William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet is a story in which love and conflict are experienced in almost equal measures. The plot revolves around two young lovers who are prevented from being together after they have had to sacrifice their lives due to the long-standing family feud between the Montagues and Capulets. The barrier to their love, the feud between their respective families, are presented throughout the play. In fact, Shakespeare utilizes conflict as the building block of the narrative. This is evident in all the play’s five different parts. By introducing the characters and the themes, the first part sets the stage for a better understanding of the conflicts in the subsequent parts. The later parts show how the conflicts emerge, develop and the end of confrontations in the play’s conflicts. The theme of conflict later reaches its climax when Shakespeare’s work ends in tragedy as the key characters commit suicide once they realize they can never be together. Shakespeare’s reason for the major use of conflict in the play is revealed when the conflict comes to an end. It is evident that families learn from the consequences of their acts. A number of conflicts are also evidenced in a number of other early Shakespeare plays, including Titus Andronicus. He uses these plays to show how the thirst for leadership can result in endless feuds. This discussion looks at the patterns of rivalry in Shakespeare tragedies, the conflicts involving families Montague and Capulet, as well as that involving families in the First Tetralogy. In addition, the dissertation proposal discusses the family conflict in Titus Andronicus and proceeds from the perspective of a political play.
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Conflict and Resolutions between the families in Romeo and Juliet and other Early Shakespearean Plays
Patterns of Conflict in Shakespearean Tragedy
All of William Shakespeare’s plays are generally structured around various kinds of conflict and some critics (e.g. T. McAlindon, Shakespeare’s Tragic Cosmos view this in terms of general philosophical significance. The significance is derived from ancient Greek ideas of the universe as consisting of a ceaseless struggle between opposing forces, which (according to Empedocles) could only be established through the principle of love. The philosophical idea that opposes cosmic principles could be reconciled through love is obviously a projection onto the universe of sexual, marital and family relationships, and conflicts of this kind are central to Shakespeare’s plays. Romeo and Juliet can be closely related to the afterward calamities of Shakespeare as part of this pattern. However, there are important differences in the way that links it to Shakespeare’s earlier plays more so than his later ones.
Shakespeare’s texts often revolve around different conflictive and conflicting aspects. The plays are presented in a manner that tackles and dramatizes different kinds of conflict ranging from that of a political, social, cultural, economic and aesthetical nature. By presenting the conflict as one of the overriding themes in his plays, Shakespeare succeeds in negotiating the meaning of his texts and advocating for a wide reception of his plays as the conflicts depict the viewers’ daily encounters and appeal to their thirst for the realism of artistic work.
Shakespeare uses conflict as the vehicle for which his plays are based. This is evident in the plays Romeo and Juliet, and, among others. For example, Macbeth conveys the inner moral conflict concerning the decision on whether or not to murder in order to achieve a goal. The conflict in Romeo and Juliet tells about the possibility of the romance between the characters Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet, who fall madly in love during their initial meeting. The two are not aware that the other comes from one of the feuding families. The statements that Romeo makes during the initial stages of the play clearly express how attracted he is to Juliet. In the Second Act and Second Scene, Romeo says, “But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun!” (Shakespeare, 1839, p.22). The play also contains many scenes of conflict. For example, in Act 1 Scene 1 Benvolio says, “Here were the servants of your adversary, And yours, close fighting ere I did approach: I drew to part them: in the instant came The fiery Tybalt, with his sword prepared, Which, as he breathed defiance to my ears, He swung about his head and cut the winds, Who nothing hurt withal hiss’d him in scorn: While we were interchanging thrusts and blows, Came more and more and fought on part and part, Till the Prince came, who parted either part” (Shakespeare, 1806, p. 508).
The play Titus Andronicus is also based on a developing conflict about revenge that increasingly worsens from one scene to another. It is evident in Act one Scene 1, when the Captain says, “Romans, make way: the good Andronicus. Patron of virtue, Rome’s best champion, Successful in the battles that he fights, With honor and with fortune is returned from where he circumscribed with his sword And brought to yoke, the enemies of Rome.” Andronicus is praised for having won the war and returns to Rome with the victory. This is also shown in Act 1 Scene 1 when Titus Andronicus notes, “Cometh Andronicus, bound with laurel boughs, To re-salute his country with his tears, Tears of true joy for his return to Rome. Thou great defender of this Capitol, Stand gracious to the rites that we intend!”(Shakespeare, 1833, p. 682).
Therefore, the plays show a common trend in that they are about developing family struggles that lead to revenge. Other Shakespearean plays follow the same trend.
A tragedy refers to a form of narrative that is centered on sensitive and vital actions that end in unhappiness. Tragedies often result from the death of the main characters. The characters must take central roles in the play while in some tragedies innocent characters find themselves entangled in the disaster. Some tragedies are presented in a manner that depicts the main character as having in one way or another contributed to his or her plight. Most plays show the female characters as an object of voyeurism and they are presented as a contributing factor towards the fall of the main hero characters in the play. Often, the female characters play the role of an obstacle by blocking the efforts of the hero to achieve self-transformation (Tarica, 2008, p. 143).
In the tragedy plays of Shakespeare, the tragedy involves a five-part build up. The play usually includes an act that depicts the crisis. This often occurs at act three and it reveals part of the climax of the play. Act two often shows the build-up of complications that lead to a crisis in act three. The complications must be developed systematically to the point where it takes time for them to be resolved. It is through such strategies that the viewer’s attention is focused on the story and the suspense is created. Act one is often the exposition act where the narrative is introduced. The general aspects of the story are introduced so as to set the play into its context with respect to the setting and the theme. The themes that are introduced in the expository stage are developed in other acts, which bring out the themes in the play. Act four often depicts a falling action while act five indicates that the play is reaching its climax, where the resolution of this conflict is reached.
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In general term, the parts are followed strategically. The first part, known as the exposition, serves to create the setting, which includes introducing of some of the major characters, providing background narrative and presenting the main conflict that the characters will be involved in throughout the play. In Act Two, the plays involve a rising action that often entails the intensification of actions and many complications. The main characters are involved in seeking out the most appropriate and effective actions to take in an attempt to resolve their issues. A crisis builds in Act Three due to the actions that the characters take to resolve their differences. Dickson, (2005, p. 76) states that Act three is where the turning point of the play takes place as it dictates the actions of the main characters.
A narrative can move upwards to reach a happy ending. In this case, it is categorized as a comedy. When the story takes a downward turn and devolves into a series of conflicts, it is classified as a tragedy and its end is marked by the death of main characters. In most cases, the main character remains alive to the very end as other innocent characters fall along the way. The turning point in a tragedy is highly dramatic and full of tension as the opposing forces come into contact. The tension that is often observed in this Act results from actions that characters take at the turning point. The opposing characters often fight with one emerging victoriously in the battle. This has the characters locked deeper and deeper into their conflicts to the extent that all events witnessed in the act only lead to a tragedy. Shakespearean tragedy often reaches the climax in Act Five that marks the final climax of the play. It is in this act that the main characters die, indicating the end of the play. Before the play ends, a resolution is reached where all loose ends of the play are tied together. In most cases, the climax of the plays has three elements. The most vital element of these is that the protagonist undergoes some change. The main character learns a lesson about himself or herself and some other character.
The typical Shakespearean tragedy is based on the Greek dramas of Aeschylus. It involves various kinds of tragic events that are used to create conflict in the play. It is vital to note that conflicts experienced in this type of play form a vital part of the plot. As such, the play can hardly survive without conflict as it serves to develop the plot. Conflicts also help in creating suspense in the play. Suspense is necessary to sustain the audiences’ interest. For example, in Romeo and Juliet, suspense is created by the uncertainty of the destiny of the two major characters. Juliet regrets the fact that Romeo’s Montague surname betrays their relationship. She fails to understand why people are preoccupied with a person’s name. To her, a name is simply an individual’s personality and she cannot change her feelings towards Romeo. In Act 2, Scene 2, Juliet expresses her disgust with the value placed on one’s name and its relation to an individual’s identity. She says, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / by any other word would smell as sweet” (Shakespeare, 1839, p. 22).
Some of the plays involve the occurrence of Classical Tragedy. Aristotle’s Poetics states that tragedy is a situation where a protagonist that is highly placed falls to a point that is miserably low. This downfall comes following a series of events and alterations resulting from new discoveries that are made from time to time. The main cause of such miseries encountered by the heroes that end up falling is a tragic flaw that is generally associated with human error. The protagonist is often presented as a good person who is generally accepted by humanity except for the unfortunate situations that he or she gets involved in over the course of the unfolding events. It is this downfall of a socially acceptable hero that makes the play tragic. This is contrary to a situation where an evil character meets their fate (Thal, 2013, p. 1). In this latter case, the downfall should not be regarded as tragic as it is one that all would advocate for.
Some of the plays can be termed medieval tragedies. This refers to a situation where a character falls from a high to low status as a result of an act of the Goddess fortune that spines the character to the falling end. This is a situation where a character that is generally presented as very powerful but ends up miserable as a result of a misfortune caused by his or her immoral deeds. This trend is also seen in several Shakespearean plays. The plays that end in this manner are intended to present a moral that should be learned by the viewer. From the miseries that befall the fallen hero, the audience learns about the vices of immoral or unacceptable acts as they can lead to an undesirable encounter. Bevington (1984, p. 213) states that the final destiny of the characters in these plays is conditioned by the characters’ fortune.
Shakespearean plays can also take the form of a Renaissance tragedy. These forms of tragedies borrow less from the medieval tragedy that comes as a factor of the fortune spinning her wheel. The tragedy borrows heavily from the Aristotelian notion of a tragic flaw. This is true in that in the tragedy, there are aspects of the occurrence of moral weakness or human error that contribute to the plight of the protagonist in the play. This form of tragedy is different from the classical tragedy in that it includes subplots and comic relief.
It is vital to note the modern theories of tragedy. Most modern theories are founded on grounds of the Aristotelian concepts of tragedy. This idea can be justified by looking at two works of art; namely, the Victorian critic A.C. Bradley that presents a Shakespearean Tragedy and Northrop Frye (The Anatomy of Criticism, 1957). A close examination of these pieces can help in understanding the trends taken by Shakespearean tragedy as they build on the main concepts of Aristotelian tragedy, which Shakespeare observed in his work.
First, A.C. Bradley creates a division of tragedy into an exposition of matters as they stand. The exposition starts from the beginning of the unfolding events, their growth, and vicissitudes and ends with the tragic occurrence that marks the climax of the play. The Aristotelian notion of tragic flaw is emphasized as the error caused by the hero’s actions leads to his or her downfall. Bradley points out that this is often the case with Shakespeare, who often uses the idea of a tragic hero that is torn apart by some external forces. Stressing the tragic flaw shows that the characters are bringing their fate under their own control. As such, the consequences that they suffer from are most deserved due to their erroneous acts. However, in some of the Shakespearean plays, such as King Lear, the tragedy does not lie in the idea that the characters deserve their encounters or fates but on their own actions (Kahn, 1981, p. 51).
As observed with the tragedy in the Shakespearean, the second case, Northrop Frye recognizes 5 stages of action in tragedy plays. Northrop identifies them as catastrophe, encroachment, complication, recognition, and reversal. Encroachment refers to the stage where the protagonist bypasses the boundaries, hence making mistakes that lead to his or her fall. The mistake that leads to the fall of the protagonist is often done unconsciously and as a result of overconfidence. This means that overconfidence is a vice that can lead to the downfall as a result of overestimating the ability to regulate events in the world. Part two is that of complication, which shows the emergence and development of events that get aligned to the opposing forces, resulting in the tragic conclusion. This stage demonstrates how tragedies often alter normal life to make it a chain of causation. The third part involves reversal. At this point, it clearly emerges that the expectations of the hero are mistaken and that his destiny is likely to be the opposite of what he had expected it to be. The dramatist’s vision happens to be similar to that of the audience as both of them see a shift of events that are likely to alter the destiny of the protagonist (Bryant, 1984, p. 34).
Part four entails the catastrophe taking place. This is the point where the true abilities of the characters are exposed. It shows the final end of the hero’s ability to cope with the diverse situations that they face. The final stage is the recognition stage. At this stage, the audience can recognize the bigger pattern. The protagonist manages to see the significance of his actions and the irony involved in the acts (Fletcher & Stevenson, 1985, p. 35).
The most important form of conflict in most of Shakespeare’s tragedies is the conflict between different members of the same family. Aristotle said that the greatest degree of pity is felt in such cases: ‘But when the tragic incident occurs between those who are near or dear to one another as a brother killing or having an intention to kill another or when such an unacceptable deed occurs, the poet would look for such a situation (Poetics XIV.4). The conflict between family members is central to Hamlet, Othello, and KingLear. Even in Julius Caesar and Macbeth, there is a strong sense of symbolic, if not literal, parricide. However, Romeo and Juliet have a different conflict structuring principle.
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The Conflict between Families in Romeo and Juliet
In this part, the researcher looked carefully at all the sources of Romeo and Juliet and at other material on feuds and conflicts over honor during the Renaissance Era in Italy. The researcher had to understand the way the conflict involving the house of York and Lancaster is presented in early history plays and how the conflict in Titus Andronicus is partly a conflict involving two families. The researcher also had to do collection information on the incidence of conflicts between aristocratic families in Shakespeare’s England and on the way; Shakespeare might have been using family conflicts in Rome, Italy, or medieval England to talk about conflicts within his own contemporary society (which were primarily religious conflicts). The feud involving the Capulets and Montagues is a rare example in Shakespeare of a conflict between families. The conflict was in Shakespeare’s sources for Romeo and Juliet and might seem to be specific to this play and its Italian setting. However, it has close analogies with the family conflicts present in several other early Shakespeare plays, like the one that involved the houses of York and Lancaster in the first historical tetralogy (The three parts of Henry VI) and that between the family of Titus and the one for Gothic queen Tamora in Titus Andronicus. Among the very vital ways in which conflict is potentially resolved in Romeo and Juliet (‘marriage’ and ‘sacrifice’) are also very central to these plays, though in different ways.
Romeo and Juliet, is the most famous of romantic tragedies, could be seen, more politically, as a microcosm of the conflicts that can tear a society apart. These had done so once in fifteenth-century England during the War of the Roses (eventually resolved through a dynastic marriage) and were capable of doing so again as the Catholics and Protestants fought each other throughout Europe. Shakespeare may also have been aware of the tendencies of aristocratic families in some regions of England to maintain long-standing quarrels as a matter of family honor, in a way similar to the Italian culture of feuding present in Romeo and Juliet. Alison Wall’s essay about the public feud between two Wiltshire families, the Thynnes and the Marvins, establishes it as a probable source of Romeo and Juliet since there was a secret marriage in 1594 between members of the warring families (Wall, 1979, p. 85).
The overall intention of the dissertation is to adjust our view of Romeo and Juliet as the first of the major tragedies (though significantly different from them) towards it is viewed as the last of a series of early Shakespeare plays dealing with conflicts involving families and to ask if it, like the earlier history plays, might have been intended to have contemporary political significance.
The story of Romeo and Juliet has its basis on a series of conflicts. The main characters Juliet and Romeo are members of two conflicting families; the Capulets and Montagues respectively. The feud in which the two families are involved determines the existence of a strong but brief romantic relationship. In the play, Shakespeare makes several attempts to bridge the gap that results in the intense conflict between the families. The efforts are seen to be futile as lasting deference between these two lovers is only established by their death. The two families are torn in conflict as each of them strives to uphold and maintain their pride and honor. Neither of the conflicting parties is in a position to get over the grudge that at that point had existed for a very long time. They are entangled in intense conflicts and tension that make it difficult for them to agree on any issues. Both families pull towards opposite directions as they strive to emerge victorious in the fight for dominance and honor (Marrapodi et al., 1997, p 245). The confrontations involving these two families are evident in the way they attack and murder each other. For example, Tybalt Stubbs Mercutio finds himself in a confrontation that results in him cursing the two families by wishing that a plague strikes them. Mercutio expresses his hunger in Act 3, Scene 1 when he says “A plague o’ both your houses!” (Shakespeare, 1957, p. 38).
One striking occurrence is that family enmity does not threaten the love involving Romeo and Juliet. The love between the two grows stronger and stronger from their first meeting, where their mutual attraction is immediate. The initial attraction between the lovers occurs without them having any knowledge about the kind of enmity between their families (Wynne-Davies, 1991, p. 130). In Romeo’s statement, it emerges that he strongly loves Juliet despite the existence of family misunderstandings. Romeo mentions that Juliet’s beauty makes her stand out in a crowd. This intense feeling of love bypasses the boundaries set by the rivalry between the two families as Romeo loves and respects Juliet despite the fact that she is a Capulet. Similarly, Juliet shows great love for Romeo irrespective of the conflict in which their families are entangled. It appears that the conflict dividing these two families intensifies the affection between the young lovers. “The love becomes more intense, urgent and desperate” (Thal, 2013, p. 1). It is during the balcony scene that Romeo recognizes the danger.
During the scene, the two show their love and devotion to each other. They feel much pain because they are foes. They have to resist the restrictions that are placed on them by society as a factor of their distinct names. Juliet calls Romeo in despair and states that her love sprung from her hate. It is pointing to the idea that love and hate are two aspects that are intertwined. The two know that they belong to two different families that are involved in an intense conflict. However, they make a vow that their love for each other should not be threatened by the hatred that exists between their families. The kind of regret that the two lovers show as a result of their two conflicting families is enough to show the height of the conflict in which the families were involved. Family differences is a thorn in the flesh that threatens to tear them apart. At the Balcony scene in Act2, Scene 2, Juliet says “O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?” (Shakespeare, 1957, p. 22) as she regrets the fact that their families would not allow them to be together.
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The conflict between the two feuding families as presented in Romeo and Juliet is an illustrative case of a situation where love goes beyond animosity. Romeo belongs to the Montague family while Juliet is a Capulet. The two are entangled in deep love despite their family differences. Despite the difference in family background and the conflicts that set the families apart, Romeo and Juliet decide to get married secretly. The play ends with a lovers suicide pact based on the realization that they can never be together. This leads to the eventual reconciliation between their families.
The character Friar Lawrence points out the need to end the animosity between the two conflicting families. He believes that the love between Romeo and Juliet should have been given time to succeed based on the perception that this relationship could help in terminating the animosity between the two families. The love involving Romeo and Juliet could have been used, according to the friar, as a bridge to bring their families together by terminating the animosity and hatred that existed between them. Friar Lawrence gives his consent to wed Romeo and Juliet due to his thirst to reconcile the two families as the animosity that they had was at a dangerous level. Furthermore, the friar supported the marriage between the two in hopes that it would help to end the aimless conflict that troubled the streets of Veronica.
As usual, people tend to show great loyalty to their families. Many characters make efforts to keep their family honor as they also seek to fight hatred. For example, Tybalt is obsessed with the urge to seek revenge against Romeo. He feels aggrieved because Romeo was brave enough to attend the masked ball. Tybalt takes the issue personally and he challenges Romeo to a duel. Tybalt ends up striking Mercutio as Romeo tries to protect his friend. This event appears to intensify the rivalry as observed in the fact that Tybalt is later slain, leading to Romeo’s exile.
The families’ rivalry is escalated by the action taken by Tybalt. Contrary to earlier hopes, Romeo and Juliet’s affair is not enough to unite the families. The lovers’ fate seems to be dependent on the divide and prejudices. The cowardice act of slaying Mercitio as executed by Tybalt aggregates the already intense family conflict. This act was done even as Romeo had tried to restore peace. In response to Tybalt’s act, Romeo acts impulsively and in an irrational manner as he decides to murder Tybalt. Because of his action, Romeo is banished, subjecting Juliet to immeasurable suffering. The good intentions that the Friar had were not considered and it results in a more dangerous scheme.
It is evident that the play illustrates how Shakespeare shows love blossoming despite the existence of a violent conflict as an intense feud exists. The existence of this connection is not regarded as coincidental but rather as an essential occurrence. The tension that is a characteristic of any tragic play is built by the antithesis as a fearful mood is created by the Chorus. Considered together, the two set the stage for disaster to manifest that develops the play. The family rivalry is presented as an intense conflict that only ends after the destruction of the two lovers that occurs in a cathartic movement. The feud presented in the play appears to be the main cause of the tragedy, as the redemptive power of love is presented by illuminating the consequence of the destructive hate between Romeo and Tybalt. There is a connection between Romeo’s violent love for Juliet and the violent nature of Tybalt. The two violent characteristics made it difficult for the rivalry to be settled peacefully. In this case, Cohen (1993, p. 65) suggests that the violent actions that were displayed by the two as a result of their family rivalry and ideological differences resulted in more violence.
The feud bypasses the status boundary as both low and high-status members of the conflicting families find themselves deep into the conflict. The conflict between the Capulet and Montague families even involves the families’ servants. The servants also participated in dehumanizing acts of subjecting each other to insults as they called each other names. This mode of insult is seen to be accommodative as opposed to a situation where the nobles would involve themselves in insults by the use of swords. For example, Tybalt mocks Benvolio as he states that Benvolio is drawn among heartless hinds. The use of animal images is intended to show the servants’ low status. It is only the church and the state that is represented by the friar and prince that advocate for the prevalence of peace. The feud that is presented by the use of the two families is displeasing to God and inconsistent with civilized society. The protagonists in the play are fighting over status, which results in unnecessary bloodshed. This behavior is inappropriate in a civilized society where people should have the ability to reason and settle their dispute in a peaceful manner. The play shows the level to which a feud can become part and parcel of society to the point that logical reasoning and peaceful coexistence become impossible.
The play is full of conflict as seen from the first lines. It is depicted as an ancient controversy that has the ability to distort new mutiny. The phrase “ancient parents” is repeated twice in the initial sections of the play in a move that suggests that the rivalry has almost biblical parallels. The repetition of the word suggests that the consequences of the sins that are committed by parents are passed on to children. It shows how difficult it is to end the conflict between the two families in the play as children take after their parents in propagating the feud. It has a link to the idea that there is a connection between love and hate, although the genesis of such a connection is not revealed.
It appears that young characters in the play also enjoy the feud and intensified emotions even more than their elders do. The younger characters get a stronger feeling of pride as they involve themselves in the struggles for family honor. This can best be illustrated by the actions of Tybalt after he saw Romeo at his family’s party. Tybalt complained bitterly that it was shameful for Romeo to be at the party. Shakespeare depicts the young characters as people that lack the virtues of patience and endurance through their actions. For example, Tybalt fails to be patient at the sight of Romeo and his lack of patience results in greater conflict. Similarly, Mercutio shows a lack of patience and endurance during the feud as Romeo and Juliet can hardly contain their love. The play is largely about love and hate and it is mainly based on the inability of the newly minted youth to contain themselves and their actions in a civilized world. Tybalt is commanded by Capulet that Romeo asserts his status on the master and that he shall be endured.
Romeo feels that his relationship with Juliet has called into question his masculinity. From this perception, it emerges that Romeo comes from a culture in which peace is considered to be a show of weakness. It is regarded as being feminine and therefore it is despised. In the play, Shakespeare attempts to confirm that love has the ability to end and heal the existing feud. However, this power to heal is only observed after the occurrence of the tragedy involving the death of the ‘star-crossed lovers’. The family feud is regarded to have made a positive contribution to the play as it is seen to be adding power to the love that exists between two members of the conflicting families. Although love seems to multiply the existing tension, Romeo and Juliet are unable to resist each other. While hoping for their marriage to take place the next day amidst the family feuds, Juliet expresses her love for Romeo while at the Capulets’ Orchard in Act 2, Scene 2 by saying, “Good Night, Goodnight! Parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say good night till it is morrow” (Shakespeare, 1957, p. 24).
It is clear that the conflict extends beyond the families to include parents as well as their kids. The prevailing dispute causes much friction between the parents and their children as the play is set in a time when children were only meant to be seen and not heard. Children were expected to remain silent over anything and only follow in the footsteps and take the advice that is given by the parents. This causes conflict as children feel that they have a right to make decisions on their own and to contribute to matters of serious concern. The parents hold that children have to obey them and respect their instructions since by failing to do so, they will end up being a disgrace to the family. The conflict between children and their parents can be seen from Act One, Scene One where Romeo’s parents ask Bernvolio if he has knowledge about his whereabouts. Failure to know where their own son is at that moment is an indication that they are not close. It shows that despite being their son, Romeo does not share his plans with them.
Lady Montague shows a caring attribute in the manner in which she addresses the issue of Romeo’s absence. She states that she is happy that Romeo misses the fray and did not participate in the previous brawl. Her remarks that indicate that she is concerned about Romeo’s safety and this is later reflected in Lord Montague’s remarks as he also expresses concern over his son’s well being. Lord Montagues explains the suffering that Romeo often goes through as a result of his love for Juliet. He locks himself in his darkroom without any company. This is taken to be an indication that Romeo is lovesick. There is much use of light in the play by Shakespeare to vary the tone and the mood of the play. The play also uses light to show the differences in status between families. For instance, the monologue is never written in prose. The social distance that is observed between Romeo and his parents can be understood to have been as a result of the need by a young man to hide the secrets of his social life. Romeos acts can be seen as a show of rebellion against his parents while they can also be understood to mean the need for independence. Act One Scene Two shows that Juliet and her mother are also distant as they hardly share anything with each other. This act presents the preparations for Lady Capulet’s party. Juliet appears to be unhappy, as can be seen in her mode of response to the questions that Lady Capulet asks. In particular, Juliet only gives the necessary one-line answers. There is a big difference in the manner in which Juliet speaks to the nurse as compared to her mode of conversation with her mother. Juliet opens up freely with the nurse while she is reluctant to talk to her mother. This reaction shows that there is a problem in the relationship involving Juliet and her mother.
There are several aspects that have been used to depict the height of the conflict in this play. Family conflict is brought out as an obstacle to freedom as evidenced through the plight of Romeo and Juliet. Children are brought up to hate those who their families dislike. This explains why Romeo and Juliet were dismayed when they learned about their family identities. The level of disgust is clear in the statement that Juliet made upon learning Romeo is a Montague. In Act 1, Scene 5, Juliet says ‘my only love sprung from my only hate… I must love a loathed enemy.’ (Shakespeare, 1957, p. 20).
Based on the illustrations seen in this section, it is clear that Romeo and Juliet are about love that is intertwined with hatred. Romeo and Juliet are in a solid relationship that cannot be broken by their family feuds. This love is seen in some situations as a source of power that could unite the two conflicting families. It only ends in tragedy after the death of the great lovers. Despite the end of the relationship, one significant occurrence is observed as it results in a rapprochement between the families. Due to the tragedy that the two families suffer as a result of the death of their children, they decide to end their feud. The families realize that their children have made great sacrifices and that they should reciprocate by burying their differences. The play ends by showing that humility and love can overcome prejudice and hatred.
The Conflict between Families in the First Tetralogy
It was a struggle between the families of York and Lancaster in claiming the throne of Elizabethan England; it was the tussle that resulted in the Wars of the Roses. This was part of an example of the conflict involving different families, which could be seen in some of Shakespeare’s plays; the conflict began from the deposition and murder of King Richard II by Henry IV. Richard II was a descendant of the House of Lancaster who passed on without an inheritor. John of Gaunt was the father of Henry Bolingbroke; the Lancastrian fraction was made up of their descendants as well as those who supported them. The Yorkish fraction was made up of Edward IV, Richard with their supporters and descendants. The family conflicts resulted in the 1455 Wars of the Roses that lasted for thirty years when the current king’s right to the throne was questioned by Richard, the Duke of York. The Duke of York had his lineage traced to a similar family as King Richard II, who had been disposed of by Henry IV, also called Henry Bolingbroke. Henry VI who ascended the throne was from the House of Lancaster; he originated from Henry IV. As Jones (1977, p. 213) states, the argument from Richard the Duke of York was that Henry IV was not the rightful heir to the throne and that he acquired it illegally.
In 1485 the wrangles came to an end at a confrontation in Bosworth Field and the crucial victory achieved by the Lancastrian fraction; an army that was raised by Welsh prince Henry Tudor to fight Richard III. There was a blood relationship between the Tudor’s and the House of Lancaster, and Henry Tudor tried to use this relationship in maneuvering the throne for most of the families of York and Lancaster had harmed each other during the course of their conflict. Henry Tudor married the daughter of Edward IV thereby justifying his claim to the throne. Now King Henry VII, the royal killed his rivals within a few years of his leadership (Bevington, 1984, p. 153). The marriage was a fast political move; Henry VII brought the Yorkish claim to the throne maternally through Elizabeth, because he carried the Lancastrian claim. “Henry VII’s children now had both Lancastrian and Yorkish blood” (Hunter, 1974, p. 320).
The nature of the conflict that is presented in the story of the Wars of the Roses gives an indication of a series of wars that existed among the factions of the House Plantagenet. It was about leadership as the Plantagenet had ruled over England for more than two hundred years. The leadership of House Plantagenet had begun with King Henry II. The onset of the clash is characterized by the struggle that involved the king and his cousin Henry Bolingbroke. The two were in conflict as they fought for the throne. In the end, Richard was killed, allowing Bolingbroke to ascend to the throne as King Henry IV (Connolly, 2013, p. 25). A short period elapsed during the leadership of Henry’s son, King Henry V. Later, the War of the Roses continued and covered the leadership of the four kings King Henry VI, King Edward, IV, King Edward V, and King Richard III. The War of the Roses only came to an end with the leadership of King Henry VII. “He was the first Tudor King that managed to defeat Richard III during the confrontation that took place at Bosworth Field” (Jones, 1977, p. 214).
The leadership of King Henry VI, who was the leader of House Lancaster was challenged, House York. House Lancaster was symbolized by the red rose and House York symbolized by the white rose. As a result of this conflict, the Yorkist victory paved the way for Edward IV to become the king. After the end of King Edward IV’s reign, Richard III, a Yorkist, took over the ruler as Henry VII showed support for the Lancasters (Moore, 1950, p. 125).
Based on the story, it clearly emerges that the conflict that exists between the families occurs as a result of the succession and family relationships. Connolly (2000, p. 31) states, “Royal succession was based on the basic principle of primogeniture.” Based on this principle, the throne of leadership was passed on from the king to the eldest male heir. In the event that an heir was not available, the throne was given to his eldest living heir. The principle also required that if there was no male heir living in a given branch of the family, the throne would be passed to the existing male in the next family branch. The principle also granted an opportunity for the existing heir of the female ancestors to claim for the succession to be passed over to him (Royle, 2008, p. 231).
Political rivalry and the thirst for power often resulted in conflicts. There were cases where some families became obsessed with bringing down the existing monarchy. One of the most successful reigns of the time was that of by King Edward I also known as Edward Longshanks. The king enjoyed respect due to his success. During his rule, the king managed to conquer Wales and attempted to conquer Scotland. He became very popular and used his popularity and good leadership skills in government reformation. However, due to political rivalry, the king’s son and successor King Edward II did fare so well (Bladen, 2011, p. 46). His time on the throne was characterized by great political unrest. Ultimately, he was deposed and murdered, becoming the first British king to be killed upon deposition. The political rivalry that emerged between families is also evident in the case of Edward III’s eldest son Edward the Black Prince (Moore, 1950, p. 125). Edward the Black Prince was a great military leader who was in line to succeed his father on the throne. However, this dream came to an end after his life was cut short in a battle. The death of this military leader meant that his son Richard was the next in line to take over the throne from his grandfather (Jones, 1977, p. 113).
The Edward III’s second son, William of Hatfield, passed on without having a male heir. His third son, Lionel of Antwerp, had a daughter named Philippa. Phillippa was betrothed to Edmund Mortimer. This marriage led to the possibility that House Mortimer could claim the throne of leadership after the death of Richard II because William did not have an heir while House Mortimer were the male descendants Edward III’s next eldest son. It is such instances that resulted in conflicts, as can be observed in the case where Henry IV’s viability to take over the crown is challenged in part 1. Since John of Gaunt was Edward III’s fourth son from whom the origin of House Lancaster is traced, an alternation is done in that his son Henry Bolingbroke took over the throne of leadership from Richard II, becoming King Henry IV. It was based on the controversy over the legitimacy of Henry IV that the Lancaster’s claim originates. As such, it clearly emerges that the conflicts that followed were as a result of family wrangles based on who had the rightful claim to the throne (Taylor et al., 2005, p. 154).
Edmund of Langley, the Duke of York, is the fifth son to Edward III. He is the one who forms the House of York. The Yorks came together in solidarity as supported by the marriage between them and the House of Mortimer. The bond that was created through marriage gave them claim to the throne through Philippa, daughter of Lionel of Antwerp. Those who were opposed to the Lancastrians organized armed rebellions against the king. This was another example where rebellion emerged as a result of a power struggle with those that are opposed to the existing leadership waging war against the family that controlled the throne.
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Family feuds are also witnessed after the passing of King Henry V. After this death, the king’s son Henry VI ascended the throne. His claim for the throne was opposed by the Yorkist family under the leadership of Richard Plantagenet. This dispute resulted in a repeat of the earlier conflict concerning the legitimacy of the Lancastrian’s claim over the throne. The dispute that emerged was based on a misunderstanding over the succession of the throne. It should be clear that Richard, Earl of Cambridge was Richards’s father. He was Edward the third’s fifth-born son (Moore, 1950, p. 125). There was a relationship that was created when Richard married Anne Mortimer, the daughter of Philippa, and grandfather of Lionel of Antwerp. Lionel, it should be remembered, was Edward III’s third son. The issue that resulted in the controversy is that after the death of Richard II the throne was meant to be claimed by the eldest heir or any existing family of that heir. Controversies emerged as the families failed to agree on a legitimate successor, with the Yorkists claiming that the descendants of Lionel were the true heirs to the throne. The supported heirs, in this case, were the Mortimers and because the Duke of York’s mother belonged to House Mortimer, she strongly supported the claim as opposed to that of Henry VI’s, who was related to John of Gaunt, Edward III’s fourth son (Jones, 1977, p. 214).
Despite the fact that the claim given by Henry Tudor over his legitimacy to the throne was weak, he managed to defeat Richard III during the Battle of Bosworth Field and as a result became King Henry VII (Moore, 1950, p. 125). Later, he married Elizabeth, the daughter of Edward IV and the last existing Yorkist royal family member. In so doing, Henry VII successfully managed to end the conflicts that had existed over the succession of the throne by creating a bond involving the York and Lancaster houses. Generally, the conflicts presented in this story, as with other works of Shakespeare, are resolvable since they originate from feelings (McAlindon, 1991, p. 12).
In most cases, Shakespeare strived to attain a return to order in his literary work. Several instances indicate a threat to the story’s political order as can be seen in several cases where families got involved in a dispute over the succession of the throne. As has been seen, some of the conflicts resulted in intensified violence and murder with one family determined to take over leadership by any means necessary. It is the consistent competition over the legitimacy of claims for the throne that culminate into constant chaos between families. In his work, Shakespeare mainly wrote about older generations and kings. However, he was concerned with the contemporary world in which he lived and used older stories as an illustration of what would occur in the world in which he had lived. Jones (1977, p. 236 states that when the story was written, there was great concern over succession issues by Queen Elizabeth.
The Conflict between Families in Titus Andronicus
The conflict between families in Titus Andronicus involves two family groupings, whose conflict destroys or threatens to destroy the peace in a city. The conflict was played between the family of Andronicus and that of the alternative household of Tamora the Gothic queen. The conflict consists of revenge, murder, and rape; In Titus’ use of a prisoner’s blood (Tamora’s son) in order to complete the burial ritual of his son, he pushes the Gothic queen Tamora to satisfy her thirst for power by disguising her and her sons in wedding the Roman emperor, thereby founding the royal family not of love but of self-interest and hatred for the Andronici (Macrae, 2004, p. 508). Gow states that “ Titus Andronicus is the bloodiest of Shakespeare’s tragedies. Cannibalism, mutilation, gang-rape and ritual sacrifice (Gow, 2003, p. 1).”Tamora’s lust for sensual pleasure was satisfied by taking a lover who uses her to acquire wealth and political power. Her mission was to jeopardize the family peace, which leads to brothers taking arms against each other for personal gain, their niece mutilated and their nephew killed. Tamora succeeded in tearing the Andronici family apart by making Titus murder his son and then his daughter, sacrificing both on the altar of his personal honor.
Titus Andronicus revolves around the main protagonist Titus Andronicus and the family’s fate. The protagonist is a Roman general. He kicks off the play through his creation of Saturninus king. This action ends up creating a great conflict between the protagonist’s family and their enemies. The enemies are Aaron and Tamora who get empowered and are determined to destroy Andronicus’ family. Andronicus becomes part of the emergent enmity (Rossi, 1993, p. 113). This is evident in that he loses his two sons. He is also obsessed at the sight of his mutilated daughter. The level of cruelty is worse, as seen in the event where Andronicus is forced to cut off one of his hands, as he becomes a victim of a trick that was made by Aaron. As the play progresses to the second half, the implications of the cruelty to Andronicus are seen as he suffers great grief. The section also shows how the protagonist shows his determination to revenge against his enemies as a result of the suffering that they made him go through. Evidently, the play has a conflict that helps in its plot development.
Vengeance is the overriding theme in the entire play. According to Grow, “… the cult of revenge is inseparable from that of honor in every incompletely civilized society” (Grow 2003, p. 2). The move by Titus Andronicus to take revenge against his enemies is given prominence in the play as he is determined to punish those who had made him suffer. The play is divided into parts with the first part mainly addressing evil acts between Titus and his family. Hughes (1994, p 131) shows Titus’ determination to revenge for the ills that are done to him. This is a clear indication that the play is about conflict and revenge for wrong deeds. For Titus to execute revenge, he has to first carefully plan his actions. The preparations take a good part of the play as all moves are strategically planned to ensure that Titus is successful in executing revenge against all those that had wronged him. One thing that keeps Titus determined to succeed is his daughter Lavinia. The sight of the daughter agonizes him to the extent that he feels that he must get payback for the pain that his enemies like Tamora, her sons and Aaron had caused him. Titus does not show any concern about the possible implications of his vengeance plans. Instead, he is determined to teach his enemies a lesson for their evil deeds.
The vengeance in the play Andronicus is depicted as a strange family affair that overrides the entire story. It gives an indication of violence that is to an extreme extent. Violent acts are presented in the play involving members of different families who are determined to tear each other apart (Ravenscroft, 1987, p. 141). In addition, there are violent confrontations between members of the same family. For example, Tamora decides to go after Titus’s children in revenge against Titus for hurting her eldest son. Titus also shows his determination to pay back for the harm that he has been caused through the trick that he organizes to ensure that Tamora feels a pain similar to the one that she caused him. This is evident in the manner in which Titus tricks Tamora into eating the sons that had survived. Several instances of domestic violence and fights are also illustrated in the play. For example, James (1991, p. 130) states that Titus eliminates his two children as two brothers are also involved in quarrels overpower and a lady. This shows that the play is built around conflict. The extent of conflict in this play confirms the idea that tragedy plays are built on conflict. Without conflict, the play cannot move, as the plot will hardly be effective. The conflicts set the tone, the mood and suspense to keep the audience glued.
The play is presented in a manner that almost all characters have an immediate family member who is involved in a conflict. This is used to build on the theme of family and parenthood. Proper parenting should involve concern and care for the well being of their offspring. This is not the case in several cases in the play as some parents fail to show concern for their children. In addition, good parenting should be illustrated through advocacy for harmonious coexistence between families. In a situation where the head of one family tricks a parent in another family into harming his or her children, it clearly indicates that parenting is at stake. Titus fails to exhibit acceptable characteristics of a concerned and caring father as he dismisses the qualities of a good parent by murdering his sons. He ends up disowning his sons through a statement in which he declares that none of them is his son. In Act 1, Scene 1, Titus says, ‘Nor thou nor he are any sons of mine’ (Titus Andronicus, n.d., p.1). This shows how a parent can turn against his children by subjecting them to suffering instead of being a father figure as expected under normal circumstances. Titus has much interest in gaining honor. Patterson (2007, p. 410) shows the harsh decision that Titus takes to eliminate his sons as he reasons that the sons do not honor him.
Tamora and Aaron are the main protagonists in the play as Saturninus, Demetrius and Chiron play secondary roles. Titus creates a great enmity as he tells Lucius to sacrifice Tamora’s first-born son. In Act 1, Scene 1, Titus tells Lucius “Make way to lay them by their brethren” (Titus Andronicus, n.d., p. 4). From this incident onwards, Titus and Tamora get entangled in endless enmity as Tamora completely turns against Titus. Due to the love that a parent has for his or her children, Tamora pleads for mercy so that her children are spared. Her pleas are disregarded and this makes her feel emotional to the point that she develops an endless enmity against Titus. Tamora makes a declaration to her husband after ascending to power as the empress of Rome. She promises her husband that she will ensure that she destroys the entire clan of Andronici. Tamora gets assistance from Aaron as she strives to accomplish her plan. The collusion between Tamora and Aaron result in several violent acts.
For example, Aaron is responsible for Bassianus’ death and Lvinia’s mutilation and rape. Other immoral acts that Aaron helped to execute include the loss of Titus’s hand and the unjust execution of Quintus and Martius. All these acts of violence that are executed by Aaron are not done as a result of a grudge against Titus, but rather he does them out of his wickedness. He is presented as an evil character who finds pleasure in causing harm to others. Demetrius and Chiron are the ones who help Aaron to conduct injustices that are planned by Aaron against the Andronici. Saturninus ignores the pleas given by Titus and fails to take time to investigate the truth about the murder of Bassianus.
Romeo and Juliet as a Political Play
Romeo and Juliet is clearly a tragedy that involves the encounter of two lovers. Despite being a love story, it largely involves politics that is mainly conditioned by religion and Christian morality. The idea of Christianity and morality is evident in the manner in which the storyline is affected by the prevailing conflict between priestly and secular authority. In addition, a great part of the story is driven by the controversial interactions between aspects of love, mercy, and punishment. This is observed through Escalus, the Prince of Verona and Friar Laurence, the Franciscan. In the process of the interactions, there is a transformation of the regime led by Veronese as efforts are made to establish what is good for society. In the process of determining the common good, the path that is taken is friendlier to the interests of the friar with little concern about the interests of the Prince. In the play, Shakespeare presents a picture of a situation in which peculiar problems determined modern life rather than the old political life.
Romeo and Juliet is a play that gives an indication of the politics of class differences. Although the prologue insists that there was no difference in class between the Capulets and Montagues, it appears that the two families were not at the same level in terms of status. A closer look at the prologue leads to the understanding that the Capulets are wealthier than the Montagues. This is an analysis that is done by looking at those of authority in the play. These are the ones that enjoy power and dominion over the others. They enjoy some privileges that the others do not have access to; hence, they can be regarded as wealthier than those that are not in leadership. In the case of the play, the aspect of differences in class does not clearly come out when looking at the play with respect to the character’s level of income or jobs. However, the idea that the Capulets are the ones in authority leads to a conclusion that they are wealthier than the Montagues. This understanding can be used in giving an explanation about some of the events in the play. For example, the reasoning can be used to explain the fact that Juliet was convinced that her family would not welcome her relationship with Romeo. “Romeo is also obsessed about gold and his parents insist to cast Juliet in gold” (Shulman, 2012, p. 1).
Cultural conflicts presented in the play have led commentators to view Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet as a play about the politics of cultural differences. Arguments about leadership and acceptability of Romeo and Juliet are related mainly because of the political differences that come as a result of the cultural differences between the two families. The conflict that emerges in the play can be compared to the current day conflicts between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The two families, as with the Palestinians and the Israelis of the current world, had several differences of political nature, although they were hidden under the umbrella of cultural differences. It is interesting to question the reason why only one family enjoyed authority at the expense of the other. As Spiekerman (2001, p. 1) states, Shakespeare’s stories demonstrate the question of power and subordination of mutual relations within a society. This is a clear indication, from an analytical point of view, that there must have been an intensified political battle between the families that made it difficult for them to understand each other on many occasions. It is due to this reason that the relationship involving Romeo & Juliet faced several storms as the parents were not comfortable with the solidification of the love affair. The two names, Romeo and Juliet, are used to signal some special kind of love and a kind of tragic destiny (Bloom, 2010, p. 100).
The play Romeo and Juliet is a depiction of propaganda that is made against aristocratic factions that are given much scope by those in the higher social class also regarded as the sovereigns that should essentially be courageous enough to take part in the leadership of their society as enshrined in the law. From the play, it emerges clearly that contending people are not the same as contending factions. In his work, Shakespeare gives much attention to the contending people’s theme. It is done with an exception of rear occurrences where he gives some occasions like the treatment on the Welsh that played a role that is closely related to the Palestinian part in the current history.
The story and the determination that the main characters have in their love can be compared to the level of determination that a politician shows in pursuing a political ambition. As the story proceeds, it emerges that the relationship involving Romeo and Juliet is opposed by all who are around them. This kind of opposition can be compared to a situation where an individual decides to seek a career in politics and faces criticism from those that are around him or her. As such, the story can be understood to show the nature of the opposition that politicians can face as they decide to run for office. Despite the criticisms, the contestants represented by Romeo and Juliet in this play remains. No matter the obstacles that the two lovers face, they are determined to pursue their love to the very end. It is this determination that enables the two lovers to make the decision to commit suicide in response to the opposition to their relationship.
Generally, the play has a political significance that goes beyond the love relationship that is evidently the overriding theme. There is a show of love and hate in equal measures in the play and this seems to give an indication that love and hate go alongside each other. The difference in social status between the two families makes it difficult for Romeo and Juliet to reach their goal of eternal love. They hold onto the relationship despite the obstacles that face them. It is all in hope that the relationship would play a role in reconciling their families that have been in a constant feud over time. It appears that the bone of contention between the two families is political in that one family cannot get access to political privileges as the other strives to maintain its political dominance. To some level, Juliet’s parents were opposed to the relationship based on the idea that allowing it to succeed would threaten their political status and supremacy.