The origin of the vendetta between the two families has long been forgotten, yet, it has been propagated and affects not just the two ancestral lines involved, but all those around them. This vital theme which runs throughout the play is what William Shakespeare draws on to attract his audiences. He wrote a large variety of plays ranging from comedies to romantic love-stories with typical axiom endings where young people fall in love and live happily ever after. However at the end of the sixteenth century Shakespeare wrote an array of bitter and melancholy plays.
With this unusual approach, he wrote some of his most acclaimed work in which he used numerous literary techniques such as sonnets.
Romeo and Juliet is one of the oldest stories in the world: two young lovers, little more than children, cannot understand the hatred of an older generation that keeps them apart, and choose to die together rather than live without each other. Apart from the feud, Shakespeare hints the common idea that opposites attract.
The play is built on contrasts: love and hate, peace and conflict, young and old, passion and duty. All these personalities are played by different characters and many a time does one character show a conflagration of emotions. Shakespeare’s understanding of the characters goes far beyond the hero and heroine. He includes the Nurse who is chatty, ambivalent and earthy; Romeo’s friend Mercutio who is quick with his sword and tongue; and even Friar Lawrence who is motivated by the best intentions – to use love to conquer hate.
I truly feel that fate was the true dictator of events during the swift progression of Romeo and Juliet, however to prove that the occurrences throughout the play weren’t mere coincidences, a study of the two main characters in the play will help me identify this. The Friar and the Nurse played an important role in the sinister on goings of the play and I think that they weren’t held to their own devices, but like pawns in the overall game that was played by fate.
I personally believe that, even though it is deemed that the Friar is to blame for the deaths of Romeo and Juliet, he was an instrument of fate. He was only there to do the bidding of fate, and had he not been present, fate would have singled out another character and assigned a similar role. Right from the word go Shakespeare involves an important yet mystical character in the play. It cannot speak or move; nevertheless it has this unbreakable grasp on all the characters. It seems that fate handles the individuals in the play as if they were mere puppets. The continual reference of fate runs in the forefront of the play as if it were playing follow the leader. The audience follow the characters that in turn are following destiny itself.
During the course of the play, the Friar performs a chain of actions that lead to the eventual death of the two that are ‘wedded to calamity’. His fundamental role is a confidante to the infatuated Romeo. A lot of Romeo’s speech is riddled with oxymoronic language. Commenting on the recent conflict and embroiled in his own private misery, his speech in Act 1, Scene 1 contains a string of opposites: ‘feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health…’ Romeo confides in the Friar and asks him for advice on his love affairs. These witty paradoxes show that his feelings have a lack of substance and are said with a certain excess of glibness. Romeo loves the sensation of being in love, revealing his sensually adolescent side. Nonetheless, Friar Lawrence feels that the love for Rosaline is not acute and disregards it. However, as soon as Romeo’s use of words changes to mark his love for Juliet, the Friar is sparked with an idea. At first there seems to be no difference when Romeo talks about Juliet: ‘Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon.’ It is the conventional language of love poetry: it was habitual for lovers to speak this way on stage at the time. The Victorian audiences would love to see such affection being acted out on the stage; therefore many plays of the time were based around sonnets and such language. Ephemerally, the language becomes more effortless when Romeo begins to express genuine feelings – ‘It is my lady, O it is my love/ O that she knew she were!’ The second part of this quote is particularly effective because it is unfinished. This leaves a lingering feeling and depicts that Romeo is unable to find words to describe his fathomless love.
The tension of providence is ominous and lingering in the background as Romeo and other characters make many references to planetary influences. Romeo has this presentment and sense of doom before going to the Capulet’s party: ‘for my mind misgives some consequence yet hanging in the stars.’ The imagery of the sea also gives this interpretation as Romeo believes that something ‘hath the steerage of my course’ implying that he is no longer in control; or in fact that he was never in control in the first place. The imagery of religion between Romeo and Juliet is a link to the Friar and his role in the play. The persistent repetition of celestial and ethereal beauty makes the audience even more sympathetic for they know that the play is going to end in tragedy and the lovers cannot do anything about it as their plight lies in the ‘inauspicious stars’. The Friar encourages the love that has ‘sprung from hate’ and instead of condemning it, he illustrates a path showing Romeo and Juliet how they can be together and he persuades Romeo to secretly meet with Juliet to consummate their marriage.
Nevertheless, Friar Lawrence isn’t completely irrational. His motives had many advantages and disadvantages which could have worked in his favour or not. He initially wanted to reunite two dynasties of Verona. This motive in itself is justified yet, the Friar hasn’t thought about the other consequences that could follow. Therefore I have come to believe that the Friar was not able to act on his accord and any decisions he made might have been made by fate. He wanted to help his friend and moreover a son-like figure, Romeo. These actions epitomize the Friar as a compassionate and benevolent man.
On the contrary, the Friar seems to know that things will go wrong as he says ‘these violent delights have violent ends.’ He knows that the ‘unkind hour’ was upon them, and yet he did nothing to stop, moreover, he actually encouraged it. His plans were so naï¿½ve that his motives did seem genuine. Nonetheless, he has a sense of ascendancy which comes from the regard and respect that the other characters give him. It could be argued that he is ‘the instrument for the will of God’, but I do not think that this is the case because Shakespeare has depicted the Friar as a naturist rather than a dedicated monastery monk. In addition, this tragedy would not have befallen on the citizens of Verona had they been overseen by divine providence. The idea that the letter wasn’t able to be delivered by Friar John, could be sheer coincidence but I still ruminate over the possibility that all the conclusions that Friar Lawrence has made have turned out to be like ‘sour misfortune’s book.’ He was even just a moment or two, too late to save Juliet before she finally died at the end.
There are many other catastrophic events during the play which do not have an instant link back to the Friar. For example, he has no part in the dual between Tybalt and Mercutio, nor does he play a part in their deaths. The fact that the Nurse knows as much as the Friar does, however she doesn’t not seem to make any decisions in the real events as she shies away from any involvement at key moments in the play. She assists Juliet by carrying the rope ladder by which Romeo enters the Capulet house on the night of their marriage, but she refuses to disregard her loyalties to the family she serves and changes her mind instantaneously when Juliet asks her what she should do. The Nurse is a more physical woman who prefers the corporeal attributes of the human body rather than concentrating on love. This is perhaps why fate singled out the Friar as he was a man who could comprehend Romeo’s feelings.
‘Unhappy fortune’ has led the way throughout the play and even though the Friar was responsible for setting up a chain reaction of events which led to the final tragedy, he is no more than a mechanism of fate. The Friar is not generally a very theatrical person as he is frequently referred to as ‘kindly’ but his undertaking in the plot is very melodramatic, hence proving that he is one of the most important characters in the play. This does not mean that he is the sole person to blame for the events that conspired. I take into account that the whole plot was based on the circumstance of fate, but his motives were misguided in the first place. Other individuals like the Nurse contributed to the adversity to a lesser degree as well, however, after fate, I think that Friar Lawrence is to blame for the death of Romeo and Juliet.
Apart from the Friar, another important character in the play is that of the Nurse. I believe that the main role of the Nurse in the play is that of a confidante. Juliet may act formal and subservient to her mother, however she feels truly at home with the Nurse. This emotion is duly portrayed via Juliet’s affectionate remarks (‘O honey Nurse’) and her need to be comforted: ‘Some comfort, Nurse’. The Nurse is a good source of information and even when Juliet is encaged inside her house by Lord Capulet, she sends the Nurse out to represent her. It is the Nurse who tells Juliet who Romeo is at the celebrations in the end of Act 1. It is the Nurse who acts as a go between the two ‘death mark’d lovers’. It is the Nurse who tells Juliet about Romeo’s arrangement for their marriage. It is the Nurse who brings the bad news of Tybalt’s death and moreover; Romeo’s banishment. It is the Nurse who interrupts the parting of Romeo and Juliet on the morning after they have consummated their marriage. It is the Nurse who changes her mind and tried to persuade to marry the ‘man of wax’ Paris. It is indeed the Nurse who finds Juliet ‘dead’ on her bed on the morning of her marriage.
This depicts two sides of the Nurse’s character. On the one hand, she is a strong and profound maid to have cared so much for a child that is not hers. She loved Juliet so much that she went against her loyalties and helps the two lovers ‘wedded to calamity’. However, on the other hand, she remained truly loyal to the Capulets, by her ambivalent mind. At one moment she told Juliet that Romeo was ‘an honest gentleman’ and that he was ‘courteous, kind and handsome’, yet in spite of this, as soon as Lady Capulet talks of Juliet’s marriage to Paris, the Nurse takes Paris as a proxy into a difficult situation between Romeo and Juliet.
Yet, the Nurse illustrates subterranean concern for Juliet as she mentions her relationship with her time and time again. In Act 1 Scene 3, the Nurse cannot hold herself and continues to ramble on about her love for Juliet. This speech is full of apparent imagery and it reinforces the Nurse’s affection towards Juliet. Her speech is unaffected, unrefined and unsophisticated. It gives the impression that the Nurse shows her basic side when she cares for Juliet. Her maternal fondness which was lost when Susan died has been transferred to Juliet. It could be that the Nurse feels so bound to Juliet due to the fact that she herself has lost a child and so uses Juliet as a substitute. Lady Capulet tries her best to stop it – ‘Enough of this, I pray thee hold thy peace.’
The intensity of the Nurse’s crude words are emphasised even more during this speech as the she cannot help but ranting and raving on about her affections for Juliet. Though she does use doting words to define her love: ‘lamb’ or ‘ladybird’, the Nurse’s speech is accentuated by sexual puns. Her consistent references to sexual activities liken her to other common characters in the play such as Gregory and Sampson who also add humour to the play. The fact that the Nurse is not ashamed to speak to Juliet about ‘a bump as big as a young cock’rel’s stone’ depicts her earthy nature. Shakespeare makes sure that the entire Nurse’s dialogue is in simple prose to distinguish the citizens’ hierarchy in Verona. Vulgar servant-like characters such as the Nurse talk in an informal and chatty manner, unlike the Prince who of course is at the top of this social structure. However it is to be duly noted that the Nurse’s language becomes much more poetic when she talks to or about Juliet,
I find the Nurse particularly interesting because when I first read through the play, her character sparked a lot of emotion and though I got exasperated by her continuing rambling, her inappropriate word use was rather amusing. Though she shows concern for Juliet like any mother, her basic speech is riddled with sexual puns (‘No less nay! Bigger women grow by men’) and malapropism (‘I desire some confidence with you’ – instead of I desire some conference with you). Her association with the famous Mrs Malaprop, represents how the Nurse confuses certain words and therefore makes the audience apprehensive of the appending tragedy. She is a figure of humour in the imminent misfortune that looms overhead. She is beguiled into the traps that Mercutio lays for her as she tries to conduct herself like a lady. She is also impressed by the way Friar Lawrence talks: ‘O Lord I could have stay’d here all the night to hear good counsel. O what learning is!’
Even though Shakespeare has used a variety of different images and literary techniques during the play, the Nurse has never been apart of them as her disposition is so rudimentary. With the epic similes comparing Juliet’s love which is ‘as boundless as the sea’ and the prolongation of light and dark images, he has managed to captivate audiences. For example, when Romeo says: ‘More light and light, more dark and dark our woes!’ he is comparing the light of day to the darkness of their problems. Shakespeare’s use of the sonnet which is typically known as the language of love, is used to highlight the mystical and ethereal qualities of the love between the ‘star cross’d lovers.’ It is so divine and religious that it is beyond the Nurse’s contemplation. In that period of history, it was thought that the servants weren’t able to understand religion and divinity as it was only for the rich and noble. The citations of the sea are even more commonly used in Romeo and Juliet – ‘But He hath the steerage of my course/ Direct my sail!’ Conversely, it is not clear as to whether Romeo directs this quote at God or at fate. We know from the beginning that the play is going to end in tragedy as the lovers’ names had been ‘writ in sour misfortune’s book’. So it is most likely that the Nurse had no part to play in the plot of the play, but was merely a pawn in the larger scheme of things. It is like fate played a game of chess between the Capulets and the Montagues, with the chess board being the city of Verona.
In brief, the Nurse is an affectionate, simple-minded woman in whom piety and sexuality are combined with a lack of commonsense and a desire to please. The Nurse enjoys keeping Juliet in suspense and so when she had any sort of news for her, she will prolong it as far as she can until Juliet is literally begging to hear the news. Though the Nurse is practical in some senses, her solution to marry Paris was her only means of getting out of all the difficulties. Yet, the Nurse is the only who seems so gravely affected by Juliet’s ‘death’. Her usual repetitive nature kicks in and she will not tell the rest of the family the sour misfortune as she continues to sob and scream: ‘O woeful day. O lamentable day. O woeful, woeful day!’
The Nurse is indeed like a flower and though she may not be as fragrant and attractive as all the other women and girls like Juliet, she has the inner beauty which takes a while to discover. Therefore physically minded people like Mercutio do not understand the Nurse and how far her feelings for Juliet run. Admittedly it is more obvious that the Nurse is chatty and obscenely irritating at times but that is what makes her character unique and essential to the components of the play. She did indeed have a major role in contributing to the ever thickening plot, though we will never know and it is only up to our own judgement whether the Nurse had been a mere puppet in fate’s charade.
The first mention in the prologue of ‘their deaths’ augmented the sympathy the audience felt for the lovers. Shakespeare wanted the audience to empathise with the characters and so his strong use of poetic language, made each action more powerful. The fact that the plot was based on coincidence meant that each feeling intensified as Romeo and Juliet’s meeting was inevitable. Their fate had been sealed from the beginning and there was no way of escaping from what the stars had foretold.
The idea of Romeo and Juliet’s pure devotion is strengthened by the mentions of the idealistic love Romeo feels for Rosaline. The closing stage of the first scene sees Romeo explaining how love at first sight could be the most amazing feeling in the world and could possibly turn into burning anguish. The oxymoronic language portrays this feeling: ‘feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire.’ The ambivalence is depicted when Romeo is caught up in the whirlwind of love ‘Alas the love’, yet he hates being rejected. Rosaline does not return his feelings and in his rejection, Romeo wallows in his own misery. According to Romeo, everything about Rosaline is as perfect as the ‘shady curtains of Aurora’s bed.’ The sensually immature emotions plaguing Romeo allow him to be secluded from the rest of the characters and it marks his adolescence.
It is ironic that Romeo completely forgets about Capulet’s niece Rosaline when he falls for Juliet. This proves that his feelings, or better known as infatuations were shallow and merely a way to pass time. Furthermore, it is coincidental that the next person he falls in love with, in the only woman in Verona that he can’t have. In addition, the satire of Benvolio’s words conveys the same concept. Before Romeo meets Juliet, Benvolio suggests that Romeo should ‘look at other women’.
Preceding Act One, Scene Five, Romeo’s presentment of doom implies that the next scene will hold a fatal incident in which the whole story will intertwine into knotted webs of hate and love. Even though Juliet has the more pragmatic nature, Romeo has a deeper sense of forbidding. ‘For my mind misgives some consequence yet hanging in the stars’ – Romeo says this in an attempt to stop himself going to the party in the evening.
At the beginning of Act One, Scene Five, the light-hearted entrance speech made by Lord Capulet contrasts the firework display of love at the end of the scene. The building of suspense amid Romeo and Juliet is enhanced by the conversation between Lord Capulet and his Cousin. They deliberate on how their youth has come and gone, therefore they are no longer able to dance. Ever since the old ladies have grown ‘corns’ on their feet, they sit in the corners and watch wistfully as the youth prance on around them. The repetition of the words ’tis gone’ draws attention to the fact that Capulet is much older than his daughter and his views on marriage were no longer the same for Juliet.
From the first moment that their eyes met behind their ornate masks, the language adjusted to mirror each breathless word and portray the beauty of poetry between the two lovers. The evocative and sensual language shows the increasing depth of feeling and it draws a distinction from the fanciful and supposedly clichï¿½ language that Romeo used to describe Rosaline. In the twinkling of an eye, Romeo had been beguiled by Juliet’s charm and had been captivated into his own world. Yet, Shakespeare did not have a love story in mind, he added the ‘fiery Tybalt’ to the mixture to make the play more dramatic as well as practical. The instant when Tybalt realises that Romeo is behind the mask – ‘This, by his voice, should be a Montague’ – he believes that Romeo is there to spoil the party. At once he feels it necessary to draw his sword, ‘Fetch me my rapier, boy’ and slay the enemy. This differs completely to the way Romeo had just been talking about Juliet, he called her a ‘rich jewel’ and used a powerful metaphor comparing her beauty to that of a white dove in a flock of black crows.
Shakespeare uses the poem of love: a sonnet, to depict the passion between Romeo and Juliet. Each sentence complements the other and their love is the purest thing so far in the play. Unlike the intense feud concerning the Capulets and Montagues, and the blistering Tybalt, Romeo and Juliet use image of religion to render their angelic and spiritual love. The perception that the ‘holy palmer’s kiss’ is proper devotion entices Juliet to kiss Romeo within a couple of minutes and fourteen lines of speech. Additionally, the concept that Romeo and Juliet have no clue of each others identities makes it even more despairing when each finds out who they have fallen in love with.
Finally, the expressive ardour is heightened as Romeo and Juliet both react in terror when they find out that their first true love is a ‘great enemy.’ From Romeo’s first words we can see that he has no intention of backing away from Juliet just because she is a Capulet, he portrays this by saying: ‘my life is in my foe’s debt.’ Juliet however has realised the more pragmatic side of things when she mentions the dispute and her position stuck in the middle – ‘My only love sprung from my only hate!’ She has no-one else to impugn as to why she ‘must love a loathï¿½d enemy’ and she becomes conscious of the fact that the birth of her new love is ‘prodigious.’
Overall, the emotional intensity is conveyed mainly through the concerted use of language. Shakespeare uses a range of metaphors and an imposing sonnet to mark Romeo and Juliet’s first meeting. He has displayed the Italian poem on which the play is based through a series of dramatic events. The first event being the encounter between the ‘star crossed lovers.’ Only fate knew what was in store for the two disciples of unsullied love.
There were a string of apparent coincidences which helped the play move along, with the Nurse and Mercutio being strictly added for humorous purposes. Firstly, it was rather convenient that the servant who had to deliver the invitations for the Capulet’s party couldn’t read the names on the list and thus had to call upon the help of a few passers by, who indeed was Romeo. After realising that he has fallen in love with the one girl that is out of his reach, he hears Juliet professing her love to him on the balcony. This leads onto their swift marriage, and then the fight between Mercutio and Tybalt. To solve all the impending doom, the Friar expediently has the correct potion suitable to put Juliet to sleep for the exactly perfect amount of time that is necessary for everyone to think she is dead.
Fittingly, the plan happens to fall apart when Friar John could not deliver a letter due to the plague that he was quarantined by, nevertheless, Balthasar had escaped this restriction and could reach Romeo before anyone else to deliver the terrible news. Even though Romeo doesn’t live in Mantua, he knows an appropriate place to buy his poison – the apothecary. When Romeo finally reaches the tomb in which Juliet is laid, he meets Paris who beneficially has a dagger that they use to fight till death. Romeo wins, this may perhaps be surged by his grief, to then find that Juliet is really dead and hence he kills himself instantaneously with the poison. So rudimentary was the plan that Juliet wakes almost immediately after Romeo has died.
The long list of premonitions, chains of explicit fate and ostensible coincidences, depicts that the description of the lovers in the prologue is very fitting. Every event has been somewhat addled by fate and nothing seems to be running on its natural course. With reference to the numerous mystical and ethereal happenings, I have begun to consider whether these occurrences are really from the heavens above, or merely seeping in from the hell below. From the deep and fiery depths of hell, fate lurks…lashing out unexpectedly at those who are unaware…Can anyone escape this wrath? Or are we too like two of Verona’s feuding families, just being taken for a stroll in the murky profundity of fate’s garden?
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