Shakespeare's Tragedy is Based on a Medieval Italian Legend

The following sample essay on Shakespeare’s Tragedy is Based on a Medieval Italian Legend tells about every aspect of the play.

“Romeo and Juliet” was one of Shakespeare’s earliest tragedies and is based on a medieval Italian legend, narrated in a poem by Arthur Brooke some decades earlier. Shakespeare was writing for an extremely diverse audience and provides interest for everyone: poetry and philosophy for the intelligentsia, romance for the idealistic and sword play and bawdy humour for the “penny punters”.

The play explores many themes including: religion, honour, fate and the contrasting themes of love and hate, youth and age and happiness and tragedy.These ideas were familiar to an Elizabethan audience but a contemporary audience may feel alienated by them. In particular, the Elizabethans would have believed in the fate which like the feud affects every aspect of the play but a contemporary audience could be sceptical. In Act One Scene Five, we witness constant dramatic contrast, juxtaposition and other dramatic devices which are fitting for the pivotal scene in the play.

This scene sets up the drama to come and starts a chain of events by which none of the characters will be left unaffected.In the scenes preceding Act One Scene Five, Shakespeare has introduced the feud in a public brawl, Romeo’s superficial love for Rosaline and Juliet’s proposed marriage. This scene begins with the bustling servants hastily clearing up after the feast. They speak coarsely about the tasks they have to do which prepares the audience for Capulet’s grand entrance.

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This chaotic mood is in stark contrast to Romeo’s apparent premonition of his “untimely death” at the end of act one scene four. Capulet’s welcoming speech is directed to the “gentlemen” and encourages them to dance with the women. The women are seen as objects for the men’s pleasure and any lady to refuse to dance must “hath corns” indicating that she would be old and ugly. The original audience would have thought his attitude appropriate.

However it provides a contemporary audience with an insight into the inferior status of women and the patriarchal society in both the play and Elizabethan England. Capulet continues his speech by bragging about his lost days when he was a great lover.When the music begins the mood becomes more relaxed and the guests begin to dance. The audience then gain insight into the social context of the play as Capulet uses imperatives to order the servant to “quench the fire” and “turn the tables up”. His dialogue to the servants is short and rude and he seems quite comfortable ordering people about. Capulet says he is too old to dance and sits with his cousin instead; establishing the age of his character as past his “dancing days”. Shakespeare continues to emphasise the theme of old age and youth when Capulet reminisces with his cousin about the masques they used to attend.Shakespeare changes the mood dramatically as Romeo lays eyes on Juliet and he is immediately enchanted by her. Shakespeare’s use of Iambic pentameter instantly distinguishes the passage from Capulets reminiscent speech.

Romeo seems invisible in the scene before he sees Juliet which could hint that soon she will be his “heaven” and he can’t exist without her. He describes Juliet as radiating with beauty and she “doth teach the torches to burn bright”. This use of hyperbole in this physical imagery demonstrates how smitten by her he is. Romeo portrays Juliet as too good for everyday life with “beauty too rich for use”. Juliet is his idea of Perfection, the sight of her fills him will joy and exaltation. Contrasting with his previous agonising feelings for Rosaline and makes them obsolete and meaningless.Juliet is then described as a “snowy dove trooping with crows” which emphasises her beauty and purity but also fulfils Benvolio’s promise. In Act One Scene 2, Benvolio challenged Romeo “to examine other beauties” and compare them to the lady he’s in love with. Romeo says that it is impossible for someone to be more beautiful than Rosaline. However Benvolio says that he will make Romeo’s “swan a crow”. At the end of this soliloquy he goes on to say that he “ne’re saw true beauty till this night”.

His love for Rosaline was immature and Juliet instantly overshadows her.Romeo’s passionate speech is broken dramatically by Tybalt. He is outraged that Romeo would “dare” to gate crash his families feast and “scorn” at his “solemnity”. Shakespeare uses dramatic contrast between love and hate to emphasise the strength of both emotions and their possible effects. They both use iambic pentameter but Romeo also speaks in rhyming couplets. This makes Romeo’s soliloquy seem softer than Tybalt’s coarser blank verse. They also use repetition but Romeo repeats positive words like “beauty” and “rich” whereas Tybalt repeats the derogative word “villain”. He is aggressive and refers to Romeo as a “slave” which would have very different connotations then than today. Then a slave would have been of no worth, the lowest of the low now just the word slave evokes feelings of empathy and pity. Tybalt is saying Romeo is lower than him and his presence mocks the “stock and honour” of his family.

Tybalt then says “to strike him dead I hold it not a sin” after the ominous prologue, this threat holds more meaning and potency. The audience has been warned of the death of two lovers and Tybalt’s threat would heighten the tension.Capulet is surprised by Tybalt being so overtaken with rage and uses pathetic fallacy to compare Tybalt’s fiery rage with a storm. Tybalt can’t understand why his uncle is not seething as well. He tries to convince him repeating that Romeo is mocking them, again saying that he is there only to “scorn at our solemnity”. Tybalt keeps reiterating this theme of honour and it is something that is very important to him.Capulet tries to calm Tybalt down and says he should bear him like a dignified and “portly gentleman”. Capulet says that Romeo seems well mannered and “Verona brags of him”. Capulet does not wish him to come to any harm especially not in his house and has stepped into the role of peace maker.

It seems his character has grown since his exchange with the prince after the public brawl. Capulet makes it clear that it is his “will” that’s Tybalt ignores Romeo. Tybalt says that he will “not endure him”, Capulet is enraged that Tybalt would dare to question his authority and contradict him. This shows us that Capulet changes when he feels he is being disrespected or disagreed with and prepares the audience for his sudden change in character when he forces Juliet to marry Paris.Tybalt can think of nothing but the “shame” and prophetically says that’s his forced patience will not last and may turn “to bitterest gall”. Shakespeare is reiterating Tybalt’s threat of violence towards Romeo and thus intensifying the tension. His Character also heightens the tension he blind hatred for all Montagues seems like a ticking bomb. His fiery character contrast starkly with Romeo’s own romantic personality which emphasizes there juxtaposed themes of love and hate.

This is a play where two people are “star crossed” to love and die for each other and their intense love begins at the party, which ironically they are both reluctant to attend. Romeo has walked over to Juliet and begins their sonnet by touching her hand and asking to kiss her. Juliet, however replies “palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss” to avoid the physical possibility. Romeo then says that saints and pilgrims have lips also but Juliet playfully interrupts his quatrain, retorting that their lips must be used in prayer. Romeo persists, asking Juliet to “grant” his “prayer” and she finally consents. This accelerated action concludes with a kiss which is augmented by her apparently reluctant responses.Romeo describes her as his “holy shrine”, using religious imagery.

By using religious metaphors Shakespeare makes Romeo’s love for Juliet seem more genuine and again emphasises her purity. They also give social insight into the importance of the church at the time and imply that religion affects everything.Throughout the passionate sonnet, Romeo and Juliet appear to be woven together onstage ultimately becoming one. Both their use of similar language and their continuation of the religious conceit are indicative of their compatibility. The sonnet is symbolic of marriage where two people become one before God; the religious imagery could represent God.Shakespeare creates symmetry between Romeo and Juliet by the structure of the sonnet: first they deliver their individual quatrains and then they share the following two. This structure emphasizes there innate compatibility and portrays them as being woven together. The Elizabethans valued symmetry and this quality of the sonnet would help to persuade them that Romeo and Juliet were meant to be together.

The love at first sight experienced by Romeo and Juliet would have been more comprehensible for the Elizabethans. Modern audiences are generally much more secular and hold sceptical views on love in particular love at first sight. Elizabethans however, believed in religious determinism, an inflexible concept that states that the future has already been mapped out. They believed that Fate determined everything and there was no escape from it. This belief seems extremely claustrophobic but it is also provides security. Fate was used to justify the appalling poverty in England and the huge gap between the rich and the poor. A contemporary audience needs to suspend disbelief as fate effects every aspect of the play and understand the strength of belief in fate the original audience had.The Elizabethans would have also recognised the courtly love displayed between Romeo and Juliet’s and this would make their love seem indisputable.

The Queen especially would have liked the use of courtly love as it was idea she strongly believed in and enjoyed being the recipient of as queen.The nurse dramatically breaks the romantic atmosphere to send Juliet to her mother. Shattering Romeo’s brief euphoria she tell Romeo that Juliet is a Capulet, his family’s enemy. Oblivious to the serious implications, she jests that “he that can lay hold of her Shall have the chinks”. This thoughtlessness increases the tension as the audience are being made wait for Romeo’s reaction. It is also made ironic that the nurse is boasting that any guy would be lucky to marry Juliet because of her family and their money but her family is the reason their love is “death-mark’d”. Continuing the monetary imagery Romeo expresses his anguish saying, “My Life is my foes debt”. The reference to his life being owed evokes the audience because they know from the prologue that these soul mates are destined to die.

The mood is again changed as Capulet bids his guests goodbye to then be contrastingly intensified as Romeo’s identity is revealed to her. Shakespeare established dramatic irony when Juliet says that if Romeo is married then her “grave is like to be” her “wedding bed”. The audience already know that the situation is worse than Romeo being merely married. The reference to her grave is again dramatically linked to their “death-mark’d love” foretold in the prologue. Also Juliet has immediately suggested the possibility of marriage emphasizing how intense their love is.When the nurse tells Juliet that Romeo is a Montague, her “loathed enemy”, she is crestfallen. Juliet uses paradoxes including “My only love sprung from my only hate!” to express her desperation. They also express her confusion over her now complicated love. She cries out at fate for this “prodigious birth of love” stressing the belief that fate caused everything and expressing her feelings of powerlessness.

This scene is rich in imagery that more than compensates for its modest staging it was written for. It would have been difficult to properly act the love between Romeo and Juliet as both characters would be played by men. However to make the most of the dramatic devices a director today could use actors with very different looks to play Romeo and Tybalt to emphasize the dramatic differences between the two characters. The music could become softer and quieter in the romantic parts of the scene.Then faster and louder as Tybalt’s rage increases and as Tybalt delivers his ominous threat the music could become slower to convey its sinister nature. The lighting when Romeo first sees Juliet could be soft and lightly pink accentuating the intimate atmosphere.

Then as Tybalt notices Romeo and is enthralled with rage the lighting could become brighter and harder. A director for a film production could accentuate their love in the sonnet by using Big Close Ups of there eyes and lips. The advantage to films is they allow the audience to view the action from many different positions. A director could use Point of View shots at they speak so the audience can see the effect of the characters.Act One Scene Five is a highly significant scene in the play and this is mainly because it tells of Romeo and Juliet’s first meeting. Without the two main characters meeting there would have been no forbidden and secret love to conclude in death and therefore no play.

Moreover if Tybalt hadn’t of noticed Romeo at the feast and felt so insulted he wouldn’t have sought revenge.This scene is relevant to both a modern and an Elizabethan audience. Both audiences can relate and learn from the themes of Love, passion, anger, hatred, the energy of youth and the wisdom of age and experience. The scene has dramatic impact and momentum appropriate for the essential scene of the play. There are stark dramatic contrasts between characters, their emotions and expansion of themes. The constant changes of mood also contrast each other and create dramatically impact. Using dramatic, lingual and figurative devices this scene describes the effect the feud had on individuals and just how powerful the hatred between the two families was.

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Shakespeare's Tragedy is Based on a Medieval Italian Legend. (2019, Jun 20). Retrieved from

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