William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” was written in the early 1590’s and is still considered to be one of his finest pieces of work. The storyline is based on a translation of an Italian poem and is also influenced by tales of famous family feuds. Romeo and Juliet is a great example of an early Shakespearean tragedy and can also be related to a medieval style one, which is a calamity based on fate and coincidence. The play itself is set in the late 16th century, which was a time period in which theatre was really gaining in popularity.
Romeo and Juliet tells the story in which love is thwarted by the day-to-day brutality of the family feud between the Montagues and the Capulets. It represents an example of the type of literature that forms part of the English Renaissance, a movement that saw English literature move to another level not seen before. This was where playwrights such as Shakespeare himself, as well as Marlon and Kyd really became publicly known.
Romeo and Juliet is a tightly structured play in which events happen very deliberately and quickly. Many of the key events that do occur are tragedies. These tragedies occur one after the other and are quite frequent and common. Shakespeare believed that this sort of thing was normal in Italy, murder and mayhem happened all the time. This was a very traditional British viewpoint towards foreigners.
At every stage of the story, it is impossible to escape the fact that love is seen in close relation to violence or death. The feud between the Montagues and the Capulets is relentless, and was this way for many years. It is very significant that moments of great passion are preceded or followed by acts of violence or death. This is extremely emphasised in the opening scene of the play.
The play begins with a prologue, this roughly explains the outline of the plot and where the play is set: “In fair Verona…ancient grudge break…the fatal loins of these two foes…a pair of lovers take their life”. This is basically a little advert, a very common way to attract the audience’s attention.
Scene 0ne is set in Verona, but more importantly it is set in a public place. Significantly, the feud is placed before love as first type of noticeable action. This sets up the constant contrast in the play between love and violence. Some very violent language is used in the opening conversation between Sampson and Gregory, who are in the House of Capulet: ” Therefore women, being the weaker vessels, are ever thrust to the wall”. This is a direct reference to rape; they aimed the conversation at the women of the House of Montague. This made the men feel powerful and in control of the feud between the two families.
Two members of the Montague family approach the pair of Capulets, who, on sighting the Montagues, immediately draw their swords. Sampson and Gregory probably have not ever met them before; they show their aggression purely due to the feud between the two families, despite having little knowledge of the history of the feud. This illustrates how this quarrel has been passed from generation to generation.
During the fight in Act One, scene one, some local citizens verbally try to break it up: ” Down with the Capulets! Down with the Montagues!”. This demonstrates how sick and tired the City of Verona is with the never-ending feud between the two families.
The violent language used in the opening scene is in complete contrast with one of the joint main characters, Romeo. At this point of the play, he is deeply in love with a girl named Rosaline. He and Juliet have yet to meet but Romeo is in the mood for love and takes little or no interest in the feuding families. This is strange as most of the male members of both families are committed to the “war”. Romeo emphasises his desire for love and his depression deepens during a small discussion with Benvolio, who is also a Montague, “Why such is love’s transgression…Griefs of mine own…. Both add more grief to too much of mine own”. It seems that Romeo’s love for Rosaline is not reciprocated.
This all changes during a Montague party that Romeo and other Capulets attend. This event is pivotal to the plot as this is where Romeo and Juliet meet for the first time. This meeting is very significant as love overcomes the feuding and violence. This is an example of the on-going contrast between love and violence, as the two families meet, but not in an act of violence but in an act of love.
Also in the same conversation between Romeo and Benvolio, Shakespeare uses a fantastic example of real 16th century language: “With Cupid’s arrow, she hath Dian’s wit…nor bide the encounter of assailing eyes”. This refers to a roman goddess and uses shortened words such as “hath and nor”. These references bring out the type and style of speech typical during this time period when the play was written.
The eagerly anticipated meeting between Romeo and Juliet occurs in Act One, scene five, this takes place at a Capulet function. At this stage, Romeo is worried about attending the party due to a dream that he had had earlier in the play. Romeo is a sombre mood at this moment in time, in complete contrast to Mercutio, whose mood is vibrant and excitable. However, this is about to change dramatically with the encounter between Romeo and Juliet.
At the party, the Capulet nephew, Tybalt, notices Romeo and his Montague friends. He is very passionate about the feud between the two families: “Uncle, this is a Montague, our foe”….. Tis he, that villain, Romeo”. This passion turns into rage on this occasion, but Capulet marks his authority and basically pulls rank on Tybalt and orders him to behave himself. Tybalt gradually withdraws from the potential quarrel but definitely does not forget. This aggression shown by him will have more serious consequences later in the play, as it sets in motion a chain of events the young couple, soon to be lovers, cannot control.
This small, but significant, disagreement precedes the first meeting between Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet. The significance of the two events is immediately obvious as it is clear that the lovers will never find happiness together. In addition to this, from a very early stage, Romeo and Juliet display an extremity of emotion frequently expressed in terms related to death: “More peril in thine eye than twenty of their swords…My life were better ended by their hate, than death prolonged, wanting of thy love” Romeo is basically saying that if he cant have the love of Juliet, it would be better if he were killed.
He is so sure that this is love straight away; the commitment is so strong from the outset from both parties. The love versus violence contrast is evidently present once again in this conversation between the lovers. This a clear moment of love in its purest form and, even though no acts of violence are currently occurring, there is still an obvious undertone of the family feud: “Deny thy father and refuse thy name…Tis but thy name that is my enemy – Thou art thy self, though not a Montague.
In Act two, scene six some very important events unfold. This is the rough mid-point of the play, and this scene also includes a few extremely pivotal events The marriage between the young lovers, Romeo and Juliet, is a great example of this. Even though the marriage is the ultimate way to declare their love for each other, it is somewhat marred by the deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt. This violent act is solely due to Tybalt. It is a direct consequence of the Capulet party, where the passionate young Capulet threatened Romeo. Everything that has happened in the play before this, has been leading up to this pivotal event.
Everything after this event in the play is influenced by it. Part of the violence in the scene is dependent upon the characteristics of others. Even though Benvolio is part of the House of Montague, he still explains a fair statement to the Prince. He is, and has been through out the play, the voice of reason. However, no amount of good behaviour was ever going to stop the violence between the two families.
As in Act One, scene one, the argument’s fuel is an insult: ” And but one word with one of us? Couple it with something, make it a word and blow.” Mercutio knows Tybalt is easily wound up, but unusually Mercutio is also extremely volatile. Another echo of this previous scene, is the reminder of keeping the peace. They know the violence will have consequences but they are not halted by this or by their consciences.
Shakespeare using some direct irony, in the way that Romeo and Juliet are married, but the two families are unaware of this: “This day’s black fate on more days doth depend, this but begins the woe others must end.” This is a very important quote in the play, basically it says that everything will change from this point onwards and also stems from the street fight tragedies. Prince takes the decision to banish Romeo from Verona for his part in the fight, rather than him.
With Romeo banished from Verona, Juliet, understandably, is in a very depressed state and invites death to come. She is so distraught over the disappearance of Romeo that she is almost begging to die: “But I a maid, die a maiden – widowed……and death, not Romeo, take my maidenhead!” Without her beloved Romeo, Juliet has an extreme suicidal impulse, if Romeo cannot be with her, then death can.
The additional pressure of the arranged marriage between Juliet and Paris is also taking its toll upon her fragile state of mind. Paris, of course, is unaware that she is already married to Romeo. Capulet is extremely angry that Juliet is refusing to marry Paris: “Hang thee young baggage, disobedient wretch!” Juliet’s Father is threatening to disown her if she does not comply with his wish to proceed with the marriage to Paris. He uses very violent language to try to force her to his will.
Act three, scene five is the last time Romeo and Juliet meet each alive. Juliet tells Romeo of her successive premonitions or omens: “Methinks I see thee now, thou art so low, as one dead in the bottom of a tomb.” Of course, this omen becomes true in the defining moment of love between Romeo and Juliet.
From this point in the play, love and death seem as one. Juliet emphasises her “act of love” in her soliloquy in Act Four, scene three. She portrays many images of death: “Subtly hath ministered to have me dead.” She feels that she may go mad inside the tomb: ” Together with the terror of the place – as in a vault, an ancient receptacle”.
Both Romeo and Juliet commit the ultimate act of love in the climax of the play. From the opening lines of the play it was inevitable that it could only end like this. The final act of love followed by the inevitable prospect of death or violence, this has been the problem the duration of the play.
The style of language used by Romeo is very similar to the language he uses in act one, scene one. ‘Here, here will l remain with worms that are thy chambermaids; o here’ It is a typical Shakespearean era manner of phrasing sentences, with the first few words repeated at the end of the sentence.
By the time Juliet kills herself, Romeo has time to recite a long farewell. However, Juliet did not. By the end of the play, Verona is nothing more than a societal wasteland; so many lives had been lost in both families. The ultimate contrast between love and death occurs in the final scene. Romeo’s love for Juliet drives him to commit suicide, as he believes his life is not worth living when she cannot by his side.