With Queen Elizabeth at the throne, William Shakespeare wrote one of his finest plays, Romeo and Juliet, which was first performed in 1595, a year after the plague struck London. William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon on 23 April 1564 and married Anne Hathaway when he was 18 in 1582. After joining the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (a theatre company later known as the King’s Men), Shakespeare wrote what are widely regarded as his greatest plays such as Hamlet, Othello and King Lear, during his twenty years at the company.
Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy in which the tragic hero, Romeo is of high standing but is human after all and not unrealistically perfect. The hero also has a tragic flaw, which is Romeo’s love for Juliet and this eventually leads to his downfall, the effect of this giving the spectators an inclination of pity through what they have seen.The play is set during the late 1500s in the Italian city of Verona because of the romantic feeling that is felt about Italy and also the fact that it was widely known of ongoing feuds between Italian households.
Romeo and Juliet like many of Shakespeare’s works is based upon another piece of literature in this case the poem, The tragic History of Romeus and Juliet written by Arthur Brooke. In Elizabethan England theatre going was very popular and the majority of them, such as The Globe in London were open air with plays taking place during the day usually in the afternoon, as there was no artificial light needed then.
The theatre itself was based on the design of inn courtyards in a hexagonal shape with the poorer people (“groundlings”) stood on the floor and the richer people in the higher, seated areas. Elaborate, traditional costumes were worn by the actors however men with high pitched voices played women’s parts, as they weren’t allowed on stage in Shakespeare’s days.There was no background scenery however props, such as daggers and chairs were used. In the play a balcony is used for the scene in which Juliet thinks she is alone speaking a soliloquy so therefore Shakespeare uses the balcony in theatres as another of his dramatic devices.
The major theme in the play is the feud between the Capulet and Montague families, which at the centre of much of the conflicts, is the ultimate cause for all of the five deaths in the play. Love also plays an important role in the play and this appears in many ways including the servants seeing it as vulgar and crude, Romeo’s intense and true love with Juliet and the Nurse’s view of it being physical and obscene.Shakespeare uses a variety of language forms in the play including blank verse used by nobility like Prince Escalus’ speech after the first fight of the play and prose used by the lower classes like the servants Sampson and Gregory. Also rhyming couplets are used which are there to round off a scene, to end speeches and to remind actors to enter. Shakespeare uses enjambment where lines are left open in order to break up blank verse, making It sound more like speech and caesura which ends a sentence in the middle of a line, intending to make the speech sound more realistic.At the beginning of the play.
Shakespeare starts with a sonnet which is a fourteen line poem ending with rhyming couplets made popular by the Italian poet, Petrach. Shakespeare uses a sonnet to tell the audience basically of the main story line, which is done so the spectators can view characters and events in light of the ending tragedy. A sonnet also increases up the sense of an impending tragedy by bringing in the theme of fate and making in seem unavoidable. It is common in Shakespeare’s works to find iambic pentameters, which are a line of ten syllables with an example of this being “Two households both alike in dignity”.The play begins with a sword fight between the Capulet and Montague families, which ends when the Prince Escalus of Verona threatens death on the next outbreak of conflict. That night Romeo Montague sneaks in to the Capulets party intending to see Rosaline (a women whom Romeo thinks he’s in love with) but is stunned with Juliet’s beauty.
Tybalt, Juliet’s argumentative and violent cousin swears vengeance on Romeo as the pair kiss and arrange to get married. Tybalt kills Mercutio (Romeo’s friend and the Prince’s kinsman) and this leads to Romeo killing Tybalt before the Friar Lawrence secretly weds him and Juliet.As a result of Tybalt’s murder the Prince banishes Romeo. Juliet who has turned from an independent and obedient girl to a love struck woman totally loyal to Romeo is under pressure to marry Paris and therefore takes a potion, which makes her seem dead. Romeo, who is unaware of Juliet’s decision to take the potion visits her final resting-place and after killing Paris, kills himself. When Juliet becomes conscious she discovers Romeo’s death and unable to live without him, she kills herself. The deaths of the lovers resolve the feud between the two households.At the start of the play the character of Juliet is young and innocent which she shows with the quote ” it is an honour I dream not of” meaning that marriage is not something that she wants or has thought about and she is avoiding the question.
This demonstrates her independence and maturity as well as being very obedient to her mother who is harsh towards her daughter, explaining why Juliet is able to form her own opinions like her reluctance to marrying Paris. Eventually her love for Romeo makes this obedience to her parents impossible. Juliet is very passive when she says, “I’ll look to like, if looking like more” which means she will look at Paris and nothing more and if you like him I probably will also.A small change occurs when she meets Romeo because she is no longer reluctant as she was with Paris, even extending to kissing Romeo when saying “You kiss by th ‘ book” showing she is becoming bolder and more confident. The Nurse, who was like a mother to Juliet is someone Juliet speaks openly to however she begins to hide her feelings about Romeo when questioned, saying “a rhyme I learnt” which means nothing. This shows Juliet’s intelligence. Loyalty is another key character trait of Juliet. She is so utterly loyal to Romeo and defies the whole world for him eventually taking a dangerous drug to fake her death.
Her nurse starts off as her confidante but this trust is shattered when the nurse is disloyal to Romeo advising marriage to Paris.During Juliet’s soliloquy on the balcony she says “deny thy father and refuse thy name” which means to go against your father and don’t use your surname, Montague. This goes against what Juliet has been taught which is to hate all Motagues and is confirmed with the quote “My only love sprung from my only hate” meaning that the person whom she loves is from the family that she must hate. Her going against her family’s teaching shows her disobedience and total loyalty to her new found love, Romeo. This total loyalty will even go beyond the grave – not even death can keep them apart -‘for stony limits cannot hold love out’Juliet is unsure whether she has been too quickly won by Romeo and says “if thou think’st I’m too quickly won, I’ll frown and perverse, and say thee nay” giving the impression that Juliet isn’t anxious in her attraction to Romeo. Juliet is very sensible and mature when she asks “it is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden” which means we are going too fast in their relationship.
When Juliet says this she is referring to the sense that time is passing too quickly which is one of the underlying themes in the play. Their impersonal use of language has a dignified pace and emphasizes the innocence and seriousness of their love for each other and the religious theme of the play is often brought to the surface during the latter part of the play. Juliet refers to Romeo as “my lips two blushing pilgrims ready stand” meaning my lips are ready to be kissed like two pilgrims wanting to be kissed by God. This is also a strong religious reference.Her love for Romeo is plain when the Nurse returns with the marriage arrangements and she is subject to teasing by the Nurse when Juliet is serious minded. Whereas at the start of the play she is laid back in her thoughts about love and isn’t interested in it.Juliet is eager to consummate her marriage to Romeo when she says “impatient child that hath new robes and may not wear them” meaning she is like a child that cannot wear his/her new clothes however her impatience and excitement soon turns to misery.
She discovers Romeo has been banished after killing Tybalt and it is clear that she loves Romeo more than her cousin when she says, “Wash they his wounds with tears? Mine shall be spent”. Here Juliet says to the Nurse, you cry for Tybalt for all of mine shall be used weeping for Romeo and soon after she is unable to confide in the Nurse when she says “I think it best you married with the county, O he is a lovely gentleman”.Juliet now feels the Nurse has betrayed her, forfeiting her trust and is being disloyal to Romeo after saying she is better off with Paris. Juliet’s state of mind at this point becomes frantic and desperate when she visits the Friar Lawrence for help. A plan is hatched and he gives her a drug to make her appear dead for forty-two hours in order for her to be with Romeo. Before taking the drug Juliet is calm and mature in facing her mother and father whom she lies to, pretending to have grown up and is now ready to marry Paris.
This is shown when Juliet enquires “are you behoveful for our state to-morrow” asking if they are ready for the marriage the next day. This maturity shows she has grown from being a girl in the opening scenes to a matured woman in the space of four days.Upon taking the drug Juliet says “love give me strength! And strength shall help afford” and when you think that Juliet hasn’t even dreamt of love at the start of the play but is now asking for courage from love and begging love to help her be strong as if praying to God for justice. This shows a big change in the character of Juliet who faces the danger alone and is therefore the strongest of the pair. At this point the audience who knows Juliet’s attempt to be with Romeo is doomed by fate and can judge Juliet as if she is hooked on a drug and is willing to do anything to satisfy her lovesick heart. Juliet taking the dangerous drug again shows her loyalty to Romeo and her courage.
She is willing to defy the world including the family feud. She even takes a knife with her if the drug does not work clearly intending suicide. The haste in taking the potion reveals her desperate state and willingness to take risks. It also re-emphasizes how the action of the play is so dramatic and has moved on so quickly.Juliet’s final speech where she says ” O happy dagger. This is thy sheath, there rust and let me die” shows courage and a sense of purpose to be with Romeo in heaven as she is unable to live without him. She has no fear of death.Women in the medieval times had young arranged marriages however they were done for business so they could profit at each other’s expense and not for love like the marriage of Juliet’s father and mother. It was normal for young women to marry early in their life because the life expectancy was very low in those days as a result of untreatable diseases and infections etc like cholera.Many fathers at the time arranged marriages for their daughter because it was traditional and many thought women were not capable of marrying a suitable man that the father thought was acceptable. Marriages were also arranged because there was money to be made if the father could find a wealthy family with a son therefore to them it was just a business arrangement.
They were afraid that their daughter would marry a man from a lower class who was poor and it might prove to be a dent in the family’s reputation so when put simply the men didn’t trust the women.On this information I believe that Juliet was typical of her age and class to have her marriage arranged for her. I don’t think her character is totally believable because she manages to change dramatically in the space of four days which is not realistic although I do realize this has to happen because it is hard to show the passage of time in the performance of a play. However I did sympathize with Juliet because she had to face a lot of the dangers on her own like taking the drug and after Romeo was banished she had no one to turn to for advice and support. I believe that this is why she made rash and life changing decisions including the one to marry Romeo after only seeing him for a couple of hours. The plot was very dramatic. The “star-cross’d lovers” were destined to take their own lives, this enabled great changes in Juliet’s state of mind to take place over the course of the play.