Writing the first draft
Once you have planned your answer, you can start to write the first draft. Remember, this is coursework, so you might be able to write a number of drafts, making each one better as you develop your answer. However, many people worry about starting their answer - they are not sure where to start - so they include a lot of information which is not asked for or needed. For instance, you might know a lot about the background to the play or Shakespeare's life, but is it really relevant? Let's compare two ways of starting to answer the question: 'What is the role of the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet?'
Romeo and Juliet is a play by Shakespeare. It is set in Verona, Italy, and is about two families, the Capulets and the Montagues, who are constantly feuding, and what happens when Romeo, a Montague, and Juliet, a Capulet, fall in love. The play was probably first performed at the Globe Theatre in London in 1595. The theatre was very different then because no females were allowed to act, so all of the female roles, including Juliet, were played by males.
At first sight this looks OK. It is all correct and about Romeo and Juliet. However, the person marking the essay already knows the play and all the background details, and this introduction could be for any title. In fact, most markers would not give any marks so far, because nothing about the question has been given. We think there is a much better way to start your essay or talk, so let's look at version two.
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Despite fate’s grasp on Romeo and Juliet being clear from the beginning, their choices in the play cause fate to build momentum and accelerate their lives to their inevitable end. Shakespeare’s original presentation of fate is of an inescapable event, but how the characters get there is less certain and more chance. Whereas Luhrmann’s fate is cruller and more controlling, but both interpretations of fate have the result of uniting the feuding families. Fate commands the lives of the characters from birth, with their deaths predetermined by generations of feuding and violence. In the prologue Shakespeare reveals the traumatic ending, that “a pair of star-crossed lovers take their life” before it happens, possibly because this complements the idea that their lives have already been decided. The prologue is written as a sonnet, a 14 line poem usually about love, but hear instead describes death.
Romeo and Juliet’s lives are deeply intertwined, shown by the use of the singular “life” and they will die together. In Baz Luhrmann’s interpretation of Romeo and Juliet the prologue is presented first by a news reader, who appears on a small fuzzy TV, but then again as news headlines and a non-diegetic voice over. By showing the parents as this line is read out it appears to lay blame on the families, showing Romeo and Juliet had no control in their own deaths. However fate’s purpose in the play is for reconciliation between the families. “Which but their children’s end naught could remove”.
As well as fate’s close association with the stars, Shakespeare also presents fate as an inevitable consequence of past actions. After the Montagues and Capulet’s fight in the first scene we are given false hope that fate may be overpowered, with the princes threat that their “lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace” however, from the prologue we know fate will persist so instead forebodes of greater consequences next time. Luhrmann recreates this scene with prince as a chief of police, giving him the modern day authority to carry out this threat. Luhrmann choses to have a close up of Prince’s face, showing the seriousness of the threat, followed by the two families separated with a door between them signifying a possible peaceful reconciliation. The families’ separation is not permanent and fate will ultimately end the feud.
The door is Luhrmann representing Shakespeare’s teaser of a nonviolent end to the feud. However violence is apparent throughout the families and it is this violence which will allow fate to succeed. In the script Gregory, a Capulet servant, says “The quarrel is between our masters and us their men” The inclusive pronouns give the impression of union and pride within the families, that leads to the willingness to engage in violence, which must inevitably end in death. It is this foolishness that forces their fate upon Romeo and Juliet. This scene is changed in the film so that the line is split between two Montagues, and instead used to show not everyone wants to fight, presenting fate as more chance.
Due to recklessness, chance, and ill-fated choices, fate is allowed to succeed. When we first meet Romeo, he is madly in love with Rosaline “oh brawling love, oh loving hate” the oxymoronic language suggests Romeo’s recklessness, meaning he will fall victim to fate and not be able to prevent it. In the script he speaks this line to Benvolio, in the film adaptation Romeo writes this in a diary, with his non-diegetic voice reading it for the audience. The secrecy created here heightens the danger as no-one else will understand his situation later on meaning he is isolated.
Before Juliet meets Romeo, she doesn’t want to marry. She tells lady Capulet “it is an honour i dream not of” this use of inverted syntax suggests Juliet is not ready to marry, and so her marriage to Romeo will not work. Luhrmann’s eccentric Lady Capulet is over the top, and does not care about her daughter, shown by the sped up frames. This increases Juliet’s isolation, meaning fate is more likely to succeed.
There are numerous warnings of fate in the play; all are ignored. Before the Capulet party, Romeo senses fate presence and he will be bound to it after that night. He feels there is “some consequence yet hanging in the stars” but ignores the signs and goes anyway. Luhrmann heightens the significance of this line by fading out non-diegetic sound and having Romeo look at the starts, which as supposedly commanding his destiny. Fate is also personified as cruelly taunting the characters, Later Juliet knows things are moving too fast, but doesn’t have the power to control her own emotions. “I have no joy of the contract tonight, it is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden” Another warning sign has been ignored. Fate is a punishment; the fatal consequences in the play are inevitable because of the characters choices and actions.
When Romeo takes revenge on Tybalt for the murder of Mercutio, he feels someone must die to pay for the death “Either thou or I, or both must go with him” The use of imperative and list of three gives the impression there is no choice. Luhrmann’s presentation Romeo is more manic, like he is possessed, and the storm warns of impending danger. The high angle shots give the impression that they are being watched and show fate looking down at them, pulling the strings and driving Romeo to kill Tybalt. All the main characters in Rome and Juliet are aware the role fate plays in their lives, and it is used as an excuse by characters when they make mistakes.
Romeo Acknowledges fate’s part in Tybalt’s death “o I am fortunes fool” however he chooses to completely blame fate to alleviate his own responsibility, and by doing so surrenders to fate. When Friar Lawrence’s message fails to reach Romeo, he blames “Unhappy fortune” for his the failure, despite it being largely his fault, as it was his plan. In Luhrmann’s adaptation Friar Lawrence wakes up startled, in a sweat. The impression is given that he has an instinct that his plan is failing. Fate is presented as a conscious being. And in the film is present as much more of an unstoppable force. When Romeo is given the misleading news that Juliet has died, he stumbles backwards as if he has been hit by fate, encouraging the audience to think back to the prologue.
Establishing shots of a desert present Romeo as alone and vulnerable. In the tomb Romeo recognises that Juliet appears to still be living. “Thou art not conquered, beauty easing yet” his intelligence almost overcomes fate, which is personified here as powerful and violent force. Luhrmann presents Romeo as addressing fate, rather than Juliet. He looks at the sky, to the starts which are closely linked to fate throughout the storey, showing fates presence in this scene. Luhrmann also heightens the cruelness of fate, choosing for Romeo to stare up to fate when he takes the poison, rather than at Juliet as she wakes which would have meant the tragic ending would have been prevented. Fate leads Romeo and Juliet to their deaths, but they are mere puppets playing their role to end generations of feud and violence. Despite fate ultimately being a uniting force, its inhumanity means it is perceived as cruel.