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Romeo and Juliet: Themes
Have a look at our analysis of all the major themes in Romeo and Juliet, then read some example essays to help generate your own ideas.
Love and Hate
The two themes are intertwined right from the start. Referring to the two families, the Chorus states: “From forth the fatal loins of these two foes/ a pair of star-crossed lovers take their life.” The play begins with violence, a feud so deep-rooted that no-one seems to know how it started. There are early hints that things could improve- Lord Capulet comments “ ‘tis not hard, I think,/ For men so old as we to keep the peace.” He also accepts the presence of a Montague – Romeo – at his party, despite Tybalt’s rage. Events run away beyond anyone’s control, destroying the future of the two families, and the two become, in Capulet’s words, “Poor sacrifices of our enmity.”
At the exact moment when Romeo sees and falls in love with Juliet, he is spotted by Tybalt, who proclaims, “Now by the stock and honour of my kin,/ To strike him dead I hold it not a sin.” Capulet stops him attacking Romeo, but Tybalt does not forget or forgive what he thinks is an insult. This leads to his confrontation with Mercutio, and his own death at the hands of Romeo- events which effectively doom the love affair. It’s no wonder that Romeo, before he’s even met Juliet, talks of “brawling love!” and “loving hate!” In the play, hate kills love. The only slight consolation is that the feud comes to an end, and the Prince’s words carry the most weight: “See what a scourge (something that causes suffering) is laid upon your hate, / that heaven finds means to kill your joys with love!”
Love and Hate Essays
The play opens by telling the audience that Romeo and Juliet are “star-crossed lovers” who “take their life”, referring to “the fearful passage of their death-marked love.” We are in no doubt about the outcome of the play! In the literary tradition of tragedy, the inevitability of the character’s fate is often made clear to the audience and often also is dependent on the weaknesses of character (like excessive ambition or jealousy). Shakespeare, however, made up his own kind of tragedies, not following any one model. In Romeo and Juliet, it is the feud which is the overwhelming cause of the sequence of tragic events. Because of it, the two lovers have to be secretive, and, when matters work against them, they are unable to make their love public...until it’s too late. Here, fate does seem to play an important role – hence references to the “stars”. Romeo feels this when he gets to the Capulet feast, saying “...my mind misgives/ Some consequence yet hanging in the stars...” Fate, it could be argued, ensures that Tybalt sees him at the same moment that Romeo spots Juliet. It is Mercutio’s misfortune (and Romeo’s) to run into Tybalt in the heat of the day when “the mad blood [is] stirring.” Lord Capulet’s moving forward his daughter’s wedding day similarly leads to the desperate plan to drug Juliet. Fate also intervenes to ensure Romeo gets the wrong message, killing himself when Juliet is in fact still alive. At the close of the play we understand those fateful words of the Prologue; their love is truly “death-marked.”
Shakespeare’s sources for the play had the action taking place over a matter of months; he compresses it into four days! It’s Sunday morning when the play opens; by Thursday it’s all over – Romeo and Juliet have met, married, and killed themselves, while Mercutio, Tybalt, Lady Montague and Paris have also lost their lives. There are specific references to days of the week within the play- Shakespeare clearly wants the audience to be aware of the how quickly the whole affair takes place. The Friar warns against this “sudden haste” when Romeo demands he marry him to Juliet today: “Wisely and slow: they stumble that run fast,” but he himself hastens events, aiming “To turn your households’ rancour to pure love.” Even Juliet herself expresses similar fears: “It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden, / Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be/ Ere one can say, ‘It lightens’.”
No one has time to draw breath or to stand back from events. No sooner have the two lovers married, than Romeo – before he even has a chance to tell his friends – kills Juliet’s cousin. As soon as they have spent the night together, consummating their marriage, Lord Capulet moves forward his daughter’s “wedding” to Paris. The potion only keeps Juliet asleep a certain length of time – just long enough for Romeo to think she’s actually dead. This makes the play particularly powerful on stage: a reckless rush to destruction, yes, but it’s not brought about by passionate love (which never has a chance to prove its durability), but by “ancient grudge”, whose influence no one can escape from. It’s significant that West Side Story, which places the story in a modern setting, uses virtually the same time scheme- and it works just as well.