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Dramatic Techniques in Romeo and Juliet

COMPRESSION OF TIME

Shakespeare compresses the nine months action of Brooke’s poem into less than five days in the interests of swiftness, power and unity of action.  

Sunday The play opens with a Street brawl at nine o’clock in the morning between Romeo's Montague clan and Juliet's Capulets.
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Romeo and Juliet meet at a party that same night. After the party Romeo gets into Capulet’s garden and from the ground talks to Juliet at her window.

Monday They are married in the afternoon. Then Romeo kills Tybalt and is banished but he defies the law to spend the night with Juliet. Late that night old Capulet arranges Juliet’s  marriage with Paris for Thursday morning.

Tuesday As dawn breaks Romeo leaves Juliet. He has no sooner gone when Juliet is told by her parents that she is to marry Paris, and in despair she goes to Friar Lawrence’s cell.

Late that night the wedding to Paris is advanced to take place the next morning. Before she goes to sleep, Juliet takes the Friar’s drought.

Wednesday At early dawn Juliet in discovered “dead”, and is taken to the family tomb late in the day.

Thursday Romeo hears of Juliet’s death and buys poison.

Friday During the early hours of the morning, while it is still dark, Romeo comes to the tomb, and the rest of the ploy takes place before full dawn.

Even though the action of the ploy In compressed into five days, the play is not so swift in its general impression. Juliet tells Romeo that their love is

“too rash, too unadvised, too sudden” 

Development of Character

Shakespeare’s dramatic achievement comes to the fore in creating and depicting distinctive and credible characters who reveal themselves through consistent actions and dialogue.  Romeo consistently allows his love to rise above his other emotions and thoughts.  Juliet displays her youth and vitality through her impulsive actions, her confusion and ambivalence after hearing about Tybalt’s death at the hands of Romeo but it is Shakespeare’s skill demonstrating her struggle indicating how her intense love for Romeo conquers her misgivings.  The characters come alive and plausible because of this consistency in action, interaction and language.  (See Language of Romeo and Juliet)

Two characters that developed from mere names in Brooke into people with bustling vitality are Mercutio and the NURSE. They are both outside the main life of progress of the play. They are introduced for contrast. - Mercutio with Romeo, and the Nurse with Juliet — and also for wit and comic relief.

Tybalt is another character developed by Shakespeare, and again the dramatic reason in the same, for contrast with Romeo. It was the nature of Mercutio and Tybalt which caused Romeo’s banishment.

CONSTRUCTION

There is no sub-plot in Romeo and Juliet. The construction in simple and straight forward, without side—issues from the main track.

The way Shakespeare speeds up the action given dramatic concentration. It emphasises the suddenness of the love of Romeo and Juliet, love at first sight, aroused in a moment and soon to be opposed.

The climax, the marriage of the hero and heroine, comes early in the play. Act III Scene 1, is the turning point, and thereafter the fortunes of Romeo and Juliet quickly go downhill until the catastrophe in the last scene.

Mercutio’s witty tongue was getting him more attention than Romeo’s so he is removed, and at the same time his death provides a reason for Romeo to take Tybalt’s life and run himself into banishment. The two duels are Shakespeare means of bringing the events about.

In any interesting drama there is a clash of personalities or of wills. It is this that makes the play. Notice the clash in this play between age and youth, between Capulets and Montagues in general, which itself contrasts with the passionate love of two of the young members of these houses, between the Prince and these rebellious families, and in particular Romeo’s affected love for Rosaline and his real love for Juliet, between the love of Paris and of Romeo for Juliet, between Mercutio and Tybalt, Romeo and Tybalt, Juliet and her parents (and later nurse), and between Romeo and his friends, especially Mercutio’s wit and Romeo’s contract is a fundamental principle in Shakespearean drama., and particular notice should be taken of how the play in constructed to bring about such a contrast.

Other opposites juxtaposed include:

Light and Dark

Darkness is illuminated by lightening, torches, the sun and moon and according to Romeo, Juliet, who outshines the sun and later

“Her beauty makes this vault a feasting presence of light”

Fate and Free Will

A common motif in most of Shakespeare’s tragedies is the question of providence; are we free human beings with independent wills or are we merely ciphers controlled by pre determined destiny or Fortuna?  In most plays Shakespeare presents both sides of this issue, but here Fate appears the dominant force.

Introduced in the Prologue by the chorus as “a pair of star-crossed lovers” an ominous dread prevails in most characters which we share. 

Romeo as the Capulet feast:

 “my mind misgives some consequence yet singing in the stars”

Juliet feels the same doom as she says goodbye to Romeo:

“Methinks I see thee now, thou art so low

As one dead in the bottom of a tomb.”

Romeo’s bombastic but futile defiance of fate on hearing of Juliet’s death is not convincing:

“Then I defy you, stars”

At the end Romeo succumbs to their power in:

And shake the yoke of inauspicious stars

From this world-wearied flesh”     (V.3.111)

Those who believe in horoscopes would agree.

Love and Hate:

Christopher Marlowe expressed the paradox of love and hate in Edward II:

"Fie on that love that,

hatcheth death and hate"


Romeo: “Here’s much to do with hate, but more with love.”

Verona is consumed with self destructing hate stemming from a false sense of honour resulting in the senseless, mindless cyclical violence of revenge and retribution.

The fact that Shakespeare fails to indicate the causes of the feud reveals how trivial its roots may be. The cycle of vengeance needs to be broken and it is ironic that it is done through the love and death of Romeo and Juliet.

Juliet knows that “if they (her kinsmen) do find thee, they will murder thee

However, love conquers all and Shakespeare depicts at least 3 kinds of love in Romeo and Juliet;

Courtly or Platonic love in Romeo’s infatuation with Rosaline,

While intense, it promotes heavy melancholy

Griefs of mine own lie heavy in my breast,

When Mercutio suggests he fly on Cupid’s wings, he claims he can’t.

 MERCUTIO

You are a lover; borrow Cupid's wings,
And soar with them above a common bound.

ROMEO

I am too sore enpierced with his shaft
To soar with his light feathers, and so bound,
I cannot bound a pitch above dull woe:
Under love's heavy burden do I sink.

Yet when Juliet inquires how he got into her orchard he replies:

With love's light wings did I o'er-perch these walls;
For stony limits cannot hold love out,

Romantic, mutual love in his vows to Juliet

This produces a vibrancy and lightness in Romeo:

ROMEO

O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope's ear;
Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear!
..............

For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night.

 

ROMEO

With love's light wings did I o'er-perch these walls;
For stony limits cannot hold love out,

Vulgar lust in the dialogue of the servants and Benvolio and Mercutio.

 

SAMPSON

True; and therefore women, being the weaker vessels,
are ever thrust to the wall: therefore I will push
Montague's men from the wall, and thrust his maids
to the wall...........

I will be cruel with the
maids, and cut off their heads.

GREGORY

The heads of the maids?

SAMPSON

Ay, the heads of the maids, or their maidenheads;
take it in what sense thou wilt.

 

The pressure of individuals choosing their own spouses was being felt throughout Europe indicating that a transition from the arranged marriage was beginning.

Youth and Age

This conflict is demonstrated best when Juliet is being urged to accept Paris as her husband.  Capulet was at first reluctant with Paris but when Juliet resists, the threat to his authority suddenly makes him impose his will over his daughter.

And you be mine, I’ll give you to my friend

This is the scene in which Capulet and his daughter argue about her arranged marriage to Paris. It provides a fascinating glimpse of the Capulet household with its authoritarian father and weak-willed wife. Juliet makes an intelligent effort to humour her parents, citing Paris’ non existent courtship and thanking them for their endeavours.

Notice Capulet’s inconsistency over the Paris proposal: earlier he does not seem particularly enthusiastic about a marriage between Juliet and Paris.

Is he more upset by the perceived snub to his authority? Probe his complex motives — is he merely trying to console his daughter or does he have one eye to a financially, socially and politically advantageous union?

Notice his exaggeration of how hard he worked to bring about the match and how rapidly he starts to threaten disinheritance. He continues with a combination of ridicule and insult, before unfairly ending the confrontation by leaving the stage. Our sympathy for Juliet increases when she is spurned by both mother and nurse; the adults seem flawed.

Our impression of parents is that they are vindictive (the proposed poisoning of banished Romeo) and partisan (Lady Capulet’s earlier quibbling about Benvolio’s bias and her allegiance to the creed of violence in her claims about the number of Montagues who overpowered Tybalt). The lovers are made appear morally superior to their parents in their enlightened attitudes to the feud: Romeo is not involved in the first fight and initially makes conciliatory response to Tybalt’s insults, while Juliet ponders on the insignificance of names —“A rose by any other name....” To be fair to Capulet and to illustrate Shakespeare’s well- rounded characters.

Romeo demonstrates the passion, rashness and impulsiveness of youth but also its freshness and idealism.  Juliet displays her internal conflict in many of her situations and speeches.

The canker of hatred is present in both aged Capulet and Montague Men but also in Lady Capulet who called for the death penalty on Romeo for slaying Tybalt. This is juxtaposed with the passionate love between Romeo and Juliet.

Comic relief in Romeo and Juliet is provided by the repartee of the Nurse and Juliet and the talk of the musicians after they have found that they are not wanted. Mercutio’s witty repartee is on a higher plane than the Nurse’s common gossip.

Much of the play depends upon coincidence, but particularly in the last two scenes: the Friar’s letter never reached Romeo, Paris happened to come to the tomb at the same time as Romeo, and Romeo kills himself only few minutes before Juliet awakes.

Shakespeare paid little attention to detail. The effect of the Friar’s potion was to wear off after “two and forty hours”, yet Juliet in still asleep after fifty hours and the Friar, who expected her to awake after forty two hours, fails to arrive ,until some eight or nine hours later than this. He might well have been sooner to witness her waking.

ATMOSPHERE AND THEME

The theme of Romeo and Juliet is a consuming love. It is a story of hatred over come by that of love; old hate versus young love, taking no thought for the pant or the future. The atmosphere is one of passion and swiftness, full-blooded passion and rash swiftness. The whole play is in a hurry a speed into marriage, speed into, banishment speed back to Juliet, speed to another quarter to get Juliet married to Paris, speed in another direction to kill whoever steps in the way and speed to commit suicide when life suddenly seems not- worth living. Romeo and Juliet is a play of whirlwind and storm, full of angry feud, tremendous passion and sudden death.


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