“By the end of Act 1 of Romeo and Juliet, the audience is both pleased and troubled in equal measure for the two young lovers.”

Romeo and Juliet do not, it is fair to say, have the most happy of relationships, to put it mildly. As we are told at the start of the play, they “take their life”: the audience is immediately left in no doubt as to what the outcome shall be, and there is little wondering as to why they die; an “ancient grudge” would, we are to presume, prevent them from ever being together. However, we are not given the full details as to the ending, and thus there is still an element of intrigue to the play, despite Chorus’s apparent complete overview of the play. Indeed, Chorus tells us himself that not all has been revealed; “What here shall miss” is almost certainly intended to tell the audience that they still need to pay attention, since events are yet to fully unfold.And as well as not quite ruining the entire plotline of the play, Chorus also comes back at the end of Act 1 to deliver another sonnet, and it is one of hope tempered with caution. Despite his earlier telling us that Romeo and Juliet are “star-crossed lovers”, doomed to die, he persists at the end of Act 1 in being rather dismal about the prospects of their relationship, reminding the audience that Romeo “loves again,/alike bewitched by the charm of looks”: he may believe that Juliet is perfection itself, Chorus warns us, but did he not once feel the same way about Rosaline before? “That fair for which love…would die,/…is now not fair.” Could Juliet not just be another passing interest, one for whom Romeo falls before seeing even greater beauty?While we know that this is not, as it transpires, the case (Chorus himself has already told us that), it is a sobering thought and gives us pause to reflect on Romeo’s mental state, since he is, after all, still just an adolescent, going through all of the wild emotions that adolescents seem to be rather skilled at going through. And it is not just Romeo that is subject to our wary gaze. Juliet too must be looked at with regards to her maturity, though with Juliet we are more concerned with her physical age than her mental maturity. Indeed, her own father believes that she is too young to marry (“Let two more summers wither in their pride/Ere we may think her ripe to be a bride.”), and therefore we might assume that he also considers her too young to be in a relationship of any sort. Juliet is only thirteen – we are told at the start of I.3 by a combination of the Nurse and Lady Capulet respectively that “she shall be fourteen” in “a fortnight and odd days”.That Juliet should be even considered for marriage at such a young age troubles us to an extent, but, we are to learn, this was not unusual: “younger than she are happy mothers made.” However, there are frequent reminders from Lord Capulet that that that was once standard by all measures, was not necessarily best for the girl (there can be no denying that a thirteen-year-old is still a child), since “too soon marred are those so early made”. This all helps to contribute to a somewhat confused state as to how we should regard Juliet. Is she too young, or is her father simply being overprotective?Yet Lord Capulet has personal experience as to what happens when such young women are made brides, as demonstrated by Lady Capulet’s saying, “I was your mother much upon these years/That you are now a maid.” Therefore, should we not trust him that Juliet is too young, and should we not be concerned that she has fallen so deeply in love with a young man at first sight? This is not only going against her father’s wishes, but positively following Romeo’s lead, which, as we see from his changing love interests, can be a trifle uncertain at the best of times. Naturally, we feel concerned due to this, but there are other reasons for us to worry.Primary to the play, of course, is that Romeo is a Montague and Juliet a Capulet. This in itself would give us sufficient ground to be less than optimistic about the prospect of a successful relationship between the two of them. The “ancient grudge” that Chorus speaks of, which is about to rear its ugly head again (“break to new mutiny”), is a decisive factor in determining what happens to the two young lovers. As Juliet herself famously says in Act II.2, “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” Contrary to popular belief, this does not mean “where are you, Romeo?”, but rather “why must you be Romeo?”, the sentiments being that if Romeo were anyone but a Montague, the two could live together happily ever after and all would be well with the world.Unfortunately, as much as that might please some of the soppier among the audience, it would certainly make the play much less interesting and much less brilliant. And Juliet is not alone in realising that they might be “star-crossed lovers”: Romeo says to himself in I.5, “My life is my foe’s debt”. Thus we are certain that neither is under the frankly naive impression that all may work out in the end if they beg and beg and say, “Pretty, pretty please?” despite how much that might please the Fotherington-Thomas’s among us.But I digress.Romeo senses that all may not go well at the end of I.4, too, where he says, “My mind misgives/Some consequence yet hanging in the stars,” a reference back to the “star-crossed lovers” that Chorus spoke of in his first sonnet. Indeed, this entire closing speech of the scene is filled with well-placed foreboding. Romeo mentions “some vile forfeit of untimely death.” This, we shall later see, could be not just a clever play on words, referring to the vial of poison that Romeo shall ultimately take his life with, but also a number of untimely deaths; both his and Juliet’s, but also Mercutio’s and Tybalt’s, the former’s precipitating the latter’s, and the latter’s in turn leading eventually to the deaths of Romeo and Juliet.However, for now the audience, which is unaware of the details of the proceedings, must satisfy itself with the rather unsettling knowledge that something terrible will happen, whilst Romeo only fears that trouble is to follow. The use of dramatic irony is not uncommon in theatre, of course it is the foundation of much of the comedy in pantomime (Look behind you!), but what is unusual about Romeo and Juliet is how soon the dramatic irony is introduced, and the extent of its implementation: being told the entire outcome of a play might seem odd, if not downright daft, but it all helps to add to our sense of concern for Romeo and Juliet.However, the knowledge that both will suffer an “untimely death” also helps the audience, in a strange, somewhat twisted, way, to feel more pleased for the two. There is a great sense of mortality and the audience realises that there is only a very limited span of time in which Romeo and Juliet will be able to be together. Thus, we begin to forget that Juliet is only thirteen, and that Romeo is not much older. Instead, the audience is more drawn to the fact that the two have only a short time left to live, and in that respect we feel obliged to be pleased for the two; how can one condemn a dying person for carrying out their greatest – and final – wish? (Unless it was, well, I shan’t go into that).However, despite this duty to the dying, so to speak, it is still quite hard to see Romeo and Juliet’s relationship in a positive way: we know that they are going to die, and that there is nothing that can be done about it. Indeed even Romeo realises this, talking of “He that hath the steerage of my course”; he can’t change his destiny, however much he might want to. Whilst we might be encouraged to be happy that they are together, it seems much more apt for the audience to have a sense of pity, due to our knowledge that things will not end up happily ever after.And the sense of excitement that is kindled by their shared sonnet at the Capulets’ party is tempered by the more sobering sonnets delivered both at the start of the act and the end by Chorus. All in all, Act I does not lead the audience into the rest of the play with a sense of well-being or excitement: instead, we are fearful and troubled, knowing that before too long everything will go terribly, terribly wrong, and that before too long, we shall be seeing a tale of such woe.