How Does Shakespeare Portray the Theme of Violence in Romeo and Juliet

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Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet in 1594 in the Elizabethan era when violence, torchering people and fighting was in people’s daily routines. Dualling was commonplace to end family feuds. Shakespeare, a forward thinking man of his time, was concerned about unnecessary deaths, so used his plays to share his message; as going to the theater and watching plays was the only means of entertainment at that time.Through his plays he addressed many different themes including: different types of love; gender roles, as at that time men were the decision makers of the family and women had no rights (this he portrayed when Juliet’s father was forcing her to marry paris against her will); friendship and loyalty, creating the characters of Benvolio and Romeo who were like brothers; fate, as it was foreshadowed in the opening paragraph that both characters would die; hatred and revenge, portrayed by the relationship of Tybalt and Mercutio, and many more. In this essay I am going to discuss the theme of Violence, which was widespread in Edwardian times. Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is a classic five act play, about ‘star crossed lovers’ who were from two warring families. 

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The male lead role, Romeo is from the Montague family and his female lover Juliet is from the Capulets. Both characters ended their lives because their families could not unite together. In this essay I am going to talk about the theme of violence that is threaded throughout the play. Shakespeare addresses the theme of violence many times in the play. The audience witness it right from the opening lines of the Prologue in which Shakespeare cleverly used the technique of writing it in the form of a sonnet as in the Elizabethan times sonnets were a way to express love or to write love poetry. 

The idea of starting it like that was to introduce the audience to the plot and characters by a prologue that foreshadows the death of Romeo and juliet in the text . He constructed this pattern as he wanted his audience to know that the play had a combination of love, violent and comedic scenes, informing the bloodthirsty audience that there would be fighting to the death and the tragic ending of life. The exposition of the play immediately presents to the audience the theme of hatred and violence. Shakespeare uses the characters of household servants, quarrelling in the street, to excite the audience. His main purpose of using these characters was to tell the audience that the ‘ancient grudge’ had not stopped or weakened but it had grown to such an extent and had become much more powerful, that even the servants of these two families hated each other and wanted to fight. Elizabethan families would have related to the loyalty shown by the servants and this ‘gang’ culture is still prevalent today. In the first scene the feud started when Sampson bit his thumb at Abram and so Abram angrily asked “Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?” Biting your thumb in front of someone is a very disrespectful and insulting gesture and a bit of immature thing. Shakespeare’s purpose of adding this silly, childish behavior of Sampson and Abram was to show the audience the immaturity of people in society at that time; this behavior could have been ignored. Shakespeare uses this initial squabble to create an atmosphere of violence and build tension and drama. When the feud started we see both the leaders of the two families entering the stage and, instead of stopping the fight, they engaged themselves in it, inciting more violence. We see this as the first words from Lord Capulet’s mouth are ‘My sword, I say! Old Montague is come, and flourishes his blade in spite of me’. Furthermore, the characters did not even care that their wives were hindering them not to fight as it was illegal. ‘Thou shalt not stir one step to seek a foe’ .ere Shakespeare was highlighting the unimportance of women (as both Capulet and Montague ignored their wives) as well as showing that the men only used to do what they wanted. As the scene comes to an end we see the arrival of the Prince who enters the stage shouting, “ throw your mistempered weapons to the ground”. On his command, the whole cast does as he orders. This gesture shows the audience the power of The Prince and how much higher up he was in the social pyramid. Here in this part the writer was showing that the people in 1590s were divided into different classes and were awarded respect and power according to their class in the society. 

After the prince stopped the fight the audience came to know that this was not the first time that both the families had a brawl in the open street as while scolding the prince said, ‘enemies to the peace’ this tells the audience how fed up and disappointed the Prince was of these continuous fights that he labelled them antagonists to his country. As the play continues, the audience meet the lead character, Romeo who seemed to be disappointed with Rosaline and went to capulet’s party to change his mood. There in the cheering atmosphere we see some violent and revengefull talks between Tybalt and Capulet when the say Romeo in there party. We know this as Paris said to Capulet ‘To strike him dead i hold it not a sin’ showing the audience that he was very short tempered and wild and could kill anyone. On the other side we say Romeo and Juliet both fallen in love with each other in the first glitch.And the got secretly married. This secret joining of the two warring families again foreshadows to the audience that even more trouble is to be expected. In act 3 scene 1, again there is a dramatic street fight between Mercutio and Tybalt. The rising action entertains the public who were thirsty to see blood and death. To build even more atmosphere and tension, Shakespeare set the scene on a hot sunny day, as during hot days everyone is exhausted and tired leading to people becoming very short tempered and easily angered as Benvolio announced, ‘the day is hot; the Capulets, abroad, And if we meet we shall not ‘scape a brawl’ this shows that benvolio was concerned that if he sees a capulet under this shiny sun he may not be able to hold himself off the fight and to hold his temper. This links to the play being set in an Italian City of Verona and the preconceived ideas of the audience at the time, that Italians are a hot headed race. Benvolio’s wording also shows his personality and using Benvolio’s character Shakespeare was also telling the audience that despite negative people there were also some noble people in the society who avoided violence. Also in this scene Shakespeare describes the nature of Tybalt – showing his volatile character; becoming angry and violent very quickly. 

The audience are left believing that he did not want to kill Mercutio, his main concern was to fight with Romeo, As he shouted ‘ here comes my man’ when Romeo entered the stage suggesting the audience that he had something to do with him. Tybalt said this as he wanted to fight with Romeo and take his anger out as Romeo went to capulet’s party. But Romeo was constantly ignoring him, that made Tybalt’s anger rise even more, as Romeo just had married Juliet and did not wanted to fight with her loved ones. We know this as Romeo said ‘Tybalt, the reason that I have to love thee Doth much excuse the appertaining rage To such a greeting’ here Shakespeare was also portraying the theme of pure and unconditional love that Romeo accepted his enemy only for the sake of his love. This all reactions of Romeo made Tybalt very confused and he was not able to understand what had happened to Romeo and why he was talking so strangely so he attempted many unsuccessful tries to make Romeo made so he could start a fight. Here shakespeare was using dramatic irony where the public knew the reason of Romeo’s loving behavior with Tybalt but Tybalt did not. Through this Shakespeare was creating excitement among the audience and making them impatient to see the reaction of Tybalt to Romeo. Tybalt was constantly insulting Romeo and Mercutio did not like that, as Romeo was a good friend of Mercutio, and so he gave a bitter reply to Tybalt from Romeo’s side he called Tybalt ‘ Good Kings of Cats’ as cats are wild so he was referring him to king of cats that means the king of violent and ill mannered persons.These harsh words of Mercutio’s made Tybalt so angry that he forgot about Romeo and drew his sword and he took out all his anger on Mercutio and killed him. So as a revenge of his friend bwe see love-struck Romeo, who a few moments ago was loving Tybalt because of Juliet, killing Tybalt. In this scene Shakespeare was emphasising to the audience the exciting characters of people, in the play as well of the real world, that most of the people were violent and no one could be trusted as any one can kill anyone when he feels he is being insulted or or when fire of revenge arose. 

The storyline continues and we see Romeo thrown out of the city as a punishment of murder and Juliet crying for him. As we reach Act 3 scene 5 Shakespeare continues to portray the theme of violence along with the theme of gender inequality. In this seen juliet was forced to marry Paris by her father even though she did it liked nor loved him. We know this as Capulet said ‘ … i tell thee what: get thee to church o’ Thursday, Or never after look me in the face.’ this shows the audience the unimportance of women in Elizabethans time; they cannot even marry a man of their own choice or whom they love. Here in this scene Shakespeare was also highlighting the theme of violence as Capulet said to her daughter ‘My fingers itch…’ showing that he was threating her daughter that he is going to slap her if she answers back or not obey him. Afterwards we see Juliet begging her mother to convince her father to stop or delay the wedding but Lady Capulet replied ‘ Talk not to me, for I’ll not speak a word’ answering juliet that she will not dare to say a word in this matter. These words not only shows the audience that she did not care about Juliet but also that she was afraid of her husband that he might whip her and turn violent if she not obeys linking to the fact that at 1590s time were mens considered themselves as king and decision maker of the family and women as their slave.

 Furthermore Shakespeare shows that nobody, not even parents or guardians could be trusted as the nurse, who was the closest to juliet and grew her took care of her in all her life, whom Juliet trusts the most and opens her all secrets, betrayed her by convincing her to marry Paris. We know this as she said’ … I think it best you married with the county. Oh, he’s a lovely gentleman… ’. From this Shakespeare was telling the audience how helpless the women were and Nurse who loved Juliet a lot and helped her to marry Romeo now was forcing her to marry Paris as she knew nothing could be done after a man orders something.

 Finally, we can see that Shakespeare explored the theme of Violence through the many characters and storylines that are woven through the scenes of Romeo and Juliet. We see violence in every part of dramatic structure starting from the exposition (when there was a street fight) heading to climax (when Romeo killed Tybalt as a revenge of his friend) till the denouement (when Romeo kills Paris and then commits suicides in the name of love).  

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