During 1591 and 1595, William Shakespeare wrote the play “Romeo and Juliet” set in thirteenth-century Verona. As one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays out of thirty-eight, it tells of the tragedy of two star-crossed lovers who meet and fall in love. However, as pure as their love is, in the end, everything goes wrong because of the bitter feud between the two houses, Montague and Capulet.

The sixteenth-century play explores how conflict causes verbal, physical, and emotional conflict.  The Elizabethan play explores the link between the effects of the character’s relationship through conflict. Conflict is an important theme in the play as it creates drama to keep the audience interested. Many of the scenes contain various conflicts such as Act 3 scene 1, Act 3 scene 2, Act 4 scene 2 and Act 5 scene 3.

In Act 3 scene 1, Shakespeare explores the nature and aftermath of conflict through Mercutio and Tybalt hubris showing it has an effect of drama and rage on the characters. For example, Mercutio says,” Tybalt you rat-catcher, will you walk?”

This shows an attempt to lower Tybalt’s pride. The reason for this sudden outburst is because of Romeo’s refusal to fight because he is married to Juliet therefore he does not want to fight his cousin-in-law. Mercutio tries to protect Romeo’s pride by challenging Tybalt to a duel.

Although the brawl between Tybalt and Mercutio is to demean each other’s pride, the main reason is to stand up for Romeo, Mercutio’s friend. As a prestigious young man, Mercutio is egotistical in his ways causing him to challenge people especially Tybalt who he finds arrogant and annoying.

The phrase “Will you walk” is a conventional phrase meaning let’s go someplace where we can settle this. Although Mercutio doesn’t want to “Walk” anyplace-he wants to fight Tybalt in the street. This is driven by Mercutio’s short-temper and hubris.

The word “Rat-catcher” is a sneer at Tybalt’s name because it is the same name given to the King of Cats in the beast fable of Reynard the Fox. Another interpretation of the word “rat-catcher” implies that Mercutio is witty as it is a metaphor for Tybalt’s name. Tybalt is not a “rat-catcher” but his name suggests that of a cat.

Like Tybalt himself, the name origin is the Medieval form of Theobald meaning “from bold people” which suggests where Tybalt gets his aggressive and confident personality. This creates an effect on the audience by creating the link between drama and conflict. It was important to create drama within the Shakespearean plays so as to not bore the audience.

It also magnifies the atmosphere of a tragedy creating that pull and engaging feeling to the audience. Another way of showing this is when Mercutio declares,” Good King of Cats, nothing but one of your nine lives that I mean to make bold withal.” This suggests the rise in Mercutio confidence. Mercutio sees another opportunity to deliver a witty insult towards Tybalt so he does. Mercutio threatens to take “one of your nine lives”. He says this with confidence as if it is necessary to do so.

Once again this is an attempt to damage Tybalt’s hubris. During the thirteenth century, men’s hubris was taken very seriously. Every man wanted more pride than the other and you were thought of as unworthy if you didn’t try to protect your honour. Damaging another man’s pride increased your own which is why both Mercutio and Tybalt end up fighting.

To refuse a fight would be unheard of in the 1200s. Mercutio is a loyal and good friend so he steps up to the challenge of defending Romeo by being his witty and optimistic self. The phrase, “Good king of cats” suggests Mercutio’s ongoing wit. He uses this metaphor to try and win over Tybalt with wordplay.

The phrase, “one of your nine lives” has two interpretations. The first is Mercutio’s use of wordplay to gain validation and the second is he uses it as a threat. Tybalt doesn’t have nine lives so Mercutio is basically telling Tybalt that he will beat him down. Mercutio then follows this with “and, as you shall use me hereafter, dry-beat the rest of the eight.” He is telling Tybalt that if he isn’t satisfied with the way Tybalt treats him, then he will “dry-beat” the rest of him.

The effect on the audience is it excites them as it creates lots of drama. Therefore, Shakespeare presents conflict in Act 3 scene 1 as verbal conflict due to the brawl between Mercutio and Tybalt in an attempt to damage each other’s Hubris.

Alternatively, In Act 3 scene 1, Shakespeare presents conflict through the Irony and Humour of Mercutio. For example, once Mercutio has been stabbed he says, “A plague a’both your houses! I am sped” With a hole in his heart, Mercutio will be dead in less than three minutes and he begins to suspect the truth at once. 

Mercutio feels cheated and chagrined. He then curses the two houses. He implies that neither the house of Capulet nor the house of Montague is worth dying for. Mercutio is neither Capulet nor Montague but he is related to the prince as well as County Paris. He “plagues” the houses because Romeo did not stand up for his honor and he feels annoyed that Tybalt got away without a scratch.

He blames his death on the feud. He then repeats this curse, it not only reinforces the damage caused by the families’ conflict but it also emphasizes that the curse is intended for both Capulet and Montague -each house must take responsibility to end the conflict. Mercutio becomes the voice of fate. The phrase, “I am sped”, means I am finished, this shows that Mercutio understands that he is going to die so he tells Romeo and Benvolio who seem to remain clueless about his wound. 

Mercutio sends his page for a Doctor while Romeo reassures his friend by saying, “Courage, man; the hurt cannot be much.” This suggests that Romeo doesn’t understand that Mercutio’s wound is that bad. Clothes during the thirteenth century especially for a rich man like Mercutio would be thick with lots of layers so the wound would not be that noticeable. He says to Mercutio to have the courage and stay strong. The use of pathos in “The hurt cannot be much,” suggests that Romeo is trying to laugh it off by saying it’s not that bad.

This creates an effect on the audience by making them feel sorry for Mercutio. Pity during the Shakespearean plays was crucial as it often made the audience cry. Crying reduces stress which is why so many people went to the theatre in the 1500s. Even though Mercutio can feel his life slipping away, he continues to pun about himself and fate.

For example, he says, “Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man.” This shows that even his characteristic wit turns bitter as he treats the subject of his own death with humorous wordplay. Mercutio knows that his life is going to end very shortly but he continues to be his joking and skeptical self. Rather than tell Romeo upfront that he is going to die, he hides it behind humor which suggests that Mercutio is scared to die and does not want to look weak in front of his friend.

The word “grave” suggests that Mercutio is once again using humor to hide the truth. The word “grave” is an adjective meaning serious, which is the opposite of Mercutio who is more like the class clown. This creates an effect on the audience by making them cry. Mercutio is such a loving character that they would be sad to see him die. Therefore, Shakespeare creates conflict in the humor and death of Mercutio.

In Act 3 scene 2, Shakespeare presents the theme of conflict through the dramatic irony used by Juliet. For example, Nurse says, ”Alack the day, he’s gone, he’s killed, he’s dead!” This suggests the use of dramatic irony.  The nurse is lamenting Tybalt’s death. The audience knows that Romeo is not dead but Juliet doesn’t.

This in turn makes Juliet even more worried, and she pushes the nurse to tell her more. Little does she know that Tybalt has been killed by Romeo. Juliet doesn’t know what to feel causing her to become hysterical. In this scene, the Nurse makes it worse by crying. Juliet thinks that Nurse is grieving for Romeo. This makes Juliet even more worried.

The use of the rule of three in “He’s gone, he’s killed, he’s dead,” exaggerates the fact that the Nurse is misleading Juliet into thinking Romeo is dead. This creates an effect on the audience as to slightly hate Nurse for making Juliet feel torn. The nurse doesn’t ease Juliet’s fears until “Romeo that killed him-he is banishèd.” Juliet feels lots of emotions in that one sentence. She can’t decide whether to hate Romeo or still love him. She is torn between her husband, Romeo, and her beloved cousin, Tybalt.

The word “banishèd” is used to create an iambic pentameter. An iambic pentameter is a phrase with one unstressed syllable followed by one stressed syllable. Shakespeare writes his plays using blank verse and iambic pentameter because it was the trend in Elizabethan times. To make his sentence iambic pentameter he needed an extra syllable so he put an accent on the “e” to make it unstressed. Alternatively, the word “banishèd” makes Juliet confused. The prince stated that anyone who fought in the streets of Verona would be executed yet Romeo is just banished. This stirs up confusion as Juliet doesn’t know that Tybalt killed Mercutio.

Juliet’s first reaction to this is to curse Romeo, “O serpent heart hid with flowering face!” This shows the hatred towards her traitorous husband. She compares Romeo as beautiful like that of the evil serpent in The Garden of Eden. She describes him as a snake disguised as a flower. Juliet now loves and hates Romeo. The word “flowering face” is a metaphor for beautiful and handsome.

Juliet hopes that she has not been deceived by Romeo as he is handsome but has a “Serpent’s heart” that would be cruel enough to slay her cousin. Juliet follows this metaphor with a dozen more, all of which express shock and amazement that Romeo could look so good but be so bad.  Most of this emotional rant contains contradictions. Juliet uses oxymorons such as “Beautiful Tyrant” and “Fiend angelical,” to let her mind process whether Romeo is good or evil.

Seeing that Juliet is insulting Romeo Nurse joins in but Juliet defends Romeo with “Blistered by thy tongue for such a wish! He was not born to shame.” She tells Nurse that she hopes sores cover your tongue for a wish like that. She goes on to tell her that Romeo was not born to shame but destined only to experience great and total honor. The word “Thy” was used by Shakespeare as it was the language of the sixteenth century. In modern English “Thy” means “your”.

Juliet is using direct address to strengthen her insult, causing Juliet to forgive Romeo.  The effect on the audience is it adds pathos to the scene. The audience feel empathy towards Juliet as her cousin is dead and her husband is banished.  Therefore, Shakespeare presents conflict in Act 3 scene 2 as emotional conflict due to the grief of both Romeo and Tybalt.

In Act 4 scene 3, Shakespeare presents conflict through the emotional trauma Juliet experiences. For example, “God knows when we shall meet again.” Juliet is having second thoughts about drinking the potion that will put her in a deep slumber. This is heartbreaking because of the abundance of foreshadowing in the play. 

She senses that she will never see her mother and her wet-nurse again. Juliet feels the dread of death. This makes her doubt her decision. She wonders whether she should call Nurse back but Juliet needs her privacy to take a stand against society. It’s important for Juliet to do this because it symbolizes the escape from the feud. She goes against everything she knows to find love and it makes her strong. The word “God” suggests that Juliet needs guidance. The belief in God was obligatory in the 1200s.

Juliet feels like she has no one to turn to so she asks for guidance from her faith. This creates an effect on the audience by making them feel sorry for Juliet. Shakespeare uses Pathos to appeal to emotion. This is a way of convincing an audience of an argument by creating an emotional response.  Once they leave, Juliet says, “I have a faint cold fear thrills through my veins that almost freezes up the heat of life.”

This suggests that Juliet is nervous. She feels a slight cold fear cutting through her veins.  Juliet’s soliloquy is her expressing her inner conflict about faking her death.  She feels as though she’s freezing up inside. Juliet doesn’t know whether she can do it and has a battle against herself. This makes her hysterical as she is torn between her family and her love.

The word “Thrills” means pierce and also shiver. This suggests the amount of nerves that she is feeling. Juliet continues to battle herself by saying, “What if it be poison, which the friar subtly hath ministered to have me dead.” Juliet worries that the Friar had put poison in the potion to kill her as to save Romeo.  Juliet fills her head with different subjects that could go wrong and it drives her mad.

She is questioning whether a holy man such as the friar would poison her. You can see the depth of Juliet’s love for Romeo is visible in her willingness to drink the potion despite her profound fears. The phrase “What if,” suggests the ongoing questions that are racing through Juliet’s mind. She creates so many sceneries it drives her insane. For example, she says, “Methinks I see my cousin’s ghost seeing out Romeo that did spit his body upon a rapier’s point.”

This implies that Juliet is becoming delusional because she pictures Tybalt’s ghost coming to kill Romeo. Juliet’s imagination is working ever more strongly that she believes Tybalt has risen from the dead. Her mind has become fully hysterical now and it would be dangerous to go near Juliet.  The word “Spit” implies that she views Tybalt skewing Romeo on a “Rapier’s point.

This would become horrifying to Juliet which is why she is going crazy. To end her thoughts she says, “Romeo, Romeo, Romeo! Here’s drink- I drink to thee.” This shows Juliet’s final decision. She drinks to Romeo. She drinks to love. She drinks so she can see Romeo again. Juliet’s vision symbolises fate battling love. Juliet, steeled by love, stares down fate and drinks to Romeo.

The phrase “Romeo, Romeo, Romeo!” is a form of the rule of three. Juliet does this to make sure she wants to be with Romeo. Saying a word over and over again creates semantic satiation. Juliet wants to feel before she goes into a deep slumber as in her soliloquy she wasn’t feeling rather she was thinking. She wants to feel love for Romeo one last time in case anything goes wrong.

The effect on the audience creates an on the edge moment. Everyone wants to know whether Juliet will drink the potion or go mad and kill herself with the dagger.  Therefore, Shakespeare presents the theme of conflict in Act 4 scene 3 as an inner conflict because of the hysterical behavior of Juliet.

In Act 5 scene 3, Shakespeare presents conflict through the mourning of County Paris. For example, “Sweet flower, with flowers thy bridal bed I strew. O woe, thy canopy is dust and stones” This shows Paris scattering flowers over Juliet’s grave because of his love for her. This suggests that Paris didn’t marry Juliet solely on economic and social circumstances. 

His love for Juliet is true even if no one else thinks so. The tomb itself is compared to her “Bridal bed” and the canopy of that bed is now made up of dust and stones. The phrase “Sweet flower” is an epithet and metaphor. Juliet is not a “Sweet flower” but Paris views Juliet as having the characteristics of a “Sweet flower.” Juliet is both sweet and kind as well as beautiful. This creates an effect on the audience by making them understand that Paris is not the villain.

Paris vows to, “Which with the sweet water nightly I will dew, or, wanting that, with tears distilled by moans.” This shows that Paris has such a kind heart. He declares that he will water her grave every night with sweet water or if he doesn’t do that he will cry on her grave instead. These tears will be wrung out of him by his moans of grief for Juliet. The word “nightly” suggests that his grief for Juliet will never stop.

He will do this ritual every night forever because of his love for Juliet. In the line, “Or, wanting that, with tears …,” the word “wanting” is used in the sense that “that” something is not there, but should be: if the “that” is not there, then the situation is “wanting” it. It’s an old-fashioned use of the word “want.” Nowadays, we don’t generally think of mere situations as being able to want anything. Another example of this is, “The boy gives me warning something doth approach. What cursed foot wanders this way tonight.”

This suggests that Paris does not want to be seen by Juliet’s grave because he is ashamed to have someone see him like this. The way the language is used portrays that he is nervous and in a hurry. He questions why anyone would be out this late at night.  The word “Doth” is used by Shakespeare because it was relevant during the Elizabethan reign. “Doth” means “Do” in old English. Continuing his questioning, Paris says, “To cross my obsequies and true love’s rite? What with a torch! Muffle me, night, awhile.”

This implies that Paris is angry that someone has interrupted his “Obsequies” and “True love’s rite” because he wanted to be alone to grieve. He seems surprised that the person has brought a torch as he thought they would be more discreet. He sees that they would be able to spot him so he hurries away, hiding in the darkness for a while. The word “Muffle” suggests that Paris wants to be enveloped in the darkness. The effect on the audience is it creates tension.

The audience is eager to find out what happens to Romeo and what Paris will do to defend Juliet. After Paris watches Romeo for a while he declares, ”And here is come to do some villainous shame to the dead bodies. I will apprehend him.” This suggests that Paris supposes that Romeo means to continue the feud with the Capulets. Paris believes that Romeo has come to commit an awful crime against the dead bodies of the Capulets.  

This would intensify the feud as the Capulets would assume that the Montagues did the crime, therefore, creating conflict. To stop this Paris decides to catch Romeo. The word “Apprehend” shows that Paris is certain Romeo is going to commit a crime. Apprehending someone is to arrest them.

Paris wants to make a citizen’s arrest which is an arrest made by a citizen when there is no other option without someone getting hurt. During the 1200s and even in today’s world it is legal to do so. Therefore, Shakespeare presents the theme of conflict in Act 5 scene 3 as inner conflict due to the passion Paris holds in his heart for Juliet.

In conclusion, Shakespeare presents conflict in “Romeo and Juliet” by showing how the conflict between characters can affects events in the play. The family feud between the Capulets and the Montagues is the main reason for all the conflict and is responsible for six deaths in the span of five days. 

Shakespeare shows that loyalty to one side often leads to conflict against the other side. This can cause tension between the characters. Also, he shows that language is a powerful tool and verbal conflict can lead to physical conflict. Romeo and Juliet show that love and passion can lead to hate and conflict and the two most powerful forces of nature are love and hate.

Overall, Shakespeare shows that the effects of conflict can have disastrous consequences for the people involved.

author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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