William’s Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” is considered to be one of the most famous tragedies in English Literature. The storyline of “Romeo and Juliet” was based Arthur Brook’s poem “Romeus and Juliet” an adaptation of works from centuries before. In order to truly understand the play’s impact and meaning, it is important to consider that the play was written in Elizabethan England and for an Elizabethan audience.
During the Elizabethan Era, the majority of the population had arranged marriages, so the story of “Romeo and Juliet” would have caused an emotional impact because the idea of a couple falling in love and hiding it from their families would cause interest. Love is a brutal, powerful emotion that has the ability and strength to capture individuals, similarly hate is also capable of blinding and overwhelming a person as powerfully as love can. These two extreme opposites are naturally the play’s most predominant themes. The two interwoven together had the effect of creating a dramatic and exciting atmosphere.
Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet are the protagonists of the play. Romeo is the heir of an aristocratic family; the play opens with him in despair because he realises that he has feelings for a woman who completely overlooks him. Romeo’s original intention of attending the Capulet’s ball was only to see Rosaline. But he forgets her entirely once he catches a glimpse of Juliet. “Did my heart love till now?” Romeo wondered if he had ever truly been in love before he laid his eyes on Juliet. This gives us the impression that Romeo is someone who falls in and out of love easily. As Romeo claimed that he was infatuated with Rosaline at the beginning of the play. “Bid a sick man in sadness makes his will? A word ill-urged to one that is so ill. In sadness, cousin, I do love a woman.” Shakespeare made use of repetition, simply by repeating words related to sickness in Romeo’s speech, “sick”, “ill-urged”, and “ill” to emphasis Romeo’s painful misery. Three words to do with sickness are used in two lines of his dialogue, the word “sadness” is also used twice in the three lines of his speech. This emphasises Romeo’s pain as a result of desiring Rosaline. If so, how can he forget her so easily? Once again, Shakespeare gives us every reason to question Romeo’s love for Rosaline and how genuine his love truly is.
On the other hand, we must not forget that Romeo’s love for Rosaline was nothing but a painful experience. This can be seen through the oxymoron used in his speech. “O brawling love, O loving hate, O anything of nothing first create! O heavy lightness, serious vanity”.
This suggests to the audience that Romeo was puzzled and confused at that particular moment because he knew that his love for Rosaline was not returned. His misery was shown in the language he used to describe his deepest thoughts and feelings. The makes the audience believe that Romeo is truly in love with Juliet because his love for Rosaline was nothing but a painful experience.
Tybalt, a member of the Capulet clan is the one of the main antagonists of the play. He too, despises the Montagues and is a character that’s aggressive, ignorant and violent. He easily feels offended and threatens to draw his sword once he feels insulted. The moment Tybalt hears and recognises Romeo’s voice, the atmosphere in Act 1 Scene 5 changes from pure love to pure hate.
“This, by his voice, should a Montague. Fetch me my rapier, boy.” Tybalt speaks these lines straight after the audience had heard Romeo’s flattering remarks for Juliet, this has the effect of making the love from Romeo appear more passionate and the Tybalt’s hatred to appear more dramatic. When Tybalt orders his servant to “fetch” his rapier, the word “fetch” was used indicates that he is comparing his servant with a dog which is a major sign of disrespect. Also, calling his servant “boy” when his servant is probably a grown man adds to the fact that Tybalt is a disrespectful character as he shows arrogance even to the ones on his own side. Here, Shakespeare has successfully used language to bring out the scornfulness in Tybalt’s character.
When Romeo first laid his eyes upon Juliet, the language he uses to describe her is completely positive. “O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright! It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night” Shakespeare used passionate and hyperbolic language to describe Juliet in Romeo’s speech to emphasis her beauty. During the Elizabethan Era, all female characters were played by men and therefore, the audience may not have been able to visually see that Juliet was beautiful. Description was needed in order to fully illustrate her beauty to the audience. In this speech, Romeo states that Juliet’s surpassing beauty overpowers the blaze of any torch; she’s so bright that he sees her as the “cheek of the night”.
Romeo imagines her as the “rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear”, suggests that her beauty is rare, and that her presence transforms the room into an “Ethiope’s ear”. Juliet’s the only one who is standing out, whilst the others just seems insignificant in Romeo’s eyes. Romeo goes on to state that Juliet is the “snowy dove trooping with crows”, this metaphor emphasises the distinction between her innocence and purity and the wickedness of those around them, as the room is full of Capulets whom the Montagues despise. The dove is also the Christian symbol of holiness and purity, all this adds up to convey to the audience that Juliet is innocent and pure and different from the others in the room. Romeo later goes to the extremes to prove that his love for Juliet is genuine. Romeo epitomises love more than any other character in the play “Romeo and Juliet”.
Tybalt then goes on to insult Romeo by calling him a “slave” with an “antic face”. Once again, Shakespeare made use of language to degrade the character of Tybalt, to create a contrast between the characteristics of him and Romeo. This contrast has the effect of emphasising the themes of love and hate in the play as they are extreme opposites, just like the characteristics of the two. This contrast also has the effect of making the character of Romeo become more likable to the audience compared to Tybalt’s.
“To fleer and scorn at our solemnity?” is an exaggeration, both “fleer” and “scorn” are words that are too strong to be used to describe this situation, those words should only be used when someone has truly done something extremely disrespectful and it is clear that Romeo has done nothing that serious to be accused of that. Tybalt is the character who epitomises hate more that any other character in the play, this was fully conveyed through the words “Now, by the stock and honour of my kin, To strike him dead, I hold it not a sin.” Considering the fact that “Romeo and Juliet” was set in Renaissance Verona, an area and era when religion was a very important influential factor, the readiness of Tybalt to oppose religion and to commit the sin of murder, shows the extent of his hatred to any Montague, and is the best representation of just how full of hatred he is. On the other hand, this can be interpreted as Tybalt’s loyalty to the Capulets, as it shows his willingness to oppose religion and throw away his morals in order to defend and protect his family.
Tybalt’s attempt to strike at Romeo was stopped by Capulet, “Content thee, gentle coz, let him alone,” Capulet called Tybalt “gentle coz” represents the closeness of their relationship. In attempt to persuade Tybalt not to harm Romeo, Capulet tells him that “Verona brags of him to be a virtuous and well govern’d youth,” Although Capulet was saying this, it was obvious that he did not mean it, as there was a hint of sarcasm in his speech. As the word “brag” was used, implies the fact that Romeo was boasted in a negative way. The true reason why Capulet wanted to stop the attack was because if Romeo was found injured or possibly dead in the Capulet’s villa, it would create the impression that Capulet is incapable of controlling the affairs going on in his household. Tybalt protests, but Capulet scolds him until he agrees to remain peaceful. “You are a saucy boy… Be quiet… I’ll make you quiet.” This shows that Tybalt’s hate inflicts anger upon other people.
Although Capulet is able to keep the peace now, Tybalt’s rage is already set and vows not to let this indignity pass, “I will withdraw: but this intrusion shall Now seeming sweet convert to bitter gall.” Shakespeare made use of dramatic irony to remind the audience of the events to come, those were mentioned in the prologue. This had the effect of heightening the tension of the play.
The first conversation between Romeo and Juliet dominates the scene. The entire conversation is a shared sonnet of extended Christian metaphors, where Romeo compares himself to a pilgrim and Juliet a Saint. “If I profane with my unworthiest hand This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this”. Romeo speaks these words whilst holding Juliet’s hand; he compares her with a Saint to compliment her purity and innocence. The strength of Romeo’s love is so powerful that he views her as his superior, in a society where this was rare. In Renaissance Verona, men were often regarded as a higher class than women, so the fact that Romeo had opposed the society’s views, indicates that he must have been deeply in love with Juliet. On the other hand, it could be argued that those words were only flattering remarks to impress her.
By calling Juliet a Saint to be worshipped, Romeo has committed profound blasphemy, as the Anglican church of Elizabethan times declared that idol worshiping was forbidden. Once again, Shakespeare has used religious imagery to emphasis the love present in this play. Romeo continued using religious language in an attempt to toy with Juliet, “My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand to smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.” Here, Romeo pleads for a kiss, he described his top and bottom lip as two pilgrims ready to be granted a “tender” kiss. This is really meaningful because the word “tender” emphasises Juliet’s purity, this implies that this could be Juliet’s first kiss, so he must be gentle and “tender” with her.
Juliet’s response to Romeo’s request shows the amazing courage she has inside her, “Good pilgrim… For Saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch, And palm to palm is holy palmer’s kiss.” This shows that Juliet has agreed to play the role of a Saint; she claims that a kiss on his lips is not necessary, as touching hands, palm to palm is already a kiss. This response is able to show just how intelligent and quick-witted she is. At the end of the sonnet, Juliet successfully convinces to allow Romeo to fulfil his desires, “Saints do not move, though grant for prayer’s sake,” Juliet agrees to stand still as Romeo kisses her, this shows Juliet’s immature concept of love, as they only spoke fourteen lines before they kissed and even just a kiss was considered as intimate during Elizabethan times. Another interpretation of this could be that Shakespeare uses religious imagery to show that the love between Romeo and Juliet was divine; therefore their kiss must have been inevitable.
Act 1, Scene 5 is a dramatic scene and vital to the rest of the play. Shakespeare chose to interlace the themes together to ask questions to the audience about what love actually is and not just how Romeo and Juliet act when they were on stage. The scene also deals with moral issues associated with the themes of love and hate. This scene presents to the audience, an immoral society where two families, Montagues and Capulets, despises each other so much that, they do not regard it as a sin to kill one another. Act 1, Scene 5 is the scene where Romeo and Juliet first meet and where Tybalt swears revenge on Romeo. From that point and onwards, it was clear that the themes of love and hate will always affect to one another. Romeo and Juliet both have love for each other and their families, but the hatred between the two families is what that causes the couple to hate those who oppose their relationship. Hate is present because the couple’s illicit love is there to trigger it; therefore the two themes are always intertwined. As love is what that leads to the crucial hatred later on in the play. “My only love sprung from my only hate! Too early seen unknown, and known too late! Prodigious birth of love it is to me, That I must love a loathed enemy.”