The Theme of Violence in William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet
‘Romeo and Juliet’ is based on the story of two lovers who secretly
married and suddenly separated. It is an old story, much older than
Shakespeare’s play. The plot dates back as far as the third century.
The story then was a familiar one by the time Shakespeare came to
write it as a play.
Elizabethan audiences of Shakespeare’s time had different expectations
to us. When we go to the cinema or theatre, we expect an element of
novelty or invention in what we see. We don’t want it to be too
predictable. We criticise films for copying or ripping off others if
we feel they lack originality. Every single play written by
Shakespeare has sources in literature that date from earlier times.
Romeo and Juliet is based on a poem published in 1562 by Arthur Brooke
called ‘The Tragicall History of Romeo and Juliet’. The characters of
Mercutio and Tybalt are barely developed in Brooke’s version, but
Shakespeare makes them much more important figures. It is, after all,
Romeo’s attachment to Mercutio that forces him to take revenge. Around
the same time, Shakespeare was also writing ‘A Midsummer’s Night
Dream’. These plays have a lot in common, being strongly involved with
the theme of love.
For most of Shakespeare’s life, the reigning monarch was Queen
Elizabeth I. With her counsellors and ministers, she governed the
country. The role of women was simple: to be useful in a domestic
sense only. There was no need for women to be educated or independent.
Girls were seen as the property of their fathers – to be given away to
whoever there father wished. In the same way, when they got married
they were then the property of the husband. Women did not inherit
property or money. Anything they had was the official property of
either their father or their husband. Discipline of children was at
the parents’ discretion. An Elizabethan audience would have thought
nothing of beating or even whipping a disobedient child, boy or girl.
Children were expected to obey their parents unconditionally.
The play begins with Sampson and Gregory, who are joking about the
fact they’re superior to the Capulet’s and they are boasting about
their fighting and sexual abilities. ‘ A dog of the house of Montague
moves me’. When Sampson says this, he is insulting the Montague’s and
saying how they make him angry. An Elizabethan audience would have
enjoyed this part of the scene because it showed good impact and
violence. They would have loved the bawdy jokes and the action packed
first scene. The argument escalates at the entrance of Abram, a
servant of the Montague’s, when he points questions such as ‘Do you
bite your thumb at us, sir?’ he is defending the Capulet’s against the
Montage’s this quote means rude gesture in Elizabethan times, which