Before William Shakespeare’s well-known version of Romeo and Juliet there were plays and short stories written in the form of this tragedy. Most of these were in Italian and French. For instance in 1567, around 28 years before Shakespeare’s version, a man called William Painter included his “The goodly history of Rhomeo and Julietta” in a volume of short stories, but even earlier during 1562 an author called Arthur Brooke had turned the story into a very long poem which he called “The Tragical history of Romeus and Juliet” There are many similarities between these poems and stories to Shakespeare’s play of Romeo and Juliet, he almost certainly used these to help in the writing of his own version of the play.
This was quite usual in Elizabethan times for playwrights to use existing stories for the bases of their own, and Shakespeare was exceptionally good at using another people’s work and using their ideas and turning them into complex pieces of drama. But what made William Shakespeare think of setting this love affair between a feuding family? Well at the time there was a feud between two families these were the Long’s and the Danvers. Shakespeare knew of this, as his friend the Earl of Southampton was also a friend with the Danvers.
Romeo and Juliet was probably written between 1594 and 1595 by which time Shakespeare had already began his rise to fame by performing his plays in the London Theatre. Four or Five years before William Shakespeare had started his work in London and left behind his wife and three children, his eldest being Susannah, back home in Stratford upon Avon. William Shakespeare was 30 and had married his wife at 18, his eldest child being 13 years of age meaning his wife was pregnant before they married and this was probably the reason for the marriage. Shakespeare did not only write plays but also Sonnets. Many can be found in his plays and many were love poems and were definitely not written for his wife. Many people believe these love poems were written for a dark, musical lady whom he had most likely met whilst acting in London. Maybe the play Romeo and Juliet was his way of presenting his feelings for this dark, musical lady whom he truly loved, as he, like Romeo, could not have the woman he loved but in Shakespeare’s case he wasn’t due to a feud, he was already married. Many of his sonnets appear in the first half of Romeo and Juliet, the opening prologue itself is a complete sonnet.
It is believed that Shakespeare wrote these sonnets for this Dark Musical Lady I believe that this in fact was not love at all I believe that this was a term called ‘courtly love’ his infatuation for this Lady was a lot like Romeo’s obsession for Rosaline. Courtly Love was when a man would “fall in Love” with a woman usually a woman they couldn’t have, a woman who was married or a woman whom was spoken for, she would usually be of higher class (richer) then the man. She, of course, would have to turn him away to keep her reputation but also making the man miserable and his passion will grow for her; he starts making up poems about his love for her and staging fights for himself to win so he could impress his lady with his battle skills. From all her coldness he now suffers depression, he cannot think eat or sleep for his “Love” for his lady; he prays to God to soften her heart and to reduce his anguish he continually thinks jealous thoughts of his lady. This is what courtly love was all about, a man wanting an ‘unattainable’ woman, Such as Romeo’s for Rosaline and Shakespeare’s for this Dark Musical Lady.
The play on which this subject is based upon ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is known as a play of contrasts and of themes e.g. Love, Detestation, Life, Death, Aggression, fate, age, youth. The focus of my essay is the violence of the play but the leading up to this is the main cause of it which of course is love and the fate that awaits Romeo and Juliet as between them is meant to be hate so again we see those love and hate contrasts, this being the main theme of the play but we can not ignore the background themes of the play as they build it up and secure our tragic ending, One of these themes is the matter of youth and age, and how young Romeo is in his youth and is abrupt with his emotions which is contrasted with the calm wisdom of old friar Lawrence. But the balance is the worry of Romeo by his parents and the unpredictability of the parents towards their beloved daughter Juliet.
Romeo and Juliet is very well known as a play of contrasts, throughout the play many can be seen, some are plainly obvious and others are inconspicuous e.g. the love and hate theme between Montague and the Capulet and Romeo and Juliet is particularly obvious but age and youth contrast theme is quite hidden but looking into the characters of Friar Lawrence and Tybalt it is easy too see that with age comes wisdom allowing Friar Lawrence able to see both sides of the feud without getting caught up in it, while as Tybalt is young and foolish, his anger gets the better of him and tragically allows himself to die and Romeo to be banished from Verona. There are many of these themes some of which are: Age and Youth, Chance and Fate, Love and Violence and Life and Death, the aspect of this essay is the theme of Love and Violence and how Shakespeare creates the escalation in the play, but this theme can not be considered by its self as Shakespeare uses the other themes to create more of an escalation to the violence of it all.
The theme of love is very much involved in the play as the play is a tragic love story, but in the play different people mix up the aspects of love. Romeo’s way of showing love and his idea of it all are somewhat different from his friends.
Romeo plainly shows here at the Capulet mansion what he thinks of love when he first sees Juliet.
If I profane with my unworthiest hand
This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this, —
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.
While as his friends show a whole different aspect on Love, all they see is the sexual side of it and they admit this and in fact actually show-off this fact when they see the Nurse outside the church.
Good Peter, to hide her face; for her fan’s the fairer face.
And this attitude is noticeable throughout the rest of the play.
Coming back to the focus of the essay of the violence we see again this theme of Love and Hate the romantic, tender wedding followed immediately by the killing of Mercutio, Romeo’s best friend, and the killing by Romeo of Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin.
The play shows the theme of Love and Hate a lot it shows us the enduring feud between the Capulet and the Montague, the two richest families of Verona ad how their children fall in love with each other and become secretly married, showing the drastic outcome of their secret love affair which finally ends the feud between the families.
The people in this play have been fighting at each other’s throats for a very long time and Romeo and Juliet have been brought up with the violence and tension of anger and the loneliness of each others hearts which is caused by the fighting, even after this young couple have declared their love for one another the violence still keeps them apart and new aspects of violence which lead to their tragic deaths.
Coming back to the main essay question of escalation of violence id like to make specific reference to the violence in Acts 1, 2 and Act 3, as Shakespeare shows us in these particular scenes how bad thee violence is and how the whole story is not only about love.
Starting from act 1 Shakespeare shows us in the opening scene how far the violence has got already, he shows us 3 servants on the scene, whom are from different houses and even the servants have gotten caught up in the violence that they have been reduced to fighting themselves.
“A dog of the house of Montague moves me.”
“The quarrel is between our masters, and us their men.”
“Do you bite your at us, sir?”
This shows the long recognized odium between these two rich families, it is so deep and personal that the families have probably forgotten what started it all but because its so concerning its connecting towards all members of the household and now even including the servants, Shakespeare is trying to show the audience that this is not a petty argument and he does this in many ways, this is one of them, he is showing them that the seriousness of it all has even got servants fighting against each other even though Gregory quite rightly says it is between their masters, but not only is it between their masters now, now Shakespeare has opened the play like this everyone is involved. We then have the main characters beginning to argue, we have the fight spoiling, blood spilling, Tybalt, a Capulet family member, their cousin, a very close family member, he will do anything to fight and show off his skills but to do this how? In this situation and almost every other he intimidates the opposition.
Here we have him in scene one with the servants still arguing trying to talk the peace loving Benvolio into a fight.
“What, drawn and talk of peace? I hate the word, As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee.”
“Have at thee, coward.”
Shakespeare shows immediately the character of Tybalt showing how he violent and unwilling to listen to reason, it makes the audience start choosing sides before they even know what is going on, they think about Benvolio refusing to fight and choose their sides by knowing Benvolio is the better man.
“I do but keep the peace. Put up thy sword, Or manage it to part these men with me.”
Soon enough the argument turns into a fight in a public place, this is not very good for the reputation of either family, but the fight is soon broken up by Prince Escales who makes a new Law in the city of Verona that the next “brawl” started will have the head of the household put to death.
There are many places throughout act 1 where violence can be found the scene I have just described is a very important one as it determines poor Romeos outcome, there is another very important scene in the 1st act, a scene which most people would call the romantic side to the story but if we look and not all that closely either we will find before the romance starts properly Tybalt again is spoiling for his fight in scene 5, the “party scene”.
The Capulet mansion decides to show off their riches so they invite all their friends and have a big party, unfortunately for the Capulet’s they send out a servant with the invitations and this servant can not read so Romeo and Benvolio end up with invitations to a “Masked Ball” but in a short moment while Romeo takes off his mask Tybalt just so happens to see. As we already know Tybalt has a short fuse and blows off at a Montague being at a Capulet party and not only that but dancing with his own cousin Juliet, Shakespeare tries to show the audience how furious Tybalt is with words like “Strike him dead I haid it not a sin.” Said by Tybalt when he sees Romeo but Lord Capulet doesn’t want the trouble and forbids him to start anything with the Montague’s whom are there because of the relations to the price that might be there and his reputation will be ruined and maybe even his home if things get too out of hand. Shakespeare here is creating suspension, the audience know what Tybalt is like and they know by now that he will not let Romeo get away with it all, it makes the audience begin to wonder, what’s going to happen? And it makes them remember the prince’s decision.
Act 1 begins with the violence in the street showing the stage the feud has gotten to that even the servants are fighting now Tybalt challenges Benvolio who refuses, the servants start fighting and Tybalt’s teasing gets too much and the fight becomes immense until the price comes and breaks it up and sates a new law telling them which ever house starts the “brawl” again, the head of that house shall be put to death, later on Romeo and Benvolio bump into a Capulet servant who cant read they find out that Romeos latest love interest will be at this party and they get hold of invitations, Romeo is doubtful about the future but is dragged to the party even though we believe him to be going through the depression stage of courtly love for Rosaline, Romeo is found at the party by Tybalt who is forbidden to start a fight by Lord Capulet but that doesn’t stop Tybalt’s threats to kill him later.
By Act 2 Romeo and Juliet, are in love and talking on the balcony, Romeo and Juliet are discussing there love and their hate for there names which keep them apart and they see the only solution to it all is if the fighting would stop.
“Tis but thy name that is my enemy.”
By the next day Romeo has forgotten about his love for Rosaline and has gone to Friar Lawrence who certainly has not forgotten about his love for Rosaline and is now worried for two things, one that the fighting would separate the marriage and two if he loved Rosaline like this and can switch so quickly it wasn’t really love who is to say this is?
“Tho and these woes were all for Rosaline and Art thou changed?”
Shakespeare is revealing to the audience how Romeo was only in “courtly love” with Rosaline but now he has felt true love for Juliet, he is revealing to them and explaining to them how bad things can really get because Romeo and Juliet are on opposite sides, he is showing that there is only one person on both sides of this, whom is friar Lawrence and he is showing the audience how scared friar Lawrence is but he changes his mind and shows the audience a look of enlightenment on friar Lawrence’s face and reveals to the audience of the Friars plan that if the couple get married through the fighting it might surpass it all and cause a truce.
This act opens with Romeo and Juliet talking on the balcony about there love and Romeo proposes, Romeo then goes off the next day to make arrangements for their wedding with Friar Lawrence, Friar Lawrence then questions him about his love for Juliet and his abandoned love for fair Rosaline. Shakespeare then shows us how the Montague feel about the Capulet, he shows us two people on the Montague side or of the Montague family telling us what they think of Tybalt the Capulet cousin, they know that after the party a fight will commence between Romeo and Tybalt, they expect Romeo to win, Mercutio, Romeos best friend sticks up for him and calls Tybalt a wimp.
“More than prince of cats. O, he’s the courageous captain of compliments”
Mercutio is in a bad mood and then he insults an innocent by passer who turns out too be the Capulet Nurse she insults back and Mercutio’s mood gets worse. The nurse goes home to meet up with Juliet to tell her of the news of her wedding, She sweet talks the nurse but when the nurse doesn’t tell her she becomes angry and confused she tries sweet talking the nurse again and gets her way and finds out. At the end of this act the young couple finally precede to their wedding and are bonded for eternity, little do they know what was in store for them.
The main events always happen in the middle of the story, although Shakespeare opened up his story telling us what happened he did this in a very clever way, he tells us what happens so we will watch and we think how does it happen then where does it go wrong well in Act 3, that’s where it all goes wrong, this is probably the most violent of acts and it is one scene where most of the violence actually happens, that scene is scene 1.
At the beginning of the scene Mercutio is still in a very bad mood, the weather is hot and is emotions are high; he is spoiling for a fight, Benvolio is concerned he is remembering what the price ordered and knows if his friend is challenged to a fight he is not going to refuse, Benvolio is yet again trying to maintain the peace.
“I pray thee, good Mercutio, let’s retire: The day is hot, the Capls are abroad, And if we meet we shall not scape a brawl, For now, these days, is the mad blood stirring.”
Soon enough with Mercutio ignoring Benvolio’s warnings Tybalt comes along looking for Romeo, Mercutio starts joking about the whereabouts of Romeo and other subjects about the Capulet’s, but Mercutio’s joking soon turns into his annoyance and starts to challenge Tybalt for Romeo. When Romeo turns up at the scene he is immediately bombarded and challenged to a fight, he of coarse being married to Juliet refuses the offer.
“I do protest I never injured thee, but I love thee better then thou canst devise.”
Tybalt still will not accept the fact that Romeo does not wish to fight, he therefore challenges him again, the day is hot and Tybalt’s anger is high he is not going to stand the refusal for to long, and before long is calling him a wimp. Shakespeare shows us Romeo’s strong nature and how he can handle it, but however while Romeo can deal with the pressure Mercutio cannot.
Mercutio challenges Tybalt to a fight in which Tybalt accepts.
“Will you pluck your sword out of his pilcher by the ears?”
“I am for you”
Shakespeare is trying to show the audience how bad the fighting really is, look at how Tybalt is accepting the challenge of Mercutio, whom isn’t even a Montague, but is in relation to the Montague as a friend.
Although Mercutio joked about Tybalt’s fighting he soon realised what he’d done and what he’d volunteered himself into, Benvolio knew what was going to happen, and eventually it did, Mercutio was killed.
Romeo is furious, angry; he pulls his sword on Tybalt.
“And fire-eyed fury by my conduct now!”
Tybalt ran after the death of Mercutio but for some un-known reason he returns, He now gets his own way, Romeo challenges him to a fight to the death.
The outcome to these events have a ripple effect throughout the rest of the play, Tybalt is killed by Romeo, the princes order tells us that Romeo should be killed, but because Tybalt should have been killed first because the killing of Mercutio, Romeo is let off with only banishment but if Lady Capulet had her way then he would have been killed.
“For blood of ours, shed blood of Montague”
The prince will not act upon Lady Capulet’s instructions and asks Benvolio, an eyewitness of what had happened, the prince believes Benvolio showing the audience yet again that he is a peacemaker and a trustworthy person.
The last words of Mercutio are very important he says “A curse on both your houses” and thinking about it this does actually happen both the Montague name and the Capulet name are wiped out, the parents are probably too old to have children now and there only children commit suicide.
To conclude my essay I would like to include my own comment on the play and the violence in it, Shakespeare has created an excellent plot idea and turned it into a play still enjoyed by audiences today, his theme ideas are very cunning and well hidden unless looking into the play in depth, the characters created are still a great influence in many peoples lives today and the violence of the play will still be well known for years to come and will still be used in comparison with people and families who do not like one another and show it in an unfriendly way.