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How Does Shakespeare Use Conflict to Create Tension?

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In Romeo and Juliet the main conflict revolves around the Capulet’s and the Montague’s old feud. This then creates tension throughout the play because this old feud branches out into a lot of conflict between individual people.

The prologue is very important in this play because it sets the way for the rest of the play, warning the audience that it is going to be a tragedy. The prologue is written in the form of a sonnet with a strict rhyme scheme and using iambic pentameter. This shows the audience that the play is going to be about love because sonnets are usually associated with love. Straight away the prologue tells you that there is going to be conflict between the two families, “Two households, both alike in dignity”, “From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.” It tells us that it is set in Verona, Italy, “In fair Verona (where we lay our scene),”. It also tells us that the families’ feud is going to result in the death of two lovers, “The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love,”.

In act 1, scene 1 a fight breaks out between the Capulet’s and Montague’s and the prince must intervene to stop them fighting. This is the first scene of the play meaning that because you can already see the conflict between the families, this makes it obvious for the audience that the play is going to be full of conflict. At the beginning of the scene Sampson and Gregory, servants of the Capulet’s are insulting each other in a form of playful banter, “I mean, and we be in choler, we’ll draw.” Sampson also says “I will be civil with the maids, I will cut off their heads.” This is a deliberate play on words with maidenheads meaning virginities. Then Abram and Balthasar, servants of the Montague family arrive. Sampson says “I will bite my thumb at them,”.

Biting your thumb at someone was a gesture of defiance and was very offensive in the Elizabethan era. Sampson biting his thumb at the Montague’s creates tension because it shows the conflict between the families also it give the audience the idea that there may be a fight about to occur. During the following conversation Sampson and Gregory want to fight Abram and Balthasar but they do not want to start the fight because if they do they will get in to trouble, “Let us take the law of our sides, let them begin.” This creates tension because this tells the audience that there is going to be a fight and the fight will be serious enough to get them in trouble with law. Tybalt arrives and then old Montague and old Capulet. They all join in the fight. This shows that the feud between the families is between all statuses within the family not just the head of the house or the servants.

The prince turns up with his train and tells them to stop fighting, “Throw your mistempere’d weapons to the ground,”. The prince calls the fighting families beasts, “What ho, you men, you beasts!” He also says, “that quench the fire of your pernicious rage With purple fountains issuing from your veins:”. These are all images of hell because in the Elizabethan era people were very religious and the idea of going to hell was the horrible.

In this scene you learn about two main characters; Benvolio and Tybalt. Benvolio arrives and tries to stop the fighting, “Part fools! Put up your swords, you know not what you do.” This presents Benvolio’s character as a character that doesn’t want to fight. Also he understands that the grudge is old and that it is not worth fighting about anymore. Tybalt arrives afterwards and he shows us that his character is aggressive, hates the Montague’s and enjoys fighting, “As I hate hell, all Montagues and thee.”

In act 2, scene 4 you learn that Tybalt is an accurate fighter, “he fights as you sing prick-song, keeps time, distance, and proportion;” and he is an expert in the art of duelling, “captain of compliments”. He is also called a “princox”, insolent young man. Tybault is the name of the Prince of Cats in the popular medieval beast fable, Reynard the Fox. Within the play there are quite a lot of mentions about Tybalts cat like characteristics and/or name; “prince of cats” and Mercutio insults Tybalt by saying “you rat catcher”, “good king of cats” and “one of your nine lives”. Tybalt has quite a cat like personality he likes fighting, cat fights, he is also the leader of the pack also he is sly and cunning.

In act 1, scene 5 Romeo goes to the Capulet’s party to look for his lover Rosaline. This is the first time in the play that Romeo and Juliet see each other. This scene is juxtaposed because you have the love of Romeo and Juliet but you also have the hate of Tybalt for the Montague’s. Throughout the scene Romeo talks in verse rather than pros, this shows love and joy. The fact that the Capulet’s are having a fight shows they are wealthy.

During this scene Tybalt spots Romeo and goes and tells Old Capulet this creates tension between Tybalt and the Montagues and between Tybalt and Old Capulet. Tybalt tells Old Capulet, “Uncle, this is a Montague, our foe:”. Tybalt is offended by Romeo being there because he is their enemy and he just walked into there party also, Romeo comes wearing a mask to hide his face and Tybalt thinks that is him making fun of their party, “Come hither, cover’d with an antic face, To fleer and scorn at our solemnity?” This creates tension because we already know that Tybalt likes fighting and hates the Montagues so we think that is going to be a fight. Also because the audience were told in the prologue that it is a tragedy we know lots of people are going to die and they don’t know when.

There then is some conflict in this scene between Tybalt and Old Capulet because Old Capulet doesn’t want Tybalt to fight Romeo because he doesn’t want the happy mood at his party ruined and he says that Romeo is boasted about being virtuous and a well mannered boy so he doesn’t want to dishonour him, “And to say truth, Verona brags of him To be virtuous and well-govern’d youth. I would not for the wealth of all this town Here in my house do him disparagement;”. Old Capulet gets angry at Tybalt because even after he says to leave it Tybalt argues because he wants to fight or chuck out Romeo, “You are a saucy boy. Is’t so indeed? This trick may chance to scathe you, I know what. You must contrary me! Marry, ‘tis time.-Well said, my hearts!-You are a princox, go, Be quiet, or-More light, more light! For shame, I’ll make you quiet, what!-Cheerly, my hearts!” Within this quote Old Capulet says, “You must contrary me!”

This means he is getting annoyed because he his asking Tybalt why he always opposes his will. He also calls Tybalt a ‘Princox’ which means an insolent young man. In return Tybalt says, “I will withdraw, but this intrusion shall, Now seeming sweet, convert to bitt’rest gall.” By this Tybalt means that he will not fight or cause trouble now but he will not forget this and he will be thinking about it and getting angrier. The conflict between Tybalt and Old Capulet creates conflict because fighting within the families is unexpected. Also during the argument you wonder if Tybalt is going to listen to his uncle or if he is going to fight Romeo. Tybalt last sentence puts the audience on edge because until Act 3, Scene 1 you are wondering when Tybalt and Romeo are going to meet and whether Tybalt will follow his word and fight him.

Act 3 scene 1 is a pivotal scene of the play, the scene takes place in the middle of the play following the marriage scene between Romeo and ?Juliet. This creates tension because of the contrast between the two scenes, meaning it would shock the audience and intrigues them. It could be considered the pivotal scene in the play because without it the further tragic events wouldn’t have occurred. In this scene Mercutio talks in pros whereas in the rest of the play Mercutio talks in verse. This is probably to try and show disrespect to Tybalt and because he is friends with Benvolio. Within this scene Mercutio tries to provoke Tybalt into fighting, “Oh good king of cats.” This would aggravate Tybalt because his character is associated with cats. This could create tension because we don’t know how Tybalt will react and if he will rise to the bait.

Tybalt tries to offend and provoke Romeo into fighting by saying “thou art a villan.” This would offend Romeo because in the Elizabethan era villan was a very offensive term. It would provoke Romeo even more than usual because it was hot, meaning people were frustrated and moody. This creates tension because you don’t know how Romeo will react and after Romeo doesn’t react it creates more tension because Tybalt wants to fight and this frustrates him more. Tybalt asks Mercutio if he is friends with Romeo, “Mercutio, thou consort with Romeo.” Consort can also mean minstrels or entertainer and Mercutio deliberately mistakes the meaning saying, “Consort? what dost thou make us minstrels?” Shakespeare used a play on words because this frustrated Tybalt even more. This creates tension because it is starting to make it obvious that a fight is going to happen.

The context of this play is quite important because the fact that it is set in Italy means; it’s hot so people are frustrated, rich young men don’t work so they are bored, religion was very important, people fought for family honour and to prove their masculinity. Also Italy is a romantic place. In the Elizabethan era the parents would set up their children’s marriages, Romeo and Prince. If the play is set in Italy then it can’t offend the English and people don’t know the truth so you can make anything happen and it would be realistic. In conclusion I think that Shakespeare uses conflict to crate tension by making it very obvious early in the play that there is going to conflict and death. This puts the audience on edge because they are waiting for the next show of conflict to appear.

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