London was a young city in the 1590s, and the crowds who took their chances with prostitutes and pickpockets in the entertainment districts were even younger; contemporary reports suggest audiences at the open-air theatres were predominantly male, and (unlike ‘private’ indoor playhouses, where admission cost at least six times as much) were drawn from all ranks of society.For this youthful, restless crowd – some of whom were bunking off work to attend – the violent skirmishes between the Capulets and Montagues that dominate the action must have been a major part of the attraction, and the swordfighting skills displayed by Shakespeare’s colleagues will have been watched with a keen eye.
On 29 June, a 1,000-strong army of apprentices and disaffected soldiers marched on Tower Hill; on 4 July, martial law was imposed.
Andrew Dickson describes how the play reflects the violence and chaos of Shakespearean London – and how, more recently, directors have used it to explore conflicts of their own time.
All Shakespeare’s plays contain themes that feel universal – the father who breaks disastrously from his children, the marriage that collapses under the pressure of a husband’s jealousy.
This can be played out through using your words to hurt somebody’s feelings.
Insulting someone is a good example of this type of violence.