Brawling Love of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet

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One of the most influential portrayals of conflict in English literature, that of Shakespeare's 'star-crossed lovers' in 'Romeo and Juliet', provides the basis of many subsequent portrayals of conflict embedded within their blood which tries to keep them apart, the only thing holding them together is their love for one another. Romeo is the heir to one of two households divided by the 'ancient grudge'. Through all the fighting Romeo must profess his love to Juliet, in doing this he would end all quarreling. However, to do this he must “deny thy father and refuse thy name” and exile himself. Following his development as a character, the tragedy draws out the capacity of love to fulfill its promise despite the crushing blows that fate may deal. The play is set in Verona where two rival houses of similar power and influence are locked in a conflict for dominance. During the Elizabethan era, England was divided into dukedoms whereby single families were empowered to rule over a unified area of land, though still answerable to the monarch. The problem that Elizabeth had with warring barons is reflected in the way the Prince struggles to keep order in a city dominated by the mutual antagonism between the Capulets and the Montagues. A man's reputation at the time was based upon his capacity to defend family honor above all things, and even to challenge the divine right of kings to enact God's justice by avenging wrongdoing perpetrated against his kinsmen. Romeo fulfills the role of a romantic hero in challenging this code of male honor in defense of love, and redeems his act of 'sin' in killing Juliet's cousin by dying as a tragic one conduct

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At the beginning of the play, Shakespeare introduces the audience to the major conflict between the Montagues and the Capulets in the prologue. This begins by saying, ‘break into new mutiny.’ This opening line conveys to us that the theme of the play is not loved, but it is conflict.

The prologue is symbolic as it is written in the sonnet form. It represents the conflict between two families and how every other line rhyme. However, just like Romeo and Juliet, the last two lines are a rhyming couplet of which end the prologue. This abrupt end is symbolic of the conflict of the two families that ends abruptly after the deaths of Romeo and Juliet. Typically in an Elizabethan sonnet, there is a turning point called the Volta this remarks the transition to another related topic. In the prologue, this turning point occurs after the second quatrain (in a sonnet there are three quatrains). At this transition, there is a shift from telling the audience the background and the outcome of the play to laying out its major events and telling the audience how the play will begin.

In Act One Scene One, Romeo makes one of his first appearances with a speech. Romeo begins his speech by giving a very strong comment on the true love he says, “That love, whose view is muffled still should, without eyes, see pathways to his will”. Love here is seen as something very random as love is blood and so can be given to anyone “still” (forever). Although this feeling is random at times it can lead to new “pathways” of which God intended. Next, he says “here’s much to do with hate but more with love”. This line instantly conflicts what we are taught in The Prologue where we learn that conflict is a present there throughout the whole play. This is a sign that no matter what, Romeo will fight against his fate of which is too “much” to battle. He then addresses the emotions between the families. “why then, O brawling love! O loving hate!” This antithesis of “brawling” and “loving” gives the audience a new view of the conflict in Romeo's head. The “brawling love” is the addition to fighting that the two families have created between each other. However, you could also say that this brawling love can be looked at through the relationship between Romeo and Juliet. Romeo has come to the realization that their love will always have fighting, or “Brawling” embedded in it as they are from two conflicting families. He shows this problem by using the oxymoron’s “brawling” and” love”.

Although this is at the start of the play this is not the first time that the audience sees this brawling. We are first aware of the tension in line thirty onwards in Act One Scene One. Before the outburst of fighting, there is emotional tension between the two families and members.

The Victorian humor shown in this play is seen as very gory and violent this gives the audience an idea of what the play will be about. when the audience is first introduced to the Capulet family, we have Sampson and Gregory talking on the Montague family. He says ‘tis true, and therefore women being the weaker vessel are… I will be civil with the maids; I will cut off their heads’. The stage directions at the beginning of this scene state that Sampson and Gregory, with swords and buckers. They carry this deadly equipment with the intent to cause fatal damage onto others, this is a sign to the audience that there would surely be a fight scene. However, if they were to only possess a dagger (a small knife) then such violence would not be anticipated.

The Capulets begin the argument by ambushing the Montague’s masculinity by biting his thumb (Spitting) at him. The Capulets continue to taunt the Montagues hoping to ‘Quarrel’. The Capulets use irony to do this by repeating ‘sir’ as if they respect them yet they are not showing any respect at all, however, they are being sarcastic and are only trying to attack their masculinity. The Montagues counter-attack this sly act by doing the same thing. This suddenly seems like a joke to the audience as the characters, both. As the two families already dislike each other due to the ancient grudge, a minor insult such as biting a thumb cold start a fight. This is exactly what happens next when Sampson says, “draw if you be men”, causing a brawl to break out. The next stage direction simply says, “they fight”. The speed of which the fighting started shows the audience that a quarrel can break out anywhere spontaneously. Also, as the simplicity of the words “they fight” makes these events seem normal as if it is common. Instead of describing the scenes in immense detail it is made to seem less important.

Not only is the physical conflict being portrayed in this play but there is also emotional conflict. The main victims of this type of warfare Are Romeo and Juliet. The first time we hear from Romeo is in his oxymoron speech. Here we the audience are given a slight glimpse at the complex character that is Romeo. He begins this potent speech with some very powerful notations on true love of Romeo and Juliet.

Alas, that love, whose view is muffled still,

Should, without eyes, see pathways to his will!

The ‘Love’ shown here is a symbolic version of Cupid, who can shoot arrows of love even though he is blind (his ‘view is muffled still’, ‘still’ meaning ‘forever’). Despite his disability, Cupid is still able to find ‘pathways’ to effect ‘his will’ by causing people to fall in love. It would be better were it not so, says Romeo. You could also say that; Romeo says that emotions give people a muffled view. However, in this ‘monologue’ Romeo makes it very clear on his opinions on all the fighting. He says

Why, then, O brawling love! O loving hate!

The ‘brawling-love’ of the Montagues and Capulets has caused much hatred and several brawls. As this argument is ancient the two families have made their brawling become like a tradition of which they enjoy. They have come to love this brawling hence Romeo calls it “brawling love”. He then goes on to say “O loving hate” to emphasize this opinion on the ancient grudge. 

Works cited

  1. Shakespeare, W. (1597). Romeo and Juliet. London, England: First Quarto.
  2. Greenblatt, S. (2012). Romeo and Juliet in performance: stage production and adaptation. London, England: Arden Shakespeare.
  3. Jackson, M. (2003). The Cambridge companion to Shakespeare on film. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
  4. Morris, B. (2015). Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet' (Routledge Revivals): A Routledge Study Guide and Sourcebook. London, England: Routledge.
  5. O'Toole, M. (2003). Shakespearean Tragedy and Gender. Indiana, United States: Indiana University Press.
  6. Snyder, S. (2004). The Comic Matrix of Shakespeare's Tragedies: Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear. New Jersey, United States: Princeton University Press.
  7. Lupton, J. M. (2010). Citizen-Saints: Shakespeare and Political Theology. Chicago, United States: University of Chicago Press.
  8. Foakes, R. A. (1974). Romeo and Juliet: A Guide to the Play. London, England: Methuen & Co.
  9. Leggatt, A. (2013). William Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet. Abingdon, England: Routledge.
  10. Drakakis, J. (1998). Alternative Shakespeares: Volume 2. London, England: Routledge.

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