How does Shakespeare use imagery in his play Romeo and Juliet to intensify the drama, create atmosphere and illuminate the central themes?

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Tom Matthews                

GCSE Coursework: Shakespeare – Romeo and Juliet

How does Shakespeare use imagery in his play Romeo and Juliet to intensify the drama, create atmosphere and illuminate the central themes?

In Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”, Shakespeare uses imagery to create atmosphere, intensify drama and illuminate central themes.  By using a variety of metaphors, dramatic irony, use of figurative language and his explanation of poetic forms he conveys meaning and character excellently.  He incorporates all of these dramatic devices and more to convey the plot and reveal those things that were Elizabethan concerns.

Shakespeare starts the play with a prologue.  This was very popular in Shakespeare’s time and he uses a sonnet to imply love because it was established as a poetic form for love and devotional poetry. It’s used to set the scene and describes what is going to happen. It describes Romeo and Juliet as “Star crossed lovers”; this shows the audience the play is going to be about romance but also despair and feuds and not being in control of one’s own destiny.  The sonnet shows Shakespeare’s ability to distil the essence of language and draw the audience into the action.  Using the sonnet Shakespeare achieves the ‘suspension of disbelief’, which shows his class as a writer because it highlights the theatricality of the play, to show the audience that the play is completely fictional. Therefore Shakespeare has to convince the audience that the action is real, which he achieves through the strength of the images that he employs.

In Act 1, scene 5, Shakespeare uses a wide range of imagery to convey the meaning. Throughout this scene there is a range of very religious image.  Romeo talks of Juliet as if she is holy, as if he sees her as the Virgin Mary. Catholicism was illegal at this time and religion was an Elizabethan obsession so suggestions that Juliet was like the Virgin Mary were not sacrilegious.  Shakespeare uses metaphors to show this: “This holy shrine.”  Shakespeare uses this to show Juliet’s beauty and to show Romeo’s lust for her.  He also uses personification, “patience perforce” to show the hatred of the two households as a person. The feud between the two families is a major issue in this scene. It can be seen as a reflection of the conflict between the two religions. In Shakespeare’s time Catholics were persecuted and Shakespeare is thought to have had sympathy for them.  

Romeo falls for Juliet not knowing she is the daughter of Capulet. This is dramatic irony. This is when there is a situation in the play when the audience know something that some of the characters do not. In this case the audience know that Juliet is supposedly an enemy of Romeo while he himself does not. Shakespeare uses this example of dramatic irony to create suspense.  Not knowing how Romeo will react when he finds out Juliet is a Capulet keeps the audience in suspense.

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 The main atmosphere is a joyful one, which is only spoilt by Tybalt threat.  There is also an atmosphere of love, but the audience know that this happiness will only be short lived because it was mentioned in the prologue.  Shakespeare uses rhyming couplets to express Romeo’s love, creating a unique atmosphere of love.  “Like a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear; … for earth to dear.” This shows Juliet as something beautiful even though she is a Capulet.  He also uses them to refer back to the family feuds through the sonnet form.

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The analysis in this essay is good, particularly the analysis of language. The title means that quite a lot has to be explored and perhaps a slightly more focused title may have enabled analysis to flow a little easier. 4 Stars