How might a Shakespearean audience differ in their response to a modern audience?

In ‘Romeo and Juliet’, William Shakespeare has written the tragedy of two teenage “star-cross’d lovers” whose “untimely deaths” ultimately unite their feuding households. Both Shakespeare and the play itself have been highly praised by literary critics for its language and dramatic effect. It was among Shakespeare’s most popular plays during his lifetime and is one of his most frequently performed plays. It has become perhaps his best-known play, and has been filmed many times and adapted in all sorts of ways.

It has also featured abundantly in all forms of popular culture, from books to even music; Dire Straits famously wrote a song entitled Romeo and Juliet in 1980.

Within Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare has created a complex network of characters and many different relationships between them. He has used an immense array of dramatic devices, structural techniques and language to convey these convoluted relationships to his audiences.

The relationship between Juliet and her mother, Lady Capulet, is perhaps one of the most diverse that we see throughout the entire play; lady Capulet and Juliet’s relationship is phlegmatic in that it is cold and formal.

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Lady Capulet’s entrance to act three scene five is of enormous contrast to the preceding text: a dialogue between Romeo and Juliet which features much romantic and poetic language where the two lovers speak in complex, flowing sentences, with rhyme and a delicate reverence for each other’s words. Lady Capulet’s first address to Juliet; “Ho daughter, are you up?” is very formal and extremely cold.

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This shows a lack of maternal instinct on the part of Lady Capulet towards her daughter.

As well as being a question itself, this address triggers a judicious response from Juliet; “Who is’t that calls? It is my Lady Mother. Is she down so late, or up so early? What unaccustomed cause procures her hither?” This use of questions serves so as to quicken the pace of the dialogue and to create an overall sense of confusion. This sudden change in pace alerts the audience that something important, and crucially pivotal to the plot, is about to occur.

The ensuing conversation between Lady Capulet and Juliet makes clear an enormous lack of understanding between the mother and her daughter. All of Juliet’s speech is full of double-meanings; “Feeling so the loss…weep the friend.” Lady Capulet thinks this to mean that Juliet is crying over the death of Tybalt; however Juliet is implying that she is weeping because she cannot be with Romeo. Equally; “O, how my heart…slaughter’d him!” is interpreted by Lady Capulet as to mean that Juliet hates Romeo and that she wants to seek revenge; Juliet however means that she hates that she cannot be with Romeo and she desperately wants to love him. This complete miss-understanding of each other embellishes that their relationship is distant and difficult.

Despite being difficile, their relationship is still very much bound by social normality; “thou hast…child” and Lady Capulet’s continued referral to Juliet as “my child” and “daughter” shows that Juliet is inferior and is infantilised. A continued use of imperatives towards Juliet also embellishes this. This sort of relationship was not uncommon in Elizabethan England, and was even considered to be the norm, in more modern times however, children have a lot more freedom from a much earlier age. This, I think has caused an overall lack of a unified social system, which has meant that in more modern times, crime and violence towards one-another has increased unequivocally.

Juliet’s response to her proposed marriage to Paris by her parents is shocking for someone of her time and social class. Lady Capulet describes Paris as “the gallant, young, and noble gentlemen” This use of positive adjectives shows that Lady Capulet is being persuasive and vehement about Juliet’s marriage to Paris. This is trying to convey that Juliet has little or no input into the outcome, so as to make her response seem even more abominable. When Juliet does respond, she does so with great contemptuousness; “Now…Paris.” Juliet’s insolence is shocking, in that, as a teenage woman of Shakespearean England, she would have been expected to be totally submissive to her parent’s decision. Juliet does however still show respect towards her parents when she refers to them as “lord” and “madam”. This respectfulness is of harsh contrast to the resilience of her overall response and implies that Juliet is in fact regretful that she cannot obey her parents. Also, as a follower of Catholicism, Juliet would have been unable to marry Paris, since Roman-Catholics believe that both divorce and bigamy is a sin; ironically however, so is suicide.

The entrance of Lord Capulet features an extended metaphor where he compares Juliet to a boat; “Thou counterfeits a bark, a sea, a wind. / For still thy eyes, which I may call the sea, / Do ebb and flow with tears; the bark thy body is / Sailing in this salt flood; the winds, the sighs, / Who, raging with thy tears, and they with them, / Without a sudden calm, will overset / Thy tempest-tossed body.” He uses this incredible visual imagery to create a sense that Juliet is small and insignificant. I also think, that since the storm that is but destroying Juliet within the metaphor is of her own creation (her tears are the sea itself, her sighs – the wind) that she is in fact responsible for her own destruction. The length of Lord Capulet’s speech also shows that he is the dominant character and that he has the most power.

When Lord Capulet asks his wife: “have you delivered our decree?” he is referring to Juliet’s proposed marriage to Paris, his vocabulary that he uses implies again that Juliet has no choice in the matter. When Lady Capulet responds “Ay sir, but she will none, she gives you thanks” Lord Capulet is baffled; “Soft, take me with you…bride?” His abundant use of punctuation, especially in questions, shows a lack of understanding, and confusion. His use of repetition embellishes this. After Juliet’s slow, measured and logical response; “Not proud…meant love.” Capulet’s ensuing rage is of even starker contrast. “How, how, how, how,” furthers the use of repetition to imply confusion; “Mistress Minion” refers to Juliet as a spoilt child, another infantilised exclamation as to her indignant response. “green- sickness carrion”, “out you baggage” and “tallow-face” were all extreme insults in Shakespearean England and would have shocked an Elizabethan audience; they also show disrespect, anger, and derogation. The only interjections to Lord Capulet’s rage by the inferior women are by Lady Capulet; “Fie…mad?” which could be directed towards either Lord Capulet or Juliet, and is completely ignored, and by the Nurse; “God in heaven…rate her so.” This is met with derogatory sarcasm. It does however show that the Nurse is more protective of Juliet and possibly that Lord Capulet sees the Nurse as a greater threat than Lady Capulet.

Lord Capulet’s rage embellishes that Shakespearean England was a patriarchal society. An audience at the time would have found nothing unusual about Capulet’s rage towards Juliet; in fact, it may have been understanding and even supportive of his point of view. A modern day audience differs somewhat in response, since nowadays, rage of that strength and sort would be frowned upon since society is no longer as male dominated and women are encouraged to stand up for themselves and their beliefs.

Throughout the scene, Shakespeare has used strategic exits to show Juliet’s desertion. Firstly, Romeo’s exit symbolises her desertion from love and happiness, secondly, that of Lord Capulet represent’s Juliet’s abandonment by her family and of society; this is shortly followed by Lady Capulet’s exit, which since she has just dismissed Juliet; “Talk not with me…I have done with thee.” Could represent further desertion by her family but also that of women, and finally, after Juliet’s religious plea for help and advice to the nurse, which is met with a contradictory rejection, the Nurse also exits. This could illustrate Juliet’s abandonment by everything that she held truly dear and everyone that ever really cared for her. After this series of greatly demoralising events, Juliet turns to Friar Lawrence, who represents God.

Juliet’s final dialogue portrays that she is in fact sorry, but the negative vocabulary and tone of the speech expresses that she has given up; “If all else…power to die.” This could also be Juliet discussing suicide, as though it were a method of gaining back power.

Shakespeare also uses foreshadowing copiously throughout the scene to hint at the outcome of the play; “Or if…that dim monument where Tybalt lies”; also Juliet’s premonition of Romeo’s death. This is of such great importance because of the role of fate within the play. There is no consensus as to whether or not Romeo and Juliet were actually fated to die together, however in line six of the chorus, the phrase: “star-cross’d lovers” implies that the fate of these loves is written into the stars. An Elizabethan audience would have believed strongly in fate; however a modern audience would show slightly more discretion and perhaps assume that the outcome is caused simply by an unlucky turn of events. This has led some modern interpreters of the play to believe that it is not at all a tragedy, since Romeo’s actions were not caused by a fatal flaw, but were simply the expected cause of action in a situation such as the one that he was in; his choice to kill Tybalt was circumstantial, not characteristic.

In conclusion, the deaths of Romeo and Juliet do indeed ultimately unite their feuding households. Their decision to make the greatest sacrifice in order that they may be together forever is one that evokes very different emotions in everybody. In Shakespearean England, people were more likely to be divided in opinion, since men would probably have thought that they perhaps got what they dissevered; women may have been divided further, some being frightened of meeting such an end and therefore obeying moral custom, others would have felt as though they could also make a stand against patriarchal society. Many would have seen Juliet’s avoidance of obeying her family as successfully challenging this male dominated way of life.

The story of Romeo and Juliet has had a very strong influence on many aspects of life, from literature to other popular culture and of course influencing everyone who either reads or watches an adaptation of this timeless story. Both characters have become symbols of love, teenage struggles, resistance to authority, and doers of the forbidden.

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How might a Shakespearean audience differ in their response to a modern audience?. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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