How does Shakespeare Arouse and Sustain the Interest of the Audience

In Act 1 scene 5 and Act 3 scene 5, Shakespeare uses a number of various techniques to arouse and sustain the interest of the audience. One of the ways in which he does this is by constantly changing the mood, atmosphere and pace of the scene. He also uses different language to match the situation in the scene and to reveal the different attitudes of the characters, like the poetic language of Romeo and Juliet and the aggressive language of Tybalt. The modern audience would be able to relate to the situation of the characters during that time because of the themes of love and hatred, which still hold interest today.

As Act 1 scene 5 opens, Shakespeare sets the scene with the servants dashing around, preparing for the banquet. ‘Cheerly, boys; be brisk a while, and the longer liver take all!’

This creates a highly cheerful mood for the audience and makes them excited for the masque. The interest of the audience is further aroused when we are reminded of the premonition that Romeo had immediately before the banquet.

‘…Some consequence, yet hanging in the stars, shall bitterly begin his fearful date…’ This produces a sense of apprehension and tension for the audience.Although the sense of uneasiness is still there, the audience forgets about this as Shakespeare makes the atmosphere in the masque livelier and more colourful. The masque was a very popular dance in the sixteenth century. In this scene, there would be characters wearing bright, expensive dresses, men wearing masks and formal clothes, ‘Music playing and some dance.

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Shakespeare uses dramatic effect to sustain the interest of the audience because we know that the two main characters are going to meet, as indicated in the Prologue.Shakespeare then changes the scene into a more calm and peaceful mood when Romeo sees Juliet for the first time. He uses a metaphor ‘O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright…’ suggesting that Juliet is much brighter than that the torches, that she teaches them how to shine. When Romeo ends his speech with ‘For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night,’ this is clearly dramatic irony as we know that he was very much in love with Rosaline, and now she just disappears into the background. This romantic scene would have been staged with Romeo and Juliet being illuminated, and the other supporting actors being dimmed.

This makes the audience focus on Romeo and Juliet. In this episode, the audience is also reminded of the theme of love but the hint of tragedy is always there.However the mood is altered from romance to action when Tybalt recognises Romeo under his disguise. ‘This, by his voice, should be a Mountague.’ The aggressive language of Tybalt is revealed when he orders his assistant, whom he calls ‘boy’, to ‘fetch’ his ‘rapier’ to prepare for the fight. The feud reintroduced to the audience. When Lord Capulet overhears Tybalt, his mood changes and he becomes angry and orders him to leave Romeo alone. ‘He shall be enjured.’ As the play is set in a patriarchal society, where the women and children are ruled by the head of the household, Lord Capulet does not like his authority to be challenged. Shakespeare also prepares the audience for Lord Capulet’s outburst in.

The interest of the audience is sustained when Shakespeare changes the pace again into a more affectionate mood by using the sonnet form for the first speeches of Romeo and Juliet together. The sonnet was the most popular form of love poem in the Elizabethan times. It contains rhyming couplets, which makes the verse more noticeable and separates the couple from the rest. In the sonnet, Romeo declares his love for Juliet by using religious imagery, such as ‘If I profane with my unworthiest hand this holy shrine…’ and ‘For saints have hands that pilgrim’s do touch…’ implying that Romeo is the pilgrim, Juliet is the saint that he worships and their love to each other is a holy devotion.They then play with words in a flirtatious way, which results with the two of them kissing.

By softening the music and the light on stage, the two young lovers are isolated from their surroundings to elevate them to something special. These techniques make the audience feel the romance and appeal of young love. However, this only lasts for a short time when the Nurse interrupts the lovely, gentle mood. ‘Madam, your mother craves a word with you.’When Juliet leaves, the Nurse then tells Romeo that, ‘he that can lay hold of her shall have the chinks’, which means that Juliet is a good target for a young suitor because she is rich. In contrast with the beautiful lines of the sonnet is the coarse language of the Nurse, who gives a crude and materialistic motive for Juliet and brings things down to earth. As the guests are leaving, Juliet returns to the Nurse where she learns that she has fallen in love with ‘the only son of your great enemy.’ This is a great revelation for the characters and also very upsetting as they are from the opposing families.

The end of Act 1 leaves the audience wanting more, anticipating the next Act. They might be also feeling apprehensive and worried as the couple face this serious complication to their love.Before Act 3 scene 5 opens, the interest of the audience is already aroused. We would be feeling quite pleased because Romeo and Juliet are married, but also concerned as we know from the previous scene that Lord Capulet has offered Juliet’s hand in marriage to County Paris. Shakespeare sustains the interest of the audience as the scene begins with Romeo and Juliet in bed together after their wedding night. Juliet persuades Romeo not to depart for Mantua, by saying that the birdcalls they hear are from the ‘nightingale’, a night bird, and not from the ‘lark’, a morning bird.

She also says that the light outside does not come from the sun, ‘It is some meteor that the sun exhaled…’ This shows that Juliet does not want Romeo to leave yet and wants to hold on to him for every moment. But Romeo responds that ‘he must be gone and live, or stay and die.’ This episode is quite engrossing for the audience as Shakespeare uses delicate language to build a lovely, gentle mood and atmosphere. This scene also recalls the mood of the balcony scene, where Romeo and Juliet are expressing their love for each other.However, this mood is interrupted when the Nurse warns Juliet that her mother is approaching her bedroom. ‘The day is broke; be wary, look about.’ This short, snappy statement develops a sense of urgency and breaks the mood, similar to the scenes in Act 1 scene 5, in which Romeo and Juliet were kissing, and in Act 2 Scene 2, while they were on the balcony.

This informs the audience that although there is romance between the couple, the theme of feud and danger is always there. This is shown when Romeo climbs out of the window and Juliet has a premonition, just like Romeo on his way to the masque in Act 1 scene 4. She feels that the next time she sees him, he will be ‘dead in the bottom of the tomb.’ This creates a sense of foreboding and an ominous feeling for the audience, as well as dramatic irony because we know that her premonition is going to come true, as foretold by the Prologue.When Lady Capulet arrives, she thinks that Juliet is grieving because of Tybalt’s death. This is fascinating for the audience because we know that it is because of Romeo. She makes her mother believe that she ‘…behold him – dead -‘, when she is really saying that ‘- dead -is my poor heart…’ In the conversation with her mother, Juliet is able to speak ambiguously, to cleverly use words with more than one meaning to Lady Capulet and also to herself and the audience.

Shakespeare draws out the tension in Lady Capulet’s announcement by building it up in stages – when, who and where.  She only tells Juliet at the end of her speech that they have arranged Juliet to be a ‘joyful bride’ to Paris. This works very well as the audience anticipates for the news. The modern audience might not be able to relate to this because in our society, a person can marry anyone that they love. But at that time, arranged marriages were usual for young people in wealthy families to increase their family reputation. Juliet is certainly very appalled at this as she is already married to Romeo. In the Zeffirelli version, we can see that Juliet is horrified as she jumps out of her bed and emphasises the way she says, ‘He shall not make me there a joyful bride.’

This is quite shocking to her mother because children were expected to be obedient and respectful to their parents and not question their decisions.There is an indication of Lord Capulet’s power and position with his use of language when he asks Lady Capulet if she has ‘delivered to her our decree.’ This illustrates that he does not address himself as an individual but as a whole household. This links back to Act 1 scene 5 where we are reminded that he is patriarch. In addition when he refers to ‘decree,’ it signifies that it is an order that needs to be followed. When Lady Capulet informs her husband of Juliet’s response, he is incredulous. ‘How, will she none? Doth she not give us thanks? Is she not proud?’ As he asks these questions, his tone of voice gets louder and angrier.In the Zeffirelli version, the interest of the audience would be aroused because as he asks these questions, he is ascending the staircase, and when he reaches Juliet’s bedroom, he pushes the door furiously.

While in the Shakespeare Shorts, there is a beat in the background which adds to the tension and makes the audience feel a real sense of fear. When Juliet responds that she is not proud but thankful, Lord Capulet becomes sarcastic and mimics Juliet by quoting what she has said, ‘What is this? ‘Proud’, and ‘I thank you’, and ‘I thank you not,” This conveys how Lord Capulet can get frustrated when his own daughter tries to defy him.As he lives in a patriarchal society, he expects his wife and daughter to be loyal, dutiful and submissive. He then orders Juliet to ‘fettle you fine joints’ meaning to prepare for the marriage, or else he will drag her ‘on a hurdle thither,’ referring to her as an animal. In this, we are reminded that Lord Capulet is aware of his own importance as a dominant figure, and cannot bear his authority to be challenged.

He even calls his own daughter various indignant names such as, ‘green-sickness carrion’, ‘baggage’ and ‘tallow-face’, which were quite forceful insults then. This also shows how Lord Capulet is insensitive to his daughter’s feelings when he is infuriated.When Juliet tries to pacify her father and kneels down to beg for pity, he is still exasperated. He then threatens to disown her if she refuses to obey him and he would not care if she ‘…hang, beg, starve, die…’ The use of monosyllabic words here is very effective as it creates a pounding rhythm, which emphasises every word he says. Towards the end, his tone of voice becomes cool but serious when he says ‘I’ll not be forsworn,’ implying that their sworn commitment must not be denied or rejected.

This scene is very dramatic for the audience. In the Shakespeare Shorts we see a greater sense of violence and aggression from Lord Capulet, and we really get a sense of how Juliet feels by her facial expression and body language. When Juliet turns to her mother and pleads with her to ‘Delay this marriage for a month, a week…’ Lady Capulet just turns her back on her only daughter. ‘Talk not to me, for I’ll not speak a word; Do as thou wilt, for I have done with thee.’ The audience would be shocked and also feel sympathy for Juliet. This is also quite hard for the modern audience to relate to because in our society, mother and daughters are quite close and united, whereas then, it was quite common for children in wealthy families to have a Nurse as a substitute of a mother and relationships were more formal.Finally, in desperation, Juliet turns to the Nurse and asks for ‘comfort’ and ‘counsel’ her. In a more calm and quiet voice, the Nurse tells Juliet that ‘…it best you married with the County.’

She says that Paris is a better match, and Romeo is as good as dead because he is banished anyway. This is very shocking for the audience as we know that the Nurse is one of the people who assisted Juliet in her secret marriage to Romeo.This makes us think that she might have only supported Juliet with her secret marriage because she got carried away with all the romance. But now, she realises that she is in serious trouble. Juliet is, of course, very bewildered, shocked and feels betrayed by the Nurse, who is a hypocrite. In the Shakespeare Shorts, there is an ominous music while the Nurse is giving her advice. This increases tension and suspense. She then says sarcastically to the Nurse that she has ‘comforted’ her ‘marvellous much’, and pretends to agree to marry Paris.

The audience would be feeling great sympathy for Juliet because all the adults have let her down. In Juliet’s soliloquy, she calls the Nurse an ‘ancient damnation’ and a ‘wicked fiend’, which shows how horrified she is when the only person she thought she could turn to, turns her back on her. At the end, she says that she will go to Friar Laurence and ask him for help, or ‘If all else fail, myself have power to die.’ This makes the audience feel a sense of anxiety and concern for Juliet.It is apparent that in both of these scenes, Shakespeare uses a variety of techniques to arouse and sustain the interest of the audience, keeping them involved throughout. He uses methods such as language, characters, stagecraft and the themes of love and hatred. Personally, I think that it is the tender love story of the ‘star-crossed lovers’, the combination of ‘romantic lyricism, bawdy comedy, intimate harmony and sudden violence’ which still grasp our interest today and has a universal appeal to the modern audience.

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How does Shakespeare Arouse and Sustain the Interest of the Audience. (2019, Jun 20). Retrieved from

How does Shakespeare Arouse and Sustain the Interest of the Audience
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