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How does the opening scene of “Romeo and Juliet” grab the audience’s attention? How does Shakespeare prepare us for what happens in the rest of the play? “Romeo and Juliet” is one of Shakespeare’s most famous romantic tragedies, which was written in 1599. This tale of romance and hatred starts with a dramatic first scene of the opposing families. These characters are shown in the first scene, focusing on the way Shakespeare captures the audience’s attention and how he created this action packed, tense first scene to prepare us for the rest of the play.
Shakespeare’s Act 1 Scene 1 sees two angry characters enter armed with swords and bucklers which are publicly seen in their possession. In the society of that time, this would have been common and the audience would not find it strange whereas the society of today would find this threatening, as well as illegal. This gives us an impression of what the people and the society was like 400 years ago. These two fiery characters are Capulet servants called Sampson and Gregory who start the first scene off with humour: “We’ll not carry coals” – Sampson.
“No, for then we should be colliers” – Gregory. This would have been funny in Shakespearean times as Gregory is contradicting what Sampson has said, and is taking him literally to make light of the situation. Shakespeare’s audience would have understood the reference whereas a modern audience would see the implication differently and the joke wouldn’t be understood, as the Shakespearean language is not commonly known these days. Shakespeare uses sexual references towards the Montague household and Sampson comments that he is “a pretty piece of flesh.
” This sexual reference would have been amusing to the Shakespearean audience, and even though we do not fully understand the comment, we would still pick up what he is implying. We still have amusing sexual references in plays and films today which show how the society then and the society now use sexual comments in their scripts to create humour. This humour helps to capture the audience’s attention. These two characters help start off the first scene as they help us to realise the anger and hatred between the two families, and prepare us for what we hope will be more fighting and excitement later on in the play.
The next two characters to enter are Montague servants called Abram and Balthasar. Sampson and Gregory are clearly angered by their arrival, and comment that they will “bite their thumb at them. ” This action was an insult in Shakespearean times, and would have been taken in an offensive way. The two Montague servants begin quarrelling with the Capulets, and they begin provoking each other: “Do you bite your thumb at us sir? ” – Abram “No, sir, I do not bite my thumb at you” – Sampson Later on in Act 1 they continue: “Do you quarrel sir? ” – Gregory “Quarrel, sir? No sir. ” – Abram.
As the provocation warms up, and the two opposing families begin to get angrier, the pace of the play quickens. Modern audiences may not have understood the insult of biting thumbs, but we would feel the tension that was building up on stage between the Montagues and the Capulets, and would see that the characters are very much alike in the fact that they detest the other family and use aggressive language to try and provoke each other. These two characters are added to make the plot more interesting, although they do not show the anger they have for the Capulets as much as the Capulets show us their hatred for the Montagues.
Evidence of this is that Sampson and Gregory in Act 1 Scene 1 talk about how they will inflict pain and violence on the Monatagues if they come across one: “A dog of the house of Montague moves me”. The bickering between these four characters adds tension and excitement to the first scene of the play, and helps move the scene along. The next character to enter is Benvolio and he is clearly angered by the fighting that has occurred between the two families. He “beats down their swords” saying “put up your swords; you know not what you do.
” We can already see a big contrast between Benvolio and the other four characters: Benvolio is a peacemaker who wishes for the family feud to end, whereas the others provoke each other into a fight, quarrel and hold hatred for each other. Tybalt then enters, angry and fired up over the Montague presence. He speaks of how he hates the word peace “as he hates hell, all Montague’s and thee. ” We begin to learn that Tybalt is a very angry and aggressive character that would love to get his own revenge on the Montague household.
Although the language is still written and spoken as if in Shakespearean times, we would still feel the tension and pace quickening, and understand the personalities of the different characters. Shakespeare has given Benvolio and Tybalt different tones of language: Tybalt’s is strong, aggressive and angry whereas Benvolio’s is a little less strong and is more polite when talking. These two characters, I feel, are created by Shakespeare to add tension and excitement to the play, and prepare us for more action packed scenes with the two characters later on.
The contrast between these two characters would grab the audience’s attention and leave us wondering what will happen between these two later on in the play. This fighting leads to several citizens (which are split between the Monatgues and the Capulets) that next enter the scene. A big fight ensues between the two families, and the citizens get involved. This would make us (and the audience 400 years ago) very edgy and would add tension in the audience. These characters are added to show us the hatred that has built between the Capulets and Montagues, and to show us that the anger and contempt between them goes as far as the citizens.
Watching this on stage would add fear and tension between the characters on stage and the audience, and Shakespeare would have added swords and angry colours to show the hatred. Capulet, Lady Capulet, Montague and Lady Montague enter and when seeing the upheaval of the fights go to join in. The Ladies of the two households try to calm them down but they are defiant; “Hold me not; let me go. ” – Montague This shows us that the women in the society of that time did not have any power or say over their husbands, and is a factual part of the play that helps us understand what society was like 400 years ago.
During these fights, our next character, Prince Escalus, enters. He immediately stops the fight and issues his last warning. “If ever you disturb our streets again, your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace. ” In Shakespearean times, there was no government to help rule the country: it was the prince’s last word that everyone followed. Shakespeare uses this language as it is a clear and stern statement that easily makes the audience anticipated on what may happen further on in the play.
This would add contrast to the play as we would know that we were to expect more fighting, but the Prince’s ultimatum would leave us wondering what was going to happen next, which would create more interest in the play and change our first thoughts of what we were to expect as we think that Shakespeare will cause more hatred and fighting between his characters to keep us interested. Shakespeare creates a very clear, polite but strong character here with an easy dialogue that audiences of today would easily understand. All the characters exit leaving Montague, Lady Montague and Benvolio talking of what happened.
In this part of the scene, Shakespeare shows us that not only is Benvolio a peacemaking character, but also a truthful one that we can trust. This ensures us that whatever may happen later on in the play, we can trust Benvolio to tell the truth. The language Shakespeare uses is clear and to the point, giving as much detail as possible without giving to much away of what is to come later on in the play. They then start talking about Benvolio’s cousin, Romeo. This is when Shakespeare introduces his main, love struck character.
We learn that Lady Montague is particularly caring about her son: “O where is Romeo? … Right glad I am he was not at this fray. ” They talk of how he “shuts up his windows, locks fair daylight out,” and our first impressions of Romeo is that he is a very miserable, lonely person (not the person we originally think of when we hear his name). Shakespeare leaves us again confused of what may happen later on in the play as the name Romeo is synonymous with romance, but when we hear what Romeo is like, we are left wondering if the play will be as it was first expected.
Modern audiences would understand this part of the play, as the language is clear and understandable. The dialogues are introducing the contrast of hatred to love but at the same time it also stays informative and gives us our first impressions of Romeo. This part of the play is important as it helps move the scene along from the fighting earlier on, and informs us on our first of the main characters, Romeo. Our main character now enters and Shakespeare’s language tells us a lot of how Romeo is feeling: “Is the day so long?
… Ay me! Sad hours seem long. ” We learn that Romeo is an extremely depressed character who doesn’t seem to be this romantic character (that we suspected from his name) we first imagined. Shakespeare keeps us wondering about why Romeo is depressed, giving Romeo small dialogues of little information. We later learn that Romeo is “out of her favour where I am in love. ” This now tells us more of Romeo’s character and instead of what our first impressions were, we now feel that he is a soppy romantic who is in love with love.
Romeo later talks in riddles as he states: “O heavy lightness… O loving hate… feather of lead… ” This shows us how he feels confused over his feelings of love, and that he will “feel no love like this. ” Again our impression is that he is very romantic and loves to be loved. This part of the scene from when Romeo enters prepares us for more romance and we feel that the romance and love will be the cause of the fighting later on in the play, which links to Prince Escalus’ warning.
In conclusion, I feel that this first scene is successful in helping us predict but also wonder what will happen later on in the play. It prepares us for more fighting and for a romance that may be the cause of death, betrayal and hurt. I’ve learnt of how inferior the women were 400 years ago, and how royalty ruled everything. Shakespeare has used the period that he lived in to create this play, and along with being an interesting love tale, it is in some ways factual as well. This play is very dramatic, tense and action-packed and I feel that this first scene starts the play off brilliantly.