Romeo and Juliet: Themes
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Romeo and Juliet: Themes
2nd Year English
Theme One: Love
Romeo and Juliet has become forever associated with love. The play has become an iconic story of love and passion, and the name “Romeo” is still used to describe young lovers. Shakespeare’s treatment of love in the play is complex. He uses love in its many guises to thread together the key relationships in the play.
Some characters fall in and out of love very quickly in Romeo and Juliet. For example, Romeo is in love with Rosaline at the start of the play, which is presented as an immature infatuation. Today, we might use the term “puppy love” to describe this. Romeo’s love for Rosaline is shallow and nobody really believes that it will last, including Friar Laurence:
Romeo. Thou chid'st me oft for loving Rosaline. Friar Laurence. For doting, not for loving, pupil mine.
Paris and Juliet
Similarly, Paris’ love for Juliet is borne out of tradition, not passion. He has identified her as a good candidate for a wife and approaches her father to arrange the marriage. Although this was the tradition at the time, it also says something about Paris’ staid attitude towards love. He even admits to Friar Laurence that in his haste to rush the wedding through he hasn’t discussed it with his bride-to-be:
Friar Laurence. On Thursday, sir? the time is very short. Paris. My father Capulet will have it so; And I am nothing slow to slack his haste. Friar Laurence. You say you do not know the lady's mind: Uneven is the course, I like it not. Paris. Immoderately she weeps for Tybalt's death, And therefore have I little talked of love;
Our classic idea of romantic love is embodied in Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare presents this as a force of nature, so strong that it transcends societal conventions. This idea is established in the play’s prologue with the line “a pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life.”
Perhaps Romeo and Juliet's love is fate - there love is given cosmic significance which can therefore overturn the social boundaries of “fair Verona.” Their love is disallowed by the Capulet and Montague households, and Juliet is to marry Paris – Yet, they inevitably find themselves drawn together.
Other Types of Love
Many of the friendships in the play are as sincere as Romeo and Juliet’s love for one another. The close relationships between Juliet and her Nurse, and between Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio are meaningful and heartfelt. They care deeply for another and protect each others honor – this ultimately costs Mercutio his life.
Theme Two: Hate
The Capulet’s hate the Montagues and vice versa. We don’t know why though the Prince says their grudge was the result of an “airy word” (an insult)
The Younger generation of both families continue this feud. It is this hatred that leads to tension and conflict in the play
Tybalt is unreasonably hateful. The mere sight of Romeo at the Capulet party angers him to the point of murder It is Ironic that the party which brings the two lovers together sows the seeds that destroy their lives. Perhaps Shakespeare is showing the paradoxical relationship between the two emotions. Just as Romeo chooses Juliet as the object of his romantic desire, Tybalt chooses Romeo as the object of his murderous desire.
Does Love or Hate triumph?
Does love or hate conquer in the play? Romeo’s love for Juliet and hopes for happiness are destroyed by Tybalt’s hatred of Romeo, Mercutio’s hatred of Tybalt and Romeo’s failure to make amends through love (Act 3 Scene 1) The families hatred forces the two to end their lives. The love that prompted their rash actions however brings an end to the families hatred. Once again Shakespeare shows us that Love and Hate are intertwined.
Theme Three: Fate
In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare explores the theme of fate by allowing the audience to be party to his characters’ destiny. In the opening lines of the play the audience is told what is going to happen to the lovers: “a pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life.” Throughout the story, the audience is put in an omnipotent, god-like position from the start encouraging them to think about fate and to what extent our actions are free. Because we know Romeo and Juliet’s fate from the outset we are constantly hoping that they will take a different course – perhaps that Romeo will arrive just after Juliet has woken. However, their fate is sealed and we are forced to question our own destiny and ability to make free choices.
Theme Three: Fate
When Mercutio shouts “a plague on both your houses” in Act 3, Scene 1, we are reminded of the protagonists’ fate. This bloody scene in which characters are killed gives us a glimpse of what fate has in store, marking the beginning of Romeo and Juliet’s tragic downfall. Is it fate that Friar Lawrence’s plan to inform Romeo of Juliet’s faked death is not realized due to unforeseen circumstances? Is it fate that Romeo kills himself when he does? Romeo and Juliet see omens throughout the play, continually reminding the audience of their fate. Their death is a catalyst for change in Verona: the dueling families are united in their grief creating a political shift in the city. Perhaps Romeo and Juliet were fated to love and die for the greater good of Verona.