The main question that rises is why this play has been performed on stage for so long. The story consists of two star-crossed ‘ lovers who fall in love at first sight. For generations people saw this play as a reflection of their own life and experiences. Shakespeare parts in the play to prepare the audience for later events and this may have proved why it has been such a success. I think that Shakespeare created a play like this to show people that ancient grudges can become very dangerous and that they can lead to tragedy, as they did in this. Showing the audience that violence and feud never work out well. He also may have used the final outcome to present a moral meaning and to show his audience that good overcomes evil.
We are told the outline of the story at the very start in the prologue and shown that the inevitable will happen and that the two lovers in the play will kill themselves, “a pair of star-crossed lovers take their life.” This shows that the destiny or fate of the two lovers has already been decided. The prologue for a modern day audience would spoil the whole play but back in the days of Shakespeare the audiences were far more ruthless and some would even throw rotten food at the actors. So, by making this prologue it would increase the suspense and the audience would know that they were in for a good play. Shakespeare uses the prologue to outline the main events but also to introduce major themes of the play.
Throughout we are exposed to a variety of different themes. At the beginning of the play in scene 1 we are immediately immersed into a theme of hatred and conflict between the two sides. The audience is shown the extent of the feud right at the beginning, “I will cut off their heads,” Shakespeare would used the violet conflict at the beginning in the hope of building suspense and showing the possible dangers. We know that this theme will have an important role in the play, as indicated in the prologue; “From forth the fatal loins of these two foes.” By using these themes of feud and violence it is easy for us to link it to death and danger and I think that Shakespeare is preparing the audience for the worst through the use of these. The theme appears in many scenes as we progress through the novel and we learn the risk which is associated with the relationship between the two lovers. Shakespeare may also have included the use of these throughout to create a large contrast and allow love to seem stronger
Another major theme presented throughout the play and probably the most important is love. The first time we are presented with the theme of love is in scene 3 were Paris posses the love of Juliet but this isn’t true love rather just the love of her name. Romeo’s love for Rosaline is simply superficial, childish infatuation, and I think that these two incidents provide a build up for the real dangerous love to come. This theme of love is presented in a superior, overwhelming form, and Shakespeare may have been trying to show the audience that this love is not ordinary, preparing them for strange or unexpected events to follow.
Fate also plays an important role in Romeo and Juliet, the audience is exposed to this in the prologue at the start, “a pair of star-crossed lovers,” indicating that they are cursed and something bad will result. I think that Shakespeare used this constant sense of fate in the play as a moral meaning to show the audience that some things are meant to happen. I also think that use of fate in the novel prepares the audience for the final outcome and it does not make it seem so bad.
Shakespeare uses a contrast of lighting in the play and uses this to symbolise different feelings and moods. They also highlight the conflicts in the play, “more light and light, more dark and dark our woes.” When there is a continued use of darkness it adds to the feeling of sorrow and danger. Shakespeare may have used this contrast in the hope of showing a completely different perspective, he also may have used the idea of darkness to prepare the audience for danger. The idea of brightness and colour is often used alongside the theme of love and by using this it is giving the audience a false sense of hope and using trickery.
These key themes show important indications of events which are to happen latter in the play. In act 1 we are presented with numerous indications of hatred and consequences which will arise further on. Shakespeare opens the play with an immediate impact on the audience showing the hostility between the two sides, “as I hate hell, all Montague’s and thee,” These compelling pieces of resentment give the audience a sense of how hard it will be for Romeo and Juliet to have a relationship that will run smoothly. Shakespeare may have used these opening lines in the hope of giving the audience a glimpse of future conflict and violence. This idea of conflict and feud is backed up through the use of, “your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace,” expressing even more danger while showing that this feud may end up in death, adding to the overall suspense Shakespeare is building. This idea of future grief is strengthened further, “Black and portentous must this humour prove,” which is indicating to the audience that the relationship between the two families will have consequences in the future.
Shakespeare presents more future indications with the use of scene 4. At the start Romeo shows the importance of love using a question to present the idea that love can bound you and not let go, it also shows how it can torment your feelings, “is love a tender thing? It is too rough, too rude, too boisterous and it pricks like a thorn.” It may also have been used to inform the audience of the capability of love and the potential danger it can carry. “Being but heavy I will bear the light,” another important phrase showing that even if he is sad he will still carry on, however, with reference to the prologue we know that this is not the case, “a pair of star-crossed lovers take their life.” Probably the most important sentence referring to the future in scene 4 is Romeo’s line; “But ’tis not wit to go,” a prolepsis – a direct hint towards the future which is relevant to the present. Further through the book we realise how important and defining this quote is and it is as if Romeo has some strange sense which is warning him of the consequences which will follow. Shakespeare may have used this quote to show the audience that it was no coincidence that Romeo and Juliet met and it was planned from the beginning.
Towards the end of the scene Romeo speaks eight lines which have great relevance to the future and contain a variety of metaphors, Romeo speaks these lines with a hidden meaning, Shakespeare may have wanted to use these lines to prepare the audience further for death or tragedy which will occur later in the play “shall bitterly begin his fearful date,” Romeo is most likely to be referring to the day he dies, he also shares the idea that somehow the duration of their life or relationship is cut short , “expire the term,” But despite these premonitions Romeo goes ahead and enters the Capulet’s house giving us the impression that Romeo is not in full control of his life and he may be making rash decisions, Shakespeare most likely used this to show the audience that careless judgements may occur in the future. There is also the impression that Romeo is being guided by God, “But he who steerage of my course.”
Scene 5 is when the lovers first meet and it is used to show the audience how quickly the love between the two is rapidly building. In lines 41-50 the audience is presented with Romeo in a dreamy and obsessed mood as Romeo throws many complements to Juliet which are cheesy. Shakespeare may have used this sense of obsession gives a slight hint towards any impulsive, rash or emotional behaviour to follow. Shakespeare may be using these lines to build a false sense of security and persuading the audience that the final outcome will be a happy one. However he uses a strong contrast to rule out this, “To strike him dead I hold not a sin,” he also may have used this quote in the hope of showing that this relationship will be kept in secret. We are also given another quote which is preparing the audience for negative outcomes in the future, “Patience perforce with wilful choler meeting,” indicating that the presence of Romeo will lead to consequences.
When Romeo sees Juliet he is overwhelmed by her beauty, “She doth teach the torches to burn bright,” telling us that Juliet’s beauty is much brighter than that of the torches – so she is very beautiful. Meaning that she is so much brighter that she teaches the torches how, since torches can’t really be taught, it shows the exaggeration of Romeo’s feelings. Shakespeare probably used this to give the audience a sense of how attached Romeo is becoming. It is important for Romeo to say this, as the audience usually could not see Juliet’s beauty directly – in Shakespeare’s theatre a young boy would have played Juliet. But the metaphor also tells us that it is night, as Romeo can see the torches he compares her to. As the play is performed in daylight, it allows the audience to imagine this, letting the play be more memorable.
Romeo opens the next part of scene 5 with a sonnet. The sonnet uses a wide range of imagery with deep hidden meanings. Romeo describes his lips as “two blushing pilgrims,” a pilgrim is the word used to describe a person that visits a holy place to worship. So in this sonnet, Romeo is the pilgrim who is devoted to Juliet, which Shakespeare is using to show the audience that he will worship her and do anything for her. By saying that his lips are “two blushing pilgrims,” Romeo is using a religious metaphor to show their feelings for each other. Shakespeare is also using hints indicating that he should love her like an idol ‘Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?” This is giving the audience a sense of how devastating it would be for Romeo if anything happened to Juliet. The overall feeling about this sonnet shows this obsessive love between the two however it may also contain a hidden meaning, since it refers to biblical times. Shakespeare is most likely to have used this sonnet to prepare the audience for later events like death.
Shakespeare prepares us for future events by flooding the scene with anger alongside the lover’s impulsive love. Romeo recognises that Juliet is from the Capulet house and he realises how difficult it will be for him, “Is she a Capulet? O dear account! My life is my foe’s debt,” Shakespeare is using this to show the audience that this situation will arise to serious consequences and even death. Shakespeare also reveals that Romeos name is Juliet’s enemy and that this trivial thing could have a serious ending, “my only love sprung from my only hate,” he is building the audience’s sense of dread even further. He builds this sense further, “my grave is like to be my wedding-bed,” showing that they will only be happy in death.
Throughout the play Shakespeare adds in the use of Oxymoron’s to put together opposite meanings. The oxymoron of ‘sweet sorrow’ illustrates perfectly Juliet’s passion and devotion towards Romeo, ‘Parting is such sweet sorrow,’ Shakespeare may be showing the audience that they will do anything for each other in the hope that the audience realises this will lead to bad events.
In act 2 scene 2 Shakespeare shows the audience how viciously the love between the two is growing, “O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?” He could be using this to give the audience the impression that everything will be alright because of their chemistry, but it could also be hinting that this obsession could lead to a disaster. Throughout this scene Shakespeare uses quotes to trick the audience into a false sense of security, which is allowing them to be more optimistic, “It is the east, and Juliet is the sun,” showing that Juliet’s beauty lightens the world. Shakespeare also uses this scene to show the audience the reason why the tragedy is going to take place, he explains that it is only Romeo’s name which is putting him in so much danger, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” he is using this to tell the audience that we should not base our opinions or actions on something so irrelevant like a name.
In the play, Shakespeare makes the Friar out to seem wise and trusted and this sense of trust allows the audience to believe what he says. He gives him many important lines which give reference to the future. In scene 3 Shakespeare uses the Friar to foreshadow their eventual deaths and the strife between the rival families, “these violent delights have violent ends and in their triumph die, like fire and powder.”
The theme of feud and death reappears in act 3 scene 1. In this scene the events which have been predicted earlier are set in motion, Shakespeare uses the scene to show that audience that the prologue has become true, building a sense of dread and suspense. When Mercutio has been injured Shakespeare uses the phrase, “a plague on both your houses,” however he shows the significance of this by repeating it three times. He used this to prepare the audience to show that something bad will happen to both households as a result of this bitterness. After Mercutio has left the scene Tybalt is beaten by Romeo, immediately after Romeo does this he cries out, “O I am fortunes fool!” this has made Mercutio earlier phrase true and Shakespeare shows the audience that this will not be a happy ending this is backed up by an ending sentence, “This day’s black fate on more days doth depend:
This but begins the woe others must end.”
Shakespeare uses these later scenes to back up the prologue in the hope of showing the audience how desperate the tragedy was and by giving a glimpse of how sad it would have been, so he is allowing the audience to fill the actor’s shoes. This allows the play to be more significant and it lets it seem more realistic, “O woe! O woeful, woeful, woeful day!”
Great meaning is added to the play in the closing scenes. Shakespeare uses these last few scenes not only to make true the earlier predictions but to present a moral meaning to the audience. He uses poison to represent death it also gives a heightened sense of fear. Shakespeare shows that fate did not play a part in the play and that Romeo made his decisions out of free will “Then I defy you, stars!” He says this when Juliet is dead and he says that he will go against fate by joining Juliet in death, which is adding to the increased sorrow and grief.
The play is rounded off showing the audience that peace has resulted between the two families as a result of Romeo and Juliet’s death. “For never was a story of more woe
than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”
Even though the final outcome of this play may be a depressing and sad one, it fits with the earlier predictions earlier in the play. The way Shakespeare has prepared us through earlier hints it does not seem as sad and it allows the audience to accept the outcome better. The end also presents us with the thought that ancient grudges do not solve anything but instead make matters worse.
I think that the use of these hints and indications of future events allowed the play to be a lot more than a tragedy. They increased the suspense and led to more drama. The play of Romeo and Juliet showed the brilliance of Shakespeare and there is no wonder why he is one of the most famous playwrights of all time.