Although it is a play about love, there are many scenes that certainly contain violence and conflict. The play opens with a fight and ends with the tragic death. In this essay I will discuss the historical background of Shakespeare, and the three violent scenes in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ (act1, scene1 and act3, scene1 and act3, scene5).
‘Romeo and Juliet’ was written by William Shakespeare and first performed in the globe theatre. It is set in the sixteenth century. Elizabeth I was ruling at the time. She loved the theatres. People in the sixteenth century were fond of any sort of entertainment. They liked watching bear bating, cock fighting and executions. It was important for Shakespeare to make his plays as exciting as possible, because the puritans (strict Christians) closed the globe theatre down, because they thought it was sinful, they would call the theatre the school of Satan. So poor people had to travel to another town to see any plays, so if the plays weren’t exciting then they would waste money and won’t go and see the other plays.
Shakespeare mocked rich and higher classed people, as this was the sort of theme poor people liked, so ‘Romeo and Juliet’ would also be a good play to them as they also liked higher class feuds and there is a lot of violence in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ concerning higher class people.
Although ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is a tragedy, the opening scene is full of humour; Sampson and Gregory are joking with each other by teasing. They do this by using puns. This is when one word can have two meanings it is ambiguous. Sampson and Gregory use puns to humour themselves.
“No, for then we should be colliers.”(Gregory) “And we be in choler” (Sampson). The puns are the two underlined words. They sound the same but have different meanings. Often on stage puns become increasingly rude and vulgar, it would’ve also lead to violence. In the opening scene the readers see Sampson stirring a fight, “we’ll draw” and Gregory making violent cocky,
“Ay while you live, draw your neck out of collar.” Sampson’s quote means draw your sword and Gregory s quote means take your neck out of your collar (as he I s calling him a coward.)
Humour violence is achieved through puns but the violence between the two households (Capulet and Montague) is gained by the use of repetition. Repetitive language creates an atmosphere in this case it causes a violent atmosphere, “Do you bite your thumb at us sir? I do bite my thumb sir, do you bite your thumb at us sir? I do not bite my thumb at you sir, but I bite my thumb sir,”
This quote gives readers the impression that something bad is going to stir up, because it feels like they are quarrelling.
Benvolio arrives at the scene to calm things down and with the help of Tybalt they could’ve accomplished that but Tybalt hates peace and starts fighting, “what drawn and talk of peace? I hate the word, as I hate hell, all Montague’s and thee: have at thee coward.”
The prince in the play is also violent but he is violent to stop people from getting killed or injured. The prince in the play is prepared to take the lives of the households to stop the feud, “if ever you disturb our streets again; your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace…” this means that if there is another public fight between the two households, then one of their lives shall be taken to make peace.
Other than repetitive language Shakespeare uses oxymorons in this scene (where opposite words are put in a sentence). He uses oxymorons for Romeos conflict with his past girlfriend Roselin, Romeo was meant to make love to her but she refused and ended up with both of them splitting up. Romeo comes back and is confused about what he say’s, “…should without eyes, see pathways to his will… here’s much to do with hate, but more with love; o brawling love, feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health… this love feel I, that feel no love in this.” this quote shows us that he is very distressed and confused because he is saying what he feels inside using oxymoron’s, because you can’t have ‘cold fire’ or ‘feather of lead’, so this gives the readers the impression that he is mixed up and confused.
The setting in this scene is very dangerous and also adds to the atmosphere. The fight scene takes place in Verona town square, in the market. This is a good setting because it shows the readers how bad the fight is because women and children are at risk of their lives.
The characters in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ are all violent. There are no peacekeepers amongst them all apart from the prince and Romeo, but they turn to violence. The prince turns violent by saying he will kill the head of the households if there is another fight, but that itself is a form of peace, because then there will be no fights.
Romeo turns to violence when mercutio dies, readers can see this when Romeo says, “Thy beauty hath made me effeminate, and in my temper soften’d valous steel.” Romeo then goes to kill Tybalt and by killing Tybalt Romeo had a price to pay when the prince him to exile from Verona, “let Romeo hence in haste, else, when he is found, that hour is his last.” These consequences are terrible, because it means that Romeo cannot see Juliet anymore.
Shakespeare has tried to make Benvolio a peacekeeper, but the audience can see him as an inciter to violence. We see this information from what mercutio say’s before he fights Tybalt, “thou art like one of these fellows, that when he enters the confines of a tavern, claps me his sword on the table, and says, god send me no need of thee: and by the operation of the second cup, draws him on the drawer, when indeed there is no need.”
This quote means that he is like one of those men, who goes home, sits down, puts his knife on the table, and hopes to god there is no need to use it, but being two faced he picks it up and uses it when not needed. Benvolio proves this quote by saying in act3, scene 1, “I pray thee good mercutio lets retire, the day is hot, the Capulets abroad and if we meet we shall not scape a brawl.” Here he says lets go home before Capulets come, (trying to keep peace), but when mercutio is at dual with Tybalt he says, “we talk here in public haunt of men; either withdraw into some private place.” Here he means stop let’s go to a private place and carry on the fight, so that isn’t peace keeping. The readers find mercutio a joker of the bunch but when things go down he gets serious. For example, when Tybalt arrives, mercutio says, “by my heel I care not.” This shows the audience that he is not afraid to fight him, because mercutio doesn’t care about Tybalt. The readers also see him as a joker when he calls Tybalt a “rat-catcher”, which is a sort of insult, because Tybalt calls himself, “king of all cats”, but when mercutio gets stabbed by Tybalt, they still think he is joking because he says, “ay ay ay a scratch a scratch”, so the readers think that he is alright until he says, “a plague o’both houses”, which he is now in a serious mood, because of this silly feud, his life has now been taken, and mercutio is now cursing both houses. His language reflects how he feels; but the violence can be seen in his wordplay.
Readers can see that Tybalt maintains violence because throughout the whole play Tybalt remains in a negative mood, because he was embarrassed when the Montague’s arrived at the Capulets party and he wasn’t allowed to kick them out, so ever since then he has been in a violent mood. In the play readers also see that he doesn’t like the fact that Romeo a Montague is going out with Juliet, a Capulet and to make him more of a villain, he gets really frustrated and wants to kill Romeo. We see this when he arrives and asks for a duel, he first says, “here comes my man”, which makes the readers sure that he has come after Romeo, and then he tells Romeo,
“Boy this shal not excuse the injuries that thou hast done me, therefore turn and draw”, which means that Romeo can not excuse for what he has done to him, so he must turn around and fight. This was after Romeo tells him that he has to love him, because they are now cousins, because they have just eloped. This also tells us hat he is now crazy and still wants to kill. Act3, scene1, just shows how he maintains the violence.
In act 3, scene 5 the readers see that problems have occurred to Juliet, because her husband Romeo has now been banished from Verona to Mantua, because he is wanted for the death of Tybalt her cousin and her parents lord and lady Capulet want her to marry Paris (a wealthy, good looking character who is at the party in act 1, scene 2), but she refuses. We see this problem solved through violence. When lady Capulet tells Juliet that she has to marry Paris on Thursday, “marry my child, early next Thursday morn”, she then refuses, “I will not marry yet…” lord Capulet then enters thinking that she has said yes, but then gets the impression that she has said no by lady Capulet commenting, “I would the fool marry to her grave”, which means I wish she were dead. Here they should offer help and support, but they straight away go to hate, “doth she not count her blest unworthy as she is”, here lord Capulet is saying doesn’t she thank me for blessing her Paris she is unworthy.
The audience can see that there is hate where love should be.
The audience then see that Juliet is then verbally abused and forced into marriage with Paris; readers see this through the violent verbal outburst of lord Capulet, “green sickness carrion out you baggage”, which means in a nasty way you repulsive rotting dead flesh out you heavy load. As Capulet says, ‘sickness’, in that quote I makes the audience feel as if he is spitting while talking, another quote for this point is, “hang thee young baggage, disobedient wretch, I tell thee what, get thee to church on Thursday, or never after look me in the face.” So he has now made the decision for her, if she doesn’t come to church on Thursday then she cannot be a part of his family ever again
Before he leaves he uses a wide range of violent language, “hang, beg, starve, die in the streets,” here lord Capulet makes it look like he is just about to throw her out, but if she doesn’t arrive then this quote simply means that she won’t be part of his family and if she is starving, dying or even being hung on the streets, he wouldn’t careless.
In conclusion to this Shakespeare introduces violence and conflict in many ways. He introduces it by using different types of language. He uses puns- which are two words which sound the same but have two different meanings, repetition- using the same words more than twice, and oxymorons- words that are the opposites put next to each other, i.e. ‘cold fire’ – these types of language help the reader to imagine how it is to be in the characters position, like Romeo and his conflict. When he uses oxymorons it straight away makes the reader feel confused the way Romeo is feeling in the book. The language that Shakespeare uses makes the audience and the reader find the violence physical, emotional and verbal, the reason for this play being a tragic romance.