Explore how Shakespeare explores the theme of love in Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet is one of the most famous love stories throughout the world. In the play many different types of love are explored. The title is named after the two lead characters; Romeo and Juliet. The play was written in Elizabethan times. The strength of the play is shown by the fact it still exists in the present day. This play does not only explore romantic love as it is often associated with, it has different types of love. There are several variations of love within the play; these are courtly, romantic, fraternal and familial love. There are various other themes in the play. Shakespeare originally intended for this play to be a tragedy, not a love story. One of the types of love explored by Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet is courtly love.
One of the lead characters, Romeo, experiences courtly love early on in the play. Courtly love is an incredibly old type of love. This form of love was common in Elizabethan times. Shakespeare’s audience would understand the concept of this love. Today’s society no longer experiences this style of love. Courtly love is associated with arranged marriages. Arranged marriages no longer occur on a regular basis in the present day. Courtly love is shown at the beginning of the play between Rosaline and Romeo. It could be described as a fake love that does not last. Shakespeare has used words that are opposite together to convey the courtly love. These are known as oxymorons:
“Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health”
This has the effect of showing Romeo’s confusion towards love; “O loving hate”. It makes the audience aware that Romeo finds courtly love confusing, contrasting, and painful. It reflects that this might not be a true type of love.
There is also romantic love in the play. The romantic love is between Romeo and Juliet. Romantic love is a more true type of love. It is a longer more significant type of love in comparison to courtly love. When Romeo talks about Rosaline it is different to when he is talking about Juliet; Shakespeare uses different types of imagery. When he talks about Rosaline he is talking about the way she looks:
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“O, she is rich in beauty, only poor
That when she dies, with beauty dies her store”
This shows that Romeo does not love Rosaline in a romantic way, instead has feelings of courtly love towards her. Romeo talks about Juliet in a different way:
“ This holy shrine, the gentle sin is this,
My lips, are two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss”
Romeo talks about Juliet in a very different way to Rosaline. When Romeo is talking about Rosaline it is mainly about the way she looks. In contrast, when he talks about Juliet he refers to religious imagery. This is because Romeo only has courtly love towards Rosaline, whereas he has a truer, romantic love towards Juliet. Shakespeare is showing the existence of romantic love by making this contrast. Shakespeare uses references to religion for example; “holy shrine” and “blushing pilgrims”. By doing this Shakespeare is emphasising the trueness of the love between Romeo and Juliet. By making references to religion the audience associate Juliet with purity, goodness, and truthfulness. This contrasts with the description of Rosaline, who is only described for her beauty. This shows that the type of love between Romeo and Rosaline was shallow love, not true.
The third type of love Shakespeare explores in Romeo and Juliet is fraternal love. This is the love that exists between friends. This love is demonstrated between Romeo’s cousin Benvolio and his best friend Mercutio. In Act 1 scene 1 Romeo discusses his problems with Benvolio. Benvolio then offers Romeo support and is concerned about his welfare. This shows they have a good friendship.
Ay me, sad hours seem long.
Was that my father that went hence so fast?
It was. What sadness lengthens Romeo’s hours?”
This shows that Romeo and Benvolio are really good friends. Part of fraternal love is concern for the other person’s welfare. Benvolio is clearly worried about Romeo. By asking Romeo why he is sad, he is showing that he cares about his happiness. This suggests that they have a good friendship.
Shakespeare shows fraternal love between Romeo and Mercutio in Act 3 Scene 1. This is a really dramatic scene. In the scene Mercutio and Tybalt fight then Romeo steps in between to help Mercutio.
“ Romeo steps between them,
Hold, Tybalt! Good Mercutio!”
This shows that Romeo is prepared to risk his own life to help Mercutio. However, even though Romeo tries to stop his friend being injured, Tybalt still manages to injure him which leads to Mercutio’s death. Romeo reacts to his death by being upset and angry towards Tybalt.
Line 115 “Romeo
This day’s black fate on moe days doth depend,
This but beings the woe others must end
This shall determine that
They fight; Tybalt falls”
Romeo reacts to Mercutio death by seeking revenge on Tybalt. By killing Tybalt, this shows how upset Romeo is and that he is willing to kill for his friendship. Also in this scene the audience can see that Romeo’s fraternal love for Mercutio and Benvolio is greater than his romantic love for Juliet. We know this because when Romeo kills Tybalt he risks his love with Juliet. This is because Tybalt and Juliet are cousins. By killing Tybalt to get revenge for Mercutio, this might suggest that Romeo is more concerned about fraternal love than romantic.
Another type of love that Shakespeare explores in the play is familial love. This is the love between family members; it is a caring type of love. In Elizabethan times women of a high social class were expected to obey their parents. This is what is expected of Juliet. Juliet’s relationship with her parents is not very strong. Juliet is closer with the nurse, as she has cared for Juliet since she was little: “Thou wast the prettiest babe that e’er I nurs’d”. The nurse takes on a maternal role throughout the play.
Nurse, give leave a while,
We must talk in secret. Nurse, come back again,
I have remember’d me, thou s’hear our counsel.”
This shows that Lady Capulet values the nurse and her relationship with her daughter. Juliet can also be disobedient towards her family. Shakespeare shows this defiance in Act 3 Scene 5 when Capulet, Juliet’s father, tries to get her to marry Paris:
Hang thee, young baggage, disobedient wretch!
I tell thee what: get thee to church a’Thursday”
Shakespeare shows that Juliet is not as respectful as is expected of her. It also shows the dominance of Capulet as the head of the household. We see that familial love is very complex as does not follow what people normally anticipate. The nurse is the maternal figure in Juliet’s life. The audience in Elizabethan times and probably today, would think that the mother was a bad parent for not caring about her relationship with her child. Juliet’s disobedience also reflects the complexity of this love, as it does not follow the expectations of Elizabethan society. This disobedience would create a negative image of Juliet with the Elizabethan audience, as it was expected that a daughter should follow the wishes of her father. However, this reinforces the strong feelings of love that Juliet had towards Romeo. It could be said that, through Juliet’s defiance, Shakespeare is trying to show that romantic love is stronger than familial love.
The Montagues care more for Romeo than the Capulets care for Juliet. This is because Romeo is a son and is an heir to the family fortune. Sons were seen as very important to families in Elizabethan times as they would inherit the family estate.
O where is Romeo? saw you him today?
Right glad I am he was not at this fray.”
This shows that Lady Montague cares for her son because she is concerned about where he is. This shows that they have a good relationship. We are able to see a great contrast between the familial love between Juliet and her family, and the familial love between Romeo and his family. This shows the difference in the way that sons and daughters were treated at the time. It was seen as the role of women was to get married and have children. Sons on the other hand were more valuable to the family, as they were seen as stronger and more intelligent. Only sons were able to inherit estates of land and carry on the family name; whereas daughters would have to be married, and even then their husbands would control them.
The Friar acts as an adviser for Romeo and Juliet. He takes on a fatherly role when he helps the couple.
Is my dear son with such sour company!”
In Elizabethan times Friars were often close to families. Religion was an important part of everyday life. Friar Lawrence is shown to think of Romeo as a “dear son”. This is another type of familial love.
Romeo and Juliet have a tragic death together;
There rust, and let me die.
Falls on Romeo’s body and dies”
This tragic event shows the extent of their romantic love. They would rather die than not have the love of each other. Romeo and Juliet’s disastrous deaths end the feud between the Montagues and the Capulets. Capulet says to Montague “give me thy hand”. This shows that the familial love the two families felt for their children is stronger than the hatred that kept their feud continuing. Shakespeare shows through this tragedy that the theme of love conquers hatred.
In conclusion, Shakespeare was trying to explore all the different types of love in Romeo and Juliet by showing different aspects of each. The first type of love explored in the play is courtly love. This love exists between Romeo and Roslaine. Shakespeare also looks at romantic love, between Romeo and Juliet. Fraternal and familial love is also present in the play. Shakespeare shows through out the play that if you want to experience any type of love, you have to be ready to make sacrifices and to experience some pain. Also Romeo and Juliet’s love story shows that the path of love does not always run smooth. The strength and power of this love story is shown through its continuing popularity from Elizabethan times to today.