By what means does Shakespeare engage his audience in the Prologue and first three scenes of ‘Romeo and Juliet’? What are our expectations? Right at the beginning of any text, it is vital that the author is able to engage the audience or reader’s attention. Shakespeare was almost thirty years old when he wrote the successful play, ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Although ‘Romeo and Juliet’ was popularised by William Shakespeare, it actually originated form an Italian prose writer called Meccucio Salerintano.
Salerintano first wrote it in 1476; however, Shakespeare’s source may have come from a minor Elizabethan poet called Arthur Brooke. He wrote a narrative poem with the name of ‘The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet’. Before ‘Romeo and Juliet’, Shakespeare had completed two tragedies, ‘Richard III’ and ‘Titus Adronicus,’ both of which included pride, envy, murder and intrigue. Then, in 1595, ‘Romeo and Juliet’ was produced and the characters from this play, acted like the characters of his previous romantic comedies.
The play is a sorrowful tragedy, which includes laughter, happiness and sensitivity even though we already know the ending is dark and painful to everyone. Shakespeare created a strong narrative that always keeps the audience interested in what happens next, but at the same time, he also looked into the ideas of; ways in which happiness turns to suffering where the characters do not even have the full understanding of love, how good intentions are not enough and how the imagination of those in love can make everything else.
The play was widely known around Europe already and therefore, had a vague understanding of it. However, Shakespeare altered it in a way where the audience wants to know how the story unfolds. The audience were not interested in what the story was about but were more concerned in how the story is revealed. The very first section includes the prologue, which tells us in brief what the audience is to expect. Prologue means ‘I speak before’ and the Greeks used the prologue as a chorus, which brings songs, but in this case, the play, altogether. It is a summary, which help the audience understand the play with ease.
This then enables the audience to enjoy how well the play is presented by the actions and words of each character constituted by the great William Shakespeare. Conflict is a major theme in ‘Romeo and Juliet’, which is portrayed throughout the whole play. The Prologue is the very first part of the play, which is heard or read first. This therefore must be essential in keeping the audience engaged in the play. Shakespeare does this by briefly revealing to us what we are to expect and makes the audience aware of the dramatic irony intended to occur.
It is written in sonnet form and is split into three quatrains, excluding the last two lines, which are a rhyming couplet, to create a rhythm in order to help the audience remember the prologue. The first line, ‘Two households, both alike in dignity’, straightaway informs us of who is involved in the play and how their eminence is familiar to both families. The key words in the first sentence are ‘alike’ and ‘dignity’, already suggesting that they are both rivals. In my view, they are thought to be competing to prove which family is greater in status, as, at the moment, they are both very similar.
It is the primary line that inaugurates the theme of conflict, but our knowledge of the theme expands as we find out that it commenced, ‘From ancient grudge ‘, highlighting that the feud has not just started but has been going on for many years. It is made clear after reading, ‘From forth the fatal loins of these two foes, a pair of star crossed lovers take their life’, that Romeo and Juliet are doomed to die due to the interference of the similarities from both the Montagues and Capulets.
It is apparent the prologue introduces the theme of conflict and the dramatic irony that will happen, which we will therefore expect in the play, encouraging the readers to read on. It is extremely significant that the play opens with a fight scene as it makes the audience feel a part of it. Although it is written with fairly difficult language, the sentences are making it relatively understandable, enabling us to find out where the argument is heading. The spectacle of the brawl is full and stimulating, which is certain to engage the attention of the audience.
At the beginning, Sampson and Gregory talk of sexual and physical bravado and introduces yet another theme, masculine honour. It is important in Verona that a man must defend his honour whenever it is violated against, whether physically or verbally. This notion of masculine honour is present through every layer in Verona, even through servants, for example, Sampson and Gregory. The fight became a bit more serious when Sampson planned to ‘bite my thumb at them, which is a disgrace if they bear it,’ because the biting of your thumb was an obscene gesture in those days.
This event is an opening of economy, descriptive power, excitement and it also brings the levels of curiosity, higher. There is a great contrast between Tybalt and Benvolio. They are not very alike at all. Tybalt, a Capulet, wants to fight, ‘Turn thee, Benvolio; look upon thy death. ‘ His intentions are strong especially because of his hatred of all Montague’s, ‘I hate hell, all Montague’s, and thee. ‘ However, Benvolio, a Montague whose name means ‘I wish well,’ wants peace to remain, ‘I do but keep the peace.
‘ This brawl was not caused by Tybalt and Benvolio but from the servants from each household, conveying that the argument was widely spread even to the level of servants as I have previously said. The lower classes portray the difficulty of their lives; difficulties that the Capulets and Montagues would not have to face if they were not so blinded by honour and hatred. Furthermore, the men of the family feel obliged to be part of the feud even in their old age, but the women greatly disagree, ‘Thou shalt not stir one fool to seek a foe,’ as they think it is wrong an inappropriate.
The fathers are meant to be setting an example. And as the fathers of both parties’ think this, makes us expect conflict to remain present throughout the novel. In the middle of scene I, Prince Escalus is introduced whose name may be significant to this part of the play. His name, Escalus, may have derived from the word, ‘scales,’ meaning balanced which implies that he does not take anyone’s side making him unbiased or neutral. The Prince gives a speech and promptly insults both houses saying, ‘you beasts. ‘ The speech echoes the measured style of the prologue as Shakespeare had mentioned it then.
The warnings, ‘If you ever you disturb our streets again, your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace,’ and, ‘once more, on pain of death, all men depart,’ are spoken with the full weight of a royal sentence of legal judgement which threatens torture for everyone and death for the heads of the two warning households. The frame of mind changes from violence to quite calm as the Prince makes his speech. This is done by the strong and powerful words he uses such as, ‘you beasts,’ ‘bloody hands,’ and ‘mistempered weapons,’ to name just a few, which makes the crowds feel fearful of the penalty.
Private passion is another theme in the play initiated by the brawl, which is revealed by Sampson carefully asking, ‘Is the law on our side, if I say ‘Ay” and therefore after the Prince establishes the punishment of death for anyone who disturbs the peace again, the levels of private passion are raised to new degree. It is noticed that Lady Montague has been quiet once asking, ‘O where is Romeo? ‘ This might represent her respect of her son and his emotions or maybe her deep involvement and sympathy of her son.
Although she is quiet, she is concerned about his son and is ‘glad he was not at this fray. ‘ Lady Montague’s apprehension for Romeo introduces more personal feeling. The monosyllable she speaks requires careful stressing and the effect is strengthened by concluding rhyme. However Lady Montague is not the only one worried about him. Montague indicates that ‘a good counsel may the cause remove. ‘ The two couplets ‘Black and portentous must this humour approve, Unless good counsel may the cause remove. ‘ And.
‘Could we but learn from whence his sorrows grow, We would as willingly would give cure as known,’ Ensure that the main facts of the situation are clearly understood by the audience, despite all the images and curious elaboration of Montague’s descriptions. They also point the dramatic irony of Montague being anxious about Romeo’s sorrow and yet unaware of the doom already foretold by the prologue- the consequence of his own strife and rage. Conflict is not only present in the public between the two families but also internally in Romeo.
He isolates himself from everyone as he does not want people to know about his love for Rosaline and what makes it worse is that his love is not returned and would prefer it if his family didn’t know. Romeo creates night when it is day and therefore makes both Montague and Benvolio worried. Romeo enters and it is Benvolio’s duty to find out what is wrong with him and so Lady Montague and Montague leave. Romeo is reluctant to speak about what is wrong and when Benvolio brings up the subject of love, Romeo starts to speak in a sad yet angry manner. Within Romeo he is debating whether to tell Benvolio about his unrequited love.
In scene II, we meet Paris who was in conversation with Capulet. Capulet is aware of the consequences which is shown by, ‘Montague’s bound as well as I, in penalty alike. ‘ Paris reveals that he would like to get married to Juliet and asks permission. This then leads us to expect to encounter trouble. By just reading what Capulet said, we realise that Juliet is very much more constrained than Romeo. Capulet is seen as a kind man and has some respect for Juliet, ‘My will to her consent is but a part,’ although he feels obliged to force her into marriage with his power.
However, it is not specifically said in the text so far that Romeo is in love with Juliet but is in fact is devoted to Rosaline. Scene III is Juliet’s premier appearance and is portrayed as a delightful and obedient young child. Juliet and her father is another example of conflict in the family. In those days, it was traditional to have arranged marriages and therefore Capulet organizes Juliet to marry Paris. Capulet believes that they should get together as he, just like them, are high in status. Although Lady Capulet got married at a young age, she too supports Capulet.
Juliet as a young lady has neither choice nor power in any social situation. Impetuous love is another main theme Shakespeare uses to engage his audience. Love is initially presented tragically in the prologue, ‘a pair of star across lovers take their life,’ implying that it is their destiny to die for the love of each other. We are told in the prologue that they are rivals, but towards the end, it is shown that nothing stands in their way of achieving what they want. Love is almost immediately introduced in scene I, by the servants.
Sampson indicates, ‘I will take the will of any man or maid of Montague’s,’ and continues, ‘I will push Montague’s from the wall, and thrust his maids to the wall,’ due to his hatred of them. This is a sexual innuendo. This also refers to the role of women as the man dominates. Love here, has been transferred to hate and has motivated Sampson to speak of ‘rape’ in a cruel context. Sampson mentions quite a few sexual innuendo’s including, ‘their maiden-heads- take it in what sense, ‘me they shall feel while I am able to stand; and tis’ known I am a pretty piece of flesh’ and finally, ‘Draw thy tool.
‘ Shakespeare includes this not only to demonstrate sexual bravado but for humour to keep the reader interested. The beginning of scene I is mostly about the brawl and concentrates more on conflict between the two families, however, as we near the end of that particular scene, we are found to be more involved with Romeo and his love situation. Even before Romeo appears, his father talks of him because Romeo avoids them, symbolising that he does not want to talk about his affairs. Benvolio reveals that he found Romeo ‘underneath a Sycamore tree,’ which is a pun relating to the French word, amour.