"Romeo and Juliet" is one of the most famous plays written by Shakespeare. Under the essential elements, the character, plot, theme, there are a lot of special, unique ideas make the story stand out amongst others. In 'Romeo and Juliet', violence is one of the key ideas that link every incident together. It pushes the story forward and makes things happen. Shakespeare produces visions of violence in nearly every scene, every moment of the play. The violence affects every character, changing their nature and influencing their decisions. It troubles them and brings them difficulty, stress and even death.
Shakespeare writes in the prologue the reasons of the violence and fights in the play. He uses 5 lines to explain the beginning of the whole feud between the two families, and how it will play an important role in the story.
"From ancient grudge break to new mutiny.
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
The fearful passage of their death-marked love,
And the continuance of their parent's rage,
Which, but their children's end, nought could remove"
The ancient grudge between the two families brings hate and revenge to the time of Romeo, and becomes a barrier between the two loves, preventing them from meeting each other. If the hatred between the Montague and Capulet family hadn't been so great, they could have happily married and lived together. But no, they had to shoulder the huge pressure of the family, which forced them to commit suicide in the end.
The play starts with a scene of fighting. Samson and Gregory, servants of the Capulets, start a fight by biting their thumb, which is a rude gesture. This brings out the theme of hate between the families. The hate of the families is so immense that the servants are pulled in as well. Capulet and Montague engage in the fight, but are stopped. It reveals that the hate between the two families is so great that even the elderly want to fight, even though they are too old and holding crutches.
"What noise is this? Give me my long sword ho!"
"A crutch, a crutch! Why call you for a sword?
"Thou villain Capulet! Hold me not, let me go."
"Thou shalt not stir one foot to seek a foe."
Here even the older members of the families want to participate in the fight. When Capulet's wife says 'why call you for a sword' she reminds Capulet that he is old and should not enter the fight. The scene of wives wrestling with their husbands creates humor. This makes the whole feud seem like a game, childish and silly, making it more tragic that Romeo and Juliet lose their lives because of it.
At the Capulet Ball, Tybalt sees Romeo. He regards it as an insult and wants to kill Romeo at that very moment. But then Capulet interferes. He tells Tybalt that if he does fight with Romeo he will ruin his party and his reputation. Capulet threatens Tybalt, saying that he should be quiet and stop.
"You are a princox, go;
For shame! I'll make you quiet."
Here violence oppresses violence. It is used to stop Tybalt from fighting Romeo, in turn stopping intense violence from happening, as the fight between them could have turned worse.
The violence then intensifies through the whole play. After the marriage of Romeo and Juliet, A huge fight occurs in the streets of Verona, where Mercutio confronts Tybalt. The violence here connects with the family hatred of the Capulet family to the Montagues. Romeo tries to stop the quarrel between the two men but does not succeed. He tries use a peaceful way to stop the fight, but Tybalt refuses to go away.
"Boy, this shall not excuse the injuries
That thou hast done me, therefore turn and draw."
Tybalt shows his hate towards Romeo in these lines. He argues with Romeo and tries to get him to draw his sword and fight him even though Romeo refuses to. But then Mercutio comes into the fight. He wants to fight but Romeo doesn't want him to. There is confusion and Mercutio is suddenly stabbed by Tybalt. Mercutio dies, and Romeo takes revenge on Tybalt, killing him and running away. He is banished from Verona. Violence in this scene is linked with another theme in the story - love. Mercutio would not have been killed if Romeo didn't want to fight Tybalt. Why didn't Romeo want to fight? Tybalt was insulting him. The reason was that he had love for the Capulet family. He was just married to Juliet and was treating Tybalt as his kinsmen and so didn't want to fight him.
"Till thou shalt know the reason of my love.
And so good Capulet, which name I tender
As dearly as my own, be satisfied."
The death of Tybalt forces Romeo to run away from home, which pushes the play towards the tragedy at the end. Violence is shown to be very powerful in this scene. Romeo was at first the negotiator, trying to stop the fight. But unfortunately it ends with the death of Mercutio. This infuriates Romeo, so instead of rational thinking, Romeo blindly kills Tybalt.
"Away to heaven respective lenity,
And fire-eyed fury be my conduct now."
Violence here blinds Romeo's eyes and interferes with his decisions.
Violence is also portrayed in a speech of the Prince Escalus:
"...You men, you beasts,
That quench the fire of your pernicious rage
With purple fountains issuing from your veins,"
The Prince here portrays anger as the origin of their violent actions. He says that their anger is destructive and affects the whole city. When he said 'beasts', he meant that the violence affected their thinking, and made them mad.
"And made Verona's ancient citizens
Cast by their grave-beseeming ornaments
To wield old partisans, in hands as old,
Cankered with peace, to part your cankered hate."
Here the citizens with lower status are also pulled into the fight between Capulets and Montagues. This proves that violence from the two families affect the people around them, people that are not directly involved in the feud. Using 'cankered' in the dialogue also describes violence and hate as a disease which spreads to other people. On the other hand, the justice of the Prince is also very violent. He decides that Romeo is to be killed if he goes back to Verona. Here we learn that people are affected by violence no matter who they are. They are influenced by the two families, influenced by their frequent fights and quarrels. Even very peaceful characters, Friar Lawrence and the Nurse, are drawn in and have to deal with it.
In Act 3 Scene 5, there is a violent scene not in the family feud, but in the Capulets themselves. Juliet refuses to marry Paris, which angers her father. He pushes her and shouts at her:
"But now I see this one is one too much,
And that we have a curse in having her."
Violence occurs now in the households as well as in between the two families. The quote from above shows the violent language that Capulet said to his daughter. He uses 'green-sickness carrion', 'baggage' and 'hilding' to describe her, and also threatens to disown her. Violence affects Capulet, making him rough and forceful. This adds to the idea that violence is everywhere in the play and that every character is influenced by it. This scene is also very important as it forces Juliet to leave her home, blocking out all the other possible things that Juliet can do. Violence here also acts as the force towards the deaths of Romeo and Juliet.
The lives of Romeo and Juliet were ended in a most violent way. This is the climax of the whole play, and also a climax in the violence involved. Romeo had come back from Mantua and was approaching Juliet's grave. Paris, thinking that he was going to damage the body, stops him from going in. They fight and Paris is killed. Romeo then uses the poison that he bought from the apothecary and kills himself.
"That unsubstantial death is amorous,
.....The doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss
A dateless bargain to engrossing death."
Romeo says that death is the way that he can show his show to Juliet. He says of making an eternal seal with death. Juliet wakes just after Romeo dies. She sees her husband dead, and takes out his dagger and stabs herself.
"Then I'll be brief. O happy dagger!
This is thy sheath; there rest, and let me die."
If the death of Romeo was violent, Juliet's death was even more violent. This is evidence of violence affecting the thoughts of people.
Although violence has been disruptive in the play, it was the only thing that could end the family feud. The resolution of violence brings hope into the feud between the two families. The hatred between the two families was so great that nothing could have stopped them. The prince had said that a huge price would be paid if there would be anymore fights, but the people did not listen, as seen in Tybalt wanting to fight Romeo in the streets of Verona. The deaths of Romeo and Juliet, results of violence, brought the Capulet family and Montague family together in peace.
"See what a scourge is laid upon your hate,
That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love."
This visualizes violence as a link between hatred and hope or peace.
Without violence and deaths in 'Romeo and Juliet', the play would not have been so attractive and effective. The violent moments in the play were helping to guide the story through, in creating different situations for the characters. Violence and love are two opposite ideas, two extremes. But they both appear in the play at the same time. In the play, it is ironic that it is love that creates the violence. It mostly brings on violence to the story. In the violence is pushed down by love. The two families in the end had love for each other and agreed to stop the fighting. Although it was violence that started the love here, the love stops the violence. Violence does make the play bloody, but it adds on so much to it that is essential to the whole structure. Shakespeare understands the importance of violence and so makes it stand out among the other themes in the play.