Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet, is more about violence than love
Romeo and Juliet is a romantic tragedy written and performed in the Elizabethan era by William Shakespeare. Frequently Romeo and Juliet is classified as a romantic play; however this is a common misconception for a number of reasons. Violence is one of the major themes in the play which influences the relationship between the main characters, Romeo and Juliet. The love between a pair of “star crossed” lovers, Romeo and Juliet, comes about from an ongoing family feud between two rival households, the Capulets and Montagues.
In the play, this ongoing feud has inevitably resulted in the death of members of either household in the past. The love of Romeo and Juliet inescapably brings about violence and conflict as Romeo is a member of the Montague household and Juliet being of the Capulet household. During the time of the Elizabethan era, even though love was a powerful emotion, many people weren’t allowed to express it or act on it. In Shakespeare’s time the father of the family controlled the actions taken by all family members. Thus it was the father who decided with whom his child was going to get married to.
Therefore, the father had a huge amount of power and could do what he pleased. Also he would want his child to get married to a wealthy person and of a good status to maintain their high standard in society. This is why Romeo and Juliet’s love struggled as Romeo was a member of the Capulet’s rival family, the Montagues. The theme of violence is dominant throughout the whole play and is shown from the beginning. Act 1 Scene1 starts off with a conversation between Sampson and Gregory, servants of Capulet. While having this conversation Sampson and Gregory portray violent feelings towards the Montagues.
Perhaps, the most violent and shocking findings are those of Sampson towards the women of the Montague household. ‘Therefore, I will push Montague’s men from the wall, and thrust his maid to the wall. ‘ Shakespeare uses this type of word play here and throughout this scene to set the underlying theme of violence throughout the play. It seems that Sampson is highlighting that his quarrel is with the men of the Montague not with the women so is indicated by: ‘Women being the weaker vessels are ever thrust to the wall’ However there is a more hidden and worrying meaning which implies that Sampson would rape the women.
A possible reason for this might be that he wants to show his superiority to the Capulets. Once servants of the Montague arrive to the scene, the theme of violence develops further. A fight breaks out between both households but Benvolio enters, advising them to stop: ‘Part fools. /Put up your swords, you know not what you do’ Tybalt also arrives and attacks Benvolio. The fighting turns into a major brawl which leads to the Prince getting involved. He states that he has had enough of this “civil brawl” and ‘If ever you disturb our streets again, / Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace.
This indicates that if they ever disturb the peace in Verona again the punishment will be death. This scene is particularly violent due to the damage each household has done to the citizens of Verona. This is why the scene results in the Prince using death as the punishment if another brawl was to break out. Tybalt is one of the main characters whose hatred for the Montagues brings about death and violence. At Capulet’s ball, when Romeo and Juliet first meet, Tybalt becomes increasingly infuriated due to the fact that Romeo is present at the ball. Now by the stock and honour of my kin, /To strike him dead I hold it not a sin. ‘
This makes Tybalt want to kill Romeo because not only is he present at their ball but he is also attracted to Juliet, who is Tybalt’s cousin. Act 3 Scene 1 is the following scene which exemplifies violence. Tybalt, still prejudiced against the Montagues, pursues them, and in particular, Romeo. Tybalt illustrates his violent intentions by insulting Romeo in an attempt to provoke him into fighting: ‘Romeo, the love I bear thee can afford /No better term than this-thou art a villain. Tybalt thinks that Romeo will be enraged by this comment but Romeo responds calmly.
Furthermore, Romeo makes it clear he cannot fight with a Capulet as his love for Juliet signifies his love for all the Capulets. Tybalt, infuriated by this, stabs Mercutio in the confusion, who in turn dies, after he tries to defend for Romeo. At the event of this death, Romeo’s feelings of hatred and violence are incited towards Tybalt. He lets his emotions take over which is shown in the form of a soliloquy: ‘My very friend hath got his mortal hurt in my behalf. ‘ Here Romeo is speaking to the audience about his emotions.
He personally feels responsible for Mercutio’s death as he was holding him back when Tybalt stabbed him. Following this, Romeo is angered by Mercutio’s death and lets his anger take over: ‘And fire-eyed fury be my conduct now’. Romeo is enraged that Tybalt killed Mercutio which leads to Romeo gaining revenge on Tybalt by killing him and leads to him being exiled from Verona. This scene is perhaps the most violent scene in the whole play and is juxtaposed effectively, making the violence seem even more tragic. The stagecraft used in this scene is when Shakespeare showcases Mercutio’s humour even while he is dying.
This juxtaposition causes the death to seem even more dramatic. Mercutio uses a pun before he dies: ‘Ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man. ‘ This gives the death of Mercutio more impact on the reader because they see the loss of a witty, almost likeable character. As the play progressively becomes more violent as a theme, the love Romeo and Juliet have for one another brings them more rapidly to death and violence. The “pair of star crossed lovers” begin to deem suicide as their only choice as this will preserve their love for one another forever.
This is particularly evident, for Romeo, in Act 3 Scene 3 when he has discovered his banishment from Verona and more importantly that he won’t be able to see Juliet. He draws out a knife and threatens to stab himself but the Nurse snatches that dagger away. In Act 3 Scene 5, Juliet, so overwhelmed by their love, has a premonition of Romeo being dead: ‘Methinks I see the now thou art so low, /As one dead in the bottom of a tomb. ‘ The way in which the fathers acted towards their daughters in Elizabethan England is clearly demonstrated by Lord Capulet to his daughter, Juliet, in Act 3 Scene 5.
Violence is clearly present in the dutiful love of Lord Capulet’s and Juliet’s relationship. This relationship is put in jeopardy when Juliet refuses to marry Paris, resulting in her father to become increasingly annoyed: ‘Out you green-sickness carrion, out you baggage, /You tallow-face! ‘ Lord Capulet treats her as garbage and uses words such as “disobedient wretch” to describe her. He also threatens to disown her if she doesn’t agree to the marriage to Paris: ‘get thee to a church a Thursday, /Or never after look me in the face. ‘ Capulet doesn’t even care about what Juliet thinks – she has no say.
Romeo and Juliet is considered by many people to be a romantic play, particularly the scenes when the lovers meet and their small marriage ceremony. But perhaps these scenes cannot be compared to Act 2 Scene 2, the balcony scene, when Romeo and Juliet both state their immediate love for each other. Romeo expresses his love for Juliet and talks about how beautiful she is: ‘It is the east, and Juliet is the sun. /Arise fair sun and kill the envious moon. ‘ Juliet is compared with the rising sun – a metaphor. By referring Juliet’s beauty using the sun, Shakespeare captures the emotion of love by using imagery but not all of it.
Love between two individuals is more than just attraction to their physical characteristics which is shown clearly between Romeo and Juliet in the play. Love in its many mysterious forms is also one of the major themes of the play. Love first becomes noticeable in the initial scene when Romeo talks of his love for Rosaline. This love seems fake and superficial and it seems, in fact, that Romeo is in love with the ideas o actually being in love. Even though Romeo understands that Rosaline does not share the same love back, he wants his love for her to succeed. ‘O brawling love, o loving hate … O heavy lightness, serious vanity.
Shakespeare depicts Romeo’s confusion and inexperience of real love as suggested by the total opposite ideas he brings together using oxymorons. Perhaps the best example of love concerns Juliet. We first meet her when love is far from her mind. She is very quiet and innocent, with both her mother and the Nurse reminding the audience she is still 13 years old. However, within minutes of meeting Romeo she has been kissed twice, and even tells him he kisses ‘by th’book’, meaning he is an expert. The first impression of her, then, is not very romantic, especially as she seems to be criticizing Romeo for the way he kisses.
However, as soon as Romeo leaves, she lets the audience know he is her ‘only love’. As the play progresses, we can see that this is completely true – she commits herself totally to him and even kills herself because of him. In the same scene Shakespeare uses religious language to describe their love in a distinctive manner. Romeo uses words like ‘holy shrine’ to describe Juliet which makes Romeo and Juliet’s love seem sacred. Juliet takes the ‘sin’ from Romeo with a kiss after referring to Romeo as ‘Good pilgrim’. Romeo says: ‘palm to palm is holy palmer’s kiss’, meaning that holding their hands together is alike to a kiss.
Through much religious language Shakespeare portrays their relationship as pure and holy. In Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare manipulates language in a way that the theme of love also implies the theme of violence. Romeo’s perusal of Juliet in the ball scene is some what predatory as well as denoting Romeo’s instant love for Juliet. ‘And touching hers, make blessed my rude hand. ‘ Shakespeare uses a play on the word ‘rude’ here. In one instance the use of the word ‘rude’ to describe Romeo’s hand could merely refer to the nature of his touch being indelicate.
However the word ‘rude’ could also be used to describe Romeo’s desire to be rough and disrespectful with Juliet. So in this way Shakespeare uses this play on words to suggest violence as well as love. Although the balcony scene is arguably the most romantic scene in Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare uses language in such a way as to suggest violence, especially as the play progresses further. This language is full of foreboding and hints at violence and tragic events in the future. ‘It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden; /Too like the lightening, which doth cease to be’.
The use of foreboding here reminds the audience of the prologue, where Romeo and Juliet’s inevitable deaths are outlined, and how the powerful romance of the previous scenes will be short-lived. Another example of foreboding in this scene is when Juliet says: ‘Methinks I see thee now art so low, /As one dead in the bottom of the tomb. Here the foreboding is shown in a very direct way because she will actually see him dead in the Bottom of her own tomb. The scene where Juliet is waiting for Romeo is seen as romantic, but Shakespeare uses language in such a way to make it seem aggressive. Come night, come Romeo’.
Juliet is begging and even demanding night to come. This is further shown when she says: ‘So tedious is this day’. Juliet is annoyed at the day and wants night to come so she can be with Romeo. The prologue at the beginning of the play states that Romeo and Juliet are “star crossed lovers. In the Elizabethan era was believed on the movement of the stars – controls them . When Romeo believes that Juliet is dead, Romeo is upset and says “then I defy you stars. ” The act of Romeo is both violent as he denounces the stars and also romantic as he would kill himself to be with Juliet.
He is angry that fate has not given him what he wants. Shakespeare has shown that love can be dangerous and violent as well as beautiful. He has clearly shown this by the use of language and sense of imagery he has revealed within the play. Shakespeare has left us with a powerful message: love is not always a pleasant thing, and it can cause violence resulting in perhaps death. From the view of an Elizabethan audience, they would understand it better as they were accustomed to arranged marriages. Today, we are more appalled by the tragedy, as we don’t understand why Romeo and Juliet couldn’t just defy their parents and be together.