365 Days of Shakespeare

That's right – the Bard in a year.

255. The feud of “Romeo and Juliet”

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The feud between the Capulets and the Montagues in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” is a fight between families that has survived ages. They have hated each other for so long that it is likely they do not even know how the hatred began. However, it is the emotion that guides them, rather than the logic, so the quarrel continues on.

While the feud serves mainly to act as a barrier between the young lovers, making it far more dangerous and difficult for them to carry on their love affair, it is not merely a shallow plot point meant to create conflict and drama. The strife is so very fierce that it is the catalyst for all the tragedy that ensues throughout the play.

Of course, for Romeo and Juliet themselves, they know that they cannot be peacefully together so long as their names are Montague and Capulet. There is no telling what their families would do were they do find out. It forces them to keep everything hidden away in secret, to sneak around and come up with complex plots in order to simply be in love and be happy together. That alone would be tragedy enough, but naturally, Shakespeare must turn it up to eleven.

There is a brawl right at the start of the play, which in some productions is extremely violent, caused by immaturity fueled by the ancient feud. But that is not the only fight that ensues: there is a great fight, practically a battle, between Tybalt of the Capulets and Mercutio of the Montagues. In this fight, Tybalt ends up murdering Mercutio, and Romeo kills Tybalt out of revenge. Romeo laments that he is “Fortune’s fool” due to this horrifying turn of events, and Juliet is equally devastated, both at the loss of her cousin and that her husband was the one to slay him.

Were it not for the dispute between the two families, Romeo and Juliet could potentially have lived happily ever after. But it is the fact that they cannot be together peacefully that drives them to the extreme measures we all know so well: Juliet attempting to fake her death to avoid marrying Paris, Romeo being banished, the miscommunication that destroys Juliet’s plan and leads Romeo to suicide, and Juliet’s suicide that follows shortly thereafter.

Shakespeare’s prologue tells the audience that Romeo and Juliet “do, with their death, bury their parents’ strife”. It seems that he wishes to make it clear how sad and unnecessary he finds it that such strife may only be buried where children are, too.  “Romeo and Juliet” may serve as a cautionary tale against holding such grudges as the Capulets and Montagues are wont to do.

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Written by Caroline Mincks

June 13, 2010 at 8:57 PM

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