Romeo and Juliet is a classic Shakespearean tragedy, based upon the passionate battle of love between the two feuding families. The pair fight to be together, until the death of certain family members separates them and the words: “I can’t live without you” become quite literal. Though their quest for love wasn’t the only source of relations in the play, for Romeo had feelings for his previous lover and Juliet was forced to marry County Paris, therefore creating un-requited love.
Too, the love and respect for family members and also for the actual family pride meant that the pair played a game of dishonesty in the tragedy.
Shakespeare deliberately uses a variety of opposites in the play to portray the sense of two different worlds, as it changes from violence to beauty, to passionate love, to malicious hate. Not only in the plot but also in both language and theme.
It is inevitable to say that without the emerging use of conflicting descriptions, there wouldn’t be the same antagonism, conflict and ambiguity that make the play so successfully deep.
Also, the use of irony helps bind the plot together. Most characters are frequently saying things, which, in the context of the play but unknown to themselves, have a deeper and more ambiguous meaning.
Shakespeare achieves such depth in the play, by using a contrast of love and hate themes through the dialogue of his characters, Romeo and Juliet, as I will now display.
To begin, as I stated earlier, Romeo begins the play having feelings for someone else,
Rosaline, though they were previous to his meeting of Juliet.
However, I feel these feelings were not true and those he had for Juliet were of a much stronger nature.
Romeo’s language to convey Rosaline was very unconvincing, for he seemed to be uncertain about how he felt. She did not feel the same and therefore he was unsure. Mid scene one, he states:
“Alas that love, whose view is muffled, still
Should without eyes see pathways to his will!”
This means his love is not clear; love being the personification.
The repetitive use of oxymoron’s added to the symbolizing of the uncertainties.
Ie: “Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health” (Act 1 scene 1, line 180+)
Romeo follows this quote with:
“Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is!
This love feel I, that feel no love in this”.
Showing that Romeo believes his feelings are true despite the fact he is unsure about why, or what to do.
However, this adds suspicion to whether or not his love for Rosaline was true. Why would he be unsure? Was Romeo in love or just in love with love?
For in his conversation with cousin Benvolio, they say:
Benvolio: In love
Benvolio: Of love?
Romeo: Out of her favour where I am in love.
This shows that Rosaline did not love Romeo. And Romeo knew it.
The fact that Shakespeare doesn’t actually introduce Rosaline, shows that there is not a strong involvement in emotions and we are merely reported this, second hand.
However, there is a great difference in the way he speaks of Juliet. She is compared to the world. While Rosaline is said to keep all her beauty to herself. There is also a contrast between Romeo’s descriptions of the two to silver and gold.
“How silver-sweet sound lovers’ tongues by night…Lady, by yonder blessed moon I vow, That tips with silver all these fruit-tree tops”
Silver acts as a symbol of love and beauty while gold is said to be a sign of greed or desire. Therefore, Romeo describes Rosaline as being immune to showers of gold – a bribe.
Adding to this, Romeo compares Juliet to essential elements, such as:
LIGHT: “She doth teach the torches to burn bright!”
And RICHNESS: “It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
As a rich jewel in Ethiop’s ear-
Beauty too rich for use, for earth to dear.”
And he uses sentences that make her superior to everything around her:
“…A snowy dove trooping with crows.”
Romeo uses a detail of comparisons to show that he feels the two are very different and that she is too good for him.
This all emphasizes his purity, youth and inexperience. In act 1 scene 5, Romeo’s first use of a sonnet is shown. In lines 44 onwards, there is a constant rhyming form at the end of every line.
Ie: bright and night, stand and hand, ear and dear.
It was written in 14lines to show that Romeo was attempting to be romantic and poetic. However, there is a stronger, more obvious use of the sonnet form in lines 93+. It is here that both Romeo and Juliet contribute their passionate feelings after only just meeting. As we watch the experience of love at first sight, it is possible for us to pay less attention to the words being spoken. The sonnet-duet becomes a piece of accompanying music, as such. The lines, of course, have meanings but the movements of these words give dramatic effectiveness.
Juliet: Saints do not move, though grant for prayers sake.
Romeo: Then move not while my prayers effect I take.
It is the images of light, air and sky that possess the mind rather than the speeches.
A lot of physical interaction takes place here, with a lot of mentioning of hands, touching, kissing and lips. There is also a great deal of religious, spiritual dialogue spoken by both characters. Words like:
“Holy shrine, saints, pray, sin.”
This gives the impression that this new, exuberant feeling was of huge proportion to compare with religion.
It is also here that Juliet’s nurse speaks of Juliet falling as a child, thus implying the rise and fall of the characters. The Nurse also foreshadows, “An I might live to see thee marry once.” Naturally, she does not expect it to take place so soon, but the nurse does indeed get to see her marry.
Juliet too foreshadows the happenings of the remaining of the play, and at such an early stage. “Go ask his name – If he be married,
My grave is like to be my wedding bed.”
I feel that this shows a good example of Juliet’s character, as her previous attitude of love to Paris, is shown very differently to that of Romeo – for it is of modesty and lack of comprehension.
When her mother talks of marriage, her only reply is:
“It is an honour that I dream not of.”
However, in a deep moment with Romeo, young Juliet seems to lead him on in a way in which he cannot resist and they kiss. *********(meeting)
Here the plot seems to be rushed and hostile; they fall in love yet discover their families are enemies. Romeo’s reaction is of disbelief as he whispers to Benvolio:
“Is she a Capulet? O dear account! My life is my foes debt.”
Whilst Juliet’s reaction is not as reserved; she says to the Nurse:
“My only love, sprung from my only hate!
Too early seen unknown, and known too late.
Prodigious birth of love it is to me
That I must love a loathed enemy.”
Within moments of meeting Romeo, Juliet is certain she loves him. ‘My only love’ implying her first. And therefore I presume her first kiss.
“Good Pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this.
For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmer s’ kiss.”
For a girl of such innocence, her communications with her Romeo are indeed beautiful. Yet it is hard to believe she has such emotions at such young an age. Her actual age isn’t clearly stated, in act 1 scene 2, Capulet explains to Paris:
“My child is yet a stranger in the world: she hath not seen the change of 14 years. Let two more summers wither in their pride ere we may think her ripe to be a bride.”
And her age changes through versions too. 16 in Arthur Brooke’s poem. 18 in Bandello and Painter and 15 in the RSC performance.
Therefore we are unaware of Juliet’s actual age, but we have the presumption she is young.
It’s hard to understand why Juliet should be so young as Shakespeare indicates, for the effect wouldn’t have been any different if she had been, say 16.
Perhaps the idea of ‘puppy love’ was something Shakespeare wanted to address, although marriages were acceptable at the age of 12 in his time. Perhaps Juliet’s Italian background influenced the tale that Italian girls matured earlier.
Juliet’s maturity is shown in the balcony scene as she leans into the moonlight, struck by Romeo’s phrased compliments, and her responses are straight to the point.
Juliet: Art thou not Romeo, and a Montague?
Romeo: Neither, fair maid, if either thee dislike.
Juliet: How camest thou hither, tell me, and wherefore?
The orchard walls are high and hard to climb. And the place death,
Considering who thou art, if any of my kinsmen find thee here.
Romeo: With love’s light wings did I o’erperch these walls. For stony limits
Cannot hold love out, and what love can do, that dares love attempt.
Don’t get me wrong, Juliet is not saying she doesn’t love Romeo, for it is here the two gain each others trust.
Romeo: What shall I swear by?
Juliet: Do not swear at all
Or if thou wilt, swear by thy gracious self,
Which is the god of my idolatry,
And I’ll believe thee.
Not only does it state that Juliet ‘worships’ him, but also that she now trusts him.
Also, at the beginning of act 2 scene 2, both characters pour their hearts out, unaware the other is listening. Juliet cries:
“What’s Montague? It is nor hand nor foot nor arm nor face…
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet”
Showing that the labeling and separation of the two families does not have an effect on Juliet, and she continues:
“So Romeo would, were he not Romeo called,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes.”
As Juliet appears above, Romeo begins. He uses a lot of light and bright descriptions again, like:
(Lines 3-4) It is the east, and Juliet is the sun! Arise, fair
sun, and kill the envious moon…
(Lines 15-17) Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven, having some business, do entreat her eyes to twinkle in their spheres till they return.
(Lines 19-21) The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars as daylight doth a lamp.
Her eyes in heaven would though the airy region steam so bright.
They all encourage the same meaning – light is a worthy, honourble object of great importance, and he wants Juliet to know she is too.
This also plays on the comparison of dark and light throughout many scenes. It is a central part of their love where significant love scenes take place in the dark, away from the disorder of the day. Benvolio also follows this, and states: “Blind in his love, and best befits the dark,” in reference to Romeo’s passion.
Following this, Romeo invokes the darkness as a form of protection.
“I have nights cloak to hide me from their eyes.”
This conflict will not end until the disorder of the day eventually overcomes the passionate nights and destroy both their lives.
The destruction is caused by the feud. The arguing families; battling out against each other also acts as a significant contrast to the play.
The opening scene presents the state of the feud, just as the end of the play presents the reconciliation. We are given no account of the basis of the feud between the Capulet’s and Montague’s. It’s simply there, unexplained, apparently of lengthy standing. And it is introduced to the play in no dignified way – just the occasion of an absurd scuffling among the servants of the two houses.
This is where quarrel loving Tybalt gets the chance to show himself off. He and Benvolio bicker, as servants Sampson, Abram and Gregory fight. Tybalt hasn’t any desire to compromise.
Benvolio, the peace maker suggests:
“Part fools! Put up your swords. You know not what you do.”
Tybalt us then abrupt, and states:
“What, art thou drawn among these heartless hinds?
Turn thee, Benvolio, look upon thy death.”
Again, Benvolio attempts to settle it and replies:
“I do but keep the peace. Put up thy sword, or manage it to part these men with me.”
It is strange that although Benvolio is alone, and against four Capulet’s, his courage and pride does not disperse.
“What, drawn, and talk of peace? I hate the word as I hate hell,
All Montague’s and thee. Have at thee, coward.”
I feel Shakespeare wanted Tybalt to seem selfish, power-mad and aggressive. Not only does it act as a strong contrast to the passion of Romeo and Juliet, it also shows Tybalt’s motives were to win and that his character is that of a power dominated nature.
The relationship between that of Capulet and Tybalt is quick to change through act 1 scene 5, for Capulet allows the presence of Romeo at the party. Tybalt disagrees.
Being the stubborn man he is, tries to tell a man of higher power that Romeo shouldn’t be there as he is a Montague.
This reflects a great deal on his character as, Tybalt must feel he has the ability to over power Capulet. So when Capulet refuses to outlaw young Romeo, Tybalt’s immediate response is anger.
Consequently, he doesn’t succeed, as he is told that by doing this, he would be making a scene and that the atmosphere must be kept as calm as possible. Lord Capulet seems to keep his anger in, which surprises me, as he acts extremely superior to those around him. I think the reason being for this is that appearance is very important to him and he didn’t want actions to go against his pride and name.
However, this is not present in the way Romeo and Juliet’s language is portrayed, as neither one of them worry about being from different backgrounds, and most importantly, from different families. This is why I feel that the likelihood of their relationship fitting in is slim to none. The chances are, both families would disapprove and their relationship would have been pulled apart.
This would happen although both have comforters. Juliet has her dear Nurse and Romeo has cousin Benvolio and close friend, Mercutio. It seems bizarre however, that intelligent Mercutio isn’t involved with the family feud. Instead his character ‘consorts’ with the Montague’s and still isn’t really on either side.
He thoroughly despises Tybalt, as is shown in act 2, scene 4, when both he and Benvolio mock him.
“…A duelist, a duelist. A gentleman of the very first house, of the first and second cause.
Ah, the immortal passado! The punto reverse! The hay!”
It seems Mercutio has a problem with Tybalt’s method of fencing. Perhaps a little jealous? Or just an excuse to start a fight? I feel that Shakespeare wanted this to show, so Mercutio’s wittiness could shine through. It’s obvious that he uses it as a strong point when enrolled in a battle of swords and harsh words, with Tybalt I act 3 scene 1.
But the situation darkens when Mercutio is struck by Romeo’s sword, which was meant to hit Tybalt. Tybalt came to pick a fight with Romeo instead of getting what he wanted, but Romeo continued to hold back because of his marriage to Juliet. Tybalt, being the aggressive fool he is, continued to push for conflict not understanding Romeo’s unwillingness. Mercutio also misunderstands Romeo’s reluctance to fight and decides to stand up for him by challenging Tybalt to a dual. Tybalt and Mercutio end up fighting. When Romeo stepped in between the fighting, Mercutio believed that the dual had ended. And as he was taken off guard Tybalt attacked and Mercutio was killed. Romeo wanted to get Tybalt back for what he had done and to make Mercutio’s death of some worth.
He states: “Now, Tybalt, take the ‘villain’ back again that late thou gavest me…Either thou or I, or both, must go with him.”
Romeo used his rage and grief to slay Tybalt. All of this had happened because of Tybalt’s and Mercutio’s little misinterpretation of Romeo. Both acted without thinking or waiting for a little sense of the matter or any kind of explanation. Two lives were taken as a result and one banished from his true love.
Mercutio’s un-dying comic-ness throughout his death makes us excuse Romeo in his over the top avenging of Mercutio.
There is a keen response to Mercutio as he makes his exit at the end of act 3 scene 1, in a deeply mocking and grimly comic speech:
“Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave
man. I am peppered, I warrant, for this world. A plague
a’both your houses! Zounds, a dog, a rat, a mouse,
a cat, to scratch a man to death! A braggart, a rogue,
a villain, that fights by the book of arithmetic.”
It’s as if he is cursing both families, as if both were to blame. The ‘curse’ upon both the families foreshadows the ending of the play.
In Baz Lurhmann’s film interpretation of Romeo and Juliet, the words “A plague aboth your houses” are repeated in an echo to put emphasis on this.
Not only does Mercutio die at this point – so does Tybalt. After he and Romeo battle and Tybalt is slain, Benvolio cries:
“Romeo, away, be gone! The citizens are up, and
Tybalt slain. Stand not amazed. The price will doom
Thee death if thou art taken.”
This shows Romeo is stunned he was able to kill, and regrets it thoroughly by answering:
“O, I am fortunes fool.”
Despite this, when Lady Capulet and the prince discover this, they insist Romeo cannot live and that he must be banished.
This scene is very ironic, for the nurse enters, screaming:
“He’s dead, he’s dead! We are undone! O Romeo,
Romeo! Who ever would have thought it?”
Juliet is misled into thinking Romeo was killed, and responds:
“What devil art thou that doest torment me thus? This
torture should be roared is dismal hell.”
She is heartbroken and disgusted. However, after the nurse explains that it is Tybalt who is dead, Juliet seems to be more affected by the fact that her lover could do such a thing, rather than the fact her cousin is dead.
She uses oxymorons such as:
“Beautiful tyrant! Fiend angelic! Dove-feathered raven! Wolvish-ravening lamb!”
To personify the love and hate she feels for Romeo. Yet she cannot bring herself to bad mouth him, and feels that if it hadn’t been Tybalt that was killed, it would have been Romeo instead.
The nurse’s arrival to this act with news of Romeo and Tybalt reinforce the fact that this is clearly a tragedy and not a comedy. Juliet states she’d rather lose a thousand Tybalt’s to be with Romeo. This dedication to a lover is something I noticed emerged quite frequently in Shakespeare, and is a point he tries to emphasize.
Juliet mourns deeply for her banished love, for she fears he will be parted from her. She indulges in one of Shakespeare’s most clever word games at act 3, scene 5.
When she says she wishes no one would avenge her cousins death, what is the ambiguity in the speech? Her mother hears her saying she hopes to ‘behold Romeo dead’ while what she actually means is that she will never be satisfied until she beholds him, and that her heart is dead. Her desire to ‘wreak her love’ is even more obviously ambiguous: she wants to make love to him again.
The happiness of the two had been precarious, but was now doomed. Their final words to one another show the foreshadowing of their fate:
Juliet: O God, I have an ill-divining soul!
Methinks I see thee, now thou art so low,
As one dead in the bottom of a tomb.
Either my eyesight fails, or thou lookest pale.
Romeo: And trust me, love, in my eye so do you.
That night, as the lovers are together, bidding what may well be their last goodbye, Capulet plans for Juliet to marry Paris.
Shakespeare represents Lord Capulet as a persistent, self willed, obstinate man, who is easily capable of keeping fiery Tybalt in order (act 1), and equally prompt with a denunciation of Juliet when she refuses. The language he uses to speak to Juliet is vituperative and insulting. Similar to that he had used to Tybalt at the party.
“How, how, how, how, chopped logic? What is this?
‘Proud’ and ‘thank-you’ – and ‘I thank you not’-
And yet ‘not proud’? Mistress minion you.
Thank me no thankings, nor proud me no prouds,
But fettle your fine joints ‘gainst Thursday next
To go with Paris to Saint Peter’s church
Or I will drag thee on a hurdle thither.
Out, you green- sickness carrion! Out, you baggage!”
This is one of the great moments in the play, as the audience feels the change that has taken place in Juliet. From an inexperienced, 14year old little girl, to a married woman who is involved in a chain of passionate events and is now alone, prepared do anything for the sake of Romeo.
She depends on herself; she is detached from her parents, keeps private advice with the nurse, and is honestly candid with the friar.
Romeo doesn’t achieve this level of development and responsibility, but by simply being there we observe the progressive isolation that happens.
Neither parents’ know of their love, the nurse isn’t aware of its strength, and though the friar has the confidence in both, he doesn’t enter their world of passion. He offers sane, prudent advice, but goes no further.
Therefore, Romeo and Juliet are the only ones who understand how deep and spiritual their love really is.
Fate seemed to control their lives and force them together, becoming a large part of their love. To begin with, the opening prologue states they are ‘star crossed lovers’ implying the defeat that will have to overcome. They believed in the stars, and that their actions weren’t always their own. Romeo, for example, says, “Some consequence yet hanging in the stars…by some vile forfeit of untimely death. But he that hath the steerage over my course Direct my sail.”
He’s basically saying to his friends that he had a dream that leads him to believe that he will die young because of something in the stars; something that will happen. He ends with “…he that hath steerage over my course…” which implies that he does not have control over his life if he looks to another power above himself to direct him. He does not feel that he is the one who makes decisions; it is all a higher purpose, a different power.
Later, as he stands in the shadows of Juliet’s balcony, Romeo sees her, and before speaking to her, says: “I am too bold, ’tis not to me she speaks… Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven…having some business, do entreat her eyes.”
This is a beautiful way of saying that Juliet’s eyes are like stars. He imagined her eyes had spoke, and now proclaims they are speaking to the stars.
In act three, scene 2 as she waits for Romeo and preaches to the night, Juliet says: “Give me my Romeo; and, when I shall die take him and cut him out in little stars, and he will make the face of heaven so fine. All the world will be in love with night. And pay no worship to the garish sun.”
In act 5, Balthasar delivers bad news to Romeo in Mantua, and his reply is swift and simple:
“Is it even so? Then defy you stars.” He blames fate and is denying it by refusing to mourn.
Juliet’s sadness even more complicated because she cries for Tybalt’s death and Romeo, her new husband banished. ‘All is comfort. Wherefore weep I then? Some word there was, worser than Tybalt’s death, that murdered me,’ said Juliet.” She completely dislikes the decision made by her parents so she goes to Friar Lawrence and asks for help
She threatens to end her life if help wasn’t given to her. This shows the strength of her love for Romeo.
The Friar says to Juliet: “Take thou this vial, being then in bed, and this distilled liquor drink though off.” As he plans to ‘rescue’ the feud between the families and help Juliet and Romeo be together.
It is also here that Juliet’s maturity is shown. She actually considers the consequences in taking the potion.
“What if this mixture do not work at all? Shall I be married then tomorrow morning…How if, when I am laid into the tomb, I wake before the time that Romeo come to redeem me? …O, if I wake, shall I not be distraught?”
She takes the poison, and waits. For “Two and fourty hours.” While she has “No warmth, no breath” and appears “stiff and stark and cold, like death.”
The moment he heard the news about the death of Juliet, she rushed back to Verona with a poison that will lay him beside Juliet’s grave.
He decides he’d sooner die, than live without Juliet’s love. He speaks saying “Well, Juliet, I will lie with thee to-night” He uses the word lie in two ways, lie as in death, and lie as in sexual. It creates the feeling that his love his stronger than death.
When Romeo goes to the Apothecary to buy poison, it is as if he were buying from death itself. He is described as: “Meague were his looks…sharp misery had worn him to the bones.”
Creating a theme, as such, of death, as foreshadowing to what will take place next.
Moments before killing himself, Romeo gazes at Juliet and says: “O here…will I set up my everlasting rest…and shake the yoke of inauspicious stars…”
‘Set up my rest’ is a phrase used in card games when one is ready to bet. This portrays that Romeo had dealt his ‘hand’ and was betting; taking a chance to be with his Juliet.
‘Everlasting rest’ explains itself. Romeo takes his chances on death, where he hopes to lie peacefully, free from the doom of the stars.
“I still will stay with thee…And never from this palace of dim night…Depart again…
A lightening before death…that hath sucked the honey of thy breath…In crimson in thy lips and in thy cheeks…eyes look your last…and lips…the doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss. Here’s to my love.” …His last words before taking the poison.
In the Baz Lurhmann film, Juliet wakes just as Romeo does this, and so Juliet is able to speak to Romeo briefly. I prefer this, as it makes the tragedy more powerful, as her words to him are heartfelt yet he cannot respond. It is just the two lovers which makes it emotive.
She realizes he has taken poison: “I will kiss thy lips. Haply some poison yet doth hang on them to make me die with a restorative.”
Yet in the Shakespeare play, Romeo is dead as Juliet wakes from her fake death.. Her heart was twice heavy seeing her husband dead, so she kisses him (“Thy lips are warm”) stabs herself with Romeos dagger, longing they will be together in their second life.
A potion saved her from the wedding but it did not save the life of Romeo.
So in conclusion, feel it is obvious that the play is much more than a ‘paean of young love’. It was written to be perceived as more than just a simple love story.
Shakespeare toys with the love and hate conceptions, and delivers heights of joy and depths of misery. And because of this, the play begins with hate, but ends, because of the death of Romeo and Juliet, with peace. Both the language and themes of love and death play important roles in the tragedy. They co-operate with light and dark imagery to make the play the masterpiece is it. A play of paradoxes and oxymoron’s, good and evil, neither one without the other. For without love
there would be nothing to lose, and without death there would be no way to lose it.
Still, I feel it isn’t these deaths that conclude the play, but instead the public revelation of what took place. The strength of the hate is worthless compared to the presentation of beautiful love.
So Romeo’s statement: “There’s much to do with hate but more with love” is indeed true.
For in the remembered impression of Romeo and Juliet, it is the passion of the lovers, their chatter by moonlight, and parting by sunrise, that remain.