The audience in ‘Romeo and Juliet’

‘Romeo and Juliet’ has been described as a groundbreaking play. In what ways does the play challenge the views of an Elizabethan audience and how does Shakespeare engage the audience’s sympathies.William Shakespeare wrote many groundbreaking plays, one of which was ‘Romeo and Juliet’. This play is full of love, hate and tension. Two star-crossed lovers, destined not to be together struggle to trick fate and keep their love burning. This remarkable play based on many themes taken to the extreme, such as the idea of fate and fortune, emotions, and family feuding, plays around with the audience’s feelings and emotions. Shakespeare cleverly induces tension that keeps the audience on edge, embeds empathy to sit on the audience’s heartstrings as you sympathise with the characters. Those themes mentioned, regularly reinforce themselves throughout the play to absorb the audience’s attention and keep them visibly on the edge of their seat, encaptured in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ thus bringing entertainment into Elizabethan life.As said, the themes, particularly fate and fortune, have been strongly thrust upon the audience.Fate and fortune, a common theme, link all the acts together in this play. There is no end of examples for showing how this theme is transferred across to the audience. For example, in the Prologue it reads: -“…fatal loins of these two foesA pair of star-crossed lovers…” (Lines 5-6)This tells you right from the opening of the play that fate is going to be entwined in the plot. Another of the countless examples of fate, this time from Act 1 Scene 4: Romeo exclaims: -“Some consequence, yet hanging in the stars…By some vile forfeit of untimely death.”He is saying that something that cannot be helped will cause an unexpected tragedy, i.e. death (“yet hanging in the stars”, is meant to denote fate). Both of those quotes mention fate using the stars. But third evidence, the final quote does not. It reads: -“A greater power than we can contradictHath thwarted our intents.” (Act 5 Scene 3 Lines 153-154.)This is Friar Lawrence speaking. He is saying that a ‘power’ (fate) will perform something unwanted that cannot be stopped, similar to the previous quote read by Romeo.The sympathies of the Elizabethan audience have been greatly engaged. They naturally empathise with the lovers, Romeo and Juliet. This is because right from the start of the play we, the audience, are told that they are going to die. This immediately adds a prolonged tension and suspense into the play, as the audience will be waiting for the misfortune and heartbreak to commence. The audience knows that this play is going to be a tragedy and that the lovers will not be able to be together. The prologue tells us this and it cannot be prevented. Romeo and Juliet together have no free will; their lives are on a path that fate serves them – they have no choice and no matter what they do they will both end up in sorrow and regret.The amount of bad luck the couple receive is considerable -Firstly, their families hate each other greatly: -“From ancient grudge break to new mutiny” (Prologue, line 3)Secondly, the fact that Romeo just happened to meet Juliet at Capulet’s party. There were so many people there that it was pure coincidence that the Montague meets and fall in love with a Capulet of a similar age. Also because he was trying to forget about Rosaline perhaps that is also why he fell so deeply in love with Juliet. But also, their parents not letting the pair even see each other seems incredibly harsh for today’s standards. But maybe in Elizabethan times it might not have been so harsh for high-class families and for middle or lower-class families watching the play, it may have seemed callous not letting lovers meet. Then, in Act 3 Scene 5 Juliet is ordered to marry Paris, a charming young man in her parent’s eyes. But to her, he is just another man. She loves Romeo so dearly that she would rather die than marry Paris.”Delay this marriage for a month, a week,Or if you do not, make the bridal bedIn that dim monument where Tybalt lies.” (Lines 200-203) She is saying that she would rather die than marry Paris.One of the most frustrating points of bad luck is Romeo and Juliet’s ages. Their ages are unfortunate because with youth, you have little or no power over anyone else’s opinion. In the Elizabethan times, with age comes power. So they were expected to abide and agree with all their parent’s decisions and choices. Furthermore, the timings of both their deaths are particularly inauspicious too: Romeo arrives and sees Juliet and thinks she’s dead (he didn’t receive the letter informing him of the potion from the Friar), therefore heart-broken Romeo kills himself out of grief. Subsequently Juliet wakens and sees Romeo dead and again, out of grief and heartache she also kills herself. Dying through despair and misery are absolutely horrible ways to end your life. The ending brings in most sympathy from the audience.All in all the string of events leading up to the final deaths have all been tragic, coincidental and apprehensive that rake in the audience’s sympathies.An example of another sympathetic scene is Act 1 Scene 5. This is when Romeo and Juliet met for the first time and immediately fall deeply in love with each other, but then found out that each other were from opposing families. They were so shocked. This caught sympathy because they both knew straight away that it would be incredibly difficult to keep their love and for them to be around each other let alone be together as a couple.A further case is Act 3 Scene 5, where Capulet tells Juliet she must marry Paris. They end up having a huge argument about it and Juliet cries out that she would rather die than marry Paris. This is dramatic irony because she does end up dieing and the audience know this because of what was said in the prologue. Act 3 Scene 5 is a key scene in the book as important events unravel, the relationship between Juliet and her father intensifies while he admits to her his plan of marriage for her and Paris. She, of course, detests her father’s plans and here begins the ill-tempered acts that follow through the play.All the way through the play the audience and reader empathise with Romeo and Juliet, thinking, ‘wouldn’t that be utterly awful if that was me’.This play has been described as being ‘groundbreaking’ and has challenged any audience’s views in countless ways. One of them is because in the Elizabethan times the church was very important and it was thought of as being second best to the Queen. But in ‘Romeo and Juliet’, the church (Friar Lawrence) committed sin by lying to the Capulets while helping Juliet deceive her parents through giving her the ‘death’ potion. This is also encouraging her to lie to her parents, which is in all ways wrong in those days. You would have to agree with your parents, full stop and with no fuss, and you were not to argue ever. If you were an Elizabethan child you would have to do exactly what your parents told you to do without a second thought.All in all, ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is definitely a groundbreaking play and challenges all the views of the audience while dancing on their heartstrings.

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