Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet tells the tragedy of two ‘star-crossed lovers,’ who are divided by feuding families but united by love. For many years, an on-going feud between these two families has caused much disruption in the city of Verona, Italy. The play takes place in the city of Verona and Mantua, Italy, over the course of five short days. Verona is the home of the Capulet and Montague families and Mantua is where Romeo is banished. Italy was seen as an immoral country, famous for sexual affairs and violent crimes, many playwrights including ones completed by Shakespeare are set here.
The length of the play consists of five acts containing twenty-four scenes, which is the same in various other plays written by Shakespeare. He wrote this play in five acts in order to introduce new ideas, characters, setting and basic situations. It helps develop the main plot of the play and it helps to introduce complications and incidents.
The structure of the play itself is the fate from which Romeo and Juliet cannot escape.
In that time, people were very wary of the stars. If two people’s stars were crossed in the sky, they would never remain together. Obviously, Romeo and Juliet didn’t live happily ever after.
Shakespeare’s audience already knew the story of Romeo and Juliet, a popular story which Arthur Brooke had translated into English in 1562 as a poem called The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet. One feature that is different from the original poem is that Shakespeare introduced two characters to the play, the Nurse and Mercutio in order to create entertainment, humour and light heartedness.
Romeo and Juliet was written in the Elizabethan Period which meant women were treated unfairly. Capulet’s relationship with Juliet reflects how life was like in the Elizabethan Period. Women in the 1500’s were clearly subordinate to the men meaning that they had complete power over everything. They were considered to be ‘inferior’ beings who were controlled by their husbands, fathers, or by any other men in the family. Life for women was one without any grand opportunities. They had no control over their own lives and their education was to learn how to be a domestic goddess meaning they would have to cook, clean and wash for the men. They had no voice in the society; it wouldn’t matter to anyone because men were the primary figures in the society. Women were property of the men until they were married and they weren’t allowed to hold their own views or lifestyle. This kind of society in the Elizabethan Era was called patriarchal suggesting that men were the leading figures making all the decisions about money, children, women, law and various social status decisions.
Lord Capulet, a wealthy, loving and leading character plays two roles: the father of Juliet and the head of the Capulet family in Verona. He has the significant job of arranging the marriage for his daughter and finding a suitable husband who has high status, wealth and is intelligent. His love for his daughter is shown in the play especially in the way that he does what he feels is best for her. However, the major contributor to the downfall of Romeo and Juliet was Lord Capulet, Juliet’s own father. He brought upon the death of Juliet by forcing her to marry Paris, separating her from Romeo, and rejecting her. Capulet didn’t care about how she felt and forced her to marry Paris which caused problems that led to her tragic fate.
The prologue states that the ‘star-crossed lovers take their life.’ As the play progresses, there are many subtle clues that confirm the fact that Romeo and Juliet will die. This is the device known as foreshadowing. Foreshadowing is the use of symbols to show what will happen in the future. An example in the play that demonstrates foreshadowing is when Romeo had a bad feeling before the Capulet party in Act 1: Scene 4 ‘With this night’s revels and expire the term, Of a despised life closed in my breast, By some vile forfeit of untimely death.’ There are many more examples in the rest of the play because Shakespeare uses this literary device for the audience to get a feel of what will happen later. The final line in scene 5 of Act 3, ‘If all else fail, myself have power to die,’ foreshadows Juliet’s suicide. Since her mother and father have finished with her, she can either marry Paris which will result in unhappiness or she can try to find Romeo but that is almost impossible because he is banished.
When Paris first asks for Juliet’s hand in marriage, Capulet is initially reluctant to give his consent mainly because she is too young and hasn’t yet matured. This is portrayed in the line, ‘Let two more summers wither in their pride,’ this is a metaphor which Capulet says to Paris to wait two more years to marry Juliet because he feels that she is not ready to be a married woman yet. In this patriarchal Society, the father of a daughter has to decide who she married. Capulet treats Juliet as his own possession; his primary job is to find a suitable husband for her. Capulet’s reaction to Paris’s proposal to Juliet is that he feels she hasn’t matured and he is very protective of her as a child. He is overly-cautious in the way that she might not be ready to marry. On the other hand, he wants his daughter to be happy. He solves his problem for the time being by advising Paris to woo Juliet at the feast, and saying ‘My will to her consent is but a part,’ which means that even if he agrees to the marriage, Juliet has the final say. Unforgettably, his power to force her into a marriage is always present.
Although Capulet seems to look out for Juliet’s best interests, Juliet’s position is clearly subordinate to Capulet, meaning that she will not pick who she marries, Capulet will. Capulet and Paris decide on the marriage mainly because they both will attain a high social status and will achieve more wealth. Capulet wants this marriage to be a big social gathering to gain more popularity in the Capulet household. At this time, he is feeling weak and emotional so therefore he feels that this social gathering will cheer him and Juliet up. Wedding celebrations at this time was intended to raise spirits after a death, and in this case, it was Tybalt. Capulet thought that it was the right time to set the marriage.
Capulet considers Paris to be a perfect match to Juliet because he is rich, generous, powerful, respected and has a high status. He thinks that Juliet will like him, ‘Of my child’s love: I think she will be ruled. In all respects by me; nay, more, I doubt it not,’ stating that he is positive and that she will be proud of Capulet. He wants to see his daughter happily settled and married to a man that he approves of. Also, other girls in Verona marry men at her age.
Fate plays a vitally significant part in this play. Lord Capulet agrees to Paris’ request for the hand of his daughter in marriage forcing Juliet into a marriage who she doesn’t love. This is fate because if Capulet left Juliet to decide on who she marries, she would have not married Paris, but she would have married Romeo and possibly lived happily. Fate works in all of the events surrounding Romeo and Juliet: the feud between their families, the horrible series of accidents that ruin Friar Lawrence’s plans at the end of the play, the tragic timing of Romeo’s suicide and Juliet’s awakening. These events are not just coincidences, but rather signs of fate that help bring about the unavoidable outcome of Romeo and Juliet’s death.
Lady Capulet’s relationship with her daughter seems distant and disconnected because she expects Juliet’s complete obedience in agreeing to the marriage. Juliet is clearly reluctant to agree to the arranged marriage as she says, ‘it’s an honour that I dreamt not of.’ Lady Capulet considers Juliet to be old enough to marry and a marriage to Paris would increase her social status and wealth, ‘so shall you share all that he doth possess.’ Lady Capulet sees Paris as the chance to make a social match for the Capulets.
Lady Capulet is forced to agree whole-heartily with her husband because in this society, she is not allowed to speak her mind. She is forced to support her husband. Lady Capulet points out to Juliet that she too was married at fourteen years old and that other young ladies are already married. Lady Capulet says, ‘Thus then in brief, the valiant Paris seeks you for his love.’ Lady Capulet praises Paris with many encouraging metaphors by comparing him to the most perfect ‘flower’ in Verona, and then she urges and persuades to find love with him.
Juliet’s refusal to marry Paris affects her father in a variety of ways. At first, Capulet approaches Juliet in a sympathetic manner because he thinks that she is still upset about Tybalt’s death, ‘How now! a conduit girl? What, still in tears?’ A ‘conduit’ is a pipe where water always flows; by comparing Juliet’s tears to rain and her to a ‘conduit,’ Capulet suggests that Juliet is crying too much. Capulet compares Juliet to ‘a boat, a sea and a wind.’ Her eyes are the sea, because they flow in tears. Her body is the boat, because she is floating in her own tears. Her sighs are the winds, ‘who, raging with thy tears, and they with them.’ Capulet believes if Juliet marries Paris, she will live happily.
Capulet was stunned and shocked when he came to notice that Juliet denied his consent for the marriage with Paris. He had expected Juliet to thank him and to be proud to be the wife of Paris. When Capulet confronted Juliet, she explained her feelings, ‘Not proud, you have, but thankful, that you have’ ‘Proud can I never be of what I hate, but thankful even for hate, that is meant love.’ Juliet hates the idea of marrying Paris because she loves Romeo, but at heart, she is thankful to her father for arranging the wedding.
When she rejects to Capulet’s proposal, he drastically changes from being kind-hearted to erratic and spiteful. ‘Proud, and I thank you, and thank you not, and yet not proud, mistress minion, you.’ He is furiously shouting at Juliet because she is not thanking him or giving him any pride and that she is a spoiled little girl. Capulet follows his expression of rage, ‘Out, you green-sickness carrion!’ ‘Out you baggage, you tallow face!’ This portrays Capulet’s conditional love with Juliet which means whenever she does anything that infuriates him, he acts like he doesn’t love Juliet. ‘Green-sickness carrion’ is a double insult; it means she looks as green as something that has been dead for a long time and that she has a disgusting sickness which comes from being an immature girl, and not a married woman. A ‘baggage’ is someone who is a burden and ‘tallow face’ means that she has abnormal skin colour which comes from the sickness. All of these expressions of Capulet are said randomly because he is completely lost for words due to his shock and anger with Juliet. He is stunned that Juliet would refuse to his consent after how much he has tried to provide her with a suitable husband, ‘Day, night, hour, tide, time, work, play alone, in company, still my hath been to her match’d.’
As a response to Capulet, Juliet tries to reconcile with him by saying, ‘Good father, I beseech you on my knees,’ but unfortunately Capulet immediately shouts her down, ‘Speak not, reply not, do not answer me, my fingers itch.’ He has finished dealing with her and by saying that, he is tempted to slap her.
Capulet swears to Juliet that if she doesn’t marry Paris, she will be disowned and she would have to fend for herself, ‘Graze you will, you shall not house with me.’ ‘An you be mine, I’ll give you to my friend. And you be not, hang, beg, starve, die in the streets.’ If she is his daughter, she will accept to give her hand in marriage; if she refuses, she’s not his daughter and he won’t care what happens to her. He says he won’t acknowledge her as his daughter, and he won’t give her any support. In this Patriarchal society, if a daughter did not obey her fathers’ commands, she would be disowned and eventually she would die because she wouldn’t be wanted anywhere. His relationship with Juliet has weakened to the point that he doesn’t really care for her anymore because she has disobeyed him, after all the time and effort he has put in to find her a good husband. Similarly, Lady Capulet has the same attitude as Capulet and is done with her, ‘Do as thou wilt, for I have done with thee.’ Lady Capulet is certainly not going to speak up on Juliet’s behalf, and she seems to be disgusted with her daughter.
The harsh actions of Lord Capulet drive Juliet to feel hopeless resulting in her fate clearly making this a tragedy. A tragedy is a drama with a sad outcome. It is a result of key personality flaw and results in a fall of grace and in this play, it is Juliet who falls from grace. Juliet is a fallen hero in the sense that she was in high status but when she fell in love and married Romeo, this leads to her fate of death demonstrating to us that this a tragedy. Juliet is a good person in this play who is of high social status but due to extremities of human nature, she falls to low status, eventually leading her to death. This play is based on taking the audience on a journey in order for them to understand the flaws of the characters and how this ends up being a tragedy. The actions of Juliet and Capulet move toward chaos as the play progresses because as the dangers of the decisions are made, this results in a sad ending. This is one of the key features of a tragedy. Shakespeare purposely made this play serious and to have a sad conclusion because he wanted the audience to acknowledge all the flaws of the characters and how all these flaws result in this tragedy.
Since Juliet has rejected her father’s proposal, Capulet is shocked and furious because Juliet has never been a disobedient daughter to her parents which is now the first time that she has disobeyed him, ‘Hang thee, young baggage! Disobedient wretch! I tell thee what: get thee to church o’ Thursday. Or never after look me in the face.’ This threat, because it is realistic, is more frightening to Juliet than the earlier threats to drag her to church. A father could bring enormous pressure on his daughter to marry the man he had chosen for her. He could not have forced her to say ‘I do.’ On the other hand, he could easily make her life miserable by shunning her and making her an outcast in his house. He shouted, ‘God’s bread! It makes me mad! Day, night, hour, tide, time, work, play, To have her match’d,’ Capulet is angry because his daughter doesn’t appreciate all the effort he has put in for her.
Capulet has found Juliet the perfect husband, a gentleman of a noble family, ‘Of fair demesnes, youthful, and nobly lien’d.’ He wonders what could Juliet want more than what he has provided with her. It drives Capulet crazy ‘to have a wretched puling fool, a whining mammet, in her fortunes tender,’ who is ungrateful as she is. As Capulet sees it, Juliet is ‘in her fortune’s tender’ because good fortune is offering everything to her. For her to refuse the good fortune because she is too young is (ironically enough) just childish.
One important line that illustrates the extremity Capulet is willing to go in order to persuade his daughter to carry out his wishes, ‘An you be mine, I’ll give you to my friend; And you be not, hang, beg, starve, die in the streets.’ If she is his daughter, she will accept and thank him for the husband he has provided her with; if she refuses, she’s not his daughter and he won’t care what happens to her. He won’t acknowledge her as his daughter, and he won’t give her any support. Likewise, Lady Capulet acknowledges to Juliet that she has given up on her and her opinions share the same ones with Capulet, ‘Talk not to me, for I’ll not speak a word. Do as thou wilt, for I have done with thee.’ She has put up too much from her because of her disobeying. Juliet’s parents wish Juliet would be thankful for what they have provided her with, otherwise, they will disown her. No one supports Juliet at this point except the Nurse which she asks for desperate advice on what she should do: marry Paris or find Romeo. It dawns on Juliet that the Nurse doesn’t understand and doesn’t care anything about Juliet’s holy love for Romeo.
In Act 4: Scene 2, Capulet is making arrangements for the wedding feast when Juliet appears and promises her father that she will obey everything that her father tells her to do, and tells him that she will marry Paris. Capulet is used to having his way, and since he has decided that there will be a wedding, he proceeds to make all the necessary arrangements. Friar Laurence has told her to lower herself and beg her father’s pardon, which is only true in a deceptive way. In order to sell her lies she kneels and says exactly what her father wants to hear, ‘Pardon, I beseech you! Henceforward I am ever ruled by you,’ Juliet states that she is in complete control of Capulet. Juliet’s new attitude makes Capulet so cheerful that he decides to get things rolling right away. He changes the dates for the wedding from Thursday to Wednesday. He praises Juliet for becoming the girl she used to be to him, ‘Nurse, will you go with me into my closet, To help me sort such needful ornaments, As you think fit to furnish me to-morrow?’ Juliet is demonstrating to her father that she understands and fully accepts her father’s new plan to have the wedding the next day, and not Thursday.
The night before the wedding day, the Nurse and then the Capulets discover that Juliet is dead, ‘Alas, Alas, Help, Help my lady is dead!’ This is Nurses first reaction to Juliet’s death. When Lord Capulet finds out that Juliet is dead, he says ‘Despised, distressed, hated, martyr’d, killed,’ indicating Capulets immediate feelings about her daughter’s death before the wedding day celebration. He is confused because he thinks there is no clear reason for her death. He is angry at himself but he loves Juliet because she was obedient and followed his wishes. Even though in this society a daughter was a burden to the family because they would be a huge expense, ironic, he was giving her away to another man, but now, he gave her away to her apparent death. In the end, it is Juliet’s parents who have led to Juliet’s tragic fate because their attitude of her love and the wedding have driven Juliet to this. Also, he is anxious about the marriage because he has worked hard to make the wedding a big social gathering for the Capulet household. The marriage was a way of business and it sets a financial relationship with Paris’ family because both families benefit from this marriage.
When Juliet kills herself, we see further evidence of the relationship between Juliet and Capulet. Although Capulet wanted the best for Juliet, he did not care how she felt and forced her to marry Paris which caused problems that led to her tragic end. Juliet didn’t want to marry Paris, and because of her own father, Juliet committed suicide to stay with Romeo forever. Juliet’s arrangement to Paris had brought her death because it had resulted in the potion plan that had caused Romeo and Juliet to die. It was this rejection from Capulet, her own father, which played a crucial part in Juliet’s death. His relationship with his daughter was one that did not work properly and had caused Juliet pain. In the end, her suffering led to her death which made everyone suffer, including friends and foes.
From the very beginning, the love of Romeo and Juliet was destined to be destroyed. There were circumstances throughout the course of their lives that led up to their deaths, although their fate could not be changed. This was the most important factor in the lives of Romeo and Juliet. It is evident that they were destined by the stars to bad fortune. Some people may think that there is no way to control fate or change what is in the stars.
This tragic play has contemporary relevance in the way that many parents now days may not approve on marriages such as Juliet with Paris. Many people who have high social status or are monarchies still marry for social status and wealth. However, most people today marry for their love and affection for one another, so therefore, marriage is for love not power. Parents may feel that the partner of his/her daughter/son is not good enough to satisfy the families’ needs or they may feel that this particular person would not love them as good as another particular person would and could provide.
At the start of the play, Lord Capulet followed his social role of the father, and felt it was his duty as the man of the house to protect his family and their reputation. Lord Capulet’s role in society leads him to be part of the cause of Juliet’s death. Since the father of the house was supposed to protect not only the safety, but the pride of his family, he looked past the pain of his own daughter to fulfill this duty. He believed that Paris would be the right, and suitable groom for Juliet, and would bring riches and dignity to his family. As he told Juliet of this, she reacted in an angry and distasteful way since she loved Romeo, but he only saw her refusing to obey him and the chance that shame would be brought forth onto his family. Lord Capulet didn’t even let her share her opinion of why she did not want to marry Paris, but believed it was his social duty to either have her marry him, or marry nobody.
When Juliet defied her father’s decision, he was shocked and livid. Juliet betrayed him by not approving to the marriage, but Lord Capulet was stunned and lost for words because he was used to having her obey his every decision. Her rebelliousness to his decision mocked his manhood because as the ‘man of the house,’ he should control her daughter. Juliet wishes that if her father didn’t choose who she marries, she would live happily with someone who she loves, not the person who her father forces her to love. She wishes she could acknowledge her parents about her love with Romeo without her doubting the terrible reactions of her parents.
After when Juliet defies her father, she tries to appease her father by begging him for forgiveness and kneels down to let him know that she is in full control of Capulet. Juliet comforts her father by promising to marry Paris which is his initial demand, but this changes his overlook on his daughter once again. He feels as if she has matured into a woman and become the fine daughter she used to be.
In this play, Lord Capulet’s relationship with his daughter was one that did not function correctly because all his actions worked against Juliet causing her pain and eventually her death. In different parts of the play, this relationship changes erratically because of Capulet’s conditional love for Juliet. At one point, Capulet loves Juliet because she has obeyed him but until she doesn’t approve of his proposal with Paris, he threatens to disown her and not to love someone who doesn’t give thanks for what he has given. However, when Juliet commits suicide, we see a special side of Capulet. He blames himself and his harsh actions for Juliet’s suicide and that if he just let her choose who she marries, the ending wouldn’t be like this.
The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is not death of two young lovers, but the failure of society to overcome the social ‘barriers’ that would have prevented the loss of so many innocent lives. If the two families had just stopped feuding earlier, the lives of the two lovers could have been saved. One of these obstacles is fate which is constant throughout the play in order to give the reader a little hope that the two will survive, but with each event, that hope is crushed. The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet teaches the audience a lesson: True love knows no limits. It drives Romeo and Juliet to ignore the barriers of family feud and to defy parental authority. True love finds a way, through death, to unite the lovers eternally. Truly, this young couple shows how love can conquer all things.