‘Romeo and Juliet’ by William Shakespeare is a tragedy set in Verona, Italy in the fifteenth century. The play concerns two families, who from the start show a bitter feudal tradition. The Capulets and the Montagues persistently fight in the streets in the public eye. When the prince comes to break up the ‘fray’ he forebodes the tragic events to follow ‘if ever you disturb our streets again, your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace’. Although the prince refers to the charge of death if the ‘quarrel’ is repeated the audience can sense the uncertainty and that somebody will die before this happens. In the end the ‘starcross’d lovers’ deaths ultimately unite their feuding families.
The play is one, which has universal themes such as love, forbidden love across cultures, hate, violence and the principle of fate and chance. ‘Romeo and Juliet’ portrays the chaos and passion of being in love combining images of violence, death and especially family values. For example the idea that men owned their women ‘you be mine and I’ll give you to my friend’
Elizabethan women lived in an extremely patriarchal society, which could be the blame of Romeo and Juliet’s deaths. Some critics say that the responsibility of the feud was the masculine code of violence to put things right. We know that at the time the only power a woman like Juliet had, was over her death. The fact that she refuses to marry Paris would have shown the disobedience, which was rare for an Elizabethan girl. The dramatic irony of this is that the audience knows why she would do such a thing, the audience know she is married already; if she were to enter bigamy, the belief would have been that she would be damned to hell.
The sense of foreboding is present form the start. In the prologue it is clear what the focus of the play is about. The ‘ancient grudge’ seems to be the foundation of the conflict between older generations, which has been passed down to the children through centuries. Romeo and Juliet eventually ‘take their life’ because of the parents selfish ‘rage’. Ultimately their deaths are ironically the unity of their families who started the conflict in the first place.
From the opening of the play the audience see that the houses truly despise each other but with no apparent reason. ‘A dog of the house of Montague moves me’ Samson refers to the servants of Montague. By calling them dogs he demoralises them and makes him seem more important.
Shakespeare establishes the violence and conflict at the opening of the play with ‘The quarrel is between our masters and us their men’ this reveals the atmosphere of violence and the way it has manifested and become an element of Verona’s society. The first word of Tybalt, whom I believe is one of the most violent characters in the play are ‘what art thou drawn among these heartless hinds? Turn thee Benvolio, look upon thy death’. Death being one of the central images throughout the play.
After the fight the prince’s advice...