Explore the ways that Shakespeare makes Act I Scene I of 'Romeo and Juliet' dramatically effective.

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Eleri Williams                                                February 17th   2005

Essay Question

Explore the ways that Shakespeare makes Act I Scene I of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ dramatically effective.

 The predominant themes of the play are love and hate, and the idea of honor, which are dramatized into a tragic love story. We learn this from the prologue “ A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life”. Also in the prologue it outlines these themes- hate from two families (set in Verona, Italy), which have been quarreling for decades “From ancient grudge break to new mutiny” that convey an element of conflict in the play. The theme of love is a young man (Romeo) from one family that falls in love with a young woman (Juliet) from another family; which results in both the families being involved in this feud. In this scene Shakespeare introduces these main themes immediately. In Act I Scene i we see this being acted out by Tybalt and Benvolio. Therefore with an opening full of rousing action it captures the audience’s attention instantly. We also get an insight into the other key characters of the play in this scene; Montague and Lady Montague, Capulet and Lady Capulet, Romeo, the servants of Capulet; Sampson and Gregory.

  The origin of the brawl starts with the two servants quarrelling. This introduces the importance of the theme of manly honor. Masculine honor does not function in the play as some sort of stoic indifference to pain or insult. The men feel as if they must defend their honor whenever it is tested against, in the form of violence or verbal abuse. Tybalt, Gregory and Sampson animate the theme of manly honor perfectly. As we see in the scene when Sampson bites his thumb: which was considered a very offensive gesture at this time. The atmosphere is very anxious because right at the beginning of the scene we are caught up in the thrilling action as Benvolio and Tybalt fight. Thus we see the honor for ourselves and their ever-growing pride and passion to be faithful to their families.
 As the action pinnacles Benvolio is introduced. He is excellently portrayed to the audience as thoughtful and fearful of the law. In the play, Benvolio is the peacemaker “I do but keep the peace”. We know this because he says, “ Put up thy sword, Or manage it to part these men…” Which means for the men to put away their swords or use them to help part the other men. He would rather use peaceful methods of compromising than violence, yet he is not a coward because he says he will not fight unless it is for good cause. His name comes from the Latin meaning “good-will”. On the contrary Tybalt is the complete opposite to Benvolio. He is a fiery and pugnacious character; full of rage “ I hate the word, As I hate hell, all Montagues and Thee”. Also he is very dramatic compared to Benvolio. We see a complete contrast between the two characters. This contrast between Benvolio and Tybalt is dramatically effective because it enlivens the mood and excites the audience in seeing pure, long-standing hatred and scorn between the two, rather than having two characters that are civilized which would be rather bland for the audience to watch.

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   Amidst all the conflict between the Capulets and the Montagues; Prince Escalus appears with a speech. When the men refuse to refrain from fighting he calls them “Rebellious subjects, enemies to peace”. As they were fighting he does not consider them as being civilized, so refers to them as “beasts”. Shakespeare uses a very powerful metaphor to describe their anger “That quench the fire of your pernicious rage” this adds to the drama by emphasizing the passionate anger they feel towards each other. To describe the blood they have spilt he uses the metaphor “ With purple fountains issuing ...

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