How does Shakespeare portray ambiguity in the play Romeo and Juliet
Shakespeare uses this to accentuate the contrast of love and hate, an ambiguous disparity Shakespeare uses to encapsulate the meaning of the play. Furthermore, Shakespeare’s use of distinctive language and character repartee is used for contrast and to craft oxymoron and paradox to illustrate ambiguity, for instance; “A damned saint, an honourable villain! The poignant contrast between the words, “damned” and “honourable” each adjectives used to inverse the distinct characterisations of “villain” and “saint” in the form of an oxymoron.
Ambiguity is also explored through the characters themselves. For instance, Friar Lawrence is portrayed to have a vested interest in the happiness of both Romeo and Juliet and appears as an advocate of their forbidden romance and even helps to marry the two in secret, later providing Juliet with a substance that will give her the power to fake her death to avoid her marriage to Paris. However it appears he has an ulterior motive fuelled by his peace loving disposition.
This is portrayed when he states that “this alliance may so happy prove to turn your households’ rancour to pure love,” thus expressing the somewhat ambiguous nature of his character. Furthermore, his unorthodox behaviour may have in fact caused the deaths of the two lovers and thus Shakespeare portrays ambiguity in this instance by portraying the layers of the Friar’s character, how a peace loving man of God, whom Shakespeare initially appears to use as a plot device, gradually metamorphoses to someone who will, by any means necessary, attempt to achieve his goal, no matter how innocent his motives.
Similarly, Lord Capulet’s character also appears to acquire a similar ambiguous nature. He initially appears as a loving father with seemingly chivalrous qualities, asking Paris to “let two more summers wither in their pride, ere we may think her ripe to be a bride,” allowing his daughter time to mature before she weds Paris. Similarly, when Tybalt expresses his anger and concern when Romeo enters Juliet’s party, he responds dismissively and appears to see no point to the feud, portraying a sensible, understanding side to his character.
However, Capulet soon loses this title and becomes a more aggressive character, forcing Juliet to marry Paris and when she refuses he exclaims, “Out you baggage, you tallow face,” expressing a more belligerent side to his character. And thus again, Shakespeare portrays ambiguity through Capulet’s somewhat twofold character, each a polar end of two extremes, aggression and compassion. In addition, Mercutio’s character also resembles a somewhat ambiguous nature. His name itself is derived from the word ‘mercurial’ which means unstable or volatile, which in itself encapsulates his ambiguity.
He initially appears very self assured and confident with an aptitude for bawdy humour. He appears to sustain a dismissive, derogatory outlook on love, expressing that “if love be rough with you, be rough with love. ” He also appears as a loyal friend to Romeo, and advocate of the Montagues. However, it appears Mercutio’s alleged confidence is merely a facade fuelled by his insecure, volatile undertones. This is portrayed during his dying moments when he exclaims, “a curse of both your houses! ” portraying his volatility and insecurity as opposed to his initial confident, secure demeanour and thus conveys his character’s ambiguous fibre.
Ambiguity is also distinguished through the themes integrated into the play and the plot itself. Shakespeare expresses how the conflicting themes included in the play, for instance ‘Love and Hate’ are merely adopted by Shakespeare to portray how there is no ‘one or the other,’ there is always a mixture of both. He uses the characters’ emotions and actions to portray these themes as inversed extremes battling against one another to realise the ultimate conclusion mentioned previously. Similarly the plot in itself, a fickle feud fuelled by the insecurity of each other’s prevalence that ultimately resulted in the deaths of each of their own.