30 May 2013

How does Shakespeare present the Conflict in Romeo and Juliet in the Prologue, Act 1 and Act 3, Scene 2 Model Essay GCSE and IGCSE


In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare portrays love blossoming in the midst of violent conflict at the centre of the feud. The connection is not coincidental; it is essential. This antithesis builds tension, as the Chorus sets up a ‘fearful’, ‘fatal’, ‘death-marked mood’, sowing the seeds of tragedy in the turbulent ground of ‘rage’. The lovers will be destroyed in a cathartic movement that will ‘bury their parents’ strife’. Shakespeare shows the redemptive power of love opposed to destructive hate - and in some ways the feud seems the major cause of the tragedy. But it is not the only cause. Romeo’s violent love echoes Tybalt’s love of violence. Both characters act out the parts they’ve written for themselves, and in both cases, ‘violent delights’ come to ‘violent ends’.

The feud is carried on by high and low status members of the rival families of Capulet and Montague. Even the servants are involved in their low, dehumanising insults where they call their enemies ‘a dog’, but this is common brawling in contrasts with the nobles who use swords. Tybalt mocks Benvolio for being ‘drawn among these heartless hinds’ - where the animal images refers to the low-status of the servants. Belligerence infects every level. Those who want ‘peace’ are rare: Church and State, represented by the Friar and Prince respectively. The feud is offensive to God and to civilization therefore. Shakespeare plays with ideas of status, respect and civilization in the oxymoroncivil blood’. Here’ it is the vying for status that causes bloodshed, in behvaiour that seems far from civilized. It’s as if the feud is woven into the very fabric of society, yet, in Act 1 Scene 1, the Prince says they are ‘profaners’ and ‘enemies to peace’, as they threaten to tear society apart.

In Romeo and Juliet the feud is presented from the first lines as an ‘ancient grudge’ which ‘breaks to new mutiny’. The word ‘ancient’, ‘parents‘ - repeated twice - suggests this is dynastic, almost biblical, that the sins of the fathers will be visited upon the ‘children’. This links to the theme of coming of age - in love and hate. Immediately, Shakespeare establishes that the grudge is old, becoming more dangerous and the cause is never stated. This is pure rage without reason. Benvolio describes perfectly the irrationality of it: ‘these hot days, is the mad blood stirring’. In the climax at Act 3 Scene 1, he urges that Mercutio and Tybalt ‘reason coldly’ - in vain - for there is nothing there that can be reasoned. The Prince cites the cause, dismissively, as an ‘airy word’, tipping grimly into its dark consequences: ‘pain of death’. The fight is real enough though it starts with just words - Tybalt says ‘I hate hell all Montagues and thee’, apparently unaware of the irony of hating hell and loving violence. Again, he does not justify his rage any more than the servants do - their only reason being a disagreement over who has the ‘better’ master. The obscure, obscene gesture to ‘bite my thumb‘ quickly tips into swordplay. But at this point, the only thing that is hurt is pride. At no point is the feud logically justified as if this is emotion for emotion’s sake, a monster that feeds on itself.

The younger characters enjoy the excess of emotion more than their elders, with a stronger sense of pride, as when Tybalt spots Romeo at his family’s party and complains of the ‘shame’. The lack of ‘patience’ and ‘endurance’, and risk-taking behavious are stressed by Shakespeare as youthful qualities - in Tybalt, Mercutio for the feud, Romeo and Juliet in love. The psychological accuracy of this is striking, as is the identical passion in opposite cases - of love and in hate. In many ways, Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy of youth, ‘new’ minted, more than love or hate, per se. Capulet commands Tybalt that Romeo ‘shall be endur’d’ and asserts his own status as the ‘master’. But youth will ‘deny [its] father’ - with tragic consequences. The nurse and Friar counsel moderation. The Friar’s famous speech could be flipped equally well to describe the feud, which will, he says, in ‘triumph die, like fire and powder’ - using the semantic field of battle for the destructive nature of love. He says it will ‘consume’ itself. The image of eating suggests the pleasure that the characters take in their passions, but also its utterly destructive nature. The Friar picks up the narcissistic element of taking it too easily: ‘so light is vanity’ and the proximity of this scene with the major brawl in Act 3 Scene 1 demands that we consider both together: as the feud goes nuclear. The Friar’s final words to ‘incorporate two in one’ contrasts with brutal irony against the violent clash of the two houses in the next act.

The repetition of ‘quarrel’ and ‘quarrelling’ in Mercutio’s speech is darkly ominous, as is his tangled prose. He is not content with a ‘word’, he demands also a ‘blow’. Mercutio is not a member of either family, and loves violence for its own sake: as the Friar prophesies, he will in triumph die, but it will only continue to escalate.

Romeo is torn by his duty to the feud and says love of Juliet has ‘made me effeminate’. This shows that in his masculine culture, peace is weakness, feminine and to be despised. Yet Shakespeare shows that love has the power to heal and ‘remove’ this feud - though only after tragedy and death of the ‘star-crossed lovers’. The feud adds power to the love across a divide, adding to the tension as the Chorus says Juliet will ‘steal love’s sweet from fearful hooks’. The feud makes her fearful. 

This essay isn’t finished. It's 935 words long, which is roughly three sides of A4 in small handwriting. Ideally you should also analyse the scene printed below, as here, the love and the hate storylines collide.

Act 3, Scene 2
JULIET Ay me! what news? why dost thou wring thy hands?
Nurse  Ah, well-a-day! he's dead, he's dead, he's dead!
We are undone, lady, we are undone!

Alack the day! he's gone, he's kill'd, he's dead!

JULIET Can heaven be so envious?

NURSE

Romeo can,

Though heaven cannot: O Romeo, Romeo!
Who ever would have thought it? Romeo!
JULIET
What devil art thou, that dost torment me thus?
This torture should be roar'd in dismal hell.
Hath Romeo slain himself? say thou but 'I,'
And that bare vowel 'I' shall poison more
Than the death-darting eye of cockatrice:
I am not I, if there be such an I;
Or those eyes shut, that make thee answer 'I.'
If he be slain, say 'I'; or if not, no:
Brief sounds determine of my weal or woe.
NURSE
I saw the wound, I saw it with mine eyes,--
God save the mark!--here on his manly breast:
A piteous corse, a bloody piteous corse;
Pale, pale as ashes, all bedaub'd in blood,
All in gore-blood; I swounded at the sight.
JULIET
O, break, my heart! poor bankrupt, break at once!
To prison, eyes, ne'er look on liberty!
Vile earth, to earth resign; end motion here;
And thou and Romeo press one heavy bier!
NURSE
O Tybalt, Tybalt, the best friend I had!
O courteous Tybalt! honest gentleman!
That ever I should live to see thee dead!
JULIET
What storm is this that blows so contrary?
Is Romeo slaughter'd, and is Tybalt dead?
My dear-loved cousin, and my dearer lord?
Then, dreadful trumpet, sound the general doom!
For who is living, if those two are gone?
NURSE
Tybalt is gone, and Romeo banished;
Romeo that kill'd him, he is banished.
JULIET
O God! did Romeo's hand shed Tybalt's blood?
NURSE
It did, it did; alas the day, it did!
JULIET
O serpent heart, hid with a flowering face!
Did ever dragon keep so fair a cave?
Beautiful tyrant! fiend angelical!
Dove-feather'd raven! wolvish-ravening lamb!
Despised substance of divinest show!
Just opposite to what thou justly seem'st,
A damned saint, an honourable villain!
O nature, what hadst thou to do in hell,
When thou didst bower the spirit of a fiend
In moral paradise of such sweet flesh?
Was ever book containing such vile matter
So fairly bound? O that deceit should dwell
In such a gorgeous palace!
NURSE
There's no trust,
No faith, no honesty in men; all perjured,
All forsworn, all naught, all dissemblers.
Ah, where's my man? give me some aqua vitae:
These griefs, these woes, these sorrows make me old.
Shame come to Romeo!
JULIET
Blister'd be thy tongue
For such a wish! he was not born to shame:
Upon his brow shame is ashamed to sit;
For 'tis a throne where honour may be crown'd
Sole monarch of the universal earth.
O, what a beast was I to chide at him!
NURSE
Will you speak well of him that kill'd your cousin?
JULIET
Shall I speak ill of him that is my husband?
Ah, poor my lord, what tongue shall smooth thy name,
When I, thy three-hours wife, have mangled it?
But, wherefore, villain, didst thou kill my cousin?
That villain cousin would have kill'd my husband:
Back, foolish tears, back to your native spring;
Your tributary drops belong to woe,
Which you, mistaking, offer up to joy.
My husband lives, that Tybalt would have slain;
And Tybalt's dead, that would have slain my husband:
All this is comfort; wherefore weep I then?
Some word there was, worser than Tybalt's death,
That murder'd me: I would forget it fain;
But, O, it presses to my memory,
Like damned guilty deeds to sinners' minds:
'Tybalt is dead, and Romeo--banished;'
That 'banished,' that one word 'banished,'
Hath slain ten thousand Tybalts. Tybalt's death
Was woe enough, if it had ended there:
Or, if sour woe delights in fellowship
And needly will be rank'd with other griefs,
Why follow'd not, when she said 'Tybalt's dead,'
Thy father, or thy mother, nay, or both,
Which modern lamentations might have moved?
But with a rear-ward following Tybalt's death,
'Romeo is banished,' to speak that word,
Is father, mother, Tybalt, Romeo, Juliet,
All slain, all dead. 'Romeo is banished!'
There is no end, no limit, measure, bound,
In that word's death; no words can that woe sound.
Where is my father, and my mother, nurse?
NURSE
Weeping and wailing over Tybalt's corse:
Will you go to them? I will bring you thither.
JULIET
Wash they his wounds with tears: mine shall be spent,
When theirs are dry, for Romeo's banishment.
Take up those cords: poor ropes, you are beguiled,
Both you and I; for Romeo is exiled:
He made you for a highway to my bed;
But I, a maid, die maiden-widowed.
Come, cords, come, nurse; I'll to my wedding-bed;
And death, not Romeo, take my maidenhead!
NURSE
Hie to your chamber: I'll find Romeo
To comfort you: I wot well where he is.
Hark ye, your Romeo will be here at night:
I'll to him; he is hid at Laurence' cell.
JULIET
O, find him! give this ring to my true knight,
And bid him come to take his last farewell.
Exeunt

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