Explore how Shakespeare uses love in the play ‘Romeo and Juliet’ Romeo and Juliet is a play by William Shakespeare, based in the Italian city of Verona, where two “star cross’d lovers” are stuck in the middle of a turf war between the two richest families in the city. Romeo and Juliet are stuck on opposite sides of this war, and as their families hate each other with a passion, they both know that if they were seen as “together”, it would mean certain death for them both. They decide to keep their relationship secret, but through an unfortunate series of events, and their undying love for one another, they both meet their fate by their own hands.
Shakespeare was a writer during the golden age, who’s plays have become world renowned. He frequently used the theme of love in his plays, and Romeo and Juliet is a shining example of this theme. He used the ideas of true love and courtly love in the play, but also used the themes of unrequited love, Petrarchan style wooing, and family love and hate, to display an emotive, love fuelled feud that has become one of the best known plays of all time.
In Shakespeare’s time, the theme of courtly love, or courting, was quite common practice. It involved a rich, young man attempting to ‘woo’ a rich, young lady, with poetry, sonnets, music, compliments, and expensive gifts such as flowers or wine. It was thought of as a kind of ‘sport’ for the young and wealthy, who had little other to do. It was not intended that courting would end up with a marriage or family, instead once the man had grown tired of courting a certain lady, he would move on to another one.
The audiences of Shakespeare’s plays thought that courtly love was not out of the ordinary, and it was accepted as part of normal life for the upper class citizen. Those who were not as rich however, would not be able to invest the amount of money they would need to if they wished to successfully court a woman, so they instead only ended up being in true love, where they wished to be married and have a family with someone else.
In the play, Romeo is shown as an impulsive and lustful young Montague, who is used to courtly love and think of it as a game, not a way of finding a long-term relationship. This is one of the most obvious ways that love is demonstrated in Romeo and Juliet, as he becomes sulky and depressed after the woman he was attempting to court, Rosaline, pushes him away. He has been putting her up on a pedestal, and treating her as if she were a deity, so when he is told no, he begins to moan out loud about the whole situation. When he is consulted later about the ordeal by his friend, Benvolio, he begins to moan and groan, not realising how stupid he is making himself look in the process.
After a while, Romeo sees that the Montagues and Capulets had been involved in a brawl, he says “O me! What fray was here? Yet tell me not, for I have heard it all”. This demonstrates that even though members of his family may have been injured or killed in this fight, he is ignoring it over the feelings he has for a girl that has rejected him, demonstrating that the love he feels for his family is inferior to his love towards women, a fact that carries through the play.
Later in Act 1, Romeo comes across Juliet, a young Capulet, who he falls in love with at first sight. At this point, it still is not clear whether he wishes to court with her, or if he feels true love for her. Even if he was truly in love with her, he still is acting. At the time that he meets her, she is much more mature than he is, even though she is only 14 or 15. When he first meets her, he begins to talk in metaphors, and the two begin to have an entire conversation based on the metaphor that his lips are “two blushing pilgrims”, and tells her he wants to kiss her with them. She then replies in a jokey manor, telling him “Ay pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer”, showing she isn’t interested in doing anything too hasty, but is still interested. The way Shakespeare uses these conversations entirely out of metaphors is a great example of the playful nature of the love between Romeo and Juliet, and differentiates it from the deepness of romantic love.
After being ushered out of the party, Romeo decides to take the foolish option of jumping back over the wall of the Capulet mansion, in an attempt to see Juliet again. When he reaches the other side, he remarks “But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.” This final line is especially important, as Romeo previously called Rosaline the moon, giving a sense of competition between the two women, but with Juliet winning against the “envious moon”. He then begins to go from love struck romance, to a more disturbing tone when he envisions himself touching her, as if he were a glove on her hand. Before he can continue, he is interrupted by Juliet leaving her quarters, to look out over her balcony.
When Juliet begins to talk to herself about Romeo, she shows she is so entirely in love with him, best exhibited by the line “Tis but thy name that is my enemy”, showing she believes he is more important to her than her bloodline’s hatred for his. She also believes that she would rather “no longer be a Capulet”, than be separated from Romeo. Romeo, once hearing this, decides to make his presence heard, by leaping up, onto the balcony, an saying “Henceforth I will never be Romeo.” This line demonstrates that Romeo is beginning to grow up, and has finally begun to come across as more sensible, and more genuine than when we first meet him.
Later in Act 2, Tybalt is out searching for a fight with Romeo, but he is nowhere to be seen. The reason of Tybalt’s quarrel is unknown, but he feels he s doing it to defend his family and his dignity, demonstrating that love in this play does not only occur between ‘lovers’, but also the love of ones own family has caused Tybalt to seek to restore honour to himself, and his family. After the scuffle between Tybalt and Mercutio, Romeo is so enraged by Tybalt’s actions, that he kills him. The fact that Romeo shows his bloodline love for Mercutio, shows, once again, that Shakespeare has used many different forms of love in the play.
After being told that Romeo has been banished, Juliet takes it upon herself to try and be reunited with him, by any means necessary. The symbolism of her almost killing herself to be back with her lover shows she truly would, and will, do anything to be with Romeo.
The other main character, Paris, seems to be in the middle of a large love/hate war. He is in love with Juliet, and when she ‘dies’, he is just as moved as Romeo. By the end of the play, they both seem to have a respect for one another, as they both understand the situation the other one is in, as it is the same one that they are in. As they both loved her, they ended up both dying by her side, which shows the empathetic side of shakespearian love, where both men would do anything for Juliet, and they end up both ending their lives so they can live with her in peace.
In conclusion, I think that Shakespeare has used the theme of love in the play ‘Romeo and Juliet’, to demonstrate the pain and joy that love and hatred can give to a person, and those around them. I think that, while some of the ideas of love used are not as apparent in modern times, at the time it was written they were a major part of social life. They are also a strong contrast against the current forms of love and hate in recent years, and demonstrate a complete understanding of the empathetic qualities needed to love those around you, allowing them to love you back.