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Romeo and Juliet | Discussion Questions 1 - 10

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Romeo and Juliet opens with a prologue that tells what will happen in the play. What is the effect?

Telling what will happen later has an effect on audience expectations, suspense, and even the themes of the play. As the events unfold, the audience knows to expect fighting between the Capulets and Montagues and to expect that two people in the play fall in love (but not necessarily who those two people are). Suspense builds as the audience waits for the lives of the characters to unravel as the play explores its themes. From the beginning, the audience understands that love and violence will be major themes in the play. The audience is prepared to closely follow the tension from the feud as a cause of the lovers' destiny, and the role played by fate, suggested by the words "star-crossed lovers."

How does the initial action in Act 1 of Romeo and Juliet foreshadow what will happen in the play?

The violent threats and actions of the opening scene foreshadow the violent end of several of the play's characters as a result of the feud—Mercutio, Tybalt, Paris, and even Romeo and Juliet. Sampson's threats toward the Montague family show the depth of hatred between the two houses. He boasts, "I will push Montague's men from the wall and/thrust his maids to the wall," meaning he wants to kill the men and rape the women. Spoiling for a fight, he accosts some Montague servants, which leads to a fight between Tybalt and Benvolio. The fight leaves the audience with the expectation of further violence to come.

How does Shakespeare establish the characters of Lord Montague, Lady Montague, Lord Capulet, and Lady Capulet in Act 1, Scene 1, of Romeo and Juliet?

Lord Capulet and Lord Montague both demonstrate quick tempers and the harboring of an old grudge as they try to jump immediately into an argument. The women, on the other hand, show more careful consideration by restraining their husbands. Lady Capulet pokes fun at her husband's hot temper ("A crutch, a crutch! Why call you for a sword?"), while Lady Montague tries to physically restrain her husband. Here the audience sees a contrast between the desires for violence and peace. Later in the scene, Montague and Lady Montague are shown to be good parents due to their concern for Romeo's sadness. Considering that Lady Montague kills herself after Romeo is banished, it is fitting that her character is shown to be more sensitive in the beginning.

What does the audience learn about Romeo's emotional state at the end of Act 1, Scene 1, in Romeo and Juliet, and why is it important?

Romeo contrasts significantly with the other male characters. While the others fight for the sake of their households, Romeo is indifferent to the feud and instead focuses on his broken heart. By establishing Romeo as a nonviolent character, Shakespeare leads the audience to feel pity for him. Even when he loses his temper and kills Tybalt later, dooming himself to exile, Romeo may maintain some audience sympathy. By establishing Romeo as a young, mopey man whose pursuit is to find love, Shakespeare makes it believable that Romeo could, like the symbolically fickle moon, change his mind about the love of his life (Rosaline) and fall for Juliet instead.

The audience of Romeo and Juliet first learns about Juliet through other characters' dialogue. What does this suggest about young women's roles in Elizabethan society?

Juliet literally has no voice at the beginning of the play. Others talk about her when she is not even present, arranging an advantageous marriage for her. Through the dialogue between Lord Capulet and Paris, Juliet is shown to be her father's property, someone he can give away. Though Lord Capulet indicates that her will is relevant and she may be too young for marriage, he still decides to accept Paris's suit on her behalf. After this conversation she does speak for herself briefly when she learns of the offer (calling it "an honor that I dream not of"), but her opinion can't override her father's decision. Juliet's silence and, later in the play, the concealing of her marriage demonstrate the secondary and powerless role of young women in her society. The audience could extrapolate and apply this commentary to women's role in Elizabethan society as well.

Compare how the men view a woman's beauty in Act 1 of Romeo and Juliet.

The play suggests that women, through their feminine beauty, have power that can be life-giving or destructive. According to Romeo, Rosaline's beauty, which she withholds from him, has nearly killed him: "She hath forsworn to love," he says, "and in that vow/Do I live dead." Furthermore, he cannot enjoy other beauties because they remind him of Rosaline, whose beauty surpasses them. For Benvolio, one woman's beauty is easily forgotten when another crosses a man's path. He is confident that Romeo can be cured by another "shining" woman, despite Romeo's protests. Lord Capulet describes beautiful women as "Earth-treading stars that make dark heaven light." When Romeo first sees Juliet, he also uses light imagery: "O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!" In fact, her beauty has done exactly what Benvolio hoped, which is to outshine Rosaline.

Contrast Romeo's and Juliet's initial views of love, judging by their responses to Rosaline and Paris in Act 1.

For Romeo, love is a reaction to physical beauty, illustrated by his initial attraction to Rosaline and then, again, in his affections toward Juliet, which are a reaction to her beauty surpassing any he has ever seen. Juliet, on the other hand, does not know romantic love when the play begins. When her mother asks, "Can you like of Paris' love?" Juliet responds without mention of love at all: "I'll look to like." The story the nurse tells about Juliet as a child establishes that she has always understood that she will marry at some point and receive physical affection from a man. But Juliet does not seem interested in finding a husband or in love until she encounters Romeo.

Describe Juliet's relationship to the nurse and Lady Capulet In Act 1, Scene 3, of Romeo and Juliet. How do these relationships change over the course of the play?

Lady Capulet first asks the nurse to leave because she wants to have a private conversation with her daughter but changes her mind, giving the nurse the status of a mother figure or family member to Juliet. The nurse and Lady Capulet are lively and kind to Juliet, showing warmth and intimacy between them. They gossip about Paris's good looks, reminisce about Juliet's childhood, and speak openly about their feelings. Later in the play, however, Lady Capulet fails to take Juliet's side against her husband's insistence that she marry Paris. The nurse also abandons Juliet emotionally when she tells her that Paris will make a better husband than Romeo. This break with her mother figures further cements Juliet's identity as Romeo's wife.

What motivates the nurse to help Juliet secretly marry Romeo?

The nurse witnesses Romeo and Juliet's first conversation and first kiss when she comes looking for Juliet at the Capulets' party. The nurse must see something special between the young lovers right away because she tells Romeo, not knowing he is a Montague, whoever marries Juliet "shall have the chinks," meaning wealth. The nurse shares in Juliet's excitement and attraction as well as Juliet's disappointment at finding out who Romeo is. She becomes entangled in her empathy for Juliet's feelings and predicament from the very beginning, possibly also motivated by her practical and earthy interest in marital sex. Her allegiance to Juliet causes the nurse to lose her loyalty to the other members of the Capulet family.

What is the purpose of the Queen Mab story Mercutio tells in Act 1, Scene 4, of Romeo and Juliet?

Mercutio tells Romeo the story of Queen Mab to urge Romeo not to take his dream seriously. Unlike Romeo, Mercutio does not believe that dreams contain truth or prophetic qualities, so he uses his tale of Queen Mab, a fairy queen, to illustrate his point that dreams are fantasies. He goes into great detail about the queen's tiny carriage being made from "wings of grasshopper" and drawn by beings the size of atoms to paint an absurd picture that will persuade Romeo not to believe in dreams. Through the tale Mercutio explains that people dream what they wish for most from their lowest natures. Queen Mab both causes people's dreams and exposes their ugliest thoughts. The soldier, for example, dreams of "cutting foreign throats." At the end of the Tale, Mercutio likens Queen Mab to a "hag" that torments horses and tangles sleepers' hair to convey the idea that nightmares can cause insanity.

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