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.
Fickle Love • 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:
Fickle Love • 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;
Romantic 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.”
Romantic Love • 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’s Hate • 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.