In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare shows beautifully constructed language in the Prologue and Act 1:1 to illustrate the love of the `star crossed lovers` and the hatred shared from the Capulet’s and the Montague’s, the ongoing rivalry over something feeble enough that it doesn’t even need to be explained of how it came about. Throughout the play, we see how the love collides with the hate in a way that teaches the two households how imbecilic the situation is. Not only has Shakespeare used elegant language, but he has also used a number of techniques to present the key themes.
The prologue, something that is already usually written as a love poem, has been interpreted in many different ways and as I read the script, I even think of other ways it could be displayed.
The Prologue is traditionally 14 lines long, each line holding roughly 10 syllables each.
“Two households, both alike in dignity.”
The Rhyming scheme is A, B, A, B, C, D, C, D, E, F, E, F, G, G (the last lines ending on a rhyming couplet).
There are four sections in the Prologue (traditionally in a sonnet), but Shakespeare has written it in a particular way so that it can be broken down into three sections. The different sections establish different things. The first one introduces the setting of the play
“In fair Verona (where we lay our scene)”
This shows the Prologue as being some sort of a trailer for the play.
The next section familiarizes the plot and also involves some conflict into the story: the hate of the two households mixed with the love of the two teenagers.
“Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife.”
This automatically throws caution to the audience and turns Romeo and Juliet from a regular play, into a love tragedy. Shakespeare allegedly wrote 37 plays and they have been broken down into three categories: Comedy, Historical and Tragedy. Tragedy is very affective because of the dramatic effects that can be produced from it. Shakespeare was masterful at involving different dramatic effects through techniques. A key contrast of tragedy and comedy is that the tragedy’s main characters are often portrayed as very heroic and selfless ones, as to add the sense of seriousness to the script, whereas with his comedy plays, this of course did not matter.
One of Shakespeare’s techniques can be easily found in the Prologue and is reoccurring in Act 1:1 is the use of Oxymorons. An oxymoron is a phrase, usually two words placed next to each other in a sentence where the two words are usually contradictory. Oxymoron is an oxymoron in itself, for the oxy is Greek for sharp and moron is Greek for dull. An example of an oxymoron in the Prologue is:
“The fearful passage of their death-marked love”
The final section of the Prologue states that the decease of the “star-crossed lovers” that are Romeo and Juliet is the only way to end the rivalry.
“Which but their children’s end nought could remove.”
The final three lines of this tantalising opening to the play are talking directly to the audience:
“The which if you with patient ears attend.”
This enforces the idea of the Prologue being a trailer even more.
The originally chorus spoken Prologue has been interpreted in many different ways.
In Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 version, the film opens with the Prologue being narrated. This is delivered calmly, as to give the fight as more of an jolt to the audience afterwards.
Baz Luhrmann first presents the Prologue as a news report. This gives off a modern day equivalent of the Prologue, showing instantly how Luhrmann has decided to direct the film. After the news report, the prologue is repeated as an over voice. The voice gives off the same omniscient feel as in Franco Zeffirelli’s version as it has been placed in the hands of Friar Lawrence. This is a cleverly picked character, as it is one who has an alliance with God, and therefore appears even more Godly.
The Prologue is such a crucial element to the script, as it outlines the entire play and foreshadows future events; therefore the way different productions have presented is very important.
Act 1:1 starts with Samson and Gregory in `a public place`, acting jokily and being troublesome. This is apparent from when `two serving men` from the house of Montague enter.
Different interpretations of the characters entrances symbolize what the directors see the characters as. In Luhrmann’s version, the Montague’s and Capulet’s are described as the “boys” giving the sense that the rivalry and arguments of the two households are pretty petty and childish.
The `Montague Boys` act in a childish way themselves, which creates a great contrast to the other, deadly serious half of the scene. It also makes a huge contrast to the Capulets when they enter. Their characters are shown as unsympathetic, merciless and ruthless men. Luhrmann again represents the modern day version by setting the fight in a petrol station.
Zeffirelli’s version is much more minimalist. The entire scene is set in a market, where Sampson and Gregory and striding through arrogantly. As the two households meet eyes, each character’s obnoxiousness increases.
“Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?” “I do bite my thumb, sir.”
This quarrel between Abram and Sampson opens the argument, unraveling the entire scene.
Benvolio (a Montague), enters an argument and as Tybalt confronts, the fight commences. It is soon called to a halt, as the Prince arrives and attempts to make himself heard. Again, in this speech, Shakespeare uses something similar to an oxymoron – an antithesis. This is where the opposite words aren’t necessarily placed together. He uses this is in the first line of his speech:
“Rebellious subjects, enemies to peace.”
“Profaners of this neighbor-stained steel”
This is referring to their swords.
This measly attempt to end a fight that has developed so greatly has failed, and so he tries again. Here we find another technique of Shakespeare.
“Purple fountains issuing from your veins”
Here he has used `fountains` as a metaphor for blood. A fountain, where water is provided, water is a traditional symbol of the source of life, so a fountain of blood is now transformed into an image of horror. Shakespeare also describes the quarreling households as `beasts` to denote his anger and how confused he is of such beastliness of them (this emotion is greatly shared with Romeo later in the play).
“Throw your mistemper’d weapons to the ground.”
The weapons are “mistempered” in the sense that they are angry, that is, used by angry men.
In the Prince’s speech, we encounter the first talk of past encounters of Montague and Capulet:
“Have thrice disturb’d the quiet of our streets.”
The “disturbance” has prevented any peace for the two households, but throughout the entire play there is not any word of how the disturbance came about to begin with. However, there are clues as to what it could be. For example, there is a running theme of religion throughout the play, with the powerful character of Father Laurence and the religious attitudes of the households, with the church being a reoccurring set; could religion be the reason for the rivalry?
When the fight had been calmed by the Prince and when the air was cleared, Lady Montague asked:
“O where is Romeo? Saw you him today?”
Romeo, one who has not been involved in this `quarrel` in anyway, is still pining over his current love: Rosaline. As Romeo enters the scene, he is filled with love. As he talks with Benvolio, thoroughly disappointed with the fight that had just occurred, through Shakespeare, oxymorons are reintroduced. Romeo does not comprehend the ongoing rivalry, the torment and hatred and so he says:
“Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health”
This is poetically used to contrast the household’s violence to his love for Rosaline. As the plot moves on, the love for Rosaline is replaced by Juliet, where the love is much greater, and as the love grows, uncannily, the rivalry grows at the same scale. The theme of Romeo’s hastiness is clear as he jumps from love to love, and again clear as he rushes into marriage with Juliet.
Romeo and Juliet has such a big mixture of emotions because it has three excessive themes that all join in together ruining the paths of each character. These themes are: tragedy, romance and rivalry and they keep Shakespeare’s most familiar tragedy one of the most interesting and enchanting script of all time.
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