Conflict in Romeo & Juliet

English Literature, GCSE

Act 1

Conflict is a major theme throughout the play.  It starts with the Prologue. ‘Two households both alike in dignity’.  This tells the audience that the conflict is between two noble families with equal wealth and status in society.  Shakespeare does not give the audience a reason for the conflict but he states it is an ‘ancient grudge’ which continues to erupt and disturb the streets of Verona.  The conflict regularly leads to death as ‘civil blood makes civil hands unclean’.  The details of the Prologue foreshadow events in the play.  In this violent and dangerous setting Shakespeare  has created a love story struggling to exist as they have: fate ‘star crossed lovers’; time ‘the two hours traffic of our stage’  and their  parents ‘doth with their death  bury their parents’ rage.’ – all battling against them.

The opening scene of the play begins with conflict Sampson and Gregory are servants of the feuding families – the Montagues and Capulets.  They provoke a fight showing that the feud affects all strands of society.  The simple action of ‘biting’ the ‘thumb’ leads to a riot which must be broken up by the highest authority figure Prince Escalus.  The Prince delivers a powerful speech giving the audience context and more details of the cost of the warring factions.  ‘Thrice you have disturbed the quiet of our streets’, he further suggests that it was ‘bred of an airy word’ the feud has no justifiable cause but it continues to grow more violent with fatal consequences.  Interestingly both Lady Capulet and Lady Montague call for peace whilst their husbands call for swords.

The conflict in Act 1 brings together Benvolio the peacemaker and the warmonger Tybalt.  Tybalt attacks Benvolio with the words, ‘what drawn and talk of peace! I hate the word, as I hate hell  all Montagues, and thee’.  Shakespeare highlights the threat from Tybalt from the beginning of the play he is a dangerous opponent as he refuses to back down and he is presented as enjoying the chaos as it makes him feel powerful.

In the midst of the conflict in Act 1 scene 1 the audience is introduced to Romeo.  He is an isolated character operating outside of the stereotypical male in Verona.  He is suffering from internal conflict he loves his family but he doesn’t want to kill to protect the family name.  He is also in love with Rosaline who has vowed to remain ‘chaste’.  His conflict is playing the courtly lover to a woman who does not return his love.  He uses a string of oxymorons to reveal the conflict in his society and within himself: ‘why then O brawling love, O loving hate.’  The love Romeo has for Rosaline is perfect preparation for the contrast with his love for Juliet.  In Act 1 he  is full of self-pity, ‘Ay me! sad hours seem long.’

Act 1 scene 5 shows conflict between the older and younger generation. Tybalt is enraged when he hears Romeo’s voice at the Capulet party. ‘This by his voice, should be a Montague. Fetch me my rapier boy.’ Shows that even a formal gathering on a happy occasion is overshadowed by the feud. Tybalt’s character is incapable of just enjoying himself as protecting the family name is more important. Lord Capulet usually ready for a fight has different priorities for the feast. He attempts to calm Tybalt down quietly and privately, ‘I would not for the wealth of all this town here in my house do him disparagement.’ Shakespeare shows how Capulet is an authority figure who will not accept any challenge to his authority he asks Tybalt, ‘Am I the master here or you?’ Capulet fears the Prince’s warning but he also wants to protect his asset Juliet.

The scene ends with both Romeo and Juliet realising that they are in love with the enemy. Romeo says, ‘ My life is my foe’s debt.’ Whilst Juliet states, ‘My only love sprung from my only hate…That I must love a loathed enemy.’ Shakespeare reminds the audience again that their love is under pressure from the conflicts in their society.

Time in Romeo & Juliet

English Literature, GCSE, Teaching Resources

Romeo and Juliet explores the theme of time and the role it plays in the tragedy.  The conversation between Capulet and Paris explores the theme of time.  When Paris asks to marry Juliet.  Caplets says ‘My child is yet a stranger in the world; …Let two more summers wither in their pride’  Juliet is 13 years old extremely young even for Elizabethan times.  He is presented as a caring father, protecting his daughter from growing up too quickly.

Marriage for Juliet would inevitably lead to motherhood as Paris states, ‘Younger than she are happy mothers made.’  This reveals that marriage amongst the nobility is about producing an heir as quickly as possible.  Lord Capulet”s reply ‘too soon marred are those so early made’ is the voice of experience and reason.

However, he has decided to hold a feast which he believes will reveal that Juliet is the most beautiful.   The audience would believe that Capulet holds these feasts often but in Act 5 scene 1 he confesses that it has been 30 years since he has last at a party.  Therefore the audience can see that Capulet is keen to secure Paris as a suitor for Juliet.  Why wouldn’t he wait for such a ‘solemn’ occasion?

After the untimely death of Tybalt (the same day as Romeo and Juliet’s wedding). Capulet”s impatience to secure Juliet the marriage speeds up the plot.  Paris states, ‘These times of woe afford no time to woo.’  This is true of Romeo and Juliet their wedding night is surrounded by a background of secrecy, banishment and death.   Capulet worried by Juliet’s constant weeping for Tybalt gives Paris a date for the wedding.  ‘Thursday, tell her, She shall be married to the noble Earl.’

Capulet leaves Juliet desperate and alone when he tells her to ‘you be mine, I’ll give you to my friend;’ showing his true intentions Juliet is his property to dispose of her as he feels.  The monosyllabic words ‘hang, beg, starve, die in the streets.’ are powerful and disturbing to the audience as Shakespeare’s use of dramatic irony makes them aware that Juliet is already married.

Lady Capulet and the Nurse’s response to Capulet”s condemnation of Juliet adds to her isolation and fears. She cries, ‘Delay this marriage for a month, a week, or if you do not, make the bridal bed in that dim monument where Tybalt lies.’ Another good example of Shakespeare’s foreshadowing time becomes the enemy in Romeo and Juliet’s relationship. The play ends with Juliet dead in the monument also relating to the theme of destiny.

Act 4 Scene 1 begins with the theme of time. Paris tells the Friar, ‘her father ‘in his wisdom hastes our marriage to stop the inundation of her tears.’ Capulet sees her grief as ‘dangerous’ The Friar’s plan to save Juliet from a second marriage to Paris also explores the theme of time. The whole plot hinges on Friar’s Lawrence’s potion allowing Juliet to appear dead to her family and his ability to inform Juliet of his plan. Again the Prologue reminds the audience that they are ‘star-crossed lovers’ and ‘their doomed love” maybe they are filled with hope that the young lovers can be reunited.

The hope the audience might have felt is soon destroyed in Act 4 Scene 2 as Capulet brings the wedding forward to Wednesday when Juliet tells him she has ‘learnt to repent the sin of disobedient opposition …Henceforward I am ever ruled by you.’

The first death of Juliet leaves the audience in suspense. She has made the hard choice of taking the potion despite misgivings of it might be poison. The effect of the potion is timed so that she doesn’t wake during the funeral and close down any possibility of her marrying Paris. Friar Lawrence is attempting to protect himself but also to keep the young lovers secrets. Ultimately time defeats the young lovers as they are only reunited in death in the final scenes of the play.