R & J – The Feud

In Peter Ackroyd’s ‘Shakespeare: The Biography’ he says:


…It has been estimated that there were thirty-five serious disturbances or riots in the city [of London] between 1581 and 1602. There were food riots, riots between apprentices and gentlemen of the Inns of Court, threats of riots against immigrants or ‘aliens’…Of course in a city where male citizens customarily carried daggers or rapiers, apprentices had knives, and females were armed with bodkins or long pins, there was a constant danger of violence…Cases  of violent assault…were as common as cases of theft or over-pricing.


I would suggest that, though R & J may be set in Verona, it is based on the London Shakespeare lived in as described above and that the violence he describes in the play is ready to explode as it has done before (for practical literary reasons, if a really serious fight had actually broken out earlier in the action too many of the main protagonists would be dead too early – especially Romeo!). So, Shakespeare teases us with dangerous violence underneath the surface barely controlled by the Prince’s edicts.



The feud is ‘ancient’ as we learn in the Prologue and, although the Prince does not say it has broken out into fresh fighting within the past month it would appear to be recent. Dramatically, it needs to be so because, in the light of my previous comment, violence must be simmering , ready to explode in the fight scene where, after all, two of the major leads are killed off, not at the end of the play, like ‘Macbeth’, ‘King Lear’, ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ or ‘Hamlet’, but at the beginning of Act III.


The attitudes of the crowd and the combatants is, I would suggest, ambivalent and, to some degree not dissimilar to our own society’s attitude to war – glorious as it is done in the name of honour, loyalty and defence of one’s own, and, very annoying if it disturbs our sleep or peace of mind (not in our backyard). Are they that immature – are we?


As for long running feuds and almost tribal memory, we have only look to some fundamentalist Christians’ views on Jews, Protestants on Catholics and vice versa, or consider Rwanda, Serbia and Iraq to see that memories can stretch back centuries?

June 27, 2007 - Posted by | Uncategorized

1 Comment »

  1. Good point. Probably a combination of human nature and the fact that it’s less well known on Amazon. I guess as long as I get my money, you crazy folk Click

    Comment by jenelleheath40870 | April 9, 2016

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