How would an Elizabethan audience respond to a specific line? How would a modern audience respond?

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coachingcorner's profile pic

coachingcorner | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

Posted on

In the play "Romeo and Juliet" by William Shakespeare, there are many references to events or circumastances which were highly topical and highly relevant to audiences of the Elizabethan time, but which have lost some of their meaning to us in our modern technological times. One quotation example for this would be "a plague on both your houses." The word "plague" would have been starkly indicative of trouble, heartbreak, distress and fear of death for audiences watching. A plague could be similar to a curse which went down through the generations or could have been a deadly actual disease, similar to many that were sweeping Europe. The strength of feeling relating to such a curse is demonstrated by the allusion - and the sudden change of heart towards the pointless feud. We of course now have powerful drugs and meds.

missy575's profile pic

missy575 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

I imagine you are looking for a line to be used as an example.

Take this discussion from the beginning of Romeo and Juliet

SAMPSON 
A dog of that house shall move me to stand: I will
take the wall of any man or maid of Montague's.

GREGORY 
That shows thee a weak slave; for the weakest goes
to the wall.

SAMPSON 
True; and therefore women, being the weaker vessels,
are ever thrust to the wall: therefore I will push
Montague's men from the wall, and thrust his maids
to the wall.

GREGORY 
The quarrel is between our masters and us their men.

SAMPSON 
'Tis all one, I will show myself a tyrant: when I
have fought with the men, I will be cruel with the
maids, and cut off their heads.

GREGORY 
The heads of the maids?

SAMPSON 
Ay, the heads of the maids, or their maidenheads;
take it in what sense thou wilt.

This discussion about women to an Elizabethan audience might have been very funny in a dirty way. A woman's maidenhead referred to her virginity. Sampson is essentially talking about having relations with these women of the Montagues.

An Elizabethan audience would either be disturbed or humored by this discussion, while a modern audience would be confused by the vocabulary of the word maidenhead.

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