In the play Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare examines the conflict between the Montagues and Capulets both internally and externally; displaying various types of conflict which can be seen in the deaths of Tybalt, Mercutio, and Paris due to toxic masculinity and male bravado. Romeo and Juliet’s relationship faces obstacles due to the animosity and predestined fate between the Montagues and Capulets, despite their affection and sensualism.
Shakespeare wrote the play between 1591-1595 and has set it in Verona and Mantua, Italy, during the Italian renaissance period however the audience was from the Elizabethan era specifically in the 1300s or 1400s thus this is important because it highlights the setting that the play was set in, explaining the culture, religion and closed mindset of the audience.
The prologue of Romeo and Juliet represents the theme of conflict through various language and structural techniques. Composed as a sonnet that is made up of 14 lines; 3 quatrains and a couplet. The couplet portrays how Romeo and Juliet will commit suicide together in the denouement, which additionally acts as a break between the consistent quatrains of the prologue.
Shakespeare uses synecdoche ‘where civil blood makes civil hands unclean’ implying how the individual’s hands and blood are linked through death, displaying the use of foreboding because it reiterates how the use of word choice could display the impact of actions later in the play. Repetition of “civil” could refer to the people that the family feud affects and how it leads to dire consequences; therefore, emphasising how societal conflict has an impact on the conflict of power and how the patriarchy was divided in 1597, as Catholicism supports patriarchal societies; the most prominent and powerful positions in this religion are only awarded to males.
The use of the metaphor ‘where civil blood makes civil hands unclean’ reveals that people’s emotions can cause conflict. The predicative adjective ‘unclean’ reveals that many of these people are to blame for these ongoing violent feuds, it could also highlight how this behaviour is contagious. The second quatrain shifts to internal conflict relating to Romeo and Juliet’s death conveying emotional and moral conflict. In addition, societal conflict is linked to religious conflict, the metaphor ‘a pair of star-cross’d lovers’ emphasises that they are destined to be together as it is written in the stars – Calvinism was widespread by the mid 16th century which became the centre of the highly organized missionary movement due to his theory of Predestination based on how our fate has been written before we were born.
The Elizabethan audience would be able to perceive ‘pre-destined’ fate as the prologue introduces the theme of tragedy where the lovers are named ‘star-cross’d’ and’ death-mark’d’. In the 1st quatrain the conflict focuses on external and physical conflict as it displays the hunger for power between the Montagues and the Capulets. Shakespeare rhymes ‘dignity’ with ‘mutiny’ displaying the connotations of compliment or prestige while mutiny shows the true character of the families, as when there is good there is also evil. Juxtaposition between grudge (passive) and mutiny (active) reveals this conflict is irreversible because of the word choice displaying passive and active; relates to the conflict being inevitable.
The third quatrain is focused on the aftermath of Romeo and Juliet’s death causing internal conflict between the parents – this shift occurs because it portrays the different conflicts that the characters are exposed to, this is displayed when stated ‘And the continuance of their parents’ rage’, the noun “rage” signifies the internal conflict that the parents are facing after the death of Romeo and Juliet.
Catholicism in Verona, Italy held a strong belief in damnation because of moral sin such as bigamy and suicide; the fact that Juliet commits suicide implies how religious conflict is going to be displayed throughout the play. This displays religious conflict as Juliet’s actions against Catholicism in Verona had a big impact on the feud between the families, as it was more fuel being added to the fire.
The iambic pentameter displayed throughout the prologue creating a heartbeat rhythm due to the 10 syllables which is consistent through the sonnet, displaying the theme of emotional conflict as the heartbeat symbolises the flow of love throughout the prologue juxtaposed with the word choice and semantic field of violence, creating an emotional conflict.
On the contrary, there are parts in the quatrain where the syllables don’t flow, forming a break portraying the conflict that is going to be faced within Romeo and Juliet’s love, such as parental conflict and emotional conflict.
As it breaks away from the normal conventions of a sonnet which displays how it goes against romanticism. The direct address to the audience in the final couplet draws back the audience’s attention and enforces them to engage with the play; even though love is positive however it is still doomed hence explains the stopping of the heart. Trochee rhyme is used to help certain words appear more prominent; this is seen in the first line through the vocabulary ‘Two’, ‘alike’ and ‘dignity’.
The rhyme scheme focuses on stressed syllables such as ‘dignity’ and ‘mutiny’ which are juxtaposing nouns as part of the rhyme scheme. Thus, to a certain extent the word choice is alternating. The juxtaposition of word choice between negatives and positives as it portrays where there is good, there is always evil. Vocabulary used such as ‘life’ and ‘strife’ displays a sense of conflict as strife means conflict, so by rhyming life and strife this displays that there is conflict in their lives, which is presented between the parents as well as Romeo and Juliet’s love.
In Act 1 Scene 1, women are represented as derogatory individuals at the bottom of the social patriarchy; toxic masculinity and male bravado causes internal and external conflict throughout the first act, due to the superior gender of males. When Sampson is arguing with Gregory, he states, ‘women being the weaker vessels’ as ‘weaker’ is part of the lexical field of weakness ‘weakest’ and ‘weak’ thus diminishing their reputation as it is highly offensive; it foreshadows conflict of power between the two genders.
Shakespeare has a direct link to the Book of Genesis from the noun ‘vessels’ when Cain was in exile implying which direction the play will flow in as it portrays how Romeo might get exiled. Sampson then states ‘thrust his maids to the wall’ this portrays male bravado as well as sexual bravado, the verb ‘thrust’ portrays sexual connotations which links to when Lamech brags about killing the younger of his two wives. The audience would perceive this as foreshadowing the events that might occur with Romeo, such as Cain being exiled.
Furthermore, it is a direct link to how Shakespeare portrays toxic masculinity and how women are perceived as a stereotype for the men to provide the children as Eve from the Bible is portrayed in a negative light as she commits a sin as well as misleading mankind. Gregory on the other hand states ‘while you live, draw your neck out of collar.’
The nouns ‘neck and collar’ display a semantic field of zoomorphism in which there is a modification of human to animal suggesting a ‘dog’ where the repetition of the noun ‘dog’ displays egotistical aggressiveness; a ‘dog’ is usually on the bottom of the social hierarchy. The ‘neck and collar’ is also a semantic field of a noose where he is warning that his actions could lead to his downfall, so the playful boisterous tone encourages an impulsive nature.
The adjective “fair” has two different meanings: “beautiful” and “just.” This second meaning indicates that the Prince of Verona (who enforces the law) does not favour one family over the other as both families are treated equally; this opening line reveals that the two families have equal social status and respect. It is like fate that one house has never been able to rise above the other.
Whenever one house attempts to gain social standing or wealth, like when Capulet tries to marry off Juliet to Paris, it leads to destruction (Romeo murders Paris), therefore physical conflict. Both households slowly erode their honor until it is crushed by the death of both heirs, Romeo of Montague, and Juliet of Capulet.
‘Two such opposed kings encamp them still in man as well as herbs, ‘grace and rude will’ the use of juxtaposition in ‘Where there is good there is evil’ which links to the prologue to display a consistent theme of conflict of word choices. In addition, the nouns ‘dignity’ and ‘mutiny’ display juxtaposition implying conflict which could be natural due to the use of herbs, a natural factor, implying that grace and rude will are natural to mankind. The structure of the play portrays good and evil, throughout the play from the prologue to Act 2, scene 3 with Friar Lawrence, further displaying religious conflict.
‘Kings’ could represent an ideology behind the word king to represent the social patriarchy and the 2 families. “For this alliance may so happily prove to turn your households’ rancor to pure love’ displays a positive semantic field of happiness in the words ‘happily, pure and love’ as Friar Lawrence is a character that tries to maintain the peace.
Friar Lawrence foreshadows and forebodes their ending while marrying them which links to Calvinism and how Romeo and Juliet’s fate is written in the stars; ‘star cross’d lovers’. In addition, ‘star cross’d lovers’ defines Romeo and Juliet’s fate which links to Freudian’s Theory. Freud states that the unconscious mind controls behaviour to a greater level than people suspect. In addition, Freud found that after experiencing trauma, people are more aggressive, violent and display self-destructive behaviour.
Thus, foreboding the death of the couple and how Juliet stabbed herself displaying the misery and agony she was in. Furthermore, Pyramus and Thisbe were Babylonian star crossed lovers that are described by Ovid; they commit double suicide. This symbolises the double suicide Romeo and Juliet which is a direct link to Pyramus and Thisbe; Shakespeare modified Pyramus and Thribe’s tragedy into Romeo and Juliet in Medieval Verona.
In Act 2 Scene 3, Tybalt displays his hate towards Romeo by insulting him in a public place. Tybalt states ‘the love I bear thee’ portraying the use of metaphor and implying the lack of love he holds for Romeo. The reason Tybalt insults him in a public space to further display toxic masculinity and male bravado. Tybalt is holding in his anger, the buildup of rage and intensity over the scenes caused him to unleash his anger. The reason he insults him is because he was held back by Lord Capulet from Romeo at the Capulet’s party so when he encounters him he unleashed his anger.
Dramatic irony is present in the marriage of Romeo and Juliet which is portrayed through the vehicle of Tybalt, where he states ‘It will be endured’ in Act 2, Lord Capulet to Tybalt, as the verb ‘endure’ implies suffering so Tybalt foreshadows that Romeo and Juliet will face obstacles and difficulties along their journey. In Act 3 Scene 1, the use of word choice affects the tone of the scene which also impacts the atmosphere. Thus, the semantic field of love is displayed when Romeo is talking to Tybalt explaining his love to the Capulets; such as ‘love, tender and satisfied’.
Romeo states ‘which name I tender’ displays dramatic irony as the audience knows Romeo and Juliet are married but Tybalt doesn’t know. This is juxtaposed with a semantic field of violence; which is presented through the vehicle of Tybalt. Tybalt uses nouns such as ‘villain, injuries and draw’. Tybalt continues to diminish Romeo’s status by using the noun ‘boy’, the derogatory language represents toxic masculinity as it portrays that Romeo isn’t masculine enough to be considered as a man.
The audience engages with the play through Mercutio’s dramatic tone when saying ‘O calm, dishonorable, vile submission!’, the use of the exclamation mark further displays the violence in Mercutio’s tone as the stressed vowels and caesura demonstrates the climax within Mercutio’s vigorous tone as it exemplifies his anger, throughout the scene Mercutio builds up tension through his tone and word choice as the climactic parts of the play fluctuate in order to keep the audience engaged.
Therefore, he calls Tybalt ‘Good King of Cats’ to taunt him by stating that Tybalt is a cat and a coward, complementary to ‘Reynard the Fox’ where the first extant versions were published mid of the 12th century. Mercutio does this in order to emasculate Tybalt thus provoking a fight. In addition, Mercutio also yells to Tybalt saying ‘you rat-catcher’ which portrays how Tybalt is at the bottom of the social hierarchy, as when the Black Plague occurred between 1347 – 1351 the cats would catch rats.
Therefore, spreading the disease which is why it insults Tybalt as Shakespeare continuously embeds toxic masculinity and the rivalry between the Capulets and Montagues. Romeo juxtaposes this attitude as he says to Tybalt ‘To such a greeting. Villain am I none;’ the use of personal pronouns ‘I’ and ‘thee’ to show how he is connected to the Capulets; displaying dramatic irony as the audience knows that Romeo and Juliet are married so they are connected.
Romeo shows toxic masculinity but isn’t stereotypical as the rest so he could possibly be representing Shakespeare’s emotions and ideology as Romeo breaks away from normal conventions.
Juliet’s soliloquy delivered in the opening of Act 3 Scene 2 makes allusions to Phoebus as she displays her strong desire for nightfall; ‘Toward Phoebus’ lodging. Such a wagoner’. Phoebus is an allusion to Apollo, the Greek god of the sun. Apollo is portrayed in myth as driving a chariot, Phaeton, that regulates the sun’s rising and setting. Juliet wishes for the sun to fall in this beginning of her monologue and the night to come. She is also asking the, metaphorical, horses of Apollo to go to his home; which is another way of suggesting that she needs the sun to go down. She needs the “steeds” of Apollo to go west quickly and “bring in a cloudy night”.
She hopes to rush away for the rest of the day so that she can see Romeo earlier. That night, they made a date to meet, and Juliet is excited to step towards that moment and is eager to wait. Using metaphor and personification, Juliet goes on to speak in praise of the night. She equates Romeo with night: “Come, night. Come, Romeo.” Juliet needs the aid of Apollo, for as soon as she wishes it to, the day will not naturally end. How desperately Juliet needs to be with Romeo displays internal conflict and dilemma between her thoughts which is emphasized by the allusion to Greek mythology.
In Act 3 Scene 5, internal and external conflict displayed through the vehicle of Juliet while gender conflict, parental conflict is displayed between Juliet and her parents.
The reason Juliet faced parental conflict with her father mainly is because she refused to marry Paris. Elizabethan women had very little choice in husbands as marriages were arranged by their families in order to bring prestige or wealth to the families involved; women were required to be subservient to their husbands as it was believed men were more intelligent than women so many young men and women didn’t meet their spouses until their wedding day.
Marriage was considered more of a business arrangement between the families than a relationship between a man and a woman. Elizabethan law gave men full control over their wives. Married women were considered to be the property of their husbands and were expected to bring a dowry or marriage portion (property, money and various goods) to the marriage. Elizabethan wives were also required to run the household and bare children. Marriage in Elizabethan times was considered a necessity.
Women who didn’t marry were considered sacrilegious, and for lower class women, the only alternative was a life of servitude to wealthier families. Marriage allowed them social status and children. While the husbands received the marriage portion from their wives, marriage allowed a woman to maintain a certain status even if she became a widow. Widows were allowed to own property and run businesses.
When Lady Capulet states ‘That he shall soon keep Tybalt company;’ the use of caesura allows the reader to focus on Tybalt’s name which triggers Juliet’s internal conflict as Juliet is haunted by Tybalt’s death as she feels guilt towards his death. The metaphor of death and pathetic fallacy is displayed through the vehicle of Lord Capulet but it could be foreshadowing the disaster which will unfold ‘When the sun sets, the earth doth drizzle dew’ the alliteration of ‘D’ creates a dismal effect on the audience suiting the character of Lord Capulet.
Religious symbolism is displayed when Juliet is appearing to pray to her father as she begs for mercy; ‘Good father, I beseech you on my knees,’. Juliet represents that the patriarchal society and the feud between the families is causing her internal conflict. In a dramatic irony context, the way Lord Capulet
is treating Juliet is in a way punishing her for marrying Romeo. Her marrying Romeo is considered morally wrong due to society’s views on women. However, ethically it is not wrong and therefore it is not a sin. Thus, she has not committed a sin despite that she is desperate for her father’s forgiveness.
When Lord Capulet yells at Juliet saying, ‘Disobedient wretch!’ obedience is associated with tamed animals suggesting zoomorphism where she is an animal that is tamed going out of control. An extended metaphor that Lord Capulet is the master of the dog. In the Elizabethan era the dogs were at the bottom of the social hierarchy and so Lord Capulet is implying that his daughter is also a dog. Therefore, degrading her position in social hierarchy.
The patriarchy is also displayed through the ‘Book of Genesis’ 30:3 ‘Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her’ which further displays Juliet’s action of going on her knees and begging for her father’s mercy similarly to how the ‘Book of Genesis’ states that the maid Bilhah ‘shall bear upon my knees’. Juliet yells at her mother saying, ‘Upon his body that hath slaughter’d him!’ an intense atmosphere is portrayed due to the exclamation marks in the caesura which emphasises the building up of tension.
Also, the term ‘slaughter’d, baggage, wretched and hang’ displays connotations of death which forebodes Juliet’s suicide in addition to further emphasising the negative and tense atmosphere in the scene. Lord Capulet is not sympathetic towards Juliet’s situation and he implies that she is a burden with the use of inclusive pronouns in ‘And that we have a curse in having her.’; Capulet is revealing to his daughter how he and his wife may be regretful about not having a son.
Furthermore, Syntactic parallelism is presented through ‘Speak not, reply not’ to further emphasize how Juliet’s voice and opinion is unwanted, gender conflict was displayed through the play as the Elizabethan audience would understand why Lord Capulet and Lady Capulet would want a son over a daughter.
However, a modern audience would not understand why men are preferred over women: which would be classified as male dominance, toxic masculinity, and patriarchal issues: they are displayed through Lord Capulet as he is speaking for his wife. Juliet could be a catalyst to Shakespeare’s marriage as Shakespeare’s own ideology is embedded through the vehicle of Juliet.
In conclusion, there are various ways of interpreting Romeo and Juliet; some may think Shakespeare is projecting the fact that no one is immune to conflict therefore we all have resentment within us as conflict is unavoidable as we see it in terms of opposites, human beings will still be in conflict with each other: good and evil, right and wrong, however, the need for reconciliation is conveyed by Shakespeare.
For the Elizabethan audience, the play successfully dramatizes conflict as they were familiar with conflict around them, while today the play is important as it highlights conflicts in matters such as family feud, politics, culture, and religion. Both Romeo and Juliet died at the end of the play, there is an immense amount of irony that death meant peace between the Montagues’ and the Capulets’ two homes. Eventually, these lovers manage to unite the family in sorrow and settle the long-standing dispute.
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