare created tension in this scene through Mercutios anger towards Romeo's capitulation and his hatred for the Capulet Family. Although if Mercutio had known about Romeo and Juliet his anger would not be so great. I found the play sad because two innocent characters had to die because of their flaw which was the powerful love between them which could not be broken and I also feel that another reason Romeo and Juliet died was the feud between the two families which was ended only when there children had died.

Updated: Nov 01, 2022
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How does William Shakespeare create tension?. (2016, Jul 08). Retrieved from

How does William Shakespeare create tension? essay
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