William Shakespeare wrote the prologue making sure that tragic predestination was successful to introduce the conflicts of the play. The prologue is an Elizabethan sonnet which builds up the themes of death, conflict, love and fate. “Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean,” here the audience is told that the civilians in the story fight till someone is injured badly. Elizabethans believed in astrology and throughout the whole prologue, they talk about fate telling us that there are going to be some deaths which cannot be prevented. Using such an effect tortures the audience by keeping them in suspense and asking questions.
The constant reminder of death being fate in the story, is presented in different ways. “Star-crossed lovers take their life;” meaning two lovers are destined for death. The prologue allows the audience to know something that the characters don’t. This is called dramatic irony and Shakespeare uses this efficiently to be sure that he has not give the story away so obviously. “Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife.” Romeo and Juliet’s love is the only thing that will stop the family feud.
At the beginning of the first scene, two servants from the Capulet’s house stumble in. Being young men, Sampson and Gregory use sexual puns. “Maidenheads”, Sampson says this in a bawdy manner and means that he will take the maids’ virginity. Two serving-men from the Montague’s house walked by and then Sampson said, “I will bite my thumb at them,” in the Elizabethan times, “biting your thumb” at someone was considered an extremely rude gesture. From this point forth, the scene escalates into a riot with Tybalt, Benvolio (Romeo’s friend), the officer, the Montagues and the Capulets and finally Prince all entering the scene. In a public place familiar to both families, the officer says “Down with the Capulets! Down with the Montagues!” A sense of conflict built up through the start of the scene because of the two young men from the Capulet’s house showing too much bravado.
Love creating the biggest conflict in the story, many sonnets are constructed in the first act. These are very appropriate to the story and also link to the Elizabethan theme. Shakespeare creates a sense of conflict through Romeo’s language. Shakespeare uses many antitheses to reveal to the audience how confused Romeo’s emotions are. Romeo uses oxymoron’s in his speech to show how depressed he is feeling. “Feather of lead” explains that his heart used to be very light and happy but has now turned heavy because of his unrequited love for Roseline. “Where underneath the groves of the sycamore,” sycamore can be connected to love. If you separate the word into syc-amore (sick-amour) it would mean that he is sick of love. “Sick health” means that he is very healthy on the outside and feels better outside, however within himself he feels sick of his love for Roseline. Romeo’s experience of youthful infatuation is expressed through the oxymorons of love. He thinks he is no love with Rosaline but in reality, he is just in love with the idea of being in love.
On the other hand, Romeo’s sincere love towards Juliet also creates conflict in the story. At the scene of the ball, Romeo and Juliet both meet for the first time and both fall in love with one another. “O she doth teach the torches to burn bright.” Love at first sight makes Romeo feel very passionate towards Juliet and he describes her like she lights up the room with her beauty. “So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows,” of all the girls Romeo has seen, Juliet stands out among them all. Shakespeare uses dramatic irony here, as the audience knows that Romeo is part of the Montague family and Juliet is part of the Capulet family. Not realising that Juliet is a Capulet, Romeo considers her to be “Like a rich jewel” which shows that she is precious to him. For the first time, Romeo has fallen in love with someone and therefore he praises her like she is an angel from heaven, using religious language: “holy palmers'”, “saints lips”. “gentle sin”.
Shakespeare develops a few characters’ behaviours and personalities throughout the story, adding to the family conflict going on. Tybalt, a bitter member of the Capulet family causes many conflicts in the first act. Tybalt’s entrance tells the audience that he is a very disruptive character, “Have at thee coward!” And “As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee.” Tybalt does not sound very compromising which therefore adds to the conflict between the families. Benvolio describes Tybalt as “fiery” which allows the audience to understand the way in which the other characters from the Montague family see him as. Once again, at the masked ball when he sees Romeo, “Fetch my rapier, boy.” Even before talking Tybalt decides he needs to get into a fight so there is no chance to calm down. Tybalt’s appearance in the story creates tension which builds to conflict. “To strike him dead I hole it not a sin.” Such aggressive words are used by Tybalt.
During the conflicting scenes between the Montagues and the Capulets, Shakespeare introduces a peace maker in the scenes to reduce the friction. When Tybalt tries to break into a fight in the first riot of the story, Benvolio turns out to be the peace maker. Although there are many conflicting scenes in the story, Shakespeare attempts to keep the audience thinking that not everyone is full of rage and anger with the other family. Benvolio means kind and good will, and just like his name, he ends up being the peace maker of the first scene.
In addition, Prince (the person who Lady Capulet wishes her daughter, Juliet to get married to) arrives as the peace maker in the first scene to state the pointlessness of the conflict. The Prince being of high class, states without fear how unruly both families are being and he explains the fact that the Montagues “Have thrice disturbed the quiet of our streets.” The Prince’s speech is important as the audience know that even “Verona’s ancient citizens” have seen both families argue and are fed up of it.
In the Elizabethan times, women were a big cause of conflict because they had low status and didn’t have much of a say because the males dominated the society. However in ‘Romeo and Juliet’, Shakespeare uses the women of the houses to become the peacemakers. Shakespeare contrasts the women of this story to the Elizabethan women because in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ the women of the house seem to have stopped the argument by explaining that there is no reason for physical fights when sorting something out, “Why call you for a sword” and “Thou shall not stir one foot to seek a foe.”
Another method of conflict that Shakespeare has used to illustrate conflict was the ages of characters. “She hath not seen the change of fourteen years.” Juliet has not turned fourteen yet Lady Capulet is set on getting her married to Paris. In the Elizabethan times this was normal and so the audience would not have found this a surprise. “Younger than she are happy mothers made.” Paris says this as it is a fact and tries to come round Capulet in allowing Juliet to get married at the age of thirteen. Although Capulet is against Juliet getting married at a small age because “too soon marred are those so early made.” He still encourages Paris to keep faith and that he has nothing against Juliet courting Paris, “But woo her gentle Paris, get her heart/My will to her consent is but a part/And she agreed, within her scope of choice.” On the other hand, Lady Capulet is very fond of Paris as she uses metaphors to describe him. “This precious book of love,” Lady Capulet says this in a manner that she persuades Juliet to get married to him. Because Lady Capulet likes Paris, she uses an extended metaphor to convince Juliet that he is the one. The talk of “golden book” is used to picture him as an intellectual person with his knowledge of the world around them.
In conclusion, conflict is caused in all scenes from different characters and aspects. Shakespeare has used a wide range of language mechanisms to build up the “ancient grudge” through the first act. The prologue; the first scene where the two young men of the Capulet’s house cause mayhem; love; language; age; status. These are just a few of the many ways in which Shakespeare has developed to give the audience a clear image of the conflict which will grow later. Of all the other reasons for conflict, I think the biggest key conflict is the anger and rivalry between the two households because this is what triggers off every other conflict in the story. “From ancient grudge break to new mutiny.”