Analyse the dramatic qualities of Act 1 scene 5 and show how this relates to Romeo and Juliet as a whole, focusing on Shakespeare’s use of conflict as a theme. Explain how character is presented to the audience through interpretation of character and action and describe how this may be influenced by the history and society of the time.
One of the most popular plays by William Shakespeare is the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. Although it is about four hundred years old, it is one of the best known stories ever told.
Romeo and Juliet tells a lot about the society and times in which it was written. By understanding the contrast between an orderly and disorderly one and the contrast between true love and the pretence of love it becomes possible to understand the play’s tragic quality. To the modern audience I think it often seems as though Romeo and Juliet are being punished for the behaviour of their parents. The play make a great deal more sense when it is understood that the two families had created a world where something as important as love could not exist and where people were afraid to go out into the streets of Verona, ‘Where civil hands makes civil hands unclean.’
The Prologue of Romeo and Juliet is highly valuable, because it immediately prepares the audience for the tragic events of the play: the conflict, love, hate, violence and irony of the play are conveyed in the use of language in the prologue. Such as ‘From forth the fatal loins of these two foes’. Here Shakespeare has used alliteration to emphasise how important fate is to the play as a whole.
The fact that the Prologue is written in sonnet form (the traditional style of a love poem, always fourteen lines long, divided into three sections of four lines, with the last two lines separate,) suggests strongly the continuous theme of love throughout the play. This however is contradicted by the fact that the sonnet is chanted in chorus, traditionally used in Ancient Greek tragedies. This shows Shakespeare’s love of theatre, so much that he uses traditional forms of theatre to enhance his own.
Moreover a chorus and sonnet would have been well known in Elizabethan times therefore Shakespeare’s audiences would recognise them without any delay. This would make Shakespeare’s plays a lot more popular.
We know conflict is a very important theme in the play because it is introduced in the first few lines of the Prologue, ‘From ancient grudge break to new mutiny’, it is also showed by the amount of conflict in the Prologue, ‘death-mark’d love’,’ fatal loins’, ‘parents rage’.
Shakespeare also uses characterization and stage craft to inform the audience of the moral and social significance of the play. One thing I love about the Prologue is that it tells the audience it is a play, ‘where we lay our scene’, obviously we know it is a play but I like the fact that Shakespeare is not trying to pretend that it is real. ‘Is now the two hours traffic of our stage.’
When we first see Romeo he talks of his unrequited love for a character named Rosaline, nevertheless when Romeo first sees Juliet at Capulet’s party he asks the question ‘Did my heart love till now? Forswear it sight? – For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night’. So straight away Romeo has gone from being in love with one woman (Rosaline) to another (Juliet), this is one of the reasons Romeo’s love is questioned. Furthermore we have to ask the question, what does this say about Romeo? How can he fall in love after just glimpsing at a girl? Is his love true?
One f the contrasts created by Romeo’s speech is the contrast between light and dark. Actually even the language Shakespeare uses is creating conflict. Light and darkness usually have very definite meanings in human psychology. Traditionally light is considered ‘good’ conversely dark is usually viewed as ‘evil’. Light and dark are linked with the protagonists early in the play.
Romeo is immediately associated with darkness. As Montague observes: Romeo walks around before the sun rises,
‘Away from light steals home my heavy son
And private in his chamber pens himself
Shuts up his windows, locks fair daylight out,
And makes himself an artificial night’
Romeo does this because of Rosaline’s rejection; Romeo becomes depressed and sees light as a burden, and does not regard it as good. However when Romeo sees Juliet for the first time, he recovers from his unrequited love for Rosaline, and as a result, finds light good again. His first words to describe Juliet are about light,
‘O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
As a rich Jewel in an Ethiop’s ear’
This indicates that Romeo’s pining for Rosaline is over but it also associates Juliet with light, which endure throughout the play.’ Although this is a wonderful speech it still brings up more questions of Romeo’s character. Why does Romeo compare Juliet’s beauty to an object? ‘As a rich jewel in an Ethiop’s ear’ Also why is Romeo so Hasty? He is planning to touch Juliet’s hand which in Elizabethan days was wrong and considered a sin!
Straight after Romeo’s sweet speech Tybalt talks of hate. This is a contrast between love and hate. Also another contrast between Tybalt and Romeo is their use of religious imagery: Romeo uses his in a loving, positive way, ‘make blessed my rude hand’, whereas Tybalt is using it in a hateful, negative way, ‘to strike him dead I hold it not a sin!’ Religious imagery is a huge part of Romeo and Juliet’s first meeting. In Elizabethan time religion was a big part of society, ‘the use of these images could show an audience that this is true love, also to use religious imagery such as this would be considered scandalous; this conversation is essentially about lust!
‘And palm to palm is holy palmers too?
Ay pilgrim, lips that they use in prayer
Oh then dear saint, let lips do what hands do!’
The conflict between the Romeo and Tybalt is shown straight away when Tybalt refers to Romeo as a ‘slave’. This shows just how much Tybalt hates Romeo and how little he thinks of him. As well as calling Romeo a ‘slave’ Tybalt also calls him a ‘villain’. This is repeated which emphasises his views. The strength of the conflict between the two families (Capulets and Montagues) is shown with the conflict. Additionally a lot about Tybalt’s character is shown: Tybalt thinks he is better than Romeo, even though Romeo has never done him wrong.
Tybalt is included in yet another contrast; age and youth. The contrast is represented in the characters of Tybalt and Capulet. The conflict between Tybalt’s rashness and Capulet’s patience is probably the biggest conflict in the scene. As soon as Tybalt hears Romeo and recognises that he is a Montague he immediately wants to kill him, but the surprising things is that Capulet talks about Romeo in a good way:
‘Verona brags of him
To be a virtuous and well-governed youth.’
This is quite shocking because Capulet should hate Romeo. However Capulet does suggest that he may allow him to kill Romeo later.
‘Here in my house do him disparagement
Therefore be patient, take no note oh him.’
Capulet says this because he has two very different sides to his personality; public and private. We see these two sides at the party when Shakespeare’s structure of Capulet’s speech. Shakespeare’s use of dashes are used ‘o break up the distinct sides of Capulet’s speech.’ He is talking to the servants as well as Tybalt. He is cheerful and happy with the servants and dancers ‘-Cheerily my hearts’, but then at the same time he is angry and threatening towards Tybalt: ‘I’ll make you quiet!’ We also see the power Capulet has, ‘Am I the master here, or you? Go to!’
This scene is made appealing to his audience with the use of dramatic irony.
‘I will withdraw
But this intrusion shall
Now seeming sweet, convert to bitterest gall!’
Here Tybalt is prophesising that Romeo will die. Here Shakespeare is overshadowing the love in this scene with Tybalt’s hatred for Romeo.
This play is known as ‘the greatest love story ever told’ but the two ‘star cross’d lovers had no idea that their love was destined for destruction. However the audience do know this because they are told at the very beginning of the play in the Prologue. This is an example of dramatic irony.
When Romeo describes his and Juliet’s kiss as a sin,’my sin is purged.’ It shows more dramatic irony. We know that Romeo and Juliet are enemies, (Montague and Capulet) but they don’t. They joke about their kiss being a sin but they don’t know how big a sin it actually is.
Here we again see the conflict of love and hate; we go straight from Tybalt’s violence towards Romeo to Romeo and Juliet’s first meeting. Here Shakespeare has used a sonnet again but in an unusual way because this time the sonnet is said by two people: Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare uses the sonnet to calm the atmosphere and make sure that the audiences focus is entirely on the ‘star cross’d lovers’. This shows Shakespeare’s creativity with his use of stage craft.
Shakespeare implies that Romeo and Juliet are made for each other because as soon as they meet they have an understanding of each other’s language. When they do meet we see again the riskiness and hast of Romeo’s character, just like he said he would he carried out the sin of touching Juliet’s hand. The audience would have been very shocked. Like Rome says it would have been considered a sin, the gentle sin is this:’ Here we see the religious imagery used.
In this conversation Juliet declares ‘Juliet’s character. How would Juliet know whether he was a good kisser? Has she already been kissed? Is she as innocent as people think she is? On the other hand we could ask whether she is saying this because it is her first kiss and she has never experienced the feeling before. I think Shakespeare has been very clever by putting this line in because it gives the audience the choice to make a decision on their opinion of Juliet’s character. Also later in the scene even more questions about Juliet’s character are brought up. When the Nurse asks ‘What’s this? What’s this?’ Juliet replies instantaneously ‘A rhyme I learnt even now of one I danced withal.’ The Nurse suspects nothing so here we see that already Juliet has become very good at lying. Therefore giving the audience yet another opportunity to make their own judgement of Juliet’s character. Does she lie a lot? How is she so good at it?
The line ‘You kiss by the book’ is actually said in the start of another sonnet that is then interrupted by Juliet’s Nurse. I feel that this is where the love is partially destroyed. Juliet asks her nurse to find out who Romeo is then she uses Prophetic irony, ‘if he be married, My grave is like to be my wedding bed.’ That is actually the cause of Romeo and Juliet’s death. ‘There is also a link to A3Sc5 ‘Methinks I see thee now as one dead in a tomb, thou art so low’. Juliet is told who Romeo is and Romeo realises who Juliet is and they both understand that the person they have fallen in love with is in fact an enemy! ‘My only love sprung from my only hate’. Once again creating the conflict between love and hate. Shakespeare has used a beautiful rhyming couplet to put love and hate together ‘Prodigious birth of love it is to me, That I must love a loathed enemy.’ Shakespeare is using an Oxymoron, how can love come from hate?
Although we know that the Capulets and Montagues are enemies we don’t know how Romeo and Juliet feel. Especially Juliet, ‘Prodigious birth of love it is to me,’ Juliet was brought up to hate the Montagues from birth. Here we see a lot about the society in Shakespearean time. We see the impact men had over women, especially the head of the family. An example in the play is where we see the way Capulet treats Juliet. Capulet sees his daughter as something that will make him money; he wants to marry her to Paris because he is a very wealthy nobleman. Capulet has given no thought to whether Juliet wants to marry Paris or not. Often in Elizabethan days girls such as Juliet would be put in certain situations that sometimes were very harsh.
As a whole the scene is very important to the play; we see a lot about the society of those days; it creates a lot of atmosphere within the play; it also creates the love between Romeo and Juliet, and it shows the huge scale of the hate between the Capulets and Montagues.
The conflict in this scene creates a lot of dramatic impact which makes the scene successful because it excites the audience. Moreover the conflicts in the play are how a lot of the atmosphere is formed. For example the audience feel the love between some characters but at the same time feel the hate between others.
Although the play is about four hundred years old, writers still use aspects of the play in their own writing, such as ‘West Side Story’. That story is based on Romeo and Juliet. There is the hate between the two gangs, (Jets and Sharks) whereas in Romeo and Juliet it is the hate between two families, (Capulets and Montagues). As well there is a forbidden love between Tony from the Jets and Maria from the Sharks. This is obviously a take on the relationship between Romeo and Juliet.
There are many more storylines based on Romeo and Juliet, which shows how popular the play was and still is. Equally the fact that this play is studied in schools shows just how Shakespeare’s popularity has continued right to the present day.
Romeo and Juliet is by far my favourite Shakespearean play. I think the storyline is fantastic and I love the themes included in the play. But the thing I love most about this play is the poetic language, there is a lot of hate and death in this play but the language still makes the speech sound beautiful. ‘Never was a story of more woe, Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.’ I think that rhyming couplet sums up the whole play and although that the lines say that there is no story with more sadness, I still think it sounds beautiful! However I do think that Elizabethan audiences would have had a different opinion, this is because they would have recognised the language whereas now Shakespeare’s language has to be studied to fully understand.