Table of contents
- Introduction to Conflict in Shakespeare's Masterpiece
- The Role of Historical Context in Shaping Conflict
- Language and Imagery: Tools to Highlight Conflict
- The Intertwining of Love and Hate
- The Impact of Patriarchal Society on Conflict
- Conclusion: The Timeless Message of Conflict and Resolution
Introduction to Conflict in Shakespeare's Masterpiece
In ‘Romeo and Juliet’, Shakespeare explores the subject of conflict in a variety of powerful ways. The main way conflict is demonstrated is through physical violence, purposely connected to the fact that the play is set in an era characterized by the wars between some of the European countries. Shakespeare also explores other types of conflict, including the feud between the Montagues and the Capulets as a consequence of the macho Italian culture present in those years, the consistent parental conflict between Lord Capulet and Juliet, the inner and emotional conflict that conditions Romeo and Juliet, and conflicts caused by friendship, loyalty, pride and honour.
The Role of Historical Context in Shaping Conflict
Shakespeare’s play recapitulates the story of two young lovers who, despite the opposition of their families, decide to marry clandestinely; however, the pressure of the family feud and a chain of fatalities lead to the couple choosing suicide rather than living without the other. Conflict is the theme that sustains the structure of the play, as it appears in the exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and denouement. The audience is constantly noticing the numerous conflicts by the language used, especially by the contrast between love and hate that is successfully produced with oxymorons, juxtapositions and paradoxes. In Romeo and Juliet, a well done tragedy, the rule of the three unities is not kept which gives a sense of disorganization that brings conflict with it, as the three unities rules gave strict directives and limitations of place, time and action that directly avoided a complicated trama, and since Shakespeare ignores this rules, the trama itself is complicated and so on it portrays a sense of complexity and conflict . Also the technique was derived by French classicist, a culture that existed during the French revolution, a period of time known by its wars and conflicts between two sides; the good ones; the victims, and the bad ones; the powerful.
Language and Imagery: Tools to Highlight Conflict
Furthermore, Shakespeare mixes prose with verse, this could represent the contrast between love and hate portrayed through the entire play. Also, this might be used to resemble the different social and economical status of the characters, as the main ones that use prose are the nurse and the servants. But, verse, on the other hand, is portrayed through the characters of Romeo, Juliet, Tybalt, Benvolio, Mercutio and any socially “important” character. He also mixes the tragic events with funny ones in order to make conflict seem ridiculous and absurd. An example would be when Lady Capulet mocks Lord Capulet in Act One, Scene One, by saying “A crutch, a crutch! why call you for a sword?” just before they intervene in a serious fight between the Montagues and Capulets. Conflict is expeditiously introduced in the Prologue. The Chorus intones a Shakespearean sonnet (which was something usually used in the love poetry of the Elizabethan times) presenting the rivalry between the Montagues and Capulets. By mentioning the “ancient grudge”, Shakespeare highlights that the feud between these two families originated a long time ago and it informs us that it has spread throughout the entire community when we read “where civil blood makes civil hands unclean” since we assume that by civil he is referring to everybody.
This is directly connected with the characteristic national and/or international conflicts of this era such as the Italian and Anglo-French wars. Furthermore, the Prologue lets the audience know that this ancient grudge has resulted in recent violent altercations by saying that it would “break into new mutiny.” This is significant since it already tells the audience that Romeo and Juliet are going to be victims of this problem, making the audience feel powerless and sympathetic towards both of them. The Prologue then describes the situation of Romeo and Juliet, an unsuccessful and unlucky couple, labeling them as “star-crossed lovers,” which refers in a literal way, to be against the stars. During that period of time, people believed that the stars determined people’s fates. Considering this, Shakespeare creates dramatic irony by giving the audience information clarifying that Romeo and Juliet will die as a consequence of the conflict spreaded by the older generations and the conflict would only be resolved through their deaths: “Whose misadventured piteous overthrows Do with their death bury their parents' strife.”. Shakespeare also expected a sense of empathy from the audience towards Romeo and Juliet. Both of them are victims of fate, caught up in the conflicts between their parents, and a 16th century, as well as a modern audience would be likely to identification with them.
Shakespeare introduces conflict with a violent scene In Act 1, Scene 1, the exposition, to emphasise the “ancient grudge” between the families and, partly, to highlight the possible consequences of unnecessary conflicts to the audience. The play begins with random violence from the servants, the macho posturing spreading into a violent brawl. This whole fight is a consequence of the macho Italian culture in the late 16th century that “forced” men to prove their masculinity with violence. And also the focus on family name played a part, honour and pride, springs out of a small insult of biting a thumb. Basically the main cause of this fight is the competitive environment that men and women, but especially men lived in. This conflict also introduces the main antagonist of Tybalt who ridicules Benvolio for being “drawn among these heartless hinds”. A hind is a male hart, so basically he is insulting his manhood to provoke him. Here the animal terminology refers to the low status of the servants that were previously arguing. Benvolio tries to preserve the peace by saying “ I do but keep the peace: put up thy sword, Or manage it to part these men with me” showing him as a peacemaker and a foil to Tybalt.
The Intertwining of Love and Hate
However, Tybalt states that he “hates the word As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee: Have at thee, coward!” peace. Tybalt figuratively refers to peace in such a way to represent his repulsion towards the actions caused by it. This exhibits the profound, established hatred and opposition between some members of the Montagues and Capulets. He also compares it to hell which, if we consider the importance of religion during the Middle Ages, we can deduce that it was a really serious topic for them. Taking into account context, we can clearly witness that Tybalt considered the Montagues as the most horrific thing in earth. When the Prince appears with the intention of ceasing the brawl, he refers to them with an interesting terminology, comparing them with “beasts” to illustrate his low opinion of them. The play is structured so that the conflicts caused by love and hate are never far apart so that they remain a focus in the audience's minds. In the ball scene love and hate are successfully juxtaposed. When Tybalt, Capulet's nephew, notices that Romeo is at the ball uninvited, he is outraged that a Montague has dared to attend the ball causing conflict “Now, by the stock and honour of my kin, To strike him dead, I hold it not a sin.”
A conflict between him and Lord Capulet who doesn’t want any confrontation at his party “Content thee, gentle coz, let him alone”. Romeo approaches Juliet and kisses her immediately afterwards which emphasizes the important role of conflict in their love story. Romeo is more than surprised that Juliet is the daughter of her father's enemy; “Is she a Capulet? O dear account! my life is my foe's debt” expressing how bad his luck is and completely changing the mood of the scene from an optimistic one to a pessimistic and heavy tone. Juliet is equally stunned and furious at fate when she finds out the true identity of Romeo: “My only love sprung from my only hate!” The contrast between love, represented by Romeo and Juliet, and hate, portrayed by Tybalt, is a procedure to combine the two concepts and establish relationships between them. More exactly, it is used as a technique to present two opposite concepts that are related at the same time. By using this, Shakespeare is able to further enhance the beauty of their love story since the presence of violence makes it seem against the odds. Also the instability of this scene’s tone triggers a sense of conflict. Conflict is played out in all its forms in the climax of the play. In Act 3, Scene 1, the slightly optimistic tone of the play when Romeo and Juliet marry changes dramatically as Romeo is drawn into the family feud.Tybalt provocatively labels Romeo as a 'villain,' and when Romeo rejects the challenge to a duel, Mercutio steps in to defend his family name. This is as a consequence of the patriarchal society in which notions of reputation, masculinity and prestige were proved by physical violence,and Mercutio intervenes to protect Romeo’s honour shouting “O calm, dishonourable, vile submission! Alla stoccata carries it away.”.
Mercutio gets gravely hurted and immediately declares “A plague o' both your houses!” as soon as he discovers the cause of his death, the needless but prominent hatred between the two families. In the film version directed by Baz Luhrmaan in 1996 the situation is accompanied by a serious storm, this pathetic fallacy emphasizes the transformation into a tragedy. By wishing a “plague” on them, this phrase could easily be interpreted as a curse, highlighting how cursed these two families are. This situation is the catalyst for the tragic route that the play takes from this point onward. Moreover, Romeo passes from the stage of childhood into adulthood. Romeo isn’t genuinely interested in participating in the family's grudge, but his responsibility for his best friend’s death “O, I am fortune’s fool!” generates in him a powerful thirst for revenge that is successfully sealed by killing Tybalt showing that hatred only breeds hatred. This impulsive decision feeds the conflict he had once desired to conclude: “This day's black fate on more days doth depend; This but begins the woe, others must end.” He is implying that fate controls everything so he is going to fight Tybalt and let fate deliver the final outcome.
The Impact of Patriarchal Society on Conflict
As a concept, this could be considered as an ethical lesson about the consequences of our actions, especially reminding us, the audience, that the simple existence of a conflict, or part of it, can trigger a tragic event. Another type of conflict presented in the play is the relationship between parents and their children. The discord between Juliet and her parents is clearly detectable in the play. In Act 3, Scene 5, as a father in a patriarchal society, a society where man had all the power, Lord Capulet believes he has the right to choose who Juliet should marry, and with the intention of solidifying his social position and wealth, he chooses Paris, a noble, wealthy gentleman.
When Juliet refuses to marry as she loves and is already married to Romeo, Lord Capulet becomes furious, as he perceives it to be the reaction of an ungrateful, disobedient child. His tone is angry and violent and his threats are shocking. He accuses her of being a “mistress minion” sarcastically as she is doing the opposite of obeying which is the main job of a minion, “green-sickness carrion! where the idea of an illness caused by not being married was implied to make her scared”, “baggage” or prostitute to make her feel dirty, “tallow-face” tallow is the fat part of an animal and the idea of being “ fat” is usually associated with ugliness, “curse” to victimise himself and make her feel pity for him, and “hilding” or despicable; when he refers to her as a mistress minion he is calling her a spoiled and immoral woman just because she isn’t doing what the man of the family wants, revealing the authoritative and patriarchal side of Lord Capulet that he wants to maintain. Shakespeare used animal imagery to reflect how much the marriage of Juliet and Paris meant to Lord Capulet, since this terminology was typically used to describe or dishonor the low status members of the community, the servants. This scene illustrates the obsessive necessity that Lord Capulet has for control. He wants to possess Juliet; in most of the scenes he easily manipulates her treating her as a unworthy puppet in order to receive specific and planned benefits. Also, he doesn’t retain any gram of empathy for her unhappiness.
Clear evidence is when he threatens to disown her if she doesn’t marry Paris, with: “I tell thee what: get thee to church o' Thursday, Or never after look me in the face.” and if she doesn’t obey, he will leave her to “hang, beg, starve, die in the streets ” direct aggressive verbs, illustrating how little he cares about his daughter’s happiness and how much he does for what this marriage would imply. Lord Capulet isn’t aware of Romeo and Juliet’s marriage but the audience is. The perception of the audience would be mixed between dramatic irony and suspense since the scene is juxtaposed with Romeo and Juliet’s wedding night. During Elizabethans times, Catholics considered bigamy a mortal sin, so this situation would engage them since they would want to discover if f Juliet will develop into a sinner or not. Language is also systematically used to represent conflict in a variety of ways. Romeo uses terms commonly used in a battle description such as “siege” or “'well armed” while he expresses his love towards Rosaline. This use of imagery represents his incessant fight with this toxic obsession.
By using oxymorons, Shakespeare also magnifies conflict through antagonistic concepts by using words like “brawling love”, This is a negative concept (brawling) contrasted with a positive topic: love. Considering that an oxymoron possesses an imbalanced nature of the phrases it subconsciously emphasizes conflict. In Act 1 Scene 1, Romeo enthusiastically says “O brawling love, O loving hate”. These terms contradict themselves and emphasize the continuous imbalance that is deliberately generating and even worsening the conflict. As an audience we notice conflict a lot more if there is such a prominent contrast as this one. Light and dark imagery is also used as representations of love and hatred, to illustrate the of aversed possible choices on every situation.
In Act 3 Scene 5, Juliet has a conversation with Romeo, already exiled, and declares that there is lightness in the darkness: “More light and light, more dark and dark our woes”. This contrast between light and darkness is developed metaphorically by the oppositions love-conflict, sometimes creating irony. For example, the love of Romeo and Juliet is a light in the heart of the darkness and hatred that surrounds them, but they are always together at night, in the dark, while quarrels and clashes take place in broad daylight. Conflict is finally resolved in the denouement of this exceptional play. Romeo and Juliet, the two heroes, both kill themselves. It is also the outcome of the play because the truth about the secret marriage, the elaborate ploys by the Friar Laurence´s confession: “I married them”. The stupidity of the two families are disclosed by Prince Escalus, the man in charge of justice, and Capulet and Montague end their feud. Their reconciliation was already mentioned in the Prologue “They share words of reconciliation and peace, with the Montagues offering to “rise her statue in pure gold” and the Capulets offering the same for Romeo, saying: “O brother Montague, give me thy hand: This is my daughter's jointure, for no more can I demand.” In conclusion, this play presents different types of conflict in a variety of engaging ways. This is a really important theme since it clearly sustains the structure of the play, as it appears in the exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and denouement.
Conclusion: The Timeless Message of Conflict and Resolution
Romeo and Juliet is a truly mythical play, an eminently paradoxical genre of love and tragedy, a wonderful contrast made to emphasize how pain can easily come with love and hatred as a consequence of human stupidity. In my opinion, Shakespeare wanted to influence the audience into ceasing any kind of conflict before it concludes in a catastrophic situation.