‘Romeo and Juliet’ was written by William Shakespeare in 1596. Like many of Shakespeare’s plays, it was not an original idea. His inspiration came from a well-known poem of the times called, ‘The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet’ which was written in 1562 by Arthur Brooke. In the poem, the events took place over four years, whilst Shakespeare shortened the events within the poem so they took place within three to four days.
This gave the play greater impact as there is no time for Romeo and Juliet to consider the consequences of what they are doing and make the eventual death of the main characters at the end all the more shocking, as a few days before they didn’t even know each other. The character of Mercutio did not exist in the poem; some believe Shakespeare added him to give the play more ‘fun’ as he is quite a wacky character and to make it different from the poem. It is more likely however, that as believed by critics of those times that part was written for a popular actor who’s inclusion in the play would fill more theatre seats as he was believed to be a very popular ‘A-lister’ actor.
Although ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is a tragedy it contains many more ingredients to fill more theatre seats, Love, comedy, violence and hate are also featured. Throughout the play the atmospheres change, we go from hate to love, love to hate and love to sadness, this changing is a rollercoaster ride for the audience who enjoy the sudden twists and changes in the play. The play con...
tains dramatic irony, Romeo saying he thinks he may die and dreaming that Juliet found him dead adds to the appeal, due to the prologue, the audience know the outcome, yet they don’t know why or how such a tragedy happened. Sexual innuendo is used to great effect to thrill, audiences of those times tended to have a fascination for sex like pre-sixteen teenagers today. Suicide is also used effectively, as is betrayal and the idea of disobedient children.
Shakespeare’s plays are often centred on the rich as the poor were his usual audience. ‘Common’ people of those times loved to hear and see what the rich and famous did in their spare time and used to marvel at their clothes and the extravagant parties they loved to throw and wonder what it would be like to get married for love, not just to share a house. Puritans however didn’t enjoy Shakespeare or his plays. Being devout Christians, they frowned upon drunkenness and sexual innuendo and tried their upmost to campaign against Shakespeare’s plays, a rather fruitless attempt as the queen herself enjoyed watched a Shakespeare performance!
The prologue is very important in the play, for the sole reason that it explains the plot. Without it the audience would not experience a roller-coaster ride, they would not be expecting Romeo and Juliet to die, revealing the plot far from reveals the whole play. The opening line in the Prologue, ‘Two households, both alike in dignity,’ is introducing the Montague’s and the Capulet’s, telling the audience they
are both wealthy and of the same status. The line:
‘From ancient grudge break to new mutiny’
informs the audience that these two ‘households’ don’t get on, something happened a long time ago, and the households have not yet made peace.
‘From froth the fatal loins of these two foes,’
refers to the two children of the ‘heads’ of the two families, Romeo and Juliet. The next line:
‘A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life,’
refers to the suicide of Romeo and Juliet and basically tells the audience the ending. ‘Star-crossed’ refers to the idea of ‘fate’, that their ‘destiny’ is already ‘written’ in the stars and it cannot be changed. The line ‘Which but their children’s end nought could remove’ this tells the audience that the death of Romeo and Juliet ends their parents quarrel. The audience now feel like a part of the story, as they watch it unfold, they already know the result.
Act One Scene Five is arguably the pivotal point in ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ However what happens prior to this is certainly not unimportant. Act One Scene One establishes the quarrel between the Montague’s and the Capulet’s, and there is a fight. The prince, the one in charge of Verona’s affairs makes a decree, which states:
‘If you ever disturb our streets again,
Your lives will pay the forfeit of the peace.’
This is important as if this decree hadn’t been made, Romeo and Juliet would probably still be thriving at the end of the play, as when Romeo killed Tybalt, he was forced to go into hiding due to this decree and therefore missed Friar Lawrence’s letter which of course, told him that Juliet wasn’t really dead, however he takes his own life, triggering Juliet to take hers. Romeo is also introduced in this first scene and he is in a ‘lovesick’ state, the name of his hearts desire is withheld at this point. Benvolio tells him basically to stop ‘obsessing’ and to ‘look upon other beauties.’ Romeo disagrees however saying none and be as beautiful as the one he ‘loves.’ Act One Scene Two starts with a conversation between Capulet and Paris. Paris wants to marry Capulet’s daughter Juliet:
‘What say you to my suit?’
Yet Capulet isn’t too chuffed with this, he says his daughter is too young to marry. Paris however responds with:
‘Younger than she are happy mothers made.’
Although by modern standards, at thirteen a girl would be far too young to marry, yet back then you were only expected to live till you were thirty, so thirteen was the average age of marriage in Shakespeare’s times. At this point Capulet realises he can’t persuade Paris to stop ‘loving’ Juliet, so he tries a different tack. He announces a party is to be held at his mansion the following day and invites Paris round, seemingly so he can get acquainted with Juliet, yet Capulet’s real intention is to show Paris ‘other beauties.’ After Paris has left the scene, Capulet gives invites for party to a servant to deliver, forgetting that the servant cannot read. So off the servant goes to find someone more equipped with English skills then himself. He of course
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