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Romeo and Juliet was written in 1599 by William Shakespeare. The basic plot of Romeo and Juliet was not an original idea, but retold in a new and interesting way by Shakespeare. The key themes in Romeo and Juliet are love, hate, disorder, death and time. In Shakespeare’s time women were not treated as equals to men. They were treated as property and their belongings were considered their husband’s. Lower classes in Shakespeare’s lived in awful conditions and sneered at by the higher classes.
Shakespeare uses this to his advantage in his play because his male characters show high disregard for the opposite sex and for lower classes in society.
Shakespeare’s use of a prologue is extremely effective in the setting the scene for the rest of the play. He creates dramatic irony and tension by talking to the audience “In fair Verona (where we lay our scene)”. This phrase tells the audience where the story is set and makes the audience feel involved in only one line.
“From ancient grudge break to new mutiny” is the third line of the play and already introduces the theme of hate and disorder. It tells the audience that the two families are continuing a feud from a very long time ago and nothing has developed in the way of peace between them.
The first two characters introduced by Shakespeare to the audience are Gregory and Sampson. They are both servants of the house of Capulet. The scene starts off with the two men in a public place.
They are both wearing weapons and shields, which shows that both men are either expecting a fight or looking for one. This immediately introduces the themes of violence and disorder, even if not in great detail. The conversation between the two men is very boisterous and involves them bragging to each other about their ‘manliness’. The men use puns in their conversation e.g. “Sampson – I will cut off their heads. Gregory – The heads of the maids? Sampson – Ay, the heads of the maids – or their maidenheads.” The use of puns in speech shows that the speaker is using humour. The fact that the men are talking with humour about raping and murdering women, shows their disrespect and degrading attitude towards women. This also shows that they are ruthless men who don’t mind killing innocents if it means hurting their enemies, the Montague family. Their attitudes reflect on the Elizabethan view of women at the time of Shakespeare’s writing because they were treated badly and not fully respected. This is another example of disorder in Verona at these times.
Abram and Balthasar are servants of the house of Capulet. Sampson and Gregory meet them in the public place. Sampson insults Abram by biting his thumb at him and in Italy in Shakespeare’s time; this would have been seen as a great insult and a provocative action. By Verona law, if a fight breaks out in public, the person who started the violence is to be arrested and sentenced. This presents a problem for Abram because if he retaliates, he risks arrest and if he ignores the insult, it shows cowardice and makes it look like he is failing his family. An aside is used between Gregory and Sampson which shows their concern about starting a fight. Sampson asks Gregory if it is wise to start a fight and Gregory warns him not to. Ignoring Gregory’s advice, Sampson continues to taunt Abram. When Abram asks Sampson if he bit his thumb at him, Sampson replies, “No, sir, I do not bit my thumb at you, sir. But I do bite my thumb.” When Benvolio enters, the men begin to fight.
Benvolio is the cousin of Romeo and a member of the Montague family. The first impressions of Benvolio are that he is quite intelligent. He knows better than to start a fight in public because it would have bad consequences for both families. He shouts “Part, fools!” to break up the fight and Tybalt enters, the cousin of Juliet. Tybalt’s character juxtaposes with Benvolio’s, because Benvolio believes in keeping the peace, whereas Tybalt only thinks about killing his enemies and is full of hate. This can be seen in the tone of the characters lines. The juxtaposition creates a tension that makes the audience fell that a fight could break out at any moment. It also brings back the themes of peace and disorder and puts them into the forms of Benvolio and Tybalt.
When Prince Escalus enters the stage, the tension build up again because the audience can tell that he is extremely angry. The prince refers to the men in both families as beasts which is a metaphor to show that he views them as animals with no control over their actions. He threatens the men with the death penalty which shows the audience that the fight wasn’t the first one between the families and that this time he had no patience left. The prince’s threat is ironic because he threatens the families with death, and one member from each of their families dies, Romeo and Juliet, but neither of them were involved with the fighting.
When the audience first meets Romeo, he comes across as quite a distant character because he recites poetry and has obviously not been involved with the fight which shows that he doesn’t have a nature as violent as some of his friends. Romeo tells Benvolio that he is sad and that the days seem long because he is in love with a girl who doesn’t love him back. Shakespeare uses metaphors; phrases which say that something is something else to describe its nature, to express Romeo’s current poetic mood. He also uses oxymorons such as ‘cold fire’ and ‘sick health’ to show Romeo’s state of confusion caused by love. ‘Cold fire’, for example, shows Romeo’s thoughts of passion that have been somewhat dampened by the fact that he is not loved back. This is the first real introduction of the key theme of love, which is very important in the play.
Shakespeare uses stage directions to raise tension in the play. The Elizabethan audience would have thought that sword fights were exciting and tense so the fight itself adds action and excitement to the whole play, and emphasises the hatred between the two families. Shakespeare uses side directions to cue the actors on their actions. The ‘aside’ direction means that the character speaks to a partner or the audience on his own, which causes the feeling of dramatic irony where the audience feel that they know more than some of the characters. To cue the fight, Shakespeare uses the direction ‘They fight’. The lack of detail in the direction shows that the actors are supposed to improvise on the fighting which gives the scene a feeling of authenticity. The fight introduces the theme of violence to the play.
The key themes introduced in the first scene are disorder and love. Because the themes are introduced early in the play, the audience know that the themes will be viewed in more detail throughout the play. The themes set the whole tone of the play to let the audience know what type of play Romeo and Juliet is. The fact that they know this increases the effect of dramatic irony because they know what is happening and that the outcome will involve love, hate, disorder and time.
The story of Romeo and Juliet is based on the inability to straddle in the two worlds of love and honour, the two are mutually exclusive. In Act three, scene 1 of Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare has managed to combine action, drama and tension.
Act three, scene one commenced on the sweltering streets of Verona. Benvolio was being mocked by Mercutio stating that he is extraordinarily quarrelsome. When Tybalt enters we soon see that these are characteristics of Mercutio himself because Mercutio purposefully provoked him. However, an infuriated Tybalt was not disturbed since he was looking for Romeo due to his intrusion at the Capulet party. Romeo did not see reason in fighting Tybalt as they were related now. Mercutio was dismayed because he assumed that Romeo was being a coward when he refused to fight but he wasn’t, he was just being true to his love. Mercutio then drew his sword on Tybalt. Romeo tried to prevent this and Tybalt fatally wounds Mercutio. To avenge his friend’s death he fought and killed Tybalt. And as result Romeo is then exiled from Verona.
Act three, scene one is a pivotal point in the play mainly because in the previous scene Romeo and Juliet exchanged marriage vows. Thus, this scene is a tragic one as Romeo is driven away from Verona and his love Juliet. Throughout the second act a sense of happiness was created but suddenly the scene then becomes tragic. Tybalt’s death could have been prevented by Romeo but he was unwise and decided to maintain his codes of honour rather than be true to his love and this then brought about the death of his friend Mercutio. This is sadly ironic.
Benvolio’s opening lines immediately create tension, interest and excitement initially through Shakespeare’s use of foreshadowing, the irony becomes too dark. This is evident in Benvolio’s line “And if we meet we shall not scape a brawl”. It is implied here that a feud may commence if Benvolio and Mercutio are spotted by Tybalt. Tension and interest is created which is unlike the solemn atmosphere portrayed in the previous scene where Romeo and Juliet’s marriage took place. A “brawl” would immensely damage the calm atmosphere and would eventually make it even harder for the two families to be re-united. In his speech, Benvolio portrays the day as “hot”; here a sense of uneasiness was created within the members of the public. Benvolio also described the day as “mad blood stirring”. The use of “mad” indicates a livid, indignant atmosphere and the use of “blood” implies that the scene may have been bloodstained and repugnant. Also “Blood” itself could reflect pain and the colour red is synonymous with danger.
When Tybalt enters we know that tension will come with him. Mercutio does not calm the situation and his response, reflects his care free and fearless attitude. He addressed Tybalt with “By my heel, I care not”. The tone instantly changes and excitement is developed. Mercutio’s fearless character creates a sense of danger and suspense as he instigates and provokes a “brawl”. The audience are then unsure of the happenings. Tybalt then refers to Mercutio and Benvolio as “gentlemen”. As a result of Tybalt’s sarcasm and demanding tone the atmosphere automatically becomes apprehensive. Tybalt tests Mercutio’s patience as they both compete for power. Mercutio retaliates, “Could you not take some occasion without giving?” here he refuses to give respect to someone that does not respect others and depicts the feud between the families.
Tybalt retorted, “Mercutio thou consortest with Romeo”, he refers to Mercutio as a musician, which in the era of Shakespeare was a low status position. Aggravated Mercutio, being a proud man increased the tension to a peek by replying, “I will not budge for no man’s pleasure, I”. The phrase also suggests Mercutio is an uncompromising and valiant character and Shakespeare portrayed him as a protagonist. The verbal sparring between Tybalt and Mercutio is the prelude of the arrival of Romeo, Tybalt’s real target. The audience are then completely oblivious as to what is going to happen subsequently, so a setting of suspense is present since it is unknown who will be wounded. Mercutio deliberately misunderstood Tybalt when he says of Romeo, “Here comes my man” which means his servant instead of the intended person he was looking for, Mercutio often turns Tybalt’s words into derogatory comments. When Tybalt said, “Thou consortest with Romeo” again he twists it to mean servant and not friend.
The audience are aware that Romeo has just got married to Juliet. There is a sense of belief, that for this reason he will not fight Tybalt but Tybalt does not want to leave without a fight. Dramatic irony had been used in this scene to create further apprehension; this was evident when Romeo rejects the fight. Depicted in, “Therefore farewell I see that knowest me not!” we can see that Romeo expresses his reluctance to fight Tybalt. It is assumed that this is Romeo’s cowardice which he is not because he is married to Juliet now. In Tybalt’s desperate attempt for a fight, he spits vituperation at him calling him a “boy” and a “villain”, expecting to infuriate Romeo and gain a reaction. However Romeo responded in a submissive manner which took everyone by surprise. Mercutio dismayed by this, declared “O calm, dishonourable, vile submission!” Mercutio regarded Romeo as being “dishonourable” but his reaction is unexpected and leaves Romeo in a baffled position as he is related to Tybalt and does not want to fight. Romeo’s emotions are evident when he says, “Be satisfied”. His refusal expresses suspense and produces a catalyst to the situation and finalises that he shall not be convinced in to fighting.
Mercutio is portrayed as the comedian and knowledgeable with his language, this is shown when he turns Tybalt’s insults into humour such as, “here’s my fiddlestick; here’s that shall
make you dance” when Tybalt refers him to a musician which were in lower status at that time period. When Mercutio is injured in the fight the audience and other characters are unsure of how seriously Mercutio is hurt. At first Mercutio states, “I am hurt” this proves he is defiantly hurt, but there is a question about the severity at this point and his tone was more neutral, which keeps the audience guessing but then he goes on to issue the curse, “A plague a’ both houses.” At this point his tone has suddenly gone very angry and serious; he is cursing the Capulets and Montague. When Mercutio ultimately says “I am sped” a lot of tension is created because he indirectly states this may be the end of his life and that he has come to an end. This tone is now very serious because the audience now think Mercutio is going to die, where as the characters still think he’s joking, “The hurt cannot be much.”
Mercutio respond says it’s just a scratch so suddenly tension drops, but increases again when he repeats the phrase “tis enough” which means that it’s enough to kill him. By this the audience know, when Mercutio said, “ay,ay a scratch, a scratch” he was being sarcastic. At this point the audience are left confused because he says he’s dying but yet he still is being sarcastic. Mercutio was contradicting himself. He creates a lot of interest when he says, “Tomorrow you, shall find me a grave man” This may mean he may be found sad or dead the next day. Here Shakespeare has used a pun on the word “grave”. Mercutio ultimately says he is going to die through the phrase, “They have made worms meant of me,” He’s almost saying he is definitely going to die which creates a climax as his death was unexpected. In this section of the scene black humour is evident due to the dark irony being created. His black humour underlines the negative language used throughout the scene and much of the rest of the play.
Romeo feels emasculated by Mercutio’s death; he is made to feel, soft and feminine. This is demonstrated by the phrase, “made me effeminate.” Romeo feels his pride has been wrecked this is evident when he quotes, ” my reputation stained”. He wants revenge because his best friend Mercutio was slain under his aim. Tension is created when Romeo used the language of revenge tragedy. This is evident when he says “Away to heaven, respective lenity” because he states he is no longer going to act with compassion and be merciful. An ominous tone creeps in, we await the pending doom. Interest is further heightened when Romeo says, “And fire-eyed fury be my conduct nom!” This creates interest because it previous that Romeo is now being driven by rage. Tension is also created because Romeo says, “either thou or I or both must go with him,” he is foreshadowing what is going to happen, Romeo predicts that one or both of them are going to die alongside Mercutio. When Romeo decided to fight Tybalt honour was chosen over his love. Excitement is created when the phrase, “O, I am fortunes fool” is said by Romeo, he is fortunate because he has just married Juliet, the love of his life; however, he is a fool for killing her cousin and putting their marriage in jeopardy.
Punishment for murder in the Elizabethan era was execution so when the Prince arrived, tension would be built because the audience expected Romeo to be put to death. The Prince’s opening words maintained the levels of tension as seen when he said, “Where are the vile, beginners of the fray?”. This suggests that he was disgusted at their actions and showed no sympathy towards them. The audience are interested as Romeo is not executed, but banished from Verona but this also creates tension because, they question how Romeo is going to carry on his marriage remains. The Prince’s speech creates interest because Mercutio is his cousin, “I have an interest ,” This shows that now this rivalry has hit him personally, ” My blood” he say it’s his family that has been affected now.
The Prince thinks that Romeo needs to feel his pain. This is demonstrated when he says, ” That you shall all repent the loss of mine”. The Prince then does not feel after that nor will tears or prayers pardon their wrong, this evident when he says, ” Nor tears nor prayers.” The prince’s final words are extremely powerful, finally he quotes,” Mercy but murders, pardoning those that kill” which means, mercy ends up murdering because it pardons those who kill and then they are free to go out and do it again. The audiences are requested to reflect how the innocent and private love of the “star-crossed” pair will be destroyed by the public desire for revenge.
In the Elizabethan era, fights and challenges were common and expected so when Romeo and Tybalt fought, there almost certainly was no reaction in the audience but if that was modern day it would of create a great amount of interest as it is something that is atypical. When Mercutio was killed, due to Romeo refusing a fight his pride was flawed this was evident through the phrase “my reputation stained” Romeo’s pride and honor was marked. In the Elizabethan times this was a massive issue, a man’s pride and honor is not so huge and when a man’s reputation is damaged he wouldn’t be as dramatic as they would have been in the Elizabethan era. Romeo also felt it was his duty to now punish, Tybalt whereas is the modern days duty is not important at all. Romeo’s status as a Montigue was at stake because a Capulet had just defeated a Montigue if the same situation was to occur today, a man would not be provoked to fight or kill someone because of his status because it is not as important as it was before.
I have come to the conclusion that Act Three, scene one is extremely exciting and tense and is very dramatic. The scene leaves me feeling, curious about how Romeo and Juliet are going to continue their marriage now that Romeo has been banished from Verona. It is central point in the play, and decides the fates of most the characters and it leads directly to the final tragedy. It’s amazing to see such a beautiful love that has so many troubles which almost seem impossible to overcome, but can true love withstand obstacles?
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