In the opening scene of William Shakespeare’s play, ‘Romeo and Juliet’ he introduces us to the Italian walled city of Verona in the north of Italy that is being ripped apart by two powerful noble families in a ancient feud. Such things were common in the days when Italy was ruled by independent city-states and principalities.Shakespeare does not specify an exact date and so most people take it as being set in the late medieval – early renaissance.
In the text the play opens with an unseen narrator giving a short description of the plays background and inviting the audience to watch. Such things were common in the writers’ day as there was little or no scenery and props so descriptions were incorporated into the actors’ dialogue. Shakespear very cleverly puts this description into a verse that both gives an overview of the story but still keeps an air of mystery around the play.
He uses many references to ‘fate’, the ‘star’s and the ‘heavens’. All these are symbols of mystery and incite you to want to know more. Shakespeare lived in a very superstitious time and many people would believe in the stars guiding peoples fates. Shakespeare even called Romeo and Juliet,’A pair of star-crossed lovers’This tells the audience that no matter what happens the fate of them both is sealed in the stars.Verona is a city torn apart by a conflict between two of the noble families both equal in power and stubbornness. The Capulets and the Montague’s.Scene I is set in one of the numerous public places (piazzas) that are still a major feature of modern Italian cities.
Walking through the square are two Capulets, Sampson and Gregory. They are characters peripheral to the play and are mainly included to convey some humour and wit that Shakespeare so often uses. They are walking through the square making jokes and witty puns. Although these are humorous the subjects they are discussing are quite serious and behind the humour is a darker aspect of the play.As these two are walking through the square they see some of their enemies the Montagues, they insult them with a rude gesture and start a conflict.
The humour in the dialogue of the Capulets and Montagues adds to the suspense of the scene. Will the Montague see it as a joke and ignore it or will he attack the Capulets for being rude? The mocking leads to a fight in which both families get heavily involved.In this scene the plays main protagonists are introduced, Benvolio Montague – a peaceful man but not afraid to stand for his family. Tybalt Capulet – a hot headed swordsman with a unfaltering hate for the Mont agues.
Old Capulet and Old Montague – the patriarchs of each household. Also in the later part of this scene we meet Romeo for the first time.Benvolio tries to break up the fight but is challenged by Tybalt, soon many members from both families are involved. The town militia is called to quell the riot and so is the city’s regent, Prince Escalus. Escalus is a powerful man who is angered at the constant battles between Capulets and Montagues, he issues a warning, the next people to start a fight shall both be executed. This sets up some suspense for the continuance of the play, will anyone be executed for fighting?After the brawl has been disbanded, Lady Montague asks Benvolio if Romeo her son was involved, he replies no and says that Romeo has taken to being alone early in the mornings and not talking much. This hightens the mystery, what is Romeo doing by himself at such an early time?It is revealed to us that Romeo is in love with a woman but she does not love him back, Benvolio tries to persuade him to let her go saying there are plenty more girls out there.
We are left in suspense as Romeo does not answer directly. Will he and the woman (Rosaline) fall in love?If I were setting the play I would not set it in a conventional theatre, rather, I would set it in a hall, school gym or somewhere and use the floor as a stage. I would arrange the tiers of seats in an oval shape with two large gaps at each far end covered with a curtain that has scenes painted on it. I would also have two small isles opposite each other at the sides for access. In the centre of the stage I would place some stage blocks to be used as props.
These could be moved around to form tables, stalls and benches.I would start the play off in total darkness, all the stage blocks in the centre of the arena, a spot light shines on a man dressed in 17th century style clothes, in red and yellow stripes. He is sitting rather relaxed on a stage block reading a leather bound copy of the play. The silence continues for about 30 seconds when suddenly he closes book sharply and stands up. He begins to say his lines, turning around and over dramatising them with big gestures. In the darkness, all the players of each family stand in front of each of the curtains, Montagues on one side, Capulets on the other.’Two households, both alike in dignity,’Lights come on and show each household standing in front of the curtains opposite each other, no one moves.’In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,’He swings his arms out wide gesturing to all around him’Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
‘He brings his hands in clenches them in front of him as the spotlight turns red’From forth the fatal loins of these two foesA pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;’White lights come on just in front of the narrator, Romeo and Juliet lie on each other as if dead (mirroring the final scene.Whole misadventured piteous overthrowsDo with their death bury their parents’ strife.The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love,And the continuance of their parents’ rage,All actors except the narrator leave the stage in darkness.Which, but their children’s end, nought could remove,Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage;The which if you with patient ears attend,What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.
‘Narrator says the last line slowly, and finishes with a bow. He walks off the scene begins.Some music is playing, extras are dressed as peasants selling things at stalls, others are dressed as merchants walking around. From one end of the stage Gregory and Sampson enter, they are wearing red and white 17th century dress (breeches, tights etc…). They begin to walk around the stage blocks anticlockwise saying their lines, they stop occasionally to examine goods on some stalls.
At the other end of the stage the Montague’s enter, they walk past the Capulets pretending not to notice, but one of them looks back and sees the ‘thumb bite’. He turns around and challenges them. Sampson and Gregory say their lines mockingly, Abraham is getting angrier. They draw their swords and cross them.
Benvolio sees this and runs in, he draws his sword and uses it to split the two fighters apart. Meanwhile Tybalt comes over and says his lines. When Benvolio turns around he has forgotten to put his sword back, this is when Tybalt says:’What, drawn, and talk of peace!’As they begin to fight more and more people enter the fray. Capulet and Montague stand at each end shouting at each other.
Tybalt and Benvolio fight each other, Benvolio puts all his energy into it, grimacing in concentration. Tybalt is laughingly playing with Benvolio like a cat playing with its food. This ties in with the comment later by Mercutio when he calls him a’Prince of Cats’A loud bell rings and some guards dressed in silver armour over purple clothes enter, trumpets sound and the prince enters. He shouts for silence and everyone stops.He says nothing but walks around the fighters scowling and saying his lines. This is as far as I would set this scene, I would put the next part of the scene in a different setting.For my next scene I am choosing scene 5 from act 1.
In this scene Romeo and Juliet first meet, although they do not know each other they fall in love.It is a grand masque in the Capulets house and all Capulets and family friends are invited and strictly no Montagues. Romeo, Mercutio and friends decide to sneak into the party. This is a good way that the author puts dramatic tension into the scene as the audience know that anymore fighting will be punished heavily by the Prince. Will the group be discovered? What will happen if Tybalt finds out?Later in the scene Tybalt does discover that Romeo and his friends have entered the party.
You can feel the tension in the dialogue between Capulet and Tybalt when he tells him about them. But in one of his more lenient moments (probably brought on by excess drink!) he tells Tybalt not to worry and leave Romeo alone. Capulet does not want any trouble because the princes’ warning is fresh in his mind and he also does not want his party to be disrupted and his guests to think him a bad host.
Dramatic irony occurs when the two lovers first meet. The audience knows, but the players do not, that they are each other sworn enemy and that the only reason they do not see this is that they are wearing masks.The mask is an important symbol in the play and it occurs in many scenes in one form or another.’What’s in a name? that which we call a roseBy any other name would smell as sweet’The mask in this scene is the mask of the family’s names that cover each of them and forbids them to see each other.
Another use of a mask is when Romeo says in scene 1 that even if a mans eyes were covered by a mask he would still remember the beauty that he saw. What he meant by this is that he could never forget Rosaline.If I was setting this scene I would have the hall with a few stage blocks done as tables and some servants running around carrying things. I would have Lady Capulet and Capulet standing around giving orders and looking frustrated.
I would then have a clock strike and the sound of people arriving. All the servants would leave the scene and the guests would enter, I would have Tybalt standing next to Capulet as he greets the guests. Among the guests are Friar Lawrence and John and Prince Escalus. Romeo and the group enter and quickly go to one side, Tybalt stares at them as if he knows something’s wrong.As the guests enter a group of girls with Juliet in them goes off to one side and sits on a stage block. Romeo looks at Juliet and she looks back, Mercutio goes over to the girls and begins to try and chat them up.
They giggle and go off with him but Juliet stays. Suddenly a dancing tune strikes up and everyone take partners. Romeo with a different girl and Rosaline with the County Paris. They dance the jig and when they have to change partners Romeo and Juliet take each other. They spin into the centre of the stage.
‘If I profane with my unworthiest handThis holy shrine, the gentle sin is this;My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready standTo smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss’When he say this the lights dim on the rest of the scene but don’t go fully out, a brighter spotlight shines on the two lovers, all freeze except Romeo and Juliet. At the far corner of the stage Capulet is talking to the two friars, I would have Lawrence look over Capulets shoulder at the pair and smile faintly.I would have it so that when the nurse enters the entire scene becomes unfrozen as if she has shattered the peaceful love of the couple rudely like how rudely the both loose their lives at the end of the play. At the end of the scene I would have Romeo rush out in upset at the discovery of Juliet’s family name.