Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet is a tragic story of conflict caused by contrasting emotions of love and hate between two feuding families (the Capulets and the Montagues), ending in violence and sorrow.Prologue:The Prologue, spoken before the play, reveals the main plot to the audience and prepares them for the themes in the play, as well as giving some background information to set the scene. It also introduces the characters and the scene of the play- ‘two households, both alike in dignity, in fair Verona where we lay our scene’.
This introduces the two equally-noble families and the city where they live, and it goes on to say, ‘from ancient grudge break to new mutiny’. From this the audience learns that there has been a feud between the families for a long time, and that it remains a source of violent and bloody conflict- ‘Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean’.The next part of the Prologue introduces the two main characters in the play- ‘from forth the fatal loins of these two foes, a pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life’.
This part reveals that the ‘star cross’d lovers’ Romeo and Juliet are both from the two different conflicting families; Juliet is a Capulet and Romeo is a Montague. ‘Star cross’d refers to their destiny in the stars, providing a sense of definite fate. It also tells the audience that Romeo and Juliet die, before the play has even begun. This means the audience will be noticing the things that lead up to their terrible fate (which in the end brings peace to both houses).
Act 1 Scene 1:The stage direction at the beginning of the first scene states that Capulet servants Sampson and Gregory are ‘armed with sword and bucklers’-this implies they are ready to fight at all times. It emphasizes that there is never a time when the two enemies are at peace with each other, and that anything could lead to a fight. The two servants are instantly shown to have vicious attitudes towards the Montagues, and will not hesitate to provoke violence.
Sampson talks casually about how he would fight with the Montagues and violate their women; ‘I will show myself a tyrant: when I have fought with the men, I will be cruel with the maids: I will cut off their heads.’ They have no mercy for the opposing enemies, eager to see bloodshed of the Montagues.When Gregory and Sampson meet with Abram and another servant from the Montague household, the first sparks of hostility arise, and with the entrance of the hate-filled Capulet Tybalt, the quarrelling quickly escalates into brutal violence. Benvolio, a Montague (Romeo’s friend and cousin), enters at the same time as Tybalt, but instead protests to the fight, telling his fellow Montagues to ‘part’ and asking Tybalt to help him keep the peace; ‘put up thy sword, or manage it to part these men with me’. At the thought of cooperation with the enemy, Tybalt denies Benvolio with loathing, saying ‘What, drawn and talk of peace? I hate the word, as I hate hell, all Montagues and thee.
Have at thee, coward.’ The scene introduces the two very contrasting characters of Benvolio (peaceful) and Tybalt (violent and aggressive) to the audience.The audience are quickly given a taste of the violence that occurs between these feuding families, as the action takes place after only a few minutes. This shows there is a very unpredictable and temperamental relationship between the two houses. It soon escalates as other citizens of Verona join in, angered with the two families as they destroy the peace of their streets; “Down with the Capulets! Down with the Montagues!”. Even the two high respectable heads of the houses, Lords Montague and Capulet, want to join the brawl. Lord Capulet shouts at his wife, “bring me my long sword!” though the wives disagree with their involvement, Lady Capulet replying, “a crutch! A crutch! Why call you for a sword?”The riot is soon ended when Prince Escalus, the Prince of Verona, enters the scene to interfere, ordering the people to stop.
He describes the men as ‘beasts’, telling them to ‘quench the fire’ of their ‘pernicious rage’. The audience is informed that the opposing families have fought like this several times before, when the Prince says ‘ three civil brawls, bred of an airy word, by thee, old Capulet, and Montague, have thrice disturbed the quiet of our streets’. This also tells us that all the brawls have been provoked by ‘airy word’, meaning by teasing and subtle insults.The Prince goes on to threaten the families that if they show violence in the streets again, there will be fatal consequences; ‘if ever you disturb our streets again, your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace.’ The impending threat hanging over the two families creates a dramatic effect in creating a sense of tension, especially in the future when Romeo and Juliet, two members of opposing families, meet and fall in love. The audience know that many others in the families would strongly oppose this and it could lead to many brutal deaths as a consequence of people finding out.
Violence is imminent.Romeo is not involved in the fight. The audience finds out that he is instead preoccupied with heartache and longing, but not, surprisingly, for Juliet. At the start of the play Romeo appears to be infatuated with Rosaline, a woman who does not share the feeling of love towards him, and may not even realise his existence. In a conversation with Benvolio, Lord Montague reveals that Romeo has been brooding and hiding himself away for days, in a ‘black and portentous mood.’ When Benvolio goes to see Romeo, Romeo tells him how he is deeply in love with Rosaline, and how he is ‘out of her favour, where I am in love.’His language is full of exaggerated romantic language, such as ‘alas that love whose view is muffled still’; this shows that he knows she’s not in love with him. Rosaline is in fact a Capulet, cousin of Tybalt, but Romeo, so apparently blinded by love, does not seem to care; ‘O brawling love! O loving hate!’ (this is an example of an oxymoron).
Romeo is convinced he will never find anyone more exceptionally beautiful than Rosaline, and he believes he is deeply in love, until he meets Juliet.Benvolio, unhappy at Romeo’s depression, persuades him to go to (gatecrash) a Capulet party, and tells him that he will see so many more beautiful women that he will forget Rosaline. Benvolio says, ‘be ruled by me, forget to think of her’, to which Romeo replies, ‘o, teach me how I should forget to think’, and Benvolio says, ‘by giving liberty unto thine eyes; examine other beauties.’ He wants Romeo to forget Rosaline and move on instead of longing after a woman he will never get.When Romeo hears of the earlier brawl he says, ‘here’s much to do with hate, but more with love.’ This shows he is connecting his feelings to the remains of the brawl. From this, he concludes that although their fight was partly because of the hate between the two families, it is more about the love within each family that caused them to fight against each other.
In this scene the tension is a lot higher, with the audience knowing that Romeo and Juliet have fallen in love and have been secretly married, defying their families (which would cause terrible consequences if anyone from their families found out). This is an example of dramatic irony, where the audience knows about Romeo and Juliet’s secret love, but some of the characters on stage do not. So the audience can understand more about what the events mean for the characters.Benvolio says to Mercutio at the beginning of the scene, ‘I pray thee, good Mercutio, let’s retire: the day is hot, the Capulets abroad, and, if we meet, we shall not scape a brawl; for now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring.’ This is a warning suggesting that if they stay out, they will not avoid a fight with the Capulets; the heat of the day causes tempers to fray.Mercutio, who is in a dangerously overconfident, mocking mood, chooses to ignore Benvolio’s cautious comments, seemingly unworried by the prospect of a fight, but rather anticipating one.
Benvolio is the opposite, concerned about the prospect of confrontation between them and the Capulets.When Tybalt enters the scene with an aggressive manner, demanding to see Romeo, the tension increases. Tybalt wants to confront Romeo about the night he crashed the Capulet ball (he is angry at having been forced to endure Romeo’s presence there by Lord Capulet). When Tybalt asks to have a word with one of them, Mercutio teases him by replying with, “couple it with something; make it a word and a blow”. This is said to provoke Tybalt, daring him to start a fight. Tybalt responds as Mercutio anticipates, arguing back, but Romeo enters the scene and he turns his attention onto him; “well, peace be with you sir: here comes my man”.The tension here increases with the likely prospect of a fight. Tybalt, filled with hate for Romeo, calls him a villain, but Romeo does not allow himself to be angered by this insult, knowing that Tybalt is now family after his secret marriage to Juliet.
Tybalt only wants to fight Romeo, but when prompted Romeo peacefully refuses to fight Tybalt, saying he has reason to love him, and that until Tybalt knows the reason for this love, he will not fight him; “And so, good Capulet, -whose name I tender as dearly as my own,-be satisfied”. Tybalt, oblivious to fact that he is indeed now related to Romeo, perceives Romeo’s tone as mocking, and is furious that he will not fight.Mercutio however, disgusted at Romeo’s apparent weakness with his refusal to stand up to Tybalt, draws his sword and challenges Tybalt. They fight, and Romeo, attempting to return the peace, throws himself between them. However, Romeo is more of a burden to Mercutio, and seizing his chance, Tybalt stabs Mercutio under Romeo’s arm whilst Mercutio could not defend himself, then with his men hurries away.
Mercutio, injured, turns on Romeo, blaming him for coming between them and inadvertently causing Mercutio’s downfall (“Why the devil came you between us? I was hurt under your arm”). Just before he dies Mercutio curses both the Capulets and the Montagues, changing the mood of the scene to a much more serious and menacing one; “A plague o’ both your houses!” Mercutio’s death and ominous curse emphasizes the feeling of fate in the play; the audience know the future of both Romeo and Juliet will be affected. There is a sense of doom hanging over both families.Romeo is overcome with anger and guilt, saying, “O sweet Juliet, thy beauty hath made me effeminate”, showing how close love and hate really are.Romeo, seeing it as his destiny and blinded by hate and anger, takes revenge and kills Tybalt, saying “thus day’s black fate on more days doth depend; this but begins the woe, others must end”.
Romeo fears that the evil outcomes or “black fate” of Mercutio’s death lies in the future. The misfortune and grief will not end today with Mercutio’s death, but will have further consequences in the future. This foretells the tragedies that occur in the play. Romeo is saying this is just the beginning, which is true. “O, I am fortune’s fool!”He has a despairing realisation of inevitable fate looming over him, as if he cannot stop the events which will secure his fate “O, I am fortune’s fool!” This emphasizes the feeling of impending fate. He knows (as well as the audience, who would be fearful for the future and happiness of Romeo and Juliet after this terrible event), that what he has done will have great consequences, and curses himself for being so foolish, and not fighting Tybalt when Mercutio did. It seems Romeo is powerless to do anything but follow his destiny, a victim of fate.
Throughout this scene the tension increases and climaxes with the deaths of Mercutio, and then Tybalt, creating great anxiety as well as tension for the audience.After Romeo has killed Tybalt, Benvolio urges him to escape, fearing that if caught by the Prince, it will end with Romeo’s death.When the Prince arrives Romeo has already gone, and he declares Romeo’s punishment; complete banishment from Verona. Again there is dramatic irony, as only the audience know that this will have a devastating effect on Romeo and Juliet, who have only that day been married in secret.This is a crucial point in the play-this is the point that will change the entire course of the story and the future of Romeo and Juliet’s lives together.