How does Shakespeare's use of stage directions in Romeo and JulietĀ  impact elements, such as character, conflict, and theme?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One interesting stage direction that contributes to conflict and theme can be found in the opening scene. Capulet's servants, Sampson and Gregory, are described as entering the stage "armed with swords and bucklers," meaning swords and shields. The irony in this description is that these two men are just servants walking through town on some errand, plus this play is set during a time of peace in Verona. So what are these servants doing walking through town with swords and shields? The description shows us just how much importance Lords Capulet and Montague are placing on their feud. They take the feud so seriously that even their servants must walk through town carrying weapons in order to either defend themselves against or start a fight against anyone they may encounter, which points to both a central theme and conflict of the story. A central theme deals with the anguish and turmoil that blood thirsty fighting brings, while a central conflict deals with man vs. man and man vs. society.

Another interesting stage direction can be found in Act 3, Scene 1. After Tybalt "stabs Mercutio" while being held back "under Romeo's arm," Tybalt then "flies with his followers" (89). It does not quite seem characteristic of Tybalt to run away from a fight, especially after just having caused damage. It seems unlikely that Tybalt ran from fear of the Prince's consequences, considering that Tybalt was the one who challenged both Romeo and Mercutio to a dual in the first place. Hence we can assume that Tybalt fled because, just like a typical bully, he truly is a coward. Tybalt's bullying, cowardly behavior also relates to the central theme of the damage man's hatred can cause. Tybalt's bullying nature and fiery temper were fed by the existence of the feud. Had the feud not existed, his poor character and nature would have had fewer outlets to show itself, thus, sparing his own life as well as others'. Tybalt's nature also relates to the conflict of man vs. man and man vs. self. Tybalt challenged Romeo, but at the precise moment when Tybalt fled the scene, Romeo had the choice of fleeing from the fight as well. Had Romeo made the decision to flee, Tybalt would have been punished by the Prince and Romeo never would have been banished, which would have spared his own life as well as Juliet's.