Is violence and conflict central to Romeo and Juliet

Although Romeo and Juliet is famous for being a love story, violence and conflict also plays a very important part adding interest and making the characters foreshadow what is to come. This is indicated in the Prologue where we find such words as ‘mutiny’, ‘grudge’, ‘foes’, and ‘death marked rage’. The Prologue states that the death of the ‘star crossed lovers’ (line 6) is the only way their ‘parents rage’ (line 10) will end. The knowledge of their certain deaths adds sadness to our view of events. The Prologue takes the form of a sonnet, a characteristic form of love poetry, ironic in view of the violence to come.The three scenes containing the main forms of violence areAct 1 Scene 1, Act 3 Scene 1 and Act 3 Scene 5. The violence and conflict within these scenes takes on different forms such as petty squabbling, serious physical violence with fatal consequences and mental and verbal abuse.In Act 1 Scene 1 the main dispute between the Capulets and the Montague’s is due to the family feud. The servants from each family taunt and provoke each other which ends up in a row. Tybalts first appearance, ‘Have at thee coward!’ (line 69) establishes him as one who enjoys a fight. Romeo is absent from the fight, much to the relief of his parents. They are worried about his apparent depression and request his best friend, Benvolio, to use his close friendship to discover what the matter with him is. In lines 64 and 65 Tybalt makes it clear how he feels about his foes, ‘What drawn and talk of peace? I hate the word, as I hate hell, all Montague’s and thee’. Tybalt does not really care about his actions, so willingly challenges the Montagues to a fight.Romeos fit of depression brought on by his unrequited love for Rosaline would have been perfectly understandable to Shakespeare’s audience: love was meant to be a painful matter! Romeo is suffering from what is called Petrarchan love. Here the lover postures and displays lovesickness, whilst the object of his love adopts a cool and disdainful attitude towards him. Romeo describes his feelings (lines 169-181) with the use of oxymoron’s, such as ‘cold fire’ and antithesis which are typical of poems written in the Petrarchan tradition. The love affair of Romeo and Juliet is to be played out against a background of hatred. Benvolio is a good man, yet even he dismisses Romeos strong feelings and suggests that he looks elsewhere.Benvolios advice to look at other girls ‘examine other beauties’ (line 226) is naturally rejected by Romeo, although ironically it is precisely what is to happen. The running battle between the families, establishes the notion of the family feud whilst the coarseness of the servants’ language contrasts sharply with the purity of Romeo and Juliet’s love affair. The appearance of the Prince brings them to an abrupt ending but the families are unable to control the violence until they themselves realise where their violence leads.These arguments and petty violence leads to more consequential actions, and deaths in Act 3 Scene 1, where the arguments start off meaningless, but end up as serious conflicts with Romeo being banished from Verona, and regretting his actions against the Capulets, especially Tybalt who he is now related to. Benvolio is playing his accustomed role as a peacemaker trying to persuade Mercutio to come home and avoid trouble. Mercutio, as usual, will not listen. He is almost fighting with Tybalt when Romeo arrives from the wedding and is enraged by Romeos reluctance to draw swords with Tybalt. His challenge to Tybalt as ‘King of Cats’ (line 76) recalls his slighting reference to him (Act 2 Scene 4, line 20).Romeo tries to stop Mercutio and Tybalt fighting and in the confusion Mercutio receives a fatal stab wound. He dies in Romeo’s arms with the haunting curse ‘A plague o’ both your houses’ (line 106), a curse that is soon to be carried out. His death effectively puts an end to the Friar’s plan to reunite the warring families. When Tybalt returns, Romeo feels that he must fight Tybalt to avenge the death of his friend Mercutio and to prove that his love for Juliet has not softened him. Both things give his fighting a power that is enough to beat Tybalt, yet even as Tybalt dies he realises the consequences of his actions, ‘I am fortunes fool’ (line 136) he immediately declares.Although we know that he and Juliet are fated to die, we still hope against hope that the workings of fate may be thwarted. Time and time again we are disappointed. Here is one of those occasions; just as everything is going so well, Romeo is caught up against his will in a series of events that shatter the happiness. Benvolio’s truthful account of the fight is seen as biased by the Capulets but it causes the Prince to retreat from his previously hard line on the punishment for ‘civil brawls’ (Act 1 Scene 1, line 87). The sentence of banishment on Romeo leaves open the possibility of a happy ending. In an attempt to achieve balance the Prince terms both Mercutio and Tybalt ‘stout’ (lines 169-173). The Prince has had enough bloodshed, so does not condemn Romeo to death, though he does view banishment as a severe penalty, he points out that ‘Mercy but murders’ (line 197) since it is no deterrent.Unlike the other two scenes, Act 3 Scene 5 does not contain physical violence that is immediately obvious to the audience. Capulet mainly uses his position in society and as the head of the family to intimidate and order Juliet around thus making her feel small and worthless. Some of the language he uses shows this for example when he refers to her as ‘tallow face, green sickness carrion and baggage’ which apart from being derisory implies she is an object instead of a person.There are no signs of Lord Capulet hitting Juliet, although we do learn that Capulet’s anger is so intense that his ‘fingers itch’ which suggests he would dearly love to hit her. Capulet enters expecting the news of the early wedding between Juliet and Paris to have settled Juliet’s grieving for Tybalt and his first words show sympathy for her supposed weeping (lines 125-137). This is quickly replaced by an almost inherent rage when he realises that Juliet will not obey him (lines 148-167). Lady Capulets response is predictably angry, as she has wanted her daughter to marry Paris right from the start. Juliet is left with an impossible ultimatum, marry Paris or be thrown out of the family. She turns to her remaining friend, the nurse, for comfort.The nurse’s advice to Juliet (lines 211-215) reveals her weakness of character. Her comparison of Romeo, a ‘dishclout’ (line 219), with Paris, ‘he’s a lovely gentlemen!’ (line 218), seems rather over the top. Lady Capulets intended vengeance for Romeo (lines 86-91) bears similarities to the Friars scheme for Romeo. Ironically, her plan includes giving Romeo a poison that will lead to him keeping Tybalt company. By the end of their convosation Juliet knows that’s she’s alone. She assures the nurse that she is sorry and she has ‘displeased’ her father, and is about to seek forgiveness from the Friar (lines 231-233). Left alone, she expresses her hatred of the nurse and her intention to find ‘remedy’ (line 241) from the Friar.Overall these three scenes are the main areas of violence within the play: all the disputes seemed to spiral from the family feud, and eventually got out of hand. One argument led to another and in the end caused the deaths of the characters. Not many of them survived, and the ones who did were the servants who began the taunting because of their views on the ancient feud of the families. Neither of the families knew why there was an ancient grudge but it became like a tradition and whenever they saw their foes they would shout and jeer.The person that is most to blame for firstly the deaths of Romeo and Juliet, and then of the other characters is Friar Lawrence. The actions he takes throughout the play are not sensible and mature. He performed the wedding ceremony to the young couple, he comforts both Romeo and Juliet when things go wrong and supplies poison for them and he arranges for Romeo to visit Mantua. His motives were to reunite the families, help his friend, preserve the marriage and to portray his actions in a favourable light. Romeo and Juliet trusted him to do all of these things because he has a sense of superiority.The Friar looks for the regard and respect of others, he is afraid of his shortcomings being exposed in the event of failure, but it could be argued that he is acting out the purest of motives- he genuinely wishes to bring an end to the families discord; his plans are na�ve since he is quite an unworldly man. He is the unwitting instrument for the will of God. The Friar is responsible for setting in motion a series of actions which lead to the couple’s marriage. The arrangements for their later reunion, supplying the poison and failing to save Juliet from herself. His motives are genuine and misguided. Others contributed to the tragedy to a greater or lesser degree. The events are however, fated to happen and in that sense the Friar is the innocent agent of fate.The whole play of Romeo and Juliet pivots around the consequences of the family feud and in my opinion is therefore central to this play.

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