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‘A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life’ this immediately tells the audience the tragic fate of the ‘lovers’ mentioned in the first 6lines of the prologue. Warning the audience of the sorrow and heartbreak that the play will lead to. Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is based on the hatred between two families, the Montague’s and The Capulet’s and how their anger and passion towards each other lead to the death of a beloved child from each family. Shakespeare uses Act 1, scene1 to introduce many of the main themes that appear throughout the play, these main themes are; Disorder, fate, light and Darkness, love and passion.
Using this prologue Shakespeare is able to tell the audience the entire story line without them even watching the play. The line of the prologue beginning ‘A pair of star-crossed lover…. ‘ tells the audience straight away of the fate of the two characters involved. This set the scene for an inevitable ending whilst warning the audience what to expect, this is also back up throughout the play because as soon as one good thing beings disasters follows closely behind.
Using prologues at the beginning of his plays, Shakespeare was able to capture and engage the audience’s attention and quieten them down before any of the main characters are introduced. The takes place in the form of a sonnet, this would have contained the classic characteristics of love poetry, this would have been a very successful way to introduce the play because not only would it have captured the audience’s attention and quietened them down, but Shakespeare would have used this prologue to give the audience vital information that they would have needed to understand the rest of the play.
Shakespeare would have also been able to give the audience some idea of what to expect throughout the rest of the play. This was very effective as it used tight rhythm and rhyme designed to draw the audience in. The prologue at the beginning of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ beings ‘ Two House-holds, both alike in dignity, in fair Verona (where we lay our scene)’ and continues “Whose misadventured piteous overthrows, Do with their death bury their parents strife… ” so in these two short lines Shakespeare has told his audience who the characters are going to be and where the play is set.
‘Romeo and Juliet’ is set in Verona, Italy. Shakespeare chose this location because in the 16th century, Italy was regarded as a beautiful country, known for it wealth and romance, using these images and scene he had created in his head Shakespeare thought Verona would be the perfect place for ‘extravagant lovers’ Verona was one of the 4 most important states in Italy. Each of these states has its own ruler; these rulers would have been very competitive, trying to gain superiority over others. Shakespeare used this key theme in the play ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in the form of the Prince.
The ‘Prince’ would have ruled the state and overseen all activities that take place, this would include quarrelling and feuding between any families that live in the state. Shakespeare picked this up in his version of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ making the Prince the ruler and the Montague’s and the Capulet’s the two feuding families. Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ was not a piece of William Shakespeare’s direct work; he had based all the ideas and storylines on a book he had read by Arthur Brooke, entitled ‘ The Tragic History and Romeus and Juliet’ written in 1562.
The History of this particular story goes back even further, to a Greek author names Xenophon. Whilst re-writing this particular storyline Shakespeare decided he was writing the play for different reasons to the ones Brook had used. Arthur Brook wrote the poem to ‘warn young people of the dangers of physical attraction’ Shakespeare wrote his version because he was ‘more interested in considering the validity of true love’. Although Shakespeare had ‘copied’ the story from two other people he had changed it and added pieces to make it his own.
For example, Marcutio, Benvolio and the nurse were not featured in Xenophon version or Arthur Brook’s version. Shakespeare had to do this because his audience would have known the original storyline and may have thought of Shakespeare as a fake, audience’s in this time period would not have ‘held back’ if they did not like the play they were being shown they would leave and cause havoc in the theatre. Not only did Shakespeare add characters, he added little parts of scenes to give the play more of an impact and reinforce the storyline.
For example he added; a street fight, domestic scenes of food preparation, an incident with the musicians, Tybalt’s challenge to Romeo and the killing of Paris in Act5 scene 3. Act 1, Scene 1 opens with Capulet servants, Sampson and Gregory talking aggressively and violently in a busy market place looking for trouble, “… and therefore women being the weaker vessels are ever thrust to the wall, therefore I will push Montague’s men from the wall, and thrust his maids to the wall”. The two servants them speak of the hatred and bitterness between to two families whilst discussing violent and crude images.
This section also represents the high-lightered issue of violence, which occurs in different sections of the play. Not only is this section crude and vulgar, it shows how violent these men maybe towards women and man. It’s not long before a servant from the Montague family enters the scene, an argument sparks and the two ‘sides’ are soon shouting at each other. This shows the audience of the loyalty that the servants have towards their households. When the argument/ fight continue the audience are shown that everyone is willing to put their life on the line for the sake of their family name.
This is also observed later on in the play when Romeo and Juliet realise for the first time they are from 2 different, arguing families. This argument prepares the audience for other quarrels and brawls further on in the play. “What, drawn and talk peace? I hate the word, As I hate hell, all Montague’s, and thee. Have at thee, coward” this particular dialogue spoken by Tybalt not only reflects the aggressiveness of his personality but tell the audience of the hate and bitterness between the two families.
Shortly following these events Benvolio enters, ” Part, fools! Put up you swords, you know not what you do” this shows the audience the peacekeeper in the play, the man that attempts to separate the two families and stop the brewing fight/argument. When this does not work Lord and Lady Capulet enter, followed by Lord and Lady Montague. Both the Capulet and Montague Lords want to join in the fight but are stopped by their wives, who tell them that they are too old. As the wives hold the pair back the Prince enters with his ‘men’.
The Prince is seen as the figure of authority in the play; the person who controls all problems and is seen as someone who is capable of sorting out any feuding and arguments. He uses this ‘power’ in a long speech where he talks of past quarrels between the Montague’s and the Capulet’s and how it cannot continue. He does this to tell his audience that these ‘arguments’ are not a one off thing and happen regularly disrupting the people of Verona. The two families recognise the figure of authority and part, this shows the audience that the Prince is superior to all other characters.
The Prince continues, ” If ever you disturb our streets again, your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace” this is the only time that the Prince is seen as a threatening figure in the play, warning all members of the Capulet and the Montague household that if ever a fight breaks out again someone will pay the price with their life. The Princes language in this section is firm but at the same time, Shakespeare makes sure his audience wont view him as a threat to any of the other characters although he is.
The Prince speaks in blank verse, to show he is superior and powerful and emphasises his intelligence. All the characters understand the Princes speech, but Romeo goes on the break the rule and is later banished from Verona although Romeo himself is not present when the fighting breaks out. This separates him from the rest of the characters making him seem detached from the families feuding and willing to carry on with his life without starting trouble every time he sees a member of the Capulet household.
The scene continues, the Montague’s leave with the Prince and the Capulet’s are instructed to return to their homes, Montague, Lady Montague and Benvolio are left in the market place, here a conversation takes place about Romeo and how he seems withdrawn from all goings on. Benvolio is asked to investigate into why Romeo is behaving like this and the rest of the Montague’s leave. This is the first time the audience are introduced to Romeo when he begins his conversation with Benvolio. This is where the themes of love and passion are brought into the play.
” With Cupid’s arrow, she hath Dian’s wit; And in strong proof of chastity well armed, From Love’s weak childish bow she lives uncharmed” Romeo is speaking in verse to tell the audience about his love for Rosaline but Benvolio is not convinced that Romeo is actually in love, Romeo complains because the woman he claims to love will not marry nor love him back. Benvolio tells Romeo that other women will come along and he should try hard to forget about her, Romeo listens to this although really he is not convinced. Romeo uses and elaborate way of speaking “… Why then, O brawling love, O loving hate, O any thing of nothing first create!
” but this indicates to the audience his emotions are artificial, not coming from the heart. The audience would now know that Romeo is truly infatuated with Rosalind and that it was not just a fling or something he wasn’t taking seriously. Throughout Romeo’s long speech to Benvolio he uses many oxymorons to emphasise what he thinks he is feeling. “Loving hate” and “cold fire” are perfect examples of when Romeo confuses himself with the overwhelming emotions he claims to have. The line “love sickness,” indicates to the audience that Romeo is almost infected with love for Rosaline and this may not be such a good thing.
This would be showing the audience that love can to do terrible things to normal people, confusing the mind and turning and normal life chaotic. The light and Dark imagery is shown in the speech between Benvolio and Romeo but this is not mentioned until the audience is introduced to Juliet, Juliet is seen to be the light and Rosaline is seen to be the darkness that fills and confuses Romeo’s heart. This is where Shakespeare cleverly uses imagery to represent the two female characters in Romeo’s point of view.
The other themes are continued throughout the play, from when Romeo and Juliet meet to when the both die together in the chapel of rest, where Juliet’s body has been placed. The theme of love however is resisted in Act 1 scene 5, when Romeo and Juliet fall in love and know they shouldn’t. The idea of courtly love is present through most of this scene, although Romeo and Juliet are not experiences this, the theme and ides is the same. The idea of courtly love originally came from a European tradition from the middle ages but still known in Elizabethan times.
This was basically a set of rules/ expectations of people who fall in love. These rules stated a number of things this included “her coldness inflames the passion. He is consumed with melancholy and makes up verses about love” this is present in Romeo and Juliet towards the end when Romeo is desperate to see Juliet and in his last hours makes up several verses to calm himself and prepare himself to meet his wife, Juliet in heaven. The idea of marriage also originated in Europe and is also present in the play, this theme is only mentioned by Capulet once, when he is talking to Paris about his arranged marriage to Juliet.
Juliet was pleased and honoured to have been asked to marry Paris until she meet Romeo, this is when she began to resent the arranged marriage. Capulet tells Paris the way to win his daughters heart, the themes of love and passion, light and dark and violence are continued throughout. Shakespeare very cleverly uses Act 1 Scene 1 to introduce these theme either through the prologue, what the first characters say or the actions and imagery that are used. Shakespeare was able to take all of this into account and still produce his own version of Brooks poem “The Tragic History and Romeus and Juliet.