Romeo & Juliet: Explore the ways in which Shakespeare presents and uses the idea of conflict in Romeo & Juliet William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, portrays conflict in many different ways. This essay will aim to discover the techniques that have been used to show conflict and will analyse the wordplay of the characters. Additionally, the way conflicts affect the characters’ behaviour and reactions to each other, along with the different types of language the characters use, will be examined with reference to the Elizabethan society. A spirited exchange of vulgar jokes between the Capulet servants begins Act, Scene 1 after the prologue and immediately links sex with conflict. In their bawdy quarrel, the servants’ references to ‘tool’ and ‘naked weapon,’ together with repeated images of striking and thrusting, illustrate how images of love and sex are intertwined with violence and death — and will continue to be throughout the play. The sudden switch from the comedic interplay between the servants to a potentially life-threatening situation demonstrates the rapidly changing pace that drives the action of the rest of the play.
For instance, Benvolio, whose name means ‘goodwill,’ tries to act as a peacemaker by dividing the servants, but the quick-tempered Tybalt forces him to draw his sword, and the atmosphere changes from harmony to hatred within a few lines. Romeo blames himself for Mercutio’s death because he placed his love for Juliet before consideration of his friend; hence Romeo attacks Tybalt to assuage his guilt. However, by doing so, he disregards any effect that his choice may have on Juliet. His action is impulsive and reckless. Romeo’s rage overpowers his sensibility, and his fortunes are sealed. By attacking Tybalt in a blind fury, he has become one with fiery Tybalt; one with quick-tempered Mercutio, and one with the embittered patriarchs, from where the feud first began. Tybalt’s death brings Romeo a moment of clarity as he realises that he is the helpless victim of fate, ‘O, I am fortune’s fool!’ he cries, struck deeply by a sense of anger, injustice, and futility. Shakespeare uses a hyperbole here, to emphasise Romeo’s ill luck and misfortune. The tragic events of this scene, allows the audience to empathise with ill-fated Romeo. In Act 3, Scene 1, the speed with which Mercutio and Tybalt’s deaths occur, together with Romeo’s marriage and subsequent banishment, all contribute to a sense of inevitability — that a chain of events has been set in motion over which the protagonists have no control. Mercutio’s dying curse upon the houses
resonates as the voice of fate itself. Juliet’s interaction with both her mother and her father in Act 3, Scene 5, confirms the failure of parental love because, their sole concern is with a socially acceptable marriage that will improve the wealth and status of the Capulet family rather than the happiness of their daughter.
When Capulet refused, in Act I, Scene 2, to consent to his daughter’s marriage to Paris unless she also was willing, he seemed concerned for Juliet’s welfare. Such parental concern altogether evaporates into authoritarian, patriarchal ranting as Capulet shouts epithets, calling Juliet ‘baggage’ and ‘carrion’ for refusing his order. Capulet now uses Juliet’s youth to mock her reluctance to marry, calling her a crying child and whining puppet. Capulet has degraded his daughter to chattel — an item to be brokered for value. In his fury, Capulet threatens Juliet with violence and disinheritance if she continues to disobey him, ‘Hang! Beg! Starve! Die in the streets! / For by my soul I’ll ne’er acknowledge thee.’ Capulet’s sudden transformation from seemingly concerned parent to vengeful adversary illustrates his tendency toward impulsive, cruel, and reckless behaviour. These tendencies may have contributed to the origination of the feud itself. He has shown such tendencies previously — he wanted to engage the Montague’s in a sword fight using his long sword; he viciously denounced Paris for wishing to duel Romeo at the masquerade ball; and now he has turned on his only daughter with threats of disinheritance.
He literally places her in a ‘nothing to lose’ position and thereby encourages the defiance he resents so mightily. While Juliet’s parents react with extreme bitterness, Juliet handles herself with striking maturity. No longer the dutiful teenage daughter of the Capulet’s, she is a young woman, a bride, a wife. Her answers are skilfully truthful yet pragmatically deceptive. In response to her mother’s desire to have Romeo killed, Juliet remarks that she ‘never shall be satisfied / With Romeo, till I behold him — dead.’ Juliet’s mother interprets this as anger over Romeo killing Tybalt. However, in the Elizabethan context, a man’s death also means his sexual climax. Since Juliet has just ventured into the realm of physical love, she desires it again — both as a youthful desire for pleasure as well as a mature yearning for further spiritual contact with Romeo. In the Elizabethan era, women were shown to be weaker than men and laws were put in place to degrade women. Women were not allowed to enter the professions, such as law, medicine, politics, but they could work in domestic service as cooks, maids etc. In addition, they were not allowed to vote and could not inherit their father’s titles. Sampson also refers to this in Act 1, Scene 1, Page 2, whilst speaking to Gregory, ‘… and therefore women, being the weaker vessels, are ever thrust to the wall’. ‘Men were considered to be the leaders and women their inferiors. Women were regarded as “the weaker sex”, not just in terms of physical strength, but emotionally too.’1 This was the type of culture in the Elizabethan era, which many people followed. Until Mercutio dies in Act 3, Scene 1, Romeo remains emotionally distinct from the other characters in the scene. Romeo walks atop his euphoric cloud marked by blissful thoughts of marriage to Juliet, peace, unity, and harmony. In response to Tybalt’s attempts to initiate a fight, Romeo tells Tybalt that he loves ‘thee better than thou canst devise.’ The word ‘devise’ means understand, which Tybalt finds hard to do, because Romeo does not tell him about his marriage to Juliet. Ironically, Romeo’s refusal to duel with Tybalt brings about the very acceleration of violence he sought to prevent. Tybalt seeks revenge against Romeo because a Montague appeared at a Capulet ball. While Romeo no longer labels himself Montague, Tybalt still sees Romeo as standing on the wrong side of a clear line that divides the families. Mercutio is disgusted by Romeo’s abandonment of traditionally masculine aggression. Tybalt does not understand why Romeo will not respond to his duelling challenge — a traditional method to assert and protect masculine nobility. Romeo’s separation from these typical means of interaction is both an abandonment of traditional masculinity and a departure from the divisive perspective of the feud. Romeo and Juliet’s love embraces an awe-inspiring, intensely unified concept of love. Their extraordinary love removes them from the animosity that drives the feud; however, that love is also flawed by Romeo acting out of anger rather than out of his love for Juliet. In the confrontation with her parents after Romeo’s departure, Juliet shows her full maturity.
She dominates the conversation with her mother, who cannot keep up with Juliet’s intelligence and therefore has no idea that Juliet is proclaiming her love for Romeo under the guise of saying just the opposite. Shakespeare situates this maturation directly after Juliet’s wedding night, linking the idea of development from childhood to adulthood with sexual experience. Indeed, Juliet feels so strong that she defies her father, but in that action she learns the limit of her power. Strong as she might be, Juliet is still a woman in a male-dominated world. One might think that Juliet should just take her father up on his offer to disown her and go to live with Romeo in Mantua. That is not an option. Juliet, as a woman, cannot leave society; and her father has the right to make her do as he wishes. Though defeated by her father, Juliet does not revert to being a little girl. She recognizes the limits of her power and, if another way cannot be found, determines to use it: for a woman in Verona, in the Elizabethan times that cannot control the direction of her life, suicide, and the brute ability to live or not live, that life can represent the only means of asserting authority over one self. In Act 3, Scene 1, Mercutio’s final speeches reflect a mixture of anger and disbelief that he has been fatally injured as a result of the “ancient grudge” between the Montague’s and the Capulet’s; he repeatedly curses, ‘A plague o’ both your houses.’ Shakespeare uses the technique of foreshadowing here, by referring back to the prologue, where it states, ‘A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life’. From the prologue, the audience can infer that two lovers will take their lives – which Romeo and Juliet are, the ill-fated ones.
Romeo and Juliet’s relationship is a conspiracy amongst their families, as only Friar Laurence and they know about it. This link between the two families helps the audience to understand that Mercutio is giving another hint about Romeo and Juliet’s ‘…death mark’d love’. Through foreshadowing, the reader is reminded of the key themes of this play: death and conflict. Also, the reader perceives this as, a scene full of tension, leading onto suspense, which intrigues the reader. Furthermore, even his witty characteristic turns bitter as Mercutio treats the subject of his own death with humorous wordplay, ‘Ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man.’ The word ‘grave’ is very ambiguous. It can mean refer to death, such as a burial place or a serious situation. Shakespeare’s ambiguity is easily understood by the reader, due to the events that occur in the scene. Another example of foreshadowing would be in Act 3, Scene 1, when Romeo says ‘This but begins the woe others must end’. The use of the word ‘woe’ shows Romeo’s misfortune and misery. When he says ‘others must end’, it foreshadows more death later on in the scene. The use of foreshadowing death many times in the scene will leave the audience astonished but will hint at
scenes to come. Shakespeare uses metaphors throughout the play, ‘… that quench the fire of precious rage with purple fountains issuing from your veins,’ This line illustrates the severity in which the two families: Capulet’s and Montague’s, seek vengeance on each other. They wish to satisfy their anger in ‘fountains of each other’s blood’. The word ‘fountains’ conveys the amount of hatred one family has for the other, as it is used in the context of death and murder. Furthermore, in this line, Shakespeare uses the metaphor to show the tone, authority and rage that is present in the Prince’s voice. The Prince is outraged and Shakespeare clearly conveys this through the metaphor. Moreover, the metaphor represents that the Prince is powerful and of a higher status in comparison to the other characters.
The Prince and the two families have a subtle conflict arising between themselves, which is overshadowed by the more overpowering conflict between the Capulet’s and the Montague’s. The Prince is aggravated by the continuous and repetitive brawls in the streets of Fair Verona that are increasingly affecting the civilians. In addition, rhetorical questions are used very effectively in Act 1, Scene 1, Page 6. ‘Will they not hear? – What ho?’ The Prince is angry with their defiance to disobey his orders. This line shows that he is questioning the authority of the naïvely arrogant families. Furthermore, the use of the ‘– ‘is to represent a dramatic pause. This indicates that the Prince is challenging them to defy him any further. Act 3, Scene 1 is an anti-climatic moment, for the reason that, it plays an important role to the entire story line. The negative emotions brought forth by the death of Mercutio are in contrast, against the positive joyful emotions earlier in the scene between Romeo and Juliet when they are married. Some may argue that Shakespeare is trying to create a melancholic atmosphere, which makes the reader doubt their emotions towards the story. As soon as the street brawl starts, the weather instantly changes, this is an example of pathetic fallacy which Shakespeare used. ‘For now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring.’ The metaphor, ‘mad blood stirring’ creates a foreboding atmosphere in the scene.
Also, from this line the reader can perceive that the moods of the characters are in such a state that the natural order has been disturbed. Shakespeare uses contrast very effectively; he makes the reader pleased that two loved couples are happily married and then does a twist and creates suspense leaving the reader shocked at the death of Mercutio. Light in darkness – this is the imagery that constantly reoccurs in Romeo and Juliet. ‘O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright,’ Romeo says when he first sees Juliet. ‘It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night / Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear’ Variations on this imagery are repeated again and again – images of Juliet as a sun rising in the darkness, of Juliet’s eyes shining in the sky, images of Romeo’s body cut out in little stars, of Romeo and Juliet’s love as a bright furious lightning flash. At times, the image of a flash of light disappearing into the dusk seems to symbolize both the brilliant strength of Romeo and Juliet’s love, as well as its transience. The imagery of light and darkness also picks up the play’s emphasis on the contrasts between love and hate, passion and death. Shakespeare has used a variety of language techniques to portray the main theme of conflict. While the conflict elevates through the play, the characters become more provocative and daring.
The style of language also changes to express their reactions, and a common technique throughout this play has been wordplay. The conflicts that have occurred in Romeo and Juliet convey a lot about the type of society in the Elizabethan times. Male pride and honour was a huge part of this play, as the main fight in Act 3, Scene 1 (Mercutio dies, Romeo kills Tybalt) caused a link of chain reactions to be set off. Foreshadowing has been used several times throughout the play, as to give the audience a hint of what will happen in the upcoming scenes. Overall, Shakespeare represents conflict in a highly complex way, where the audience has to piece together the parts and deal with a sentimental love story.