Romeo And Juliet Analysis
Arguably one of the most well known love stories of all time; Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is the story of two young “star-crossed lovers” who come from two families holding an “ancient grudge”. This play has stood the test of time for over four hundred years and probability could only suggest it will be around for much longer. In a number of plays, Shakespeare has created the dramatic interest that worked not only in his day but has managed to remain a classic today. However, not many people ask the question of which of his plays does this the best as we all share the opinion that it is ‘Romeo and Juliet’.
The basis is that love stories have always been popular as we all feel love in some way at some time in our lives and we can therefore relate to this play. Yet, the “ancient grudge” between the lovers families creates an obstacle in their relationship and makes the audience wonder if the love is strong enough to overcome the hatred. From reading the opening prologue; the plot of the story is given away and we know before the play even begins that there is a “death marked love” waiting to conclude it all.
Shakespeare intentionally used this to create suspense and to get the audience asking questions. This suspense is carried on throughout Act 1 where we witness death threats, love triangles and street fights. These factors are what keep the audience glued to their seats and ready for Act 2. Before the beginning of the play there is a short ‘prologue’ which acts as an introduction to the play and gives a slight preview of the forthcoming events just as a film trailer would today. This is fourteen lines long and can therefore be classed as a ‘sonnet’, which were very popular in Shakespeare’s time.
This is read out as a ‘chorus’, which comes from Greek tragedies where a group of people narrated or commentated on the play; this also stresses the play is a tragedy and not comedy. In this particular play Shakespeare uses a single character usually dressed in black to read the sonnet. The prologue informs us that there are “Two households, both alike in dignity” whose “ancient grudge” can “break to new mutiny”. This summarises the hatred between the two families. Now we know about the hatred between the families; we discover the “pair of star-crossed lovers who take their lives” stuck between them.
This already has members of the audience wondering how it’s going to work and why they take their own lives. In addition there are “misadventured piteous overthrows” so we ask the query of what sad accidents will happen? We are also informed of “The fearful passage”, “their death-marked love” and “their parents rage”. Just from the prologue the audience have so many unanswered questions in their head they feel they just have to watch the whole play to reply them. Today whenever a film is made or a book or play is written.
One of the most action packed scenes is always the opening one. This is to make a good first impression to the reader or the audience, which is important to keep them interested in the story. In my opinion the opening scene of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ opens extremely well as not only does it open with action and excitement but it also gives off quite a lot of information and creates unanswered questions especially about the rivalry between the Capulet and Montague families. It begins with a conversation between two servants from the Capulet household, Gregory and Sampson.
The way they talk uses word play and alliteration; such as “we’ll not carry coals/ for then we’d be colliers. / I mean, and we be in choler… /draw your neck out of collar”, this is known as punning and was very popular in Elizabethan times. The servants also tell sexual jokes like where Sampson says “‘T is true, and therefore women being the weaker vessels are ever thrust to the wall”; Sampson is crudely suggesting that because women are the weaker sex it is easier to take sexual advantage of them.
They also mention taking their ‘maidenheads’, which is a word, used in those days meaning virginity. These sexual innuendos are there to provide comedy and comedy is always popular with audiences. Soon after, Abraham and another Montague servant enter the scene and Sampson and Gregory purposely try to cause bedlam by means of getting a reaction from their rivalled family members. They achieve this through the action of biting their thumb towards them, which in those days was an insulting sign of disrespect.
This causes a light quarrel between them, soon after, Benvolio joins Abraham and the servant on the Montague side as Tybalt heads towards Sampson and Gregory on the Capulet side of the argument. This causes a fight to finally break out; Benvolio attempts to split it up as Tybalt enters. Tybalt is a fierce fiery character who is always looking for a fight, Shakespeare added him as one of the characters just to rough things up and make everything seem less simple for everyone else and to no surprise the fight worsens as he says “Benvolio; look upon thy death” and then he and Benvolio begin to fight.
The fight suddenly becomes a brawl in the middle of the street and seems to be unstoppable until Prince Esculas enters the scene. His speech involves the words “If ever you disturb our streets again, Your lives shall pay the forfeit”, This means that if another fight breaks out then they will be killed as a result and the audience can gather from previous events that this is a likelihood so this creates suspense. Back in Shakespeare’s days courtly love was a fashionable tradition. What happened was the men saw the women as Goddesses but their love was more often unrequited.
But the men would send them love letters in the form of sonnets in order to win the woman’s love, however it usually failed leaving the man feeling melancholic. This is the position Romeo found himself in as he was in love with a girl called Rosaline. Montague and Benvolio notice a change in Romeo’s behaviour due to this and Montague explains how he “shuts up his windows” and “locks fair daylight out” this shows that Romeo attempts to isolate himself from the outside world and really is depressed.
As Romeo enters the scene the audience can see for themselves his state of mind during his conversation with Benvolio. His replies to Benvolio’s comments are short and subdued and he explains, “sad hours seem long”. We can work out from this that Romeo is not having a good time so our sympathy wins him over and we hope for his luck to change. As we move onto scene 2, we meet Paris, who is a man hoping to marry Juliet and is trying to convince Capulet to allow him to, however Capulet seems to think Juliet is too young for marriage as “She hath not seen the change of fourteen years”.
The possible marriage between Paris and Juliet is exciting for the audience yet it is an obstacle between the forthcoming relationship between Romeo and Juliet. The scene then cuts back to Romeo and his problems with courtly love. Benvolio who is aware of Romeo’s problem tries to be a useful friend by giving him advice. His advice is “one fire burns out another’s burning”, this is a metaphorical way of putting; you should find someone else and forget about Rosaline.
Then as ‘Clown’ from the Capulet family is struggling to read a party invitation he asks Romeo and Benvolio to read the list out for him. Romeo notices that Rosalie’s name is on this list and the pair therefore decide to find a way of going to the ‘masqued ball’ to give Romeo a chance of fore filling his dream of meeting Rosaline. The fact it’s a masqued ball means they can get in whilst in disguise and probably get away with it and this thought enters Benvolio’s head. In scene 3 we meet the Nurse.
A nurse is the Elizabethan equivalent to a child minder, however in these days they were hired out commonly by wealthy upper class families and were pretty much part of the family, they would raise the children and even breast feed them when they are babies. This particular Nurse raised Juliet and the two of them are very close. She is a bubbly character who often tells sexual jokes or sexual innuendo’s and tells Juliet stories about when she was younger usually embarrassing her.
From seeing the play myself I remember the nurse being an entertaining character and was an audience favourite which was most noticeable by the applause she got at the end. Her sexual humour is shown where she says, “dost thou fall upon thy face? Thou wilt fall backward when thou hast more wit, wilt thou not, Jule? ” This is a crude joke of falling onto her back for sex and most fourteen year olds would find an adult talking to them like this terribly embarrassing yet the audience find it comical and entertaining.
Soon after; Juliet discovers Paris’s desire to marry her and to the nurses delight Juliet replies “It is an honour that I dream not of”. Again the audience are excited by what is now a probable marriage yet it also questions the possibility of Romeo and Juliet getting together. Whilst on their way to the Capulet masqued ball Romeo predicts the future when saying “for my mind misgreaves some consequence, yet hanging in the stars”, similarly to what it says in the prologue; Romeo is saying he fears an unfortunate accident. The audience therefore semi-expect this to ironically happen.
This is meant to create tension especially when he says about an “untimely death”, which along with the prologue suggests young death. Scene 5 is set in the Capulet household as it is the location of their ‘masqued ball’. A ‘masqued ball’ was a fashionable party to have in Elizabethan times where everyone went disguised in a mask. It was the equivalent to what a fancy dress party is today and this is why the Montague’s were able to get in with little suspicion from the Capulet’s. Party’s are always a popularity and so Shakespeare made this scene a key one in the play for the entertainment of the audience.
From what the audience have seen so far, Romeo is a melodramatic isolated character. He has won over our sympathy and as he is one of the main characters we all want to see things turn around for him. The reason Shakespeare presents him as a melancholic lover is to emphasise the artificial nature of his love for Rosaline in comparison to the genuine emotion he feels for Juliet. We witness the two types of love juxtaposed and recognise that his love for Juliet is positive, energising and less of a ‘pose’.
But by presenting him in love with someone else initially, it creates romantic suspense for the audience. When Romeo first sees Juliet, it is described as ‘love at first sight’, this really helps to emphasise how he feels about her. From the audiences point of view, Romeo appears to be shocked by how much Juliet stands out by the way he says “O she doth teach torches to burn bright”, the reason he says ‘O’ at the start of his speech is purely to emphasise his emotion. The speech as a whole is a type of light imagery and explains how her beauty stands out so much to Romeo.
He then goes on to say “… she hangs upon the cheek of night / As a rich jewel in an Ethiops ear”, this is a metaphorical way of saying that she is beautiful, precious and rare to him as is “Beauty too rich for use”. These are both examples of wealth imagery. The majority of his speech in this part of the scene is imagery and metaphorical to help stress his feelings for Juliet, he also claims she “Shows a snowy dove trooping with crows”. This is in the category of bird and colour imagery and helps to stand out the point that she really does stand out from the crowd.
As explained by courtly love, it was a common thing for men to respect women like they are goddesses, and Romeo uses this kind of ‘holy imagery’ when he says “… touching hers, make blessed my rude hand”. Overall the speech shows strong romantic interest due to how Romeo is so intense, passionate and genuine. This is one of the most loving parts of the story; however it is interrupted as the fiery character of Tybalt notices that a Montague is present. He clearly shows his anger by referring Romeo as a “slave”, which is saying that Romeo is like his inferior.
As Capulet enters the scene; Tybalt threatens to “strike him dead”, however, Capulet bears in mind what the Prince said, in that any more fighting would mean their “lives would pay the forfeit” and as he wants no violence at the party, he aggressively prevents Tybalt from making any wrong moves. The hatred is then interrupted by the love of Romeo and Juliet as they meet and talk for the first time. Their conversation is set out in the style of a sonnet as of course; these were popular in the Elizabethan and Medieval times. It is very poetic, passionate and filled with religious imagery.
The language is intense, memorable and uses rhyming couplets at the end of every other line to help it to sound better and stand out. Juliet is very responsive to Romeo’s requests and appears to want Romeo to kiss her, which was a rarity in the courtly love tradition. Romeo flirtatiously refers to Juliet as a ‘Pilgrim’; this shows how he respects her like a Goddess and this is the start of a large amount of religious imagery. In addition to that, Juliet answers back with her own religious metaphors like “And palm to palm is holy palmers kiss” this also contains some alliteration due to the repetitive use of words containing ‘palm’.
The speech overall is a pattern of Romeo flirting to Juliet and Juliet flirting back, this keeps the flow of the conversation going and on a couple of occasions we witness a kiss. All this comes to a sudden end as the Nurse enters the scene and they discover each others identity. The nurse calls Juliet to go to her mother and when she is gone explains to Romeo “Her mother is the lady of the house” and of course Romeo realises this is the Capulet house.
Benvolio calls Romeo away from the scene explaining “The sport is at the best” which informs that he knows the best part of the night is over and their identity has been discovered. This means that the Montague’s have to make a swift exit effectively making Romeo and Juliet’s ‘moment’ short with a sudden end. This leaves the nurse and Juliet alone together. Juliet finds out from the Nurse that Romeo is in fact a Montague and is clearly devastated by this when she says “My grave is like to be my wedding bed” and “My only love sprung from my only hate.
All the way throughout this scene; Shakespeare juxtaposes love and hate. The first sight of love is at Romeo’s first glimpse of Juliet and the whole ‘love at first sight’ event, this is interrupted by Tybalt noticing Romeo and wanting to cause a violent act but he is stopped by Capulet. This allows Romeo and Juliet to have their first speech in the form of the love sonnet although when the two realise each other’s identity, the hate between the two families takes over leaving the audience wondering if the power of their love is strong enough to overcome the hate.
In conclusion to the opening act of the play; Shakespeare creates many ‘untied’ ends to the story. This makes the audience want to carry on watching to get an answer to their questions; questions such as will Tybalt fore fill his threat towards Romeo? Are Romeo and Juliet going to die and if so how? Will Paris marry Juliet? And will there be any more fighting? The only possible way for the audience to find an answer to these questions is to carry on watching the play. This was Shakespeare’s objective for the opening act and he has therefore successfully completed it.