The tragedy, ‘Romeo and Juliet’ was written in the year of 1593. The play includes a number of universal themes such as love, hate, death and loyalty so as to capture the imagination of a range of audiences. In this essay I am going to start by including a very brief history of the Globe Theatre. Then I am not only going to go through the play act by act to highlight the main examples of dramatic irony in each act. But also I am going to say how it affected the audience at all times. Finally, I am going to end with a conclusion, which sums up the main points that will be included in the essay.
The Globe Theatre was built in 1598-99 by the Chamberlain’s Company, it stood on the Southern shore of the Thames River in London. At this time Shakespeare was a member of the Chamberlain’s Company. The first recorded performance was of Julius Caesar in September 1599. Many of Shakespeare’s plays were written for and performed at the Globe, which burnt down in 1613. It was rebuilt in 1614, only to be destroyed by Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan troops thirty years later.
But if you want to get an idea of what the original Globe Theatre was like, the best thing to do is to visit the new Globe Theatre which was opened in 1997 about two hundred yards from the original site. It has lime plastered walls and a thatched roof, imitating the original in every possible detail.
Shakespeare himself was an actor as well as playwright and probably tailored a few of his roles to suit his own stage skills. It was however neither his writing, nor acting skills that were the direct source of his income, for actors and playwrights were both poorly paid positions to hold. Instead it was because he was a good businessman and held a share in the company itself. Although without his writing skills they would not have done nearly so well.
The Elizabethan audiences commonly talked throughout the performances, despite pleas from playwrights for silence. If a gallant was sitting on-stage talking it would be very difficult for the audience to hear what was being said by the actors. And that was defiantly the reason why Shakespeare tends to repeat important information throughout his plays. In contrast modern audiences are required to keep silent during the performance.
Modern audiences mainly clap at the interval and conclusion. In opposition, the Elizabethan audience might well applaud, but they booed and hissed as well if they felt like it and hurled things at the actors when they disapproved of them. At the same time Food and drink were served as yet another distraction. One of the things actors complained most about was the cracking of nuts, which caused quite a lot of noise and disturbance. Absolutely not like modern audiences as they not eat or drink during performances.
Most of the modern audiences keep their attention on what is happening on the stage. Of course, all members of all modern audiences don’t necessarily fulfill all the conditions mentioned above, but most people do, most of the time. The Elizabethan audiences however were obviously not always attending to what was happening on-stage. Because conversations were going on and food and drink were being consumed. The power of an actor would be shown by his ability to command the attention of the audience.
Acting at the Globe was radically different from viewing modern Shakespeare on screen. The plays were staged in the afternoons, using the light of day, and the audience surrounded the stage on all sides. No scenery was used, except for occasional emblematic devices like a throne or a bed. It was almost impossible not to see the other half of the audience standing behind the players. The actors (all males) would not have worn costumes as such, instead they tended to wear clothing cast off by the aristocracy and sold on by their servants. There also would have been little in the way of props. The female roles were acted by young boys before their voices broke, as women were forbidden by law to act on a public stage.
The theatre was divided up into several distinct sections, and the types of people to be found in each part would have been quite different. The Globe catered to everyone; common people, merchants, professionals, soldiers, and even the aristocracy. Shakespeare in his turn had to do the same, creating plays that would appeal to every strata of society. It also has been estimated that about 20 to 25 per cent of the population attended the playhouses, which is a far higher percentage than today.
The cheapest portion of the theatre was the yard that lies alongside the stage on three sides. It would have cost 1 penny for a place in the yard, and as such was affordable to almost everyone. The people who paid for such a place would tend to be the poorest playgoers, such as the city’s common labourers. They were known as Groundlings-they earned that name because of the fact that they had to watch from the ground-and 1000 of them could be squeezed into the Globe’s yard. They could usually expect to share that space with members of various professions such as thieves and prostitutes.
The three galleries between them held another 2000 audiences. Unlike the yard, they, like the stage were covered against the elements. They also had the added luxury of seating. For these benefits you would have had to pay 2 pennies, and could hire a cushion for a third. Although all three galleries cost the same to sit in, the middle gallery was considered the highest status. The lower gallery was still uncomfortably close to the yard
The most expensive seats in the house were those known as the Lords Rooms. They were located immediately above and behind the stage in the area also used by the musicians. Although such a location may not seem ideal to the modern day theatergoer, these seats had a number of key advantages to the rich of the day. Firstly, they were well removed from the messes -noises and the smell- in the rest of the theatre. Second, they were themselves on display, so they could show off the latest fashions, and even the fact that they were rich enough to sit there. Third, although they could not see the play very well, they could hear it. This last point is actually extremely significant, since it was to hear plays that Elizabethans went to the theatre; there are many references of people going to hear a play rather than going to see one in the literature of the time. It is from this concept that the modern word audience is derived. Places in the Lords Rooms would have cost 6 pennies each.
There is no such thing as a late comer in Shakespeare’s time. The audience may arrive at any time and will always be allowed to assume their places. If people wish to see only one act, or maybe they have a meeting they can’t get out of that overruns, then there is no difficulty about them turning up whenever they are ready, and indeed leaving at any time they so choose.
Moving on to dramatic irony in the play ‘Romeo and Juliet’ firstly, I am going to give a definition of dramatic irony. Dramatic irony occurs in fiction or drama where the reader knows more about the true state of affairs than the characters do. ‘Romeo and Juliet’ have lots of examples of dramatic irony. The biggest example is in the prologue. A prologue is a kind of blurb that can give you a vague idea on what the play is about and what is about to happen. It could decide if the play was to be a success or a failure. A sonnet was the form in which Shakespeare wrote his prologue, a short, fourteen-line poem that was made up of quatrains.
The prologue of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ gives us an idea of what the story is about. We are given nearly all of the key points about the play. We know, from what is said in the prologue, even before the play begins that the two lovers will die. They are immediately set across to the audience as star-crossed lovers. This seems to suggest that the lovers will be ill fated. This dramatic irony will immediately draw the audience into the story by setting up expectations of what will happen to the lovers in the play. Consequently, the audience will be aware of any reference in the language used, to love and death, as they know these are important themes in the play.
In act -1- (scenes 1-4) the audience are drawn more into the story. As they know that Rosaline is not the one that Romeo is going to be infatuated with. They know this from the prologue, as Romeo is supposed to fall in love with someone who loves him back. They also use their common sense, as the play’s title is ‘Romeo and Juliet’; therefore, the other half of the story is going to be about Juliet. This piece of dramatic irony would make the audience more aware to any suggestions to the name ‘Juliet’. It will also give them a sense of expectation.
Act 1 scene 4 (lines 106-11) creates tension for the audience. As it mentions death for the first time in the play – after the prologue. In this piece of dramatic irony Romeo looks uneasily into the future and has premonition of death. His tone is ominous, filled with foreboding. He uses legal language prophesying that his premature (‘untimely’) death will result from what he begins tonight (‘date’) by going to the Capulet’s feast. His life will be the penalty (‘forfeit’) he must pay when the time is up (‘expire the term’). As a result, the audience will be setting up expectations. The audiences know that Romeo’s end is going to be death; they also know that going to the Capulet’s party means meeting their daughter and falling in love with her. Hence, the audience will consider this as the lovers’ first step towards death. And so it will amplify their sense of expectation.
Shakespeare used puns in act-1- scene 4 not only to enhance the effect of dramatic irony for the audience, but also as an entertaining device. Elizabethans were amused and fascinated by language, especially puns. However, nowadays theatergoers are more interested in stage decors and direction, as well as actors and costumes more than language used in script.
In act 1 scene -5- audience will take their first look at Juliet. Accordingly, they will assume each and every act of her as a step towards her fatal doom. Accordingly, suspense is created as audiences are setting up expectations. They know that the end of the lovers is going to be death, so they will be more affected by any suggestion to death in the language used.
Also in the scene dramatic irony used draws the audience into the story. As the two lovers Romeo and Juliet meet for the first time in the Capulet’s party. The audience also know that Romeo and Juliet’s love was destined for destruction .so the viewers will be aware of any death indications in the play, as it’s a major theme in the play.
Act 1 Scene 5 (line134) is the first time Juliet speaks in such a somber mood, imagining her death as her bridegroom. The metaphor is used to portray a strong sense of dramatic irony as the information spectators gained mainly from the prologue tells them of the death of the two lovers-” A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;”. The audiences are already aware that both lovers have met and are from different families, and then they realize that they are the pair. Therefore, they are aware that they will take their lives.
In this play Shakespeare used images of death which symbolize sorrow. One example of such imagery involves the time when Romeo leaves the Capulet party and leaves Juliet behind (act 2-scene 1). He uses images of a lifeless body and death to show the sorrow he feels when he is not with his beloved Juliet. He shows that he cannot live without her when he says, “Can I go forward when my heart is here? Turn back, dull earth, and find thy center out”. In this way, death represents his inner sorrow. This piece of dramatic irony would draw the audience into the story by setting up expectations of what will happen. As they know that the lovers end is death.
In the same scene a basic dramatic irony occurs when the audiences know that Romeo is cheerless because he is away from his love Juliet. However, Bonvolio and Mercutio are teasing Romeo because they think that his misery is because of his unrequited love for Rosaline. As a result, the audiences would be setting up expectations of what will happen.
The dramatic irony in act 2 scene 2 is based around the fact of Juliet being unwary of Romeo’s presence in the Capulet house, as she declares her love for Romeo (lines 33- 36). The use of dramatic irony here is able to build up suspense for the audience, as well as they will be setting up anticipation as they are waiting for something to happen.
Act 2 scene 3 (lines 91 and 92) includes a very important case of dramatic irony. In these two lines Friar Lawrence reveals that Romeo and Juliet’s covenant marriage will eventually lead to virtue amongst both families. This is a source of dramatic irony as the audiences know from the prologue that death will arise, whereas Romeo has no idea. This will result apprehension to be created as the viewers will be waiting for something to happen.
In scene 5 of act 2 Juliet is very abrupt and inquisitive towards the Nurse. In spite of Juliet’s anxiety the Nurse still remains webbed within her own issues as she stresses her aches and pains. Dramatic irony present in this scene is portrayed from the action s of the Nurse as she continually seems to deviate from Juliet’s ceaseless demands concerning the response from her beloved Romeo. The way the Nurse’s behaviour is presented in this scene foreshadows her knowledge concerning Juliet’s questions. This scene revolves around Juliet and her constant worry expressed in her language. The effect to the audience is a comical moment as the Nurse deliberately keeps Juliet in suspense.
In act 2 scene 6 (lines 1 and 2) Friar Lawrence says that he wants the heavens to smile upon this holy act so that they are not punished with sadness later. This indicates that something bad is going to happen in the play that only audiences know about. In lines (9-15) Friar Lawrence made a suggestion that Romeo and Juliet’s love is going to end tragically. He used an image of joyous love as fire and gunpowder which destroy (‘consume’) at the very moment (‘triumph’) of meeting (‘kiss’). This example of dramatic irony will affect the addressees’ prospects of what is going to happen later on in the play. Therefore, the addressees will be affected by any reference to death as they know this is an important subject in the play.
Act -3- scene 1 is pivotal in the play as it sees bloodshed of two major characters which leads to the parting of the two star crossed lovers. The first example of dramatic irony in this scene takes place when Romeo tries to tell Tybalt how much he loves him but Tybalt can’t understand, not knowing that Romeo and his cousin Juliet were bride and groom. However, viewers acknowledge the reason for why Romeo wants to create peace rather than violence, as he does not want to create any hazards with the Capulet family. Hence, the audiences will be more attentive; they also set up anticipation as they are waiting for something to occur.
The second and the most important piece of dramatic irony in this scene is when Mercutio is stabbed. Dramatic irony is created by the repetition of the statement “A plague o’ both your houses!” by the wounded Mercutio. He curses both households, unaware that the victim of his curse will be his dear companion and his lady Juliet. This will create a moment of sympathy between the audiences, as they know that Romeo and Juliet are suffering only because it occurred to happen that they were destined by the stars to bad fortune. The audiences would be also waiting for Romeo to do something to Tybalt, to take revenge for instance. So suspense is building up for them.
In lines 110 and 111 Romeo fears that the evil outcomes (‘black fate’) of today’s violence lie in the future (‘Moe (more) days’). Personally I think this is the point in the play where the tragedy really begins. I think so because after this point a lot of dreadful events start to occur. These few lines are the height of dramatic irony as Romeo is for-telling his own future. This case of dramatic irony creates tension for the audiences; they would also be setting up prospect as they are waiting for something to happen. Moreover, Shakespeare has heightened the effect of dramatic irony by making the two lines rhyme at the end.
Following this, there are numerous references to death in this scene. Another example of dramatic irony is when Romeo threatens Tybalt that either he or Tybalt would have to die (line 120). Above all, the audiences already acknowledge that Romeo is going to die. On the other hand, Romeo is unaware that he is speaking of his own death.
Furthermore, in line 140 Lady Capulet confirms’ shed blood of Montague’. She is focusing the matter on none other than Romeo. The repetition of the word blood also enhances the effect of death as well as dramatic irony. This is an example of dramatic irony as the audiences know that Lady Capulet’s daughter Juliet is married to Romeo which she is clueless about.
Finally, when the Prince announces his final decision over the whole matter, he also threatens to kill Romeo. The concluding account from the prince includes rhyming phrases as this is the solution made for the whole massacre, therefore it is important.
This scene ( scene 1) is very important for the viewers as they will recognize that they are approaching the end of the play. As almost all the prophesies in the prologue has occurred and they are only waiting for the lovers fatal doom to end both the strife of their families, as well as the whole play. This scene also affects the audiences in numerous ways, they would be more focused, and it will also give them a sense of expectation of what will happen later on in the play. Moreover, they will be also affected by the language as death is mentions a lot in this scene. Thus, tension is building up.
In scene 2 Juliet’s thirty-one lines epithalamium (wedding song) in which she describes how much she is filled with love for Romeo, longing for the night to come so that Romeo will come to her “untalked of and unseen”, is an example of dramatic irony as it shows her unawareness of both Tybalt’s death, as well as Romeo’s banishment. This will generate an instant of sympathy among the audiences, as they know she is would get devastated by these awful news. Suspense would be created too as the audiences would wonder whether Juliet is still going to love Romeo after she hears these news?
In scene 3 Romeo seems in despair with his sentence of banishment. He would rather die than be exiled. Exile brings more terror to him; he also can’t imagine not being behind Verona’s walls and being in the big bad world full of torture and suffering. He doesn’t want to leave his “heaven” with Juliet. He keeps referring to exile being like death to the Friar. And When the Nurse enters, Romeo asks her if Juliet thinks him an old murderer and does she still love him. All the Nurse says is that she weeps and weeps making Romeo try and kill himself. Then she told him that he is to see Juliet to say farewell and when he has her ring the Nurse has passed on to him he is comforted. The idea of seeing Juliet again has consoled him, as he loves her so much. This instance of dramatic irony has a great effect on the audiences, as they know from the prologue that Romeo is going to die. This dramatic irony will attract the audience more to the play. They also would be wondering whether Romeo is going to make it to Juliet’s bedchamber or would the Prince find out and kill him?
Scene 4 is a very short scene, maybe the shortest in the whole play. However, it contains a great number of dramatic irony. In this scene when everyone on the stage thinks that Juliet is crying over Tybalt’s death, the viewers’ know that the crying is for Romeo. Another example of dramatic irony is when Capulet arranges Juliet’s marriage with Paris in two days time (line 20). As he thought she needs a man so she would not be so sad, and the whole time she has her marriage with Romeo of which everyone else is clueless about. Shakespeare used the repetition of the word ‘Thursday’ to show how important this word is , so if any one of the audiences was chatting or if they were not paying attention this device will successfully draw them into the story , as they would expect something vital to occur on this day . Also such repetition increases the tension in the plot as well as it adds to the sense of fast moving action.