Shakespeare introduces dramatic tension at the very beginning of the play in the prologue. This introductory verse is very important as it has to be quite powerful to keep the audience hooked and want to watch the rest of the play. The prologue is written in a Shakespearean sonnet, which is a fourteen line poem with ten syllables in each line and five of them stressed. All of this turns out to be rather effective as it gives the prologue a rhythm to it.
It includes iambic pentameter which was very traditional and popular in those times as a love poem.
This is also the very beginning introductory paragraph on love. Shakespeare then begins to tell us about the long feud between the Montague’s and Capulet’s, but not why it has started. This creates an effective atmosphere as the audience cannot judge either household or who is right in the feud so they stay open-minded throughout the play. Next he introduces both households, Montague’s and Capulet’s and then tells us about Romeo and Juliet.
He talks about them as “Star cross’d lovers” which makes us think about fate and that was how they met. The prologue talks a great deal about violence and death due to all the fighting throughout the play, and the deaths of some of the main characters including Romeo and Juliet.
Sampson and Gregory in Act 1 Scene 1 use bawdy language and puns in their speech to create a humorous atmosphere. This way they can relax the audience and make them feel calmer and not as tense before any major fights occur.
“My naked weapon is out. Quarrel. I will back thee.” This is one of their many humorous quotes. Shakespeare begins the play like this to give the audience a light hearted view of what’s going on before the seriousness of it all takes place. The first scene begins in a jovial way ready to build up tension before the fight. Sampson and Gregory include a large amount of punctuation in their speech as we come across a comma or a full-stop around every three words. This breaks up sentences so they become rather choppy. A good example of this would be “No, marry! I fear thee!”
By using language and punctuation like this it splits up sentences and makes a dramatic difference for when the Prince enters the scene. This is because the audience will suddenly pay more attention to what the Prince has to say as his speech and sentence structure is vastly differently to Sampson’s and Gregory’s. The Prince uses long flowing sentences with not as much punctuation and he is also speaking in verse. He talks to the audience from line 79-101 without the use of lots of punctuation whereas if this were Sampson or Gregory, they would have split up the sentences more often and probably added in extra unnecessary commas and bawdy language or puns somewhere. The impact that this has on the audience is that an Elizabethan audience would have understood the humour a great deal better unlike a modern day audience. For example, if the play was shown in a theatre today, probably not all the audience would understand “I will bite my thumb at them, which is a disgrace to them if they bare it”. This is a Sampson making a rude gesture to Abram, which is not recognised nowadays. This is also due to the fact that humour has changed significantly since Shakespearean times in the 16th Century.
There are many gestures made in the play, but a significant one is when Sampson bites his thumb at Abram. This builds up a substantial amount of dramatic tension as it is a key theme for fighting. During or before fighting there would also be gestures with swords acting as if they were stabbing each other. A gesture is a way of acting out the thoughts of the characters and giving the audience an insight into their mind.
A different, but extremely important theme in the play is love. Love takes place throughout the entire play by all different characters. For Romeo and Juliet, they both want to be married for love alone, and they are not bothered about what their parents have to say about the matter. They are also not worried about the fact that they are on opposite sides of the feud. Juliet’s mother and father want her to marry Paris as they think that he is the right man for her to live with. They are not fussed that Juliet doesn’t like him that much and they also do not know about Juliet’s secret love for Romeo. Another character involved is the Friar. He would like Romeo and Juliet to marry as he knows that would end the feud and fighting between each household, and that they do really love each other. Romeo starts off at the beginning having everlasting feelings for Rosaline, who he thinks is his soul partner for life. After meeting Juliet all of this changes and he suddenly changes his mind to having undying love for her instead. Romeo becomes extremely confused over his feelings for people. He uses oxymoron’s to express his confusion over love “Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health”.
Another key theme in the play is fighting. This is a rather important theme as it takes place a large number of times throughout the play including a few times in Act 1 Scene 1. For instance a fight was started when Sampson bites his thumb and Abram thinks it was bitten at him. Sampson must check if the law is to his side otherwise they would get the blame for starting the fight. Later on, after Mercutio was killed, Romeo takes revenge and kills Tybalt. This way, in their eyes both of the households are fair as they have each lost one of their own through a murder and a fight. The fighting is all due to the feud that had begun in Act 1 scene 1 and carried on throughout the rest of the play. Overall the feud plays a crucial role and in the end it drives the only heirs of each household to commit suicide. Due to Romeo’s and Juliet’s death the feud ended. It took a very long time for it to finally be finished with, but once it had, each family understood the importance that it had as they each had a vital loss which was their children. The audience still would not have known about how the feud had begun, even at the very end of the play as it was never discussed. This means that they still will not be able to judge the Montague’s or Capulet’s.
Overall Shakespeare introduced dramatic tension through many different themes beginning from Act 1 Scene 1. This was one of the most important roles of the play as each key theme was introduced and would be expanded on later in the play. If these themes were not introduced to the play as early as they were, then they might not have been as effective as they turned out to be. In my opinion, the play became incredibly tense and effective with all themes building up to the final catastrophic scene of Romeo’s and Juliet’s death.