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Understanding Romeo and Juliet







William Shakespeare is possibly known as the most famous playwright of all time; people believe that his most well known piece of work was the play “Romeo and Juliet.” This is perceived as the best love story of all time, and its themes and messages of the story is still relevant today. If you have read this play, different themes jump out and strike you as you indulge into the play script; the most prominent of themes would be love and hate, which put together is an oxymoron, which builds the tension and the atmosphere on those two words alone. Act 1, scene 1, 3& 5 are the main action possessed scenes which carry out two lovers from opposing families fall in love and secure their relationship with marriage; but the consequences lead to a tragic death which signified the strongest symbol of love known to man.

This play went against the strong boundaries of acceptance within the 16th century. Nobody was too fussed whether or not you had a strong loving feeling towards your husband, if the friends of the family and mainly your parents did not agree with your choice, or your partners face did not fit; you were not to marry. It was not irregular if your marriage was arranged. The woman’s role at this period of time was unimportant as their only role was to look after the children and allow the men to completely fend for them. When the play was performed it was fundamental for only men to act in the theatre.

The original play has been used as a stimulus for many films in recent times such as Westside story, and the film Baz Lurhmanns modern version, which put the film into perspective for the audience in present generations, I feel this puts the play into context, as people nowadays may not grasp the full understanding of the Shakespeare language within the movie; is then able to be understood, by the tone of voices of the actors and the easy to read body language. I also feel that the big impact of the drama techniques used would draw the audience into more of Shakespeare’s work; and would reignite the passion into his messages of his plays. However the play isn’t perfectly accurate, as it perceives the Capulet family with a higher status within Verona, as the Montague’s are seen as geeky teenage boys.

The other one is Zeferelli’s version, created in 1968. The film interpreted how Shakespeare would want Romeo and Juliet to be seen. However I do not believe this film captures modern day audiences and does not show the theme hate; just focuses upon love. On the other hand, this version presents the characters much better, and more realistic to the original.

Within act 1 scene 1, Shakespeare has taken advantage of the many chances to express the two themes love and hate. By the closeness of Romeo and Benvolio’s deep and open conversation, and with Benvolio showing concern towards Romeo, it presents the theme love, “quote”. This shows the closeness through family and friendship, and by allowing to build trust, it creates their relationship in the audience’s eyes to be a dignified family with pride.

Throughout this heart felt conversation, Romeo expresses his love for Roselyn (which is another use of the theme love) despite the conspiracy that his feelings are true. This is mainly because there's no direct description of Roselyn’s personality; only from where he has seen her from a long distance; there is also no evidence that Romeo has ever had engaged conversation with her. During his dialogue, there are alot of oxymorons presented; which shows untrue feelings towards the fair maiden. “Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health.” This shows confusion slurring around in Romeo’s mind, and I believe that he sees her as attractive, but not wanting a relationship with her; with this line he uses positive language: “Feather, bright, fire, health”. These words could signify the positive points towards Roselyn and shows that there’s a limited amount of passion towards her. However by using an opposing negative use of language straight after the positive, it shows doubt, and second thoughts upon the possible love towards her: “lead, smoke, cold, sick.” The audience may pick up on this strange use of language and maybe be rather against Romeo, thinking that he wears his heart on his sleeve and just wants a girl when he wants to; especially with a modern day audience, known to be the “divorce generation” and has become fairly cynical towards true love. This also could be where the theme hate takes place.

The audience also have the chance to see the relationship between Romeo and his parents. They show concern towards his disappearance after a little mishap that has happened towards their enemies, the Capulet’s. “O where is Romeo? Saw you him today? Right glad I am he was not at this fray.”Although they are expressing concern, it shows that they have a non-communal relationship, as they were unaware of where Romeo was at that time. Because of the non communicating relationship, could be a cause of Romeo not knowing what true love is, as his parents haven’t expressed love with him. Although they did not know his whereabouts, they proved good intention; “Right glad I am he was not at this fray.” this shows a genuine concern towards his son by not wanting him to get hurt within the disruption between the two opposing families.

During this first sign of the theme hate, when the fighting takes place; I believe that Shakespeare’s script has set both families to be equally dignified. “equal houses in dignity” by performing this line to an audience, they are able to picture in their minds two large and wealthy families who are well known throughout Verona; who may own a fabulously successful business if you interpret into modern days (within Baz Luhrmann’s film version, with hotel companies). However; because of the lack of stage directions throughout this play, it is left up to various directors to use their imagination and make it into their own. This is why in Baz Lurhmann’s version, the Capulet’s seem a more intimidating and stronger household, and seem to have a stronger relationship with each other. They achieve this with the drama medium that is used (which was restricted in Shakespearian times) by their costume’s, choice of weaponry etc. On the other hand, Zeferelli’s version of film was more true to the story as they were both seen as equal families. However, I believe that it did not reach the hatred levels of the standards that Shakespeare has built up through the use of his language “quote” this shows clearly the strong passion of hate between the families, which is so strong; forces two young lovers to meet in secret and consequently die for their love.

Don’t meet the other half of the relationship, Juliet until act 1 scene 3.  Shakespeare may have introduced the character Romeo first to reflect the society at that time, which was where the males are more dominant and are more important then a woman. Juliet portrays to have a much closer family, where decisions are made for her for the good of her well being, such as the choice of marriage seems to be her mothers. She shows this with the concept to marrying count Paris; although to the audience he is shown to be a respectable handsome young man so may to sway towards Lady Capulet’s choice. However, even though she could be wed to possibly the best choice of man in all of Verona, she seems to turn him down, “I look to like, if looking liking move.” I feel that the audience’s reaction would be quite shocked as they are lulled into believing a false decision. This would help later on in the play where Juliet falls in love with Romeo, as she does not just fall in love with any man and chooses them wisely. You can see that the mother seems to have a pompous attitude towards her daughter as she doesn’t seem to listen to what she is saying, or give her a chance to express her feelings as Juliet’s dialogue consists of seven lines throughout the whole scene. I feel that Juliet is deprived from having friends since her parents completely control her, as throughout the play there is no proof of her having friends apart from having a close relationship with her nurse; where as Romeo hangs around with a group of friends including Mercutio and Benvolio. I also believe this is why she has a stubborn approach to her views of love, because she has no male friends to understand the opposite sex and become attracted to them, or female friends to share her emotions with them. As she has a non communal relationship with her mother, she doesn’t understand the love between her and her father; so has not been brought up with love, the consequences: falling in head-over-heels with Romeo immediately. Her wet-nurse has cared for her since birth; and seems to have more of a motherly role towards Juliet than her biological mother. You can see they have a close relationship; and see alot of each other, because Juliet seems to have become accustomed to the nurse’s crude use of language; where as Lady Capulet seems consistently shocked to the colloquial language said by the nurse; which could show that she is not around the household on a regular basis to care for Juliet. This could also be the main reason why the Nurse is telling stories about her and Juliet, to acquaint herself to Lady Capulet. “Enough of this, I pray thee hold thy peace!” By referring the story to “this” and not directly naming it as a story, or nonsense it could present that she has never heard of this kind of language before as she is a dignified woman. Also I believe this line of dialogue shows some conflict and annoyance towards the Nurse, possibly because she sees that Juliet is closer to the Nurse than herself; so states her authority towards the ‘young babe’ by a stubborn opinion towards her choice in marriage; to prove that the Nurse cannot have this such power. With Lady Capulet not appreciating the Nurse’s presence, Juliet realises this, so to go against her mother for being cynical towards the Nurse; rebels against her views of marriage for revenge to show a preference to the Nurse. “I pray thee, Nurse say I”. This shows the unity between Juliet and the Nurse. There is a definite sense of ‘Lady Capulet verses Nurse’ within this scene. There is great dramatic importance to these scene, despite the short length of it, because the audience gains an insight of Juliet’s life; and fully sees the development of the young girl when she falls in love, and how her opinions change. You also understand the characters more vastly by the use of language within their dialogue, and the tone to present it. They will also understand the play as a whole more fluently, when Juliet starts to meet Romeo in secret; as the audience is aware of the parents strong disapproval of Juliet’s free choice upon love, especially to a Montague. On the other hand, the more modern audiences may not be able to relate to this situation because the parental approach to their offspring’s love would be more open minded, allowing them to choose their own future relationships. They can however, interpret it into different conflicts these days, such as racism (not allowing your daughter to marry a black male or from a different race etc.)

Act 1 scene 5 is arguably the most important of all scenes, as Romeo and Juliet first meet. Romeo is seen at The Capulet household’s masque party; convinced to attend by Mercutio, as he is not formally invited he seems to be apprehensive among his arrival to the mansion and looking around frantically for sight of danger. Little does he know that he lays his eyes upon the love of his life and becomes smitten with her, just through sight. “O she doth teach the torches to burn bright...touching hers, make my blessed rude hand.” Within this monologue of Romeo, I believe on stage the party would quieten down, and shine a spotlight onto Romeo, as he is whispering to himself about this complete shock of seeing such a perfect girl. This shows, more than before in the play the theme of love, by the flowing, beautiful sonnet Romeo presents to show that his feelings are true to his heart. The first line that is said during this speech is a use of a hyperbole, where the language is exaggerated, and it also presents other flamboyant comparisons throughout the monologue; such as ‘cheek/ jewel’, ‘snowy dove/ crow’. This contrasts the images which are contrasts of light versus dark. I believe Shakespeare has included such genius script, because before Romeo’s love life has been a catastrophe, and since the evidence from scene 1, that love plays an important role in his life, which his commencing stages of his life, has been ‘dark’. However, the language that describes Juliet, “O she doth teach the torches to burn bright” could be interpreted into; Juliet has lightened up Romeo’s life, and has made it worth waking up each day by giving it purpose. Although his happiness was a mediocrity, by mentioning the word torch, which is a metaphor for his life; but Juliet has allowed and taught that very same torch to burn brighter, more extravagantly than before.

Mesmerised by Juliet’s beauty, Romeo questions his feelings by asking the rhetorical question of “did my heart love till now?” this would show the audience that Romeo has never felt truer feelings towards a person until this very moment, and may start to believe Romeo’s feelings by admitting no feelings towards any other of his previous crushes. This means that Romeo had weak feelings for Roselyn, and was maybe just upset for not having a love at all. You can see this by the flow of the language in Romeo’s dialogue when describing about Juliet, using iambic pentameter and rhyming couplets, where as when he is describing Roselyn, he uses many oxymorons.

Once Juliet realises Romeo is drawn to her, she also participates in a sexual interest towards Romeo. This results into a conversation between the lovers which is presented as a sonnet to show more than ‘love at first sight’ but to show true soul mates who are destined to spend their lives together. I believe this brings great importance to the audience to understand the characters and the play as a whole, because by the physicalisation of the characters kissing, and picking up religious language, “holy shrine, sin, saints, prayer, faith” this presents to the audience the social context of that time, by being harshly religious and living your life by the bible. The bible states “do not yolk oneself to a non believer” which is why they may be discussing about their religion, to create more of an interest, and convince themselves they are suitable for a relationship by being accepted by God.

By Romeo’s appearance at the Capulet’s party, it begins to stimulate alot of dramatic irony by the audience. I feel that the audience’s reactions would be anticipating in a twist of the story such as the star-crossed lovers from opposing families falling in love. However, I do not believe they were expecting the theme hate presented by the character of Tybalt (Juliet’s cousin) in such an important love-stricken scene. This therefore creates a symbolic meaning to the character of Tybalt, by showing his characteristics and timings to his actions to the audience, could be seen to interrupt their love, to clarify that it is forbidden. This was seen within the Baz Lurhmann interpretation of Shakespeare, because as the Capulet fancy dress party, he was dressed as a devil (symbolic use of drama medium).

I feel the audience is set into a false sense of security. This is because they feel comfortable watching to young people fall in love, and are engaged into the sweet- nothings they are whispering in each others ears. However, they are interrupted by the Nurse by whisking Juliet away to her mother, then revealing to Romeo of her name. When they become to the realisation of each others true identities, the audience feels disheartened; and long for them to reunite later in the play, as a cause of being exposed to the perfect scene of those young lovers falling for one another. I feel their would be a permanent level of tension created for the rest of the play; as the audience would be sitting on the end of their seats, to watch Romeo and Juliet’s future moves, because every action they take into their own hands from this very moment, could lead into fatal consequences between the families. Shakespeare

Included warnings to the audience for future events; which included fatal consequences, by saying to the audience within the prologue; line 6: “A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life”. By saying “take their life” it is telling the audience to the play that because they are so forbidden from loving each other, they had to take their own lives, rather than them being killed for sinning. Also in line 8: “Do with their death bury their parents' strife.” This also shows the audience that their suicides has made the parents feel guilty with having such an ancient feud, that they cannot even remember what it was on; and caused their beloved children to death. Also, when Juliet has found the knowledge of Romeo’s name; she says: “A grave for my wedding bed.”  This warns the audience that she is aware that loving Romeo is wrong, and their shall be a negative effect among this; however she seems oblivious to stop the feeling she feels for him; and that it will happen shortly once they are wed.

If I was a director, with an unlimited budget and I was to create a new Shakespeare film; I would make my interpretation a mimic of Baz Lurhmann’s. Although the basis of the story is good-willed; however I do believe Lurhmann over did the modernizing which resulted to a ‘bad music video’ layout. I feel you need an interesting film that strikes younger peoples minds; that does, do this play for academic reasons, which it is easy to translate into the Shakespeare version. I would also give the character’s more independent roles, as very few have solo scenes. This would create the audience to gain a better understanding of the principle parts in the performance. I would do this by including flashbacks to an important part of their life which would really show what type of person they are; for example, the wet nurse’s job interview to for her job. I would also dress each character with symbolic costumes to show different aspects of their lifestyle. For example I would dress Juliet in a white, long, tunic with golden accessories; to show innocence and pureness; but also power. I would also dress the nurse more common, by tightening her dress and make it a fraction shorter, so she is still respectable, but not to its full content. I also feel that to relate it to a modern audience, you would have to change the style of the two families who are enraged at each other. I believe that one family (for example the Capulet’s) would be white; and the other example (in this case Montague’s) to be black. This would clearly show the audience the difference between the two families; and how racism is still alive in modern society.

In conclusion I believe these scenes are the most crucial; this is because you witness Romeo and Juliet blossoming, becoming adults with their vast decision making. I believe they both show equal amount of immaturity towards the views of love but in opposing ways. Juliet doesn’t want to even think about the concept of love; however Romeo can’t get enough of it and exaggerated his feelings. Therefore the audience sees their true feelings click in act 1 scene 5 when they have the case of love at first sight.

I believe there are certain parts of the play which an Elizabethan audience could relate to much more than a modern audience; because the audience nowadays are more open-minded with the concept of love (even accepting homosexuals) therefore won’t understand the pressure of a forced marriage, or stubborn parents who had to accept your partner. However I do believe that a modern audience can still relate to the story as it has so much drama, and is in need of expert actors to give the play justice. I feel you do need to include as much hate, and betrayal in the play as you do with love, to express the love much more, this is the reason that I fully believe it is still, the greatest love story of all time, and I have thoroughly enjoyed watching and reading it.