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Violence and conflict in Romeo and Juliet; essay sample

In: Shakespeare free essays

Language and dramatic devices to present violence and conflict in Romeo and Juliet

The play is full of examples of different kinds of conflict and disorder, and the feud between the Capulets and the Montagues is at the centre of most of it. The conflict is the cause of all the deaths in the play and Shakespeare shows, through its consequences, its futility and insignificance. We are made aware of this feud right from the outset of the play and it is the first thing that the Prologue mentions: `Two households, both alike in dignity / In fair Verona where we lay our scene, / From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, / Where civil blood makes hands unclean…' The Prologue has a sinister, menacing tone in delivering the message that there will be a `grudge' that escalates to `mutiny' and that `civil blood makes hands unclean' tells the reader that there will be a fatal fight, which the audience awaits to see.

The opening scene of the play itself emphasizes this feud and conflict in a community and society, set in Verona, creating such a serious situation that the Prince threatens death to anyone who disturbs the peace of the city again because of it. The love of Romeo and Juliet is therefore set within a world of hate created by their fathers' feud and in the making, the families' feuds are directly responsible for the tragedies that follow in the play. The hatred and violence that is set up is in direct contrast to the love of Romeo and Juliet, and in the end they are victims of it, as the Prince points out at the end of the play: `See what a scourge is laid upon your hate! / That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love …' (Act 5, Sc 3) From the Prince's words, he treats the affair as a matter as karma, in that the `scourge' or punishment is because of the families' `hate'. He then associates the affair with `heaven' to show that a supreme, natural is governing our lives, and as consequence of the families' hatred, heaven killed `your joys'. But the Prince claims that it was `love' that killed them, relating that it was the families' feud that destroyed them because they created a society where Capulets and Montagues did not mix, and they did not provide a peaceful atmosphere for the future generations, but dwelled upon old family problems.

At the beginning of the Act three Scene one, when there are `hot days' and `the mad blood is stirring', the audience view the scene in awe as they expect to see an action packed scene. This scene marks the final appearance of Mercutio. After this, our attention is concentrated only on Romeo and Juliet. Unusually for Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet has no sub-plot at all, and the simple and clear storyline results in giving the play a relentless feeling. In this scene, relentlessness is fundamental with `these hot days' that Shakespeare creates so the audience capture every moment in the play, and embrace them.

The scene is a major turning point in the play and it is appropriate that it should start with references to heat and passion. The references follow up upon the couple's marriage, and therefore the references of heat show deep love. But Shakespeare shows that with great love, there comes great evil as consequence. The references to heat matches the remarks Mercutio makes about Benvolio who `art as hot a Jack in thy mood as any in Italy.' Here, Shakespeare creates a pathetic fallacy in which the characters' emotions are portrayed through the surroundings. Shakespeare emphasizes the characters' emotions to the audience by showing it through the structure and setting of the play, so the audience are constantly reminded what is happening. Shakespeare also created the same structure and setting in Act I Scene I, where also `the day is hot'. Shakespeare created both scenes alike to remind the audience there will be a fight, and to heighten the tension so the audience get prepared for watching a fight. The audience are also reminded of Prince Escalus' speech where he concluded in saying that `If ever you disturb our streets again, / Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace.' The audience's await to see what will happen .” By Shakespeare structuring the scenes very similarly by the surroundings of heat and passion, the urge for fighting from Tybalt and the attitude of pacifism from Benvolio: we can see that Shakespeare intended this so that the audience can relive the moments again, to feel that there will be a `riot'. Immediately, the audience are aware of the situation that there will be a fight, and this makes the atmosphere more frightening because we know that someone `shall pay the forfeit' according to the Prince.

As usual, Benvolio yearns for peace. He says to Mercutio that the day is too hot, members of the Capulet family are about and they should leave. Mercutio replies that this is poor advice coming from someone as hot-tempered as Benvolio, who is `as soon moved to be moody, and as soon moody to be moved.' This is comic to the audience because the only person more inclined to fight than Mercutio is Tybalt, whereas Benvolio is a natural peace-maker. The exchange of insults between Mercutio and Tybalt shows how both of them will pick a fight over nothing. Benvolio warns them that they are in a public place where `all eyes gaze on us' but they seem not to care. Benvolio is aware of the consequences that the Prince issued, but Tybalt is not and this makes the audience even more scared because we can see how furious he is, because he doesn't worry that someone will die. In any case, Tybalt is more interested in quarrelling with Romeo, who enters at this point. The reason for Romeo's entrance at this given time is because Tybalt has just been ridiculed by Mercutio's witty criticisms and Tybalt is glad when Romeo arrives as he wishes to take his anger out on him. When Tybalt declares `Here comes my man,' it shows the passion of hatred that Tybalt has for Romeo, because he treats him as `man' a derogative term and implications of `my' refers that Romeo belongs to Tybalt, and Tybalt will do as he wishes with him. Tybalt is in a very paranoid and aggravated mood and explains that `this shall not excuse the injuries / That thou hast done me, therefore turn and draw.' Tybalt is now exclaiming that this commencing fight `shall not excuse the injuries' and therefore Tybalt will not feel remorse, and he will believe the fight to be justice: and this ruthless attitude of Tybalt frightens the audience. Tybalt states that Romeo must `turn and draw' because Tybalt only thinks that fighting is the answer to his problems, and this attitude of Tybalt being war-like makes the audience sad because it seems that Tybalt, who seems to have more experience, will kill Romeo, and good will be overthrown by evil. Romeo and Tybalt have a gripping, testifying talk, and Shakespeare does this to heighten the audience's tension before the showdown fight.

Romeo and Juliet takes place in a masculine world in which notions of honour, pride, and status are all major to everyone and these factors can escalate into the violence. The violence in the play's social environment is a dramatic tool that Shakespeare creates to make the lovers' romance seem even more precious, valuable and fragile: their relationship is seen by society as an insignificant feeling of love in a significant world of hate. The fights between Mercutio and Tybalt and then between Romeo and Tybalt are surreal. Passion outweighs reason at every turn. This is because Shakespeare wants to highlight the young love in this masculine society. Therefore, the audience feel a bond with Romeo and Juliet, due to pity and admiration.

Family pride is important in the play and because Juliet is Tybalt's cousin, Romeo will not fight someone who is now a member of his own family. Shakespeare creates this sensation of family love to show that there can be bonds and relationships in a masculine world, when they are permitted. Mercutio, who is unaware of Romeo's marriage, is disgusted at Romeo and thinks that he is submitting to Tybalt's insults in a shameful and undignified way. Mercutio isn't a member of the Montague house but takes sides with the Montagues, and has a notable bond with Romeo. So, when Mercutio is disgusted at Romeo's submission of fighting and his `dishonourable, vile submission,' Mercutio states that Romeo has let down his family's pride. Mercutio is so disgusted at Romeo's lack of pride and cowardice that he takes it upon himself to fight Tybalt and withstand the name of Montague. “Tybalt, you rat-catcher, will you walk?” Mercutio calls Tybalt `a rat-catcher,' a derogative term, to aggravate Tybalt, just like Tybalt insulting Romeo. Mercutio looks down on Tybalt and asks him `to walk' showing that this fight will be a calm fight for Mercutio against the weak Tybalt. Shakespeare adopts this attitude for Mercutio so that that audience get scared at Tybalt getting frustrated, and therefore more blood-thirsty and war-like.

Mercutio fights with Tybalt but is fatally wounded as Romeo steps between them to try to stop them. Shakespeare uses Romeo's actions to represent the downfall of the fight so that Romeo will feel bad with himself thinking that he accidentally helped the death of his best friend. This image also shows how Romeo is now part of both families, and neutral, but it also shows the trouble and agony in being in them both. Shakespeare has the opportunity to show Romeo's intense, manic personality and show what he is capable of. Shakespeare needs to show Romeo's intense, frenzy personality to prove that he isn't just an effeminate lover. Shakespeare needs to show these emotions so that the audience can feel a greater connection towards him. When the audience witness evil, in the form of Tybalt, overthrowing goodness, in the form of Romeo, the audience have a yearning to fight back. Romeo does this, and in doing so grows more bonds with the audience. If Shakespeare created an effeminate lover, the audience would not connect to him, because Romeo should earn justice. Also, in Shakespearean times, it would have been harder for the audience to relate to an effeminate lover in such a male superior society.

Mercutio's insults to Tybalt revolve around his name. The bestial imagery of `rat catcher' and `king of cats' is continued as Mercutio threatens to take one of Tybalt's `nine lives', and becomes ironic as he describes his fatal wound as `a scratch'. Even as he lies fatally wounded, Mercutio's language is full of humour. He says his wound is neither as `deep as a well' nor as `wide as a church door', but it is enough. He is also talking about his own funeral and his burial. He wittedly tells Romeo that if he asks for him tomorrow he will find him `a grave man', meaning he will not be making any more jokes because he will be in his grave. Shakespeare gives the audience the idea that the play would be a more darker, harsher, sinister world. Mercutio leaves the scene, cursing both `houses' and wishing a `plague' on both Capulets and Montagues. He is truthful and is not biased as he takes no side. When Mercutio says `Help me into some house,' we are unsure that he means he wants a sanctuary to look after him, or he means let him into the Montague or Capulet house, as he feels insecure and alone with Romeo not listening to him to fight Tybalt and in doing so killed him.

Romeo blames himself for his friend's death, so when Tybalt returns he vows to show `fire-ey'd fury' towards him. This shows how violent Tybalt is, as he wants to fight with someone who distraught after the death of his close friend. After much tension Romeo and Tybalt finally fight, and Tybalt is killed, showing that the greater passion will always be stronger against anything else. Benvolio reminds the audience and Romeo that there will be a death penalty that Prince Escalus declared at the beginning of the play. Romeo exclaims he is `fortune's fool', then leaves. The expression `fortune's fool' relates to the principle of karma, and Shakespeare reminds the audience of karma because he wants to make it seem as an overhanging principle throughout the book, and does not want to us to forget that in the end, the characters will pay for their actions. Romeo is caught in a trap, and heightens the audience's attention, as they know, according to the Prologue, that `their death-marked love' will be more tantalizing to watch as the highly respected Prince is now going to punish him with death. Fundamentally, Shakespeare presentation of violence illustrates that good does overcome evil. However Shakespeare also illustrates that everything comes at a price, and even the good characters, such as Romeo is `fortune's fool' and everyone pays in the end.

Most of Romeo And Juliet is not written in Shakespeare's traditional character of language and rhyme. Traditionally, depending on the character's language depended on the character's status. Mercutio who revels in puns and witty language that sets the audience thinking about the puns' the double meanings, speaks prose throughout the play. When Mercutio is introduced in Act 1 Scene IV, he makes jokes about love and the audience are introduced to a `joker'. `If love be rough with you, be rough with love: / Prick love for pricking, and you beat love down. / Give me a case to put my visage in, / A visor for a visor! What care I / What curious eye doth cote deformities? / Here are the beetle brows shall blush for me.' Mercutio is seen as a best-friend figure towards Romeo, and he has lots of guidance to him. When he states `if love be rough with you, be rough with love' we notice that Mercutio is mentioning fate and karma. He is seen as a reasoning voice throughout the play, so when he does die, the audience become sad at the fact that from now on there will be no help or guidance for Romeo and the play will turn into an abysmal end. In Act III Scene I, when Mercutio dies, he speaks in prose to explicitly highlight his thoughts. Moreover, he speaks in clear prose to show that it was not a dignified death.

When Romeo cries `O, I am fortune's fool!' he refers to his bad luck in that he was provoked to kill his wife's cousin, and later getting himself banished. It also has reference to the fate that hangs over the play. Mercutio's response to his consequences is somewhat different to that of Romeo's. Instead of fate, Mercutio blames the Montagues and Capulets; he recognizes people as the cause of death, and gives no recognition to a larger force. Shakespeare debates fate and the supernatural power that hangs over the entire play against personal control in which you can shape your own destiny. Shakespeare also debates this argument and synopsis in Macbeth. However, in Romeo And Juliet he implicitly explains the argument because it was seen as blasphemy at the time to condemn religion, but in Macbeth he is more thorough in his argument because Macbeth was written about twenty years later and he felt that it was more acceptable to write at the time and that he wanted to prove a personal point when writing Macbeth in that several of Shakespeare's family members died and he wanted to open his own private debate to public.

Perhaps Romeo is bewildered and `he's some other where,' but in Elizabethan society they believed that if a man was `lost in love' he had become `effeminate', and Romeo acknowledges this idea. We notice again how Shakespeare creates a little, private world of love and the public world of honour and masculinity. In the play we see two Romeos; when he duels with Tybalt, he is Mercutio's `true' Romeo. The Romeo, who backs down from fighting, is Juliet's `true' Romeo. Violence is seen as proving masculinity and love is showing effeminacy. Love and hate are two different things but always come together. Oxymorons that bring like with unlike show that there is a blurring between them. They show that the character speaking them is showing tension in bringing them together. In Act 1 Scene 1, when we first meet Romeo he is confused with feeling love for Rosaline and hate that he can't have her love. “Why then, O brawling love, O loving hate.” Together the words are quiet strong sounding, and they are grouped together and they are all blurred together.

The previous scene, Act 2 Scene 6 is the marriage of Romeo and Juliet. To highlight the two principle themes, Shakespeare puts them both together, like an oxymoron, so they are more explicit, stronger and it's also easier to notice the differences and similarities between them. Shakespeare also creates them together to show that where there is love there is always hatred somewhere nearby. `In fair Verona,' there is not just hatred or not just love but qualities of both and they are brought together to give a `fair' city. Shakespeare does present this conflict as consequence of a passionate, adolescent love. In Act 5 Scene 3, Romeo says `O my love, my wife, / Death that hath the honey of thy breath, / Hath had no power yet upon thy beauty.' Here, Shakespeare combines imagery of death and love to show that they are always present together. He states that even when Juliet has encountered `death' she still remains to have `beauty'. This clearly shows how deep their love is, and how death `hath had no power' to split them up.

As the action focuses even more strongly on the tragic love story, comedy virtually disappears from the play. Mercutio is dead and, after her betrayal of Juliet later in the act, the Nurse plays a much less important role. Tybalt is now dead and Benvolio disappears from the action. In this scene the reliable Benvolio acts as a Chorus to clarify matters, in this action packed scene.

Love is a central concern of Romeo and Juliet, but death is equally important in the play. Five characters die in the course of the action, but the preoccupation with death runs through much of the language of the play. At several points Juliet is presented as `Death's bride', for example when she hears of Romeo's banishment, she says that `death not Romeo, take my maidenhead.'(Act 3 Sc2), and later, when Juliet refuses to marry Paris, her mother says to her, `I would the fool were married to her grave.'(Act3 Sc5) When it appears that Juliet is dead, Capulet remarks, `Death is my son-in-law, Death is my heir, / My daughter he hath wedded.'(Act 4 Sc 5). When Romeo finds Juliet's body in the Capulet vault, he too uses the personification of death to describe her: `Death that hath sucked the honey of thy breath, /Hath had no power yet upon thy beauty…'(Act5 Sc3), and he goes on, `Shall I believe / That unsubstantial Death is amorous, / And that the lean abhorred monster keeps / Thee here in the dark to be his paramour?' This may seem a morbid fascination to a modern audience, but the Elizabethans, with and average life expectancy much lower than that of today, were much more conscious of their mortality. Shakespeare weaves the implicit remarks of death, to cast a dark shadow of death over everything and to constantly remind the audience of the harsh and sinister consequences. By weaving implications of death into matters of love, a sinister, unjust society is formed, which saddens the audience because it is nobody's fault that love and evil are combined.

In conclusion, Shakespeare's repetition to emphasise the thesis that we are `fortune's fool' and that all our actions have karmic consequences. In such case, Shakespeare expresses that with love, evil must follow. The fact that this play contains so much conflict and violence and is such a moving tragedy is because the audience feel a great feeling of sympathy to Romeo and Juliet, who must `pay the price' for their love. The audience recognise that it is unjust that this `death marked love' can cause so much violence. The fact that they are young, passionate lovers saddens the audience even more because it shows how much they love each other to throw away their lives for this love. We see a male dominated, unjust society that dwells upon family feuds, and does not respect the future generation's needs, and in many ways, Shakespeare is speaking out for his society in general to say that we should respect and allow our `childrens' desires, whatever they may be, and in doing so, lose family pride if needed.

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