Romeo and Juliet:  The Feud Between the Families

Brooke Webster

    In addition to love at first sight, the feud between the Montagues and Capulets is also a main theme of the play.  The world that Shakespeare has chosen to portray is violent and hate-filled from the very beginning.  The prologue shows the audience exactly how the feud will play a major role throughout the production.  The Chorus states:

This shows that everything in the play relates to the progress of Romeo and Juliet's love, and the ongoing family feud.  One is
always aware of the tension between the two sides because of this strife.  The violence is minor at first, but intensifies
throughout the play.  In the first scene, Benvolio of the Montague household, fights Tybalt of the Capulet household.  However, this is a mere scuffle in the street.  No one is seriously harmed.  After Romeo and Juliet are married, the violent action begins gaining pace.  Tybalt murders Mercutio in Act III, scene 1.  His dying words, "A plague o' both your houses!"(act III, scene i, 90) foreshadow the end of the play, and the end of the violence.  Mercutio's death enrages Romeo, who challenges Tybalt, saying, "…Mercutio's soul is but a little way above our heads,/ Staying for thine to keep him company./  Either thou or I, or both, must go with him."(act III, scene i, 126-128)   Romeo slays Tybalt, and is banished to Mantua by the Prince.  Romeo will kill twice more before the end of the play.  After he is misinformed about Juliet's death, he plans to poison himself by her "dead" body.  At the tomb, Paris attempts to apprehend Romeo.  When he will not listen to Romeo's reasoning, Romeo slays him.
    Once inside the tomb, Romeo drinks the powerful poison and dies.  Juliet awakens almost immediately thereafter.  She realizes what has happened and fatally stabs herself with Romeo's dagger.  Only with the death of their own children do Montague and Capulet bury their hatred.  The Prince states, "See what a scourge is laid upon your hate,/ That heaven finds a means to kill your joys with love/…All are punished."(act IV, scene iii, 292-293, 295)  The feud was an embodiment of the immaturity of the parents.  Five of their loved ones died before the realization occurred.

Concluding Remarks
    Themes of a play result from various elements explored throughout the entire work.  Love at first sight and feuding families are two abstract topics.  The action of Romeo and Juliet works to define and develop these topics into a concrete plot structure. From the action, the themes become apparent to the audience.  Conversely, by understanding the themes of this play, the audience will better interpret the action of the plot.