The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet isone that is still relevant today, both in its original form and in contemporaryreproductions. It has been argued as an inevitable injustice and a ‘paradox …in which the compulsion to love is a compulsion to die, and death is the pricefor an absolute’ (Levenson, 2008: 3). The cause cannot be stated easily andplaced on one villain, rather the accumulation of social expectations interwovenwith conflict, lead to the tragic, yet possible necessity, of Romeo and Juliet’sdeath. The ‘ancient grudge’ is a crucial theme that runs through the play (Prologue.3). Although the reason has not been established, it is evident that the feudshistorical customs, through generations, have been cemented in the charactersthoughts, responses and actions, impacting on the imminent tragedy. As Levensonstates ‘even the peacemaking Benvolio fights Tybalt as if by reflex’ (2008:31). Although subtle in some characters, the feud is particularly apparent in Mercutioand Tybalt.
It could be argued that Tybalt is the personification of conflict; Shakespeareuses images of hell to surround his character as he powerfully remarks ‘What,drawn and talk of peace? I hate the word/ As I hate hell, all Montagues, andthee’ (1.1.66-67). Through the use of rhetoric, the audience is reminded thatwith the existence of the feud between both houses peace cannot exist and with theconnotations of death and hate Tybalt’s character is a symbol of this.
Shakespearesuccessfully creates characters with depth, when exploring the onomatology of acharacter’s name; we can see they are either representative of their personalityor used ironically. Tybalt’s name is associated with the Prince of Cats,implying that he acts with sly, cunning and self-serving motives. Theassociation adds to our perception of his character and is reinforced when heseeks conflict, setting in motion a continuation of murder and death. It is inthe moment of Mercutio and Tybalt’s death that the peripeteia is formed,the feud becomes a reality, and the symbolic and thematic shift foreshadowsfurther tragedy. The comical language of puns is overthrown by revenge, andwith Romeo’s banishment we are given the insight that the love between him andJuliet is doomed. Mercutio, a loyal friend to Romeo, incites conflict andfemale degradation through torment, both with Tybalt and his sexualisation ofthe nurse. The origins of his name represent a character that is volatile andunpredictable.
His actions reflect his name, as he ‘is the leader of a highsocial status who takes the greatest risks’ resulting in his own death(Levenson, 2008: 23). In Juliet we see the greatest evolution of a character inthe play, as she initially portrays the ideal female in a patriarchalenvironment. However, over time she develops a sense of independence andindividuality, shown in Act Four, Scene Three as she is about to take thepotion in which she quotes ‘My dismal scene I needs must act alone’ (4.3.19).In this scene we see the rapid shift from youthful, adolescence to a brave andlonely maturity.
She is a victim of the feud that surrounds her, and as a resultshe acts in isolation. Romeo is not immune to the fatal consequences of theconflict. Part Two (AC 2.
2, 4.1, 4.2): Language, DramaticConventions (iambic pentameter, soliloquy/asides, sonnet, rhyme) and LiteraryTechniques We may see Romeo and Juliet as acliché, with a sentiment that has been both over used and exploited throughtime, however when we explore Shakespeare’s language, the considered andpurposeful use of dramatic conventions, we can see that there is a larger conceptthen that of love and death. The use of wordplay to ignite dramatic effect isparticularly evident in Juliet’s soliloquy in Act Four, Scene Three. Here,Shakespeare’s use of multivalent language is ‘over-loaded and astonishinglyrapid, giving the impression of a gushing torrent of connotation andassociation’, when we delve in to the words of the soliloquy we can see theyembody the representation of tragedy (Palfrey, 2011: 20). It can be recognisedthat the use of a soliloquy is significant in itself, ‘for it is, at its veryroots, a rhetorical activity’, reinforcing a strong emphasis on thehypothetical throughout (Palfrey, 2011: 254). This is evident in Juliet’scontinuous use of rhetorical questioning: ‘And there die strangled ere my Romeocomes?’ the repeated technique echoes both the state of her isolation and thefragility of her mind (4.3.
34). This too, reflects the audience’s instinctiveresponse to question the course of the tragedy, if only the patriarchalexpectations of arranged marriage and the destructive preoccupation of the feuddid not cause the barrier in communication between Juliet and her father, andconsequently her death. The powerful image of fear, death and desperation isimmediate when analysing the verse. The repetition of ‘fear’, ‘vault’, ‘bones’and ‘shroud’ resonate the foreshadowing of death and symbolise the place ofrest (4.3.27-52). Shakespeare’s continuation of repetition is an intriguing representationof the dominance and power that the masculine figure has over Juliet. Evidentin the repeated use of both ‘Romeo’ and ‘Tybalt’, they have a significantpresence in the soliloquy; despite their lack of literal presence, they stilldominate the entire text.
Upon seeing her ‘cousin’s ghost’ we get an insight into the manifestations of Juliet’s mind (4.3.54).
She describes Tybalt as’bloody … yet but green in earth’, the colour symbolism and the juxtaposingterm connotes the strong contrast between sanguinary, and death against rebirthand growth (4.3.41).
Showing her guilt that the death of one man she loved wascaused by the one she is hoping to start life with. The main concept ofJuliet’s fears are that of waking too early, stuck in a sealed vault with thedead before Romeo comes to rescue her, which we know to be ironic as she wakestoo late. The use of anthropomorphism gives power to the ‘vault’ as it iscompared to that of a living entity that can consume her, as she states ‘ShallI not then be stifled in the vault/ To whose foul mouth no healthsome airbreathes in’, while the antithesis of ‘foul’ and ‘healthsome’ heighten theconflict in Juliet’s mind (4.3.32-33). The definition can be further analysed,as the ambiguous metaphor can be argued as a representation of patriarchaloppression.
The ‘vault’ signifies male authority, and to be ‘stifled’ by itilluminates Juliet’s conflicting position (4.3.32-33).
Shakespeare illustrates sociolinguisticsconsistently throughout the play. Juliet’s soliloquy is formed using blankverse, lines of unrhymed iambic pentameter. The use of rhythm and metaphorical imageryreflect Juliet’s high social status, and her level of education. This level ofsuperiority is compounded when compared to the contrasting use of unembellishedprose we see in the servants’ speech. The excessive use of punctuation capturesthe anxiety that runs through the text, while the dismissal of rhyme gives themoment dignity and seriousness. The scene ends with the stage direction ‘shefalls upon her bed within the curtains’; on stage this would have produced adramatic ending to a dramatic scene (4.3.
58). It would provide the audience with’a visual foreshadowing that would result if the tomb were located in the spaceoccupied by the bed’ (Levenson, 2008: 316). Part Three (AC 1.1, 3.
1): Themes, Socio-Cultural/Historical Aspects and Setting/ ContextThe major theme that impacts on thetragic fate of Romeo and Juliet is that of conflict, as ‘the love that Julietshares with Romeo is a threat to the patriarchal system of family and state’ (Levenson,2008: 40). During Elizabethan times the hierarchy of men was a social norm andCapulet is the microcosm of masculine power at the head of the family. Whenthis is challenged we are presented with his brutality, through degradinglanguage and threats to dismiss Juliet from the family entirely. He remarks ‘Hangthee, young baggage, disobedient wretch!’ the repetition of ‘baggage’ withinthe scene amplify the ownership Capulet feels he has over his daughter, as hecompares her to an inanimate object with connotations of being a burden (3.5.
159).Within this act there is no understanding in the alternating sides of dialogue,Capulet dominates the discussion, and there is ‘a silent chasm bespeakingabsolute discommunication’ (Palfrey, 2011: 136). Juliet’s position would not beso desperate without patriarchal influence, which lies in the ‘notions ofwoman’s inferior place’ (Keeble, 2004: 116). This is compounded by the use andrepetition of phallic imagery. Juliet refers to ‘a fearful point’ and the’dagger’, to place ‘fearful’ in direct correlation to the phallic imagery thepower of patriarchy is reinforced (4.3.
22-31). The torment surrounding Juliet’sdecision to question her initial female role, one that is simply expected fromsocial conditioning, again, ignites the reader with her fear of doing so. Thepatriarchal conventions, however, are reinstated as ‘Juliet’s insubordinationis punished … Juliet does not get away with her rebellion’ (Keeble, 2004:116).Prince Escalus represents theauthority and power Verona has over its people.
He attempts to enforce the principlesof regulation and law, which society dictates will naturally evolve and changeover time, to control the feuding houses that live by traditional values. Inthe sixteenth century violence was a common feature of life, ‘civil disordererupted in town and countryside until the turn of the century’ and when QueenElizabeth enforced policies to reduce this, the result was not entirelyeffective as ‘street outbreaks persisted and the number of recorded duels …jumped’ (Palfrey, 2011: 35). Shakespeare’s characterisation of the Prince as anineffective enforcer of the law, coupled with public duelling, almost directlyreflects the political standing during Elizabethan time and society’s rebellionagainst it.