The prologue in Romeo and Juliet is an introductory speech in a sonnet form calling for the attention of the audience to the theme of the play. Written mainly for the theme of love, sonnet form is best for this play. It also precedes the first act of the play. The sonnet is a form of poetry written in blank verse which contains ten syllables called the Iambic pentameter. Each verse allowed the actors to give their own rhythm and find their own interpretation of the meaning.
Prologues were often used to give an outline of a plot because in Shakespeare’s day and age the vast majority of the audience were illiterate and reactive who would spoil a play if they failed to understand it. So the prologue built them up for a good story which they could understand better and be excited for. Although the modern audiences might find it contrary to their interest if a prologue gives away the ending of a story.
The idea of conflict occurs in the prologue. The quotation “From ancient grudge breaks to new mutiny” refers to a long-standing ill-feeling and grudge between two families which leads to new conflicts and confrontations. It relates to fresh outbreak of fights that resulted in death to members from both families. It mentions “Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean” meaning two families of good standing and equal status engage in heinous brawls and fights. They drag their reputations through the mud.
Then the prologue mentions about the climax of the play saying “A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life”. This quote refers to the ill-fated children Romeo and Juliet from the two feuding families who become lovers and chain of unfortunate events lead there to commit suicide. This draws a tragic end to the play.
“Do with the death bury their parents’ strife” tells the audience how the unfortunate and sad death of Romeo and Juliet brought an end to their parents’ quarrels. The shadow of painful early demise of their children left the two families so aggrieved and confounded that they were able to overcome their differences. They came to their senses and realisation that it was pointless and insensible to hate and fight each other.
Finally near the end of the prologue the quotation “And the continuance of their parents’ rage” emphasises the long drawn out anger and rage of the elders from the two families. However prolong and intense this rivalry and hatred was, it was finally defeated by the overwhelming power of love shown by Romeo and Juliet. Through sacrificing their lives managed to put an end to the continuance of their parents’ anger.
The prologue relates to the audience, the main theme and events that will unfold in the play. It generates interest and curiosity in the audience by creating contrasting views between the beautiful city of Verona and the violence that erupts between two long-standing feuding families. This mood gets poignant when the pair of ‘star-crossed lovers take their life’. Initially the mood of audience is of excitement and expectation on hoping to see the affluence of a beautiful city and its people. In the middle past the mood is one of suspense, thrill and confusion as they are told of violence and blood bath. At the end of the play the mood is sombre and melancholic when the tragic death of Romeo and Juliet happen.
The tone in the prologue gets across the contrasting message of the play loud and clear to the audience. Initially the tone is flamboyant praising the beauty of Verona and the dignity of its people. Then the tone gets cynical describing the evilness of hatred and this lowness of violence. In the end the tone is poignant and sombre when it talks about the tragic death of the star – crossed lovers.
As a whole the prologue succeeds in creating of feeling of love, distrust, hate, suspense and ambivalence among the audience.
Conflict structures the play. It forms the set and platform on which all the character and story builds up. Act I Scene I opens with a brawl on the streets of Verona between servants from different Montage and Capulet households. The props such as colourful flowers and a beautiful background of the city of Verona contrasting with what is actually taking place. The audience expect to see the male characters from the two feuding families enter the stage and engage in conflict and skirmishes resulting in fatalities. The families clad in colourful dresses as they belong to dignified families. Actors representing the members of the two families could enter from either side of the stage, emplacing the differences in their relationship. Only male actors would be expected to fight because of their dominancy. It was considered improper for woman to even raise their voices in public at that time. Female role were also played by male actors in female makeup and attires.
Conflict interests the audience because it is intriguing and exciting to watch especially since in the 17th century the audience could be awed easily by an inappropriate set of words coming from the wrong person as gender and status would be taken into account. For example, Sampson, a servant of the Capulet says ‘I mean as we be in choler we’ll draw’, meaning of that if the Montagues make them angry he will pull out his sword. This will make the audience eager and excited to see what happens next.
In Act I Scene I, Sampson and Gregory’s accessories, (their swords and bucklers) are being displayed more prominently than being put into practical use at the beginning. Their conversation aimed at abusing and inciting their opponents the Montagues. Sampson suggests that if the Montagues anger himself and Gregory they will draw their swords. Despite being merely servants of the Capulet, they project themselves as the voice of their masters and intend on engaging in a fight. The conversation starts in a sarcastic tone as they try to tease and provoke the Montague’s servant. They imply that their opponents are like dirty coals and garbage. Sampson build this up as the conversation imply how the servants would step in and start a fight themselves. At one point Sampson says “Ay, the heads of the maids on their maidenhead” meaning out either their heads off or assault them (the girls).
As Sampson and Gregory’s humour turn in a minor way, they set out to insult Abram. Sampson deliberately tries to provoke Abram by biting his thumb at him. At this point Abram sensing their abuse questions whether Sampson was biting this thumb. This inevitably lead to some heated exchanges of insinuations and provocations among them daring each other and inviting to fight. This finally leads them to draw out their swords and commence a fight.
There are several points when presence of physical conflict and violence become evident on the stage. After all the provocations of Sampson and Gregory and Abram’s reaction, Sampson’s sense of emotion takes the better of him. He starts a fight with Abram and drags Gregory along with him. Sampson said “Draw if you be a man – Gregory, remember thy washing blow” urging Gregory to get involved in fighting.
At the point when a sword fight between the servants erupts Benvolio happens to arrive on the scene. With good intention at heart, Benvolio pulls out his sword and reasons with the servants to stop the fight. Thus he gets drawn into this fray when Tybalt enters the scene at this point and was immediately outraged at seeing Benvolio with his drawn out sword. The vicious enmity between the two families turned Tybalt bitter. Without trying to gauze the situation he questions Benvolio’s intentions and manhood by implying that Benvolio was trying to fight worthless servants. Tybalt says “What, art thou drawn among these heartless hinds? Turn Thee, Benvolio. Look upon thy death”. So he challenges Benvolio to fight a real man like him. To these rants Benvolio replied, “I do but keep peace. Put up thy sword, Or manage it to part these men with me”. He meant to uphold the peace and invited Tybalt to help in stopping the fight. Tybalt was not ready to take any of this and says “What, drawn, and talk of peace?”. He goes on to say to how he hated the Montagues, the word peace and especially Benvolio whom he called a coward. Tybalt and Benvolio begin fighting.
Immediately after, citizens who are feed up with the antics of Capulet and Montagues join in. They called upon everyone “Clubs, bills and partians! Strike! Beat them down! Down with the Capulet! Down with the Montagues!”
Capulet on hearing the commotion decides to step in, “What noise is this? Give me my long sword, ho!” An already bad situation was made worse with Capulet appearing on one side of the stage and Montague on the other. Both men intend to join the fight. While all this turmoil is taking place Prince Escalus enters. “Rebellious subjects, enemies to peace, Profaners of this neighbor-stained steel.” He tells everyone to defend the city instead of fighting those in it. “What, ho! You man, you beasts. That quench the fire of your pernicious rage. With purple fountains issuing from your veins on pain of torture on those bloody hands. Throw your mistempered weapons to the ground. And hear the sentence of your moved prince.” The situation is at a point where satisfaction is held only from drawing blood ‘fountains’ of blood from each other. So the prince has to threaten them with torture. The forms of punishment were different from modern time as when Shakespeare lived the punishments were harsh – traitors hung and then disembowelled while still living.
“There civil brawls, bred on an airy word. By thee old Capulet and Montague. Here thrice disturbed the quite of our streets”. He blamed equally both Capulet and Montague for disturbing the peace of the city of Verona. The Capulet-Montague feud has kept the ancient citizens from enjoying the peace they deserve. The Prince warns Capulet and Montague that if there’s another fight, they both will be executed
The conflict in Act III Scene IV in contrast to Act I Scene I has changed from physical conflict to lexical conflict (a mix up of words). Act III Scene IV focuses on disharmony concerning Juliet’s fixed marriage with Paris involves mainly herself and Capulet but Lady Capulet and the Nurse join in.
Juliet is lamenting Romeo’s departure but tells mother she is unwell. “Madam, I am not well”. Her mother misunderstands and thinks that Juliet is sad over the death of Tybalt. “Yet let me weep for such a feeling loss”. Juliet is weeping because she is experiencing the loss of touching Romeo. “Well girl, thou weep’st not so much for his death. As that the villain lives which slaughtered him”. Lady Capulet is aimed on taking revenge and assumes Juliet feels the same way. Though Juliet says to herself, “Villain and he be many miles asunder”, then says to her mother, “God pardon him” I do with all my heart, And yet no man like he doth grieve my heart”. Juliet meant that Romeo is far from being a villain. “Ay, madam, from the reach of these my hands; Would come but I might revenge my cousin’s death!”. Lady Capulet thinks Juliet would kill Romeo herself. Lady Capulet says she will send a person to Romeo with a bottle of poison that would kill him. “Indeed, I shall never be satisfied. With Romeo, till I behold him -dead-, Is my poor heart for a kinsman vexed.” Juliet says she “would temper it” (replace poison with a something to put Romeo to a light sleep). She is told that on coming Thursday that Paris will wed her at St. Peter’s Church. Juliet says “Now by Saint Peter’s Church and Peter too. He shall not make me there a joyful bride”. She could not imagine marrying anyone other than Romeo.
Capulet enters the scene feeling sympathy for Juliet’s grieving, supposedly over Tybalt. In order to ease Juliet’s sorrow he arranges for her to marry Paris and when faced with Juliet outright rejection a new conflict over disagreement arises. Juliet pretends to go along with the advice but will also go to Friar Laurence for help. If he cannot do so she will commit suicide.
Before Capulet begins the conflict between himself and Juliet he thinks that Juliet is crying over Tybalt’s death. “Not proud, you have; but thankful, that you have. Proud can I never be of what I hate. But thankful even for hate, that is meant love”. Juliet means that she cannot be proud to be Paris’ wife and she is thankful to her father for arranging the wedding with good intentions. “How, how, how, how, chopp’d logic! What is this? “Proud,” and “I thank you,” and “I thank you not”. And yet “not proud.” Mistress minion, you, Thank me no thankings, nor, proud me no prouds”. Capulet orders her to “fettle your fine joints against Thursday next, To go with Paris to Saint Peter’s Church, Or I will drag thee on a hurdle thither”. “Fettle” is like telling an animal to prepare.
“Out, you green-sickness carrion! Out, you baggage! You tallow-face!” He tells her go away, “Green-sickness carrion” saying she looks as green as mould when dead, she is useless and has the sickness that comes from being a girl, not a married woman. Her father tells her not to speak otherwise that will give him a reason to slap her. “Speak not, reply not, do not answer me. My fingers itch”.
“An you be mine, I’ll give you to my friend. And you be not, hang, beg, starve, die in the streets” – if she is his daughter, marry Paris and if she refuses, she is not his daughter and that he wouldn’t care the least about her.
Capulet’s sudden eruption from concerned Juliet’s father into someone who didn’t care the least about her shows his unkind and vile behaviours which Shakespeare uses as one of the strings to hold the ancient fued. As of this Juliet status and domination in the situation is no comparison to Capulet’s and so her voice is not heard during the conflicting argument. This also explains why as the Nurse and Lady Capulet defend on Juliet’s behalf their views were not taken into account.
Western society no longer categorises fixed or arranged marriages as a norm. It accounts on mainly culture and belief in today’s day and age. A girl in Juliet’s situation now would flee though in Shakespeare’s day that was not an option. So Juliet has to ask the Nurse for advice and help which would different for a modern audience. From what modern society does hold about arranged marriages is the desperateness of the girl in the situation when the marriage is not accepted and the talk of self-harm and even suicide comes to play. This would not be that different to watch for a modern audience.
In Act III Scene IV the conflict is also developed by the actor’s every move. Directing the scene would involve make every move of the character’s the right one. Tone, volume and language would play a part if conducted correctly. The language, tone and volume of high-status characters (such as Capulet) are very rhythmic, clear and his use of poetic language all characterise him. He would be seen towering over Juliet, Lady Capulet and the Nurse to show just the reign over status. The Nurse, very different in a status match against Capulet, would likely to have a murmured speech and would be out of the way in most conversation. Juliet may be on her knees or sat down uncomfortably when the conflict with her father begins. Lady Capulet and female characters in general are lower to the ground to further emphasise this.
To the end, a Romeo and Juliet act without the conflict discussed has no ‘story’. Love has the foundation which conquers all literally. The play would still appeal to a modern audience as it has the element of both comparison and surprise, which will always make this love-hate story a truly special one.
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