The Ways Shakespeare Presents Conflict In The Tragedy Of Romeo And Juliet
Shakespeare introduces the audience to the conflict by portraying it as early on as the third line of the prologue – “From ancient grudge break to new mutiny”- which hints at the physical conflict throughout the play. In the Elizabethan era, violence would often occur in the taverns, workplaces or more often, in the streets like they do in the play. As the rivalry is between the Capulets and the Montagues- both high-class families- they would probably use more sophisticated weapons like swords and rapiers as they say in the play moreover than the knives, rocks and sticks that the lower classes would use.
Along with physical conflict, Shakespeare also uses verbal conflict and even some internal conflict which is often shown between Romeo and Juliet who are torn between their family and their love for each other. Physical violence was very common in the 16th Century so it’s not surprising that the majority of the conflict in Romeo and Juliet is physical. In those times men were often expected to be violent in order to protect their family, home and pride following the saying “an eye for an eye” (Exodus 21:23-25)- a demonstration of how much religion influenced lives of those in the 16th century; this could explain the reason for the rivalry against the “Two households”- Capulets and Montagues; who may both want to be the leading family of Verona, possibly explaining the “ancient grudge” between them. However, this violent nature, that is nurtured since birth, is built deep in the men; as their threats to their children, even their daughters- like Juliet – are violent. In Act 3 Scene 5, Lord Capulet threatens to strike Juliet- “my fingers itch”- after she refuses to marry Count Paris; he then goes on to say that if Juliet does not go through with the marriage he would “drag [Juliet] on a hurdle hither” which shows how he would turn to violence first to punish her. The first fight in Act one Scene one happens on a ‘Sunday’, which would’ve been significant as Sundays would’ve been the ‘Holy’ day or the ‘sabbath’; which would contradict the Christian standards that would have been incredibly important considering the value of religion in those times.
The start of the fight actually involves the servants of the Capulet household provoking the servants of the Montague house by ‘biting the thumb’. The modern-day equivalent of this would be putting the middle finger up to someone or ‘giving someone the finger’. This scene soon escalates from a “quarrel” (verbal conflict) into the physical conflict. The Prince highlights the severity of the conflict by referring to the families as “Rebellious subjects” and the conflict as a “forfeit of peace”. Another key conflict in the play is the duel between Mercutio and Tybalt. ‘Duelling’ derives from a mix of both ‘duellum’ meaning war and ‘dualis’ meaning of two which was first used in the late 15th century- under the rule of Tudor England- and would’ve been a sword fight often used to sort out debates between two people- hence ‘dualis’ and Mercutio’s line “Alla stoccata”; meaning to thrust or stab with a rapier. This would have made sense as in the 16th century with swords and not guns or pistols, which became the weapon of choice to duel with circa 1750; meaning that Romeo and Paris would have fought with swords too in the final scene.
Before Mercutio’s death in Act 3 Scene 1, he shows evidence of the verbal conflict in the play with “A plague a’both houses!” which would have been significant at the time as this is a referral to the great plague; which the audience would have been familiar with especially the time, as the Globe would have closed at the height of it. This means the audience would have seen this quote as a ‘curse’ in the sense that the ‘plague’ spread ruthlessly and unbiasedly killing millions, a reason they need to ‘die out’ in order to ensure the safety of others. However, a modern audience may also be able to interpret this as a way of expressing how doomed both families already were, or foreshadowing the future events that would lead on to the fatal ending that arguably gave the play the title of a ‘tragedy’. Another example of verbal conflict is between Lord and Lady Capulet where Lady Capulet says, “A crutch, a crutch!”; publicly embarrassing Lord Capulet in a patriarchal society. This could be a product of an arranged marriage that would have been common in the 16th century, especially between wealthy families to unify them for either business purposes, for power or for status. This could have caused resentment between the two marrying as neither of them had any ‘love’ or feelings for one another or as Lord Capulet says in Act 1 Scene 2- “too soon marr’d are those so early made” which could be something he knows through experience.
The use of this insult by Lady Capulet in the first scene could be used to portray her bitter character which is later shown and directed on Romeo as she wants “vengeance” for her nephew Tybalt by sending “one”-presumably an accomplice- to “give him such an unaccustom’d dram” in other words to poison Romeo. Shakespeare often portrays internal conflict by using oxymorons and often using love as the dilemma; an example of this occurs early in the play with Romeo over Rosaline where he uses language like “O brawling love, O loving hate” and “Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health”. The effect of these oxymorons could be seen as Romeo being torn between the ‘bittersweet’ of his unrequited love for Rosaline being like an addiction and almost having the effect of poison. With Juliet, Shakespeare shows emotional conflict too, with the lines- “’Tis but thy name that is my enemy; /Thou art myself, though not a Montague/ What’s Montague?… O be some other name! /What’s in a name?” and “My name… is hateful to myself”- these lines clearly show how the conflict between the Montagues and Capulets has induced an internal battle of whether to choose her true love or her family. By doing this Shakespeare encourages the audience to sympathise with Juliet right up until the end where she is about to take her life with Romeo’s “happy dagger” which is another example of an oxymoron showing how the external and physical conflict has caused confusion and emotional turmoil; which lead to her being happy to take her own life. The use of the oxymoron would have utterly bewildered the audience, as any sane person would never even consider the idea of suicide- let alone be happy to commit suicide- and on top of that, this would have been the number one sin in Christianity. Even in the modern world, with social services to help those with suicidal thoughts; the thought of one taking their own life still remains taboo in certain cultures and religion, so the impact of this on the audience would have been immense.
In conclusion Shakespeare portrays conflict in three different and in diminuendo like ways throughout the play of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ between the ‘Montague’s’ and ‘Capulet’s’; the most common and superficial being the physical conflict including the fights and duels but when analysed in more depth include elements of verbal conflict too which happen within the two families as well as between the two families. The third of the types of conflict presented is internal conflict; which is conflict on the smallest scale, happening within the individual characters- mostly Romeo and Juliet themselves- which is often caused due to them being torn apart between their family and their love; as said before. Alongside the ‘love’ in the play, I believe that the conflict in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ overrode the love as there were many more scenes focusing on the conflict, as opposed to the scenes between the “star-crosse’d lovers” themselves.
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