The ambiguity of the opening sonnet would have made it incomprehensible to much of the audience despite outlining the plot of the play does not tell us how or why anything happens. Such is the layout of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre that most of the people in the penny pits would be unable to understand the sonnet form, the subsequent fight, a far more simple form of introducing the feud between the two families would ensure that the whole audience understands what is going on. In short, the sonnet tells us intelligently and the fight tells us experientially.
Shakespeare’s use of fated, macabre images within the prologue is consistent with the tragedy genre. Frequent use of words such as ‘grudge’, ‘mutiny’ and ‘fatal’ would alert the audience to the inevitable outcome of the play, the sonnet even goes so far as telling the audience that ‘A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;’ both Romeo and Juliet are going to die. During Elizabethan times the stars were thought to control people’s destinies, being ‘star-cross’d’ or against the stars, creates a sense of fate. Similarly the text that precedes this: ‘death-mark’d love’ underlines the fact that both of the young lovers are ill fated. This therefore means that the audience would be watching the play with the expectation that it must fulfil the terms set in the prologue. The multiple images of hate and ultimately death used within the opening prologue are entwined with those of love; the co-existence of these images conditions the audience into the fact that at any point violence could start up between the two households. This is partly down to the fact that neither Romeo nor Juliet will ever be able to tell their parents of their love for one another.
By opening the play with an escalating conflict between the two families Shakespeare surprises the audience as the story is about two lovers not the feud between the Montagues and Capulets. This opening scene is of hatred between servants of both households, fighting with laughter, mockery and crude violent language of love: ‘I will push Montague’s men from the wall and thrust his maids to the wall.’ This is Sampson of the house of Capulet saying that he will murder all the men of the Capulet house and rape all the women in the form of an innuendo. The verbal banter soon escalates and servants from both families draw their swords, Benvolio and Tybalt soon join in. Despite Benvolio’s best efforts to keep the peace, ‘I do but keep the peace.’ Tybalt refuses and draws his sword. As the prince enters the square and calls for peace he refers to their swords as ‘mistempered weapons’. This pun whilst on the face of it meaning ‘wrongly used weapons’ has sexual connotations; the tempering of metal makes it harder. This combined with the phallic symbol of the sword is just another example sexual innuendo used by Shakespeare. The multiple symbolic aspects of the sword are present within this scene as Sampson challenges Abraham to a fight: ‘Draw if you be men.’ as if it is a test of manhood.
Franco Zeffirelli’s film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet the machismo is emphasized with lots of shouting and imperative instructions. The costume and setting is far more authentic than in Luhrmann version however the affect is much the same, conjuring an image of hatred, anger and violence. The tone and volume of the voices, the screaming of women in distress and the harsh clanging of swords all add to the escalating rage between the two families within the square. The verbal exchange between the two sets of servants takes place in a market scene, members of the public voice their distaste to the disturbance. Sampson and Gregory servants of the house of Capulet taunt Abraham and his fellow servants to the Montagues goading them into violence. The fight between the servants starts in the marketplace but as the severity of the fight increases and Benvolio and Tybalt join in they all rush to the...