Why is Act One Scene V of 'Romeo and Juliet' an effective piece of drama?
Why is Act One Scene V of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ an effective piece of drama?
‘Romeo and Juliet’ is a play, telling the tragic story of two lovers kept apart by their family’s hate for one another. It was written by William Shakespeare. First published in 1597, the play is set in the Italian city of Verona and is themed on the love between Juliet, the daughter of the Capulet household, and Romeo, the son of the Montague household. Together they are forced to hide their love for one another due to the Capulet and Montague’s bitter rivalry. Juliet, of the Capulet household, is being primed for a marriage to Paris, while Romeo is apparently in love with a woman called Rosaline, whom we never actually see in the play. The play, as agreed by many critics, is one of Shakespeare’s earlier works, and, unusually for his earlier stories is one of tragedy. The play, not unusually for Shakespeare, is full of contrasts, comparisons and dramatic moments, which all add to the full amount of variety of events that occur. As well as contrast, there are also many coincidences, as in Act One Scene V where Romeo temporarily forgets about the true love of his life, Rosaline. This, moments after he sets his eyes on Juliet, a suggestion of love at first sight.
In reference to Juliet: “Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight; for I ne’er saw true beauty till this night”
The play also moves on at tremendous pace, being staged over only four days. This is an effective decision by Shakespeare, as all of the action that is in the play seems to happen continuously giving great dramatic effect. The play begins at nine in the morning on the Sunday and ends as dawn is about to break on the Thursday. The scene upon which my essay is based, Act One Scene V, takes place on the Sunday evening.
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The scene is when Romeo and Juliet first meet in the Capulet mansion at a party held by Capulet. We see that Romeo and other members of the Montague family have gatecrashed the party, all wearing masks. In this piece of writing I will explore the scene and explain what are the particularly effective pieces of drama that make for such an enthralling, action-packed scene.
Act One Scene V can be split into seven sections in which the mood of the scene changes vastly. The first of which is before the party takes off, where the servants prepare for the party. The mood in this section is of great anticipation and excitement towards the party. The servants discussion is intended to be comical, Shakespeare achieves this by using prose, which is predominantly used for comic characters and those of a low position in society. An example of the excited mood is when the third servant encourages the others into the main hall:
“Cheerly, Boys! Be brisk a while, and the longer liver take all”
In the second section Capulet and his cousin reminisce about their youth; perhaps more significantly it is the first time that Romeo lays his eyes upon Juliet. The mood in this section is quite sombre and slow in pace; however the pace of this section increases when Romeo sees Juliet as the audience would be intrigued by his comments that he directs towards her. We learn that Romeo is instantly attracted to Juliet, making strong reference of this to the servant by asking:
“What lady’s that which doth enrich the hand of yonder knight?”
Section three is when Romeo talks more in depth about his feeling towards Juliet. The speech is a soliloquy and is used to inform the audience of Romeos feelings while disguising these from the other characters. This speech is particularly interesting as, not only does it return to poetry, but also the consecutive lines end with rhyming couplets. Poetic devices such as similes and metaphors are also used; these all combine to increase the speed of the section. A particularly effective example is line forty-six:
“As a rich jewel in an Ethiop’s ear”
Romeo is implying that, although the Capulet’s are his bitterest enemies, he sees Juliet as a precious thing; as an ‘Ethiop’ would see a jewel as being precious. An ‘Ethiop’ is an Ethiopian, however in the play, Shakespeare used this term of any Negro. Romeo also makes reference to the fact that Juliet’s beauty makes her stand out beyond everyone else at the party:
“…A snowy dove trooping with crows”
In section four, we see Juliet’s cousin, the fiery character of the Capulet household, Tybalt wants to confront Romeo and question him as to why he is at the Capulet’s party. The audience would find the entrance of Tybalt quite exciting as he has a tendency to do eccentric and fiery things; he also speaks short, sharp phrases that increase the pace of the section. However Capulet, who wishes to maintain the peace at the party, stops him from doing this. The fact that Capulet stops Tybalt gives the suggestion message that something is going to be allowed to happen. Should Romeo have been excluded from the party at this time, then he would probably have never been able to meet Juliet. The mood of the scene has been considerable calmed after being heated up by the fiery character of Tybalt. This is an indication that a significant event will happen as Capulet has effectively set the scene for something of real importance to happen.
Indeed, the next section, section five, is of real magnitude to the whole play. It is when Romeo and Juliet first speak to one another. The language used by Shakespeare is quite exquisite, in as far as the audience are able to fully understand the affection that one another feel towards each other due to the carefully chosen language. Shakespeare uses puns on words such as ‘palmers’, which is a reference to the pilgrims that brought palm leaves to Jerusalem in the time of Jesus. However Shakespeare says:
“Palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss”
He is implying that the touching of their palms is to be looked upon a holy- a positive thing; achieved by a word that has a double meaning. This section is particularly effective as the language used by Shakespeare makes the audience feel part of the sensitivity that Romeo and Juliet are sharing with each other. They build up to the kiss by saying ‘let lips do as palmers hands do’ implying that it would be holy for them to kiss. In Elizabethan England, cultures differed from those of today. Back in those days, people were very religious and the audience would understand this idea of ‘lips doing as palmers hands do’.
The mood of the whole scene is dramatically changed in section six when Romeo finds out that, to his dismay, Juliet is a Capulet- The Montague’s sworn enemy. Romeo is obviously shocked and reacts angrily after being informed of this fact by the nurse:
“Is she a Capulet? O dear account! My life is my foe’s debt”
This line is a foreboding hint that something tragic will occur it seems that fate is working against the lovers.
In the last of the seven sections of this scene, it is Juliet’s turn to find out terrible news- that Romeo is a Montague, the bitterest enemy of the Capulet’s. Juliet tricks the nurse in this section by asking for the names of various men so that she refrains from signalling out Romeo. The nurse is a very intrusive character and wants to get involved wherever she can; she would have pounced upon Juliet’s attraction to Romeo. The audience will be shocked at the this news and it will almost leave them will a grief-stricken feeling, as it seems that these two young people’s love will be kept apart by their families hate. The mood of the scene is darkened further by the foreboding message that is delivered by Juliet in lines 140-141:
“Go ask his name. –If he be married, my grave is like to be my wedding bed.”
Shakespeare’s idea of tragedy is fate working against the two lovers; this foreboding message is no exception as it is an indication to the audience of what might happen, and, as would be later found in the story, does actually happen.
There is no question that this scene is an extremely effective piece of drama. Shakespeare uses numerous techniques to change the mood, and to some extent, the pace of the scene. These changes add to the drama, for example, in romantic parts, such as section five, the pace is extremely slow whereas in section one, the pace is headlong as there is massive excitement about the party. The change from prose to poetry also adds to the drama and is an effective way as to how the pace is slowed down. As I have already said, there are foreboding thoughts and anticipation of what is to happen throughout the scene that keeps the audience mind working at all times. The different thoughts that wind together creates massive dramatic tension that suggest that Romeo and Juliet’s love for one another will be ill fated.