How important is the setting in Romeo and Juliet?

Set in the city of Verona, “Romeo and Juliet” constantly alters between settings, specifically to construct the mood and enhance the use of sensory language in each scene. Shakespeare designs the atmosphere relative to the emotions presented in each scene which create an ambience that influences how each episode is carried out.

In the first act Shakespeare familiarizes the audience members with the intense hate between the Capulets and the Montagues with the first brawl. Shakespeare confines situations of conflict within the streets, where the Mediterranean heat in an open space plays an oblique role in the development of irrational arrogant attitudes carried out by the youth of the two opposite households. With the image of a dusty and crowded street market, Shakespeare places the members of the opposing households to bring forth the sense of upcoming combat. As well as the challenging dialogues exchanged between the characters in the two primary episodes of fighting, the setting also plays a significant role in evoking the sense of suspense. In the first episode, the servants of both the households are involved in the brawl, presenting how the hate between the Capulets and the Montagues run skin deep. The next fight is the play’s climaxing moment, again situated in the streets, but presumably in a less crowded area, as no other characters besides Romeo, Mercutio and Tybalt join in the fight. Before progressing on with the episode, Benvolio acknowledges that the weather will have dire consequences if they did not turn back to their houses, “I pray thee, good Mercutio, let’s retire: / The day is hot, the Capulets abroad/ And, if we meet, we shall not scape a brawl; / For now, these hot days, us the mad blood stirring.”  Even though Tybalt was already set on a violent confrontation with Romeo, it is in sync with the hot weather which aggravated the situation further, causing restlessness within the youth and inducing irrational thoughts.

Contrastingly, Shakespeare sets his next scene in the banquet hall of the Capulet household. The banquet hall blooms with elegance, with aristocratic members in fashionable Elizabethan attires dancing to musicians in the background. In this beautifully designed atmosphere, we see Juliet coming down the stairway and participating in the dance and Romeo seeing her for the first time and falling in love instantly. We witness the gradual uncoiling of the love factor between these two teenagers in such a graceful manner. Shakespeare restricts the hate factor from intertwining with the love factor, as presented by Capulet stopping Tybalt from challenging Romeo.

The love factor continues to thrive in the most memorable scene of all: Juliet’s balcony. After their meeting, Romeo, filled with the strength of love, climbs walls to seek Juliet. The lovers find themselves under the open sky where the stars and the moon present a highly romantic scene. The lovers connect their love to the galactic objects, furthermore indicating that their love was always beyond the reach of earthly attributes. Romeo relates Juliet to extraterrestrial entities, “It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.” “O, speak again, bright angel!”. Romeo perceives Juliet as part of the sky behind her, attributing her with a supraterrestrial quality above him. The outside scenery allows the lovers to connect with the substantiality of their love.

Friar Laurence’s cell is an area of sanctification, where the characters are connected with religion. Shakespeare instils a religious element to provide a place of neutrality in the midst of all the hatred. Friar Laurence himself is a very optimistic character, who united Romeo and Juliet in marriage for the sole purpose of combing the two families. This aspect of optimism and hope of a better outcome is present in the cell, where the protagonists find themselves whenever facing a turning point in their lives. Shakespeare also depicts the natural human instinct to turn to God in crisis and confusion to ask for guidance. When sentenced to banishment, Romeo finds himself in the Friar’s cell to seek assurance, which Friar Laurence provides. We also see Juliet turning to the Friar when forced to be betrothed to Paris, to seek a form of guidance that the Friar provides in a simulated death. The Friar’s cell is the only place where the lovers are allowed a sense of guidance in a world that is set against them. Through Friar Laurence, Shakespeare makes an allusive connection with religion in the play.

The most significant setting takes place in the catacomb where the play finally comes to closure with the death factor that has been shadowing the two lovers from the beginning of the play. After news of Juliet’s (simulated) death is sent to Romeo, Romeo devises a plan to take his own life in the arms of his wife, where death lies waiting to unify what life couldn’t. In approaching the tomb where Juliet lay, Romeo confronts Paris and is obligated to kill him in order to continue with his plan. The catacomb holds the lives of three young people, murdered by unfounded hate of others. Before his death, Romeo acknowledges the tomb where he is to lay rest for eternity, “A grave? O no! a lantern, slaughter’d youth, / For here lies Juliet, and her beauty makes/ This vault a feasting presence full of light.” Even though it was dark inside, Romeo finds it filled with light. This represents how he did not find death a dark and cruel entity, but rather an entity that would at last allow him freedom from the cruel world he lived in. Romeo believes death had fallen in love with Juliet, and took her to be his wife, “…shall I believe/ That unsubstantial death is amorous, / And that the lean abhorred monster keeps/ Thee here in the dark to be his paramour?” We finally see the lovers united in death represented  by the setting,the dark and cold tomb of the catacomb. Here we witness the denouement of the play where the Montague and the Capulet finally agree to an end to their age old grudge. The catacomb is the last place of action, where the dying words of the two lovers etch into the hearts of readers and audiences alike.

Shakespeare cleverly constructs his play according to the normal scenarios of the Elizabethan period. Acts of war are always carried out in the open and neutrality in judgment is typically found in the holy places. We find the banquet hall an active portrayal of the typical aristocratic feasts in those times. The balcony scene allows love to be reckoned as a force above earthly confinement, where the atmospheric references transforms Romeo and Juliet’s words as an aesthetic portrayal of love. The last scene situated in the catacomb contains the last mortal presence of Romeo and Juliet’s undying love. Moreover, setting plays an implied role in the play but it develops the actions that is to take place, and forms a situation suitable for that particular action. In the last setting, Shakespeare symbolically delivers the message that only love has the power to relieve you of the accepted norms of society.

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