Walk down a busy high street today in England and almost everybody will have heard of those two famous names, “Romeo and Juliet.” A twisted love affair between two sparring families, this very famous Shakespearean play was one of the cornerstones of British culture today. Riddled with its main themes of love, tragedy and violence, the celebrated story is still just as current today as it was back then, and is still incredibly effective in many ways.
Performed throughout theatres nationwide in the Elizabethan era, the play has been altered quite dramatically through the years, as has the perception of the audience. The Elizabethan theatre was a place of social gathering, with a very lively atmosphere and at times so loud it was almost impossible to hear the actors; the play itself was seen as a backdrop, with more attention focused on socializing. However, the contemporary audience see the play in a whole new light. With much more importance put onto the play, they may find the highly dramatic storyline and plot devices much more exuberant than other more modern plays.
One of the most vivid scenes of the play is Act One Scene 5, where the Capulets host a huge ball in their home. As talked about in the previous scenes, the audiences’ expectations of the party are quite high; lots of tension and excitement has been created, especially as we see Romeo and his companions getting ready to crash the party in the preceding scene. The scene begins with a huge rabble of servants and musicians preparing busily for the celebrations. This is a good way of creating tension as a busy atmosphere forecasts the busy night ahead. We can see the hectic mood develop when after a short burst of orders between the first and second servant, the first servant declares, “You are looked for and called for”, with which the second cries “We cannot be here and there too.” This shows the frenzied situation the servants are in, building tension as their chaotic actions provide an idea of excitement to the audience. As a director, to create maximum effectiveness, it would be good to have masses of servants on the stage at one time, providing a busy atmosphere and a dramatic opening to the party.
This atmosphere continues as Capulet takes to the stage, as he welcomes the guests with quite an excited and boyish nature. Beginning his speech, Capulet speaks quite excitedly, shouting and reminiscing about old times as he welcomes guests into the party. Repeating the words “’tis gone” and “Welcome gentleman!” 3 times, truly depicts how elated he is, as he rambles about childhood memories and how thrilling the party will be. The joyful mood he emits adds to the overall atmosphere of excitement, which is quite effective as when the music starts to play the audience begins to feel a part of the entertainment.
As soon as the party gets underway and the excited atmosphere has built, Shakespeare completely changes the mood of the scene by welcoming on Romeo, as he sets eyes on Juliet. The mood changes from a stimulating to a romantic one, as Romeo first sees Juliet. This is done in many ways, for instance the structure of the passage changes; in Romeos speech the structure follows a strict AABB rhyme scheme, completely common with romantic structures in the Elizabethan era, whereas before Capulet’s speech was erratic and unorganised, with no rhyme scheme or structure, showing the excitement he is feeling. Also the fact that Romeo uses romantic imagery such as “Beauty too rich for use” and “I ne’er saw true beauty till this night” brings forward a more romantic mood. This boosts the tension in the audience as they know something Romeo does not; that Juliet is on the rivalling family. This dramatic irony, teamed with Romeos romantic imagery provides a huge change in tension and atmosphere.
Romeo uses many poetic devices in his speech, one of which is oxymorons, to represent his love for Juliet. He begins by stating that she is a “rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear” and that she’s a “snowy dove trooping with crows”. The first oxymoron would be seen as quite radical in Elizabethan times, as an “Ethiope” – a black person – was seen as the lowest and poorest class in society, and for Juliet to be a rich jewel for a black person, something quite uncommon in those times, would mean she must be extremely rare and beautiful. The second oxymoron is very effective in showing that Juliet outshines the other girls at the party, as doves are seen as pure and beautiful, whereas crows are uglier and less pure. The dove is a symbol of peace and purity, and also fits in with some religious imagery; in the story of Noah’s Ark the two doves were sent out as messengers of peace. This religious imagery not only made Juliet seem pure and heavenly, but also identified with the Elizabethan audience as the majority of the audience were religious and understood the purity of Juliet. This puts her on a pedestal, thus showing his intense love for Juliet, even though he has only just seen her.
Again the mood changes completely as Shakespeare introduces another new beat; minutes after a romantic rhyme by Romeo, Tybalt appears, with anger very close to his heart. With almost automatic threats towards Romeo, Tybalt asks his servant to get his sword- “Fetch me my rapier, boy”. This extreme action after only seconds of seeing Romeo creates a whirlwind of tension, as a fetching of swords means there will be a fight ahead. It was dramatically effective to change the mood and atmosphere of the scene very quickly at the time, as it would keep the audience interested in the play; Elizabethan theatres needed to keep everything on the stage exciting and different to keep the audience focused on the performance. Also, seeing as in Elizabethan theatres the audience was a wide range of class, age, gender and religion, it was a good idea to involve all types of mood to appeal to the differing types of people.
Later on into the scene, one of the most important interactions in the play occurs – when Romeo and Juliet first meet. Talking in sonnet form, Romeo and Juliet use a lot of religious imagery to express their love towards each other. Romeo refers to Juliet’s hand as a “holy shrine” and his lips as “two blushing pilgrims”. Romeo referring to her hand as a “holy shrine” would have been very shocking in Elizabethan times as religion was a very big aspect of their lives and culture, and saying that a girl you have just met is a holy shrine could show the profundity and strength of his feelings towards her, especially as comparing a young girl to something so sacred would show the audience how serious he was about Juliet. However, this religious language could be seen as shocking and disrespectful. At the time it was written, the Elizabethan population were densely religious; therefore using a huge amount of blasphemous language would outrage and shock the public. This could be used to grab the audiences’ attention, but could also turn others away as disrespecting ones religion might make them leave the theatre. This would make Shakespeare more unpopular, but also more extraordinary and different to other playwrights in that time.
The sonnet structure also adds to the romantic effect of Romeo and Juliet’s meeting. Sonnets were considered the poetry of love in Elizabethan times, with many poets conversing in sonnets including Shakespeare. As one of the most popular forms of love literature, lots of the audience in Shakespeare’s time would recognise and appreciate the sonnet, and would understand the love between Romeo and Juliet.
Nevertheless, what appears to be “true love” between these two youngsters may not be as it seems; is this relationship true love or true lust? The fact that both Romeo and Juliet use words such as “dear” and “good” whilst speaking religiously – “holy palmer” – could show that even though they have just met they are destined to be with each other, already regularly using words such as “dear” and “good”, and the religious comparisons equally show their love for each other. However, the fact that after only just seeing each other could show that this relationship is based on appearance and looks, and putting each other on pedestals would show infatuation, not love. This is also backed up with the fact that when Romeo first sees Juliet he exclaims she is “Beauty too rich for use”, showing that he is very shallow and cares solely for her appearance – pure lust.
The end of the scene is perhaps the most dramatically effective part of the scene – when Romeo and Juliet finally find out that they are sworn enemies. A new change of beat increasingly creates tension as Romeo, after only seconds after kissing Juliet, finds out that she is in fact a Capulet.