Topic
Romeo and Juliet
Level
Undergraduate
Pages
8
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3759
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4.8
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How does the family argument in act 3 scene five in Romeo and Juliet create dramatic tension? Essay

Act Three, Scene Five is other wise known as the “Second Balcony Scene”. It is recognized as being of dramatic significance since it depicts a variety of moods. It begins with the lovers speaking in beautiful lyric poetry developing into the harsh language of Juliet’s parents whose will is being denied.

Juliet exhibits exquisite tension at the start of Act Three, Scene Five as she realises that her new husband having been banished to Mantua must now leave her. The time is dawn which appropriately sets apart day from night. The tension is revealed in the light and dark images that colour the dialogue. Romeo knows that there is little time left and he must go immediately.

Romeo: “Look, love, what envious streaks

Do lace the severing clouds in yonder East.

Night’s candles are burnt out, and found day.

Stands tiptoe on the misty mountaintops.

I must be gone and live, or stay and die.”

If day is life, as Friar Lawrence says it is, then life for Romeo is the enemy of love which exists in its purity alone, in the little death of a private darkness. Hidden in that darkness, it can shine for the perceptive lover with a brightness exceeding that of heavenly bodies. Under Juliet’s balcony, Romeo emotes:

“It is the east and Juliet is the sun…

Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven,

Having some business, do entreat her eyes

To twinkle in their spheres till they return.”

For Friar Lawrence, day is life since night for him is a period of no activity – only sleep which is a kind of “little death”. But for Romeo, night is life despite the darkness since it is the only time when he and Juliet are together and can express their love for each other.

Juliet and love are Romeo’s life, and there is no light but Juliet and love. Romeo cries out, “O blessed night!” A scene follows wherein Friar Lawrence salutes and blesses the morning, but when it is Juliet’s turn to bless the night that she and Romeo have had with each other, she cannot admit that it is almost day. Dawn, to her is some mistake. Day, if it has really arrived, will be as death to her since it only means separation from her new husband. Tension is created due to Juliet’s refusal to accept the fact that day has set in and the lovers must separate. When Nurse, proves that darkness is indeed over, Juliet sighs – “Then window, let day in, and let life out.” For Juliet, love has become the only light – something shining of its own power and volition, which needs night as its background in order to be recognised. Also Shakespeare makes comments about the light and darkness because at the time it was performed they did not have lighting and so they are included to the let the audience know what time of the day it is. (You are pointing to production lighting, which may disrupt the literary analysis of “light” in the foregoing sentences. In that case, don’t you think, it is kind of off-tangent?”)

When Romeo descends the ladder, his young wife asks the poignant question, “O thinkst thou that we shall meet again?” The irony of it all is that they will never see each alive again. Tension builds up by means of irony when a point is reached wherein the audience would like to stand from their seats, mount the stage and tell the characters the real state of affairs and to warn them, if possible as to what is going to happen, but this is not just done. The viewer has to endure the stress he is undergoing. Romeo seeks to comfort Juliet, but as she looks down upon him from her balcony, she experiences second sight, a premonition – a look into the future as revealed by a most prophetic statement, “O God! I have an ill-divining soul/ Methinks I see thee, now thou art below/ As one dead.”

Only a few such premonitions are planted in the entire play, aside from the one in the preceding paragraph. The Prologue of Four Tragedies warns us that the lovers are star-crossed, misadventured and deathmark’d. This means that it is written in the stars that the lives of both Romeo and Juliet will end in tragedy.

Juliet’s couplet bespeaks sadness as the necessary outcome when she learns the identity of her lover.

“My only love sprung from my only hate!

Too early seen unknown, and known too late!”

Juliet feels sad when she realises that Romeo is her only love, but he is also her only hate. He belongs to the only family hated by her family. She realises, too, that she has seen him in the past, but he was unknown to her then. When the time came for them to meet, it was too late since the Capulet family to which Juliet belonged and the Montagues to which Romeo belonged were now feuding. It is understandable that this being the case, Juliet who is a Capulet and Romeo who is a Montague have automatically and unwittingly become enemies to themselves. The feuding extends to all members of the family. The viewer is shocked to discover that through no fault of hers, Romeo, being a Montague, is her enemy.

Lastly, Juliet disturbs us with her prophetic words, “My grave is like to be my wedding bed.”

Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy in which the forebodings or premonitions are few. However, they help add to the tension in whatever part of the play they occur. There are not many forebodings or premonitions in this play by Shakespeare, but all in all, they help add to the dramatic tension wherever they can be found.

The play is a tragedy wherein the catastrophe itself is everything; therefore it must be sudden and surprising. Even the first two acts of the play do not give the viewer/ reader any hint of sadness that will follow. The mood is one of wit, playfulness, light-heartedness and airy sprightliness. In fact, there are those who consider Acts One and two hilarious, mainly laughable ever. But laugh as we may, Romeo clearly lives in a world where folly can have serious and irrevocable consequences, and we are no longer confident that the conventions of comedy will save him from those consequences or spare us the pain of seeing him destroyed. Of course this will shock the reader/viewer since Romeo is young and whose friends are young. Young people are entitled to laugher and good times. It is just too sad that at the start of the play, their laughter turns to tragedy because of the folly created by the feuding parents who do not know any better. The turning point when joy turns to sadness is found in Act Three, Scene Five, precipitated by the death of Tybalt earlier.

The premonitions mentioned earlier are significantly few. They are external to the main tragic effect, which is that of a “lightning flash against the night.” (Four Tragedies, p. 5).

Act Three, Scene 5 is in sharp contrast the quiet but passionate leave-taking of the lovers. Here, we have the Capulets, vehement in their chastisement of their daughter over her adamant refusal to marry Paris. They are furious with her for disobeying them and destroying their plans.

After Romeo leaves and Lady Capulet enters the room, the latter presumes that Juliet is weeping over the untimely death of her kinsman, Tybalt. Later, she decides that her daughter bewails the fact that his death has not been meted justice and that the killer is still on the loose. She then seeks to console Juliet with the news of her impending marriage to Paris which the girl firmly rejects. This is despite Lady Capulet’s promise that if Juliet finds poison, her mother will find someone to take it to Romeo.

We reach a point in the play where the viewer/ reader will have their parents with them until the end. The problem is that the children will be sadly misunderstood by them. The Capulets hold an entirely different view of love and marriage. They hold that their interest is in “good marriages” and “sensible choices.” They believe that they are excellent matchmakers who, in truth, match their children to people they hardly know. If such people are economically substantial, well and good; the sooner the marriage takes place, the better for all concerned. This is how Juliet views the problem. Of course this will create tension. Juliet is faced with a great big problem and we in the audience share it with her. If she accedes to her parents’ will, she will be committing bigamy. If she doesn’t, she will be facing corporal punishment and there is no one to protect her.

In her dialogue with her mother, we fear for her since she might let the truth fall from her lips. But we do not need to fear, as Juliet is mistress of the situation. She can aptly handle the issue. She makes out to her mother that she hates Romeo. “I would sooner marry Romeo whom you know I hate.” But if one reads between the lines, carefully, Juliet sticks to the truth in the “double language” she uses. She tells her mother, “God pardon him (Romeo) I do with all my heart/ And yet no man like he doth grieve my heart.” Lady Capulet thinks Juliet means that God is the only one who could pardon such a villain as Romeo. Juliet almost gives herself away before she says that Romeo himself grieves her heart. This double-meaning dialogue between Juliet and her mother creates excitement for the viewer. The viewer also fears that Juliet might accidentally reveal her true feelings and suffer punishment from her parents.

Juliet can hold her own in any argument regarding Romeo since her parents have their own agenda and have no idea about what she has been up to. They hear only what they expect to hear. Juliet’s words actually have two meanings – one for her parents and another for the audience. It is the extreme and dramatic contrast between the two meanings that “makes” the scene.

When Juliet declares to her mother that she will not fall in with their schemes, Lady Capulet leaves it to her to tell of her decision to Capulet, but tells him anyway. The old man exploded in his fury. He tells his wife, “we scarce thought us blest/ that God hath lent us but his only child./ But now I see this one is one too much/ And that we have a curse in having her.” Juliet opens her mouth, but her father shouts her down before she has a chance to say a word. Capulet’s denial of his love for his daughter is indeed shocking. The very threat of disowning Juliet was, in Elizabethan times the ‘final straw’ as the very thought of living on the streets to a young girl was worse than death, that is why it builds up tension because everyone would be scared that Juliet has to kneel and beg her father for pity.. Capulet’s outbursts against Juliet and the Nurse may be opportunities for some physical action as well as verbal aggression to show his anger. During Elizabethan times, the very thought of disinheriting a child would drive her to desperation. In Juliet’s case, it would mean that she would have to roam the streets to feed and take care of herself. This would probably mean a life of sordidness and prostitution. She would then have to endure pity and censure from others who heretofore looked up to her, being the only child of a respectable family.

To a contemporary audience, the threat of Juliet’s father would be an empty one, since today’s world offers many alternatives to the youth to carry on without the support of their parents. In a modern play, this would hardly contribute to the play’s dramatic intensity.

Lady Capulet, too, shows unexpected cruelty. She makes no attempt to sympathise with her daughter or to understand her feelings. Her wicked nature is exposed in her plan to poison Romeo and in her preference to see Juliet “married in her grave” rather than to endure her disobedience to her parents. This is truly shocking since we expect more kindness from Juliet’s mother, not a statement tantamount to a curse that she would rather see Juliet, her only child dead rather than allow her to disobey her parents.

At first, Capulet finds Juliet’s sight and tears ridiculous. “Evermore show’ring?” For him she is a whimpering fool, a “whining mammet” (baby doll), a silly girl who does not know what is good for her the father berates her for her ingratitude. He is angry because Juliet does not appreciate his efforts to find a husband. He has found Paris for her – the perfect gentleman of a noble family prominent and with large and productive land-holdings. He further brands her as “young baggage” (a burden, a good-for-nothing) and a “disobedient wretch.” He threatens to disinherit her if she doesn’t conform to his wishes. Baggage is luggage – heavy and difficult to carry. Juliet has become too heavy for her parents to carry or handle. The audience experiences pressure at this point. We fear for whatever her father will do to punish her.

It is ironic that in Juliet’s mind, when Romeo was exiled from Verona, she had also exiled herself form her family. In her new-found maturity and devotion to her husband, she is prepared to deceive her parents for his sake.

Capulet could be considered as among a long list of villains – ungainly characters from Shakespeare’s many plays. They are fussy, tetchy, stubborn old men who are set in their ways and will never change their bad habits. Capulet is no villain; he is just used to being in control –to having his own way. In Scene IV (the preceding scen, he promises Paris that Juliet will more readily obey him than her mother and assures him thus: “Sir Paris, I will make desperate tender (risk) of my child’s love. I think she will be ruled in all respects by me; nay more, I doubt it not.”

Even his speech belies the real state of things. He is irate in his claims of having had a hard time, seeking a worthy mate for his child. The viewers/readers know that it was Paris himself who went to the Capulets, despite a recent death in the family to “plight his tooth”. Capulet is all for Paris as a future son-in-law since he is a kinsman, of noble parentage and of fair demesnes (wealthy).Capulet, in addition, is fast-tongued, breathy, wordy and pungent. The following is a sample of how he scolds and insults Juliet:

“How, how, how, how, chop-logic! What is this?

“Proud” and “I thank you” and “I thank you not,”

And yet “not proud”. Mistress, minion, you,

Thank me no thankings nor proud me no prouds,

But fettle your fine joints ‘gainst Thursday next,

To go with Paris to St. Peter’s Church.

Or I will drag thee on a hurdle hither.”

Juliet is sincere when she pleads with her father, but the latter thinks she is being hypocritical when she says thankful that her father takes the effort of insuring her future, but not proud of the way he has accomplished it. He does not bother to see it her way but threatens to have the marriage take place at all costs. Her father calls her argument chopped-logic that doesn’t hold water. His speech is fast, loud and continuous and overwhelms her for she cannot get in a word edgewise. She is also rendered speechless by sheer force of his personality and so she just shuts up but resolves to consult Friar Lawrence for advise.

Capulet’s threat of making his daughter’s life miserable by shunning her and making her an outcast in his house is more frightening than an earlier threat to drag her to church on a “hurdle”, a kind of sledge on which prisoners took a very rough ride to the gallows while people jeered at them. For the Elizabethan audience Capulet seems as though he is only trying to do his best for his daughter and he is used to being in control. However, his range of insults is another feature of the language. He claims that Juliet is proud: she insists that she is not, and Capulet repeats the word as evidence of her “chopt-logic” or splitting hairs. Shakespeare uses short words and hard sounds to emphasis Capulet’s anger, as well as this, he uses inventive language, so the adjectives become both verbs and nouns, “proud me no prouds.”

We hear Capulet’s voice in everything he says, as when Nurse tells him to go to bed, lest he be sick on the morrow, worrying about the wedding and he argues thus: “No, not a whit! What! I have watched ere now/ All night for lesser cause, and ne’ er been sick.” He then tells her to shut up. Whatever comes out of Capulet’s mouth reveals his character – the kind of man he is. His words give us an idea of what goes on in his mind. This insight into Capulet’s character makes us in the audience fear for Juliet’s future for we know what the man is capable of doing. This increases the pressure – the dramatic anxiety placed on the viewer by the scene.

When Juliet’s parents leave, she turns to her Nurse, as much an enemy as her parents. Nurse also fails to give Juliet the solace she needs. Her hypocritical advice is to forget Romeo and marry Paris. Nurse’s morals are in consonance with her peasant upbringing since she suggests bigamy to Juliet. She claims that the odds are a million to one, Nurse is sure, that Romeo and Juliet will never be able to live publicly in Verona as man and wife. In Nurse’s opinion, Paris is better-looking and a better match than Romeo who is as good as dead already.

Deeply shocked, Juliet asks if Nurse is serious and it suddenly dawns on her that Nurse does not care anything about her husband. Juliet realises that she can no longer trust any advice the Nurse has to offer and that she must think and act on her own. Now she must decide for herself without the aid of those who have been closest to her – mother, father and Nurse. We in the audience experience tension, a mixed feeling of pity for Juliet – one so young and inexperienced. The very persons who should support her have abandoned her to her own devices. She has no one to rely on. Her love for Romeo has speedily changed her childish ways to those that lead to maturity. Nurse, in order to show her sincerity, states that her advice comes from her heart and soul, or else, “bestrew them both. Juliet’s “Amen” means “may both your heart and soul be cursed.” As soon as Nurse turns her back, Juliet reveals her true attitude towards her exclaiming, “Ancient damnation! O wicked fiend!” She will never again trust her with the secrets of her heart. We realise more than ever that, although Juliet is young, she is not stupid. She is also capable of anger and can recognise treachery even in the people who are close to her. Now that she has no one to depend on – not even the Nurse in whom she has confided since childhood, she can only fall back on Friar Lawrence. If the Friar can do nothing for her, she will kill herself. The dramatic tension is very high at this point. The viewers in the audience will no doubt feel it.

Juliet then resolves to consult Friar Lawrence in order to know what to do next. He is her last hope for comfort. She trusts him, but she now also trusts herself. If he cannot help her, she has the strength enough to kill herself. Shakespeare’s stage directions emphasises Juliet’s isolation by leaving her, on her own on stage, at the end of the scene. The viewers are one in feeling compassion for this young girl, barely out of childhood, suddenly thrust under the power of young love and abandoned by all who professed to love her and whom she loved from the start. Her despair, her helplessness, her aloneness is expertly depicted by Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon. His expert stage direction more than words can serve to emphasize Juliet’s isolation together with her woeful, sweet face, by leaving her alone on stage at the end of the scene. All these contribute to the general impression that Juliet who has scarcely known life must now prepare to be familiar with death.

The entire scene is fraught with tension, with dramatic irony. Dawn, in bringing a new day for Romeo and Juliet, ushers in darkness and despair for it brings about their separation. In her room, Juliet is grieving over her separation from Romeo. Lady Capulet tells her she will avenge Tybalt’s death by sending a servant to Mantua to poison Romeo. This is a foreshadowing of Romeo’s poisoning at his own hands. This is once again a premonition and we in the audience are afraid that this fore-shadowing will really come true. Death is always feared by anyone.

The style of Romeo and Juliet places it at a point which marks Shakespeare’s achievement of self-awareness and confidence in his mastery over the medium. The entire play is rich in set pieces and memorable scenes, specifically the one in our scrutiny – the so-called Second Balcony scene embodied in Act Three, Scene Five.

In characterisation, Shakespeare has always been able to make language work for him. With Romeo and Juliet, he has mastered it so completely that the play almost becomes a gallery of individuals: the lovers and their poetic language, the Nurse’s peasant speech in contrast with the self-assured and country-gentry talk of old Capulet. Some of the characters change attitudes as external circumstances require, but in general, their personalities simply unfold in the language that establishes them. All of the above under the craftsmanship of Shakespeare himself contribute largely to the dramatic intensity of Act Three, Scene Five.

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How does the family argument in act 3 scene five in Romeo and Juliet create dramatic tension?. (October 6, 2020).
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