'Romeo is changed radically by his love for Juliet'. How far do you agree with this statement?
In the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare describes the couple as ‘star crossed lovers’ that are doomed and face ‘ill-fortune’. In the play, we see Romeo change, but it is evident that this change is not a radical one as such. It is also ridiculous to claim that this is because of his love for Juliet and it is much more plausible to believe that it is in fact other factors that come into play such as the spell of youth, his impulsivity which is more accredited to him as a person rather than the cliched idea of his love for Juliet and his fickle mind. However, Shakespeare certainly depicts Romeo as a different character at the start of the play and at the end of the play ; there are vast improvements in his writing and overall, it seems as though Romeo is much more content and views love in a significantly more positive light after meeting Juliet.
Certainly, there are ways in which Romeo has indeed changed as a result of his love for Juliet. One distinct way Shakespeare depicts this change is through the improvement in Romeo’s writing and poetry. When the audience first meets Romeo, he is infatuated with Rosaline and presented as a cliched Petrarchan lover, where his feelings were not reciprocated. In his first verse, in Act 1 Scene 1, he speaks in rhyme with the couplets including ‘still’ and ‘will', 'create’ and ‘hate’, and ‘is’ and ‘this’. Romeo expresses his emotions in a series of oxymorons such as ‘O brawling love’ and ‘O loving hate’. In these lines, we see Romeo overexaggerating and expressing extreme emotion for a woman through the use of oxymorons as well as the repetition of the word ‘O’, which again expresses the overdramatic nature of Romeo’s word which is further presented as slightly ridiculous after the audience finds out that he wasn’t really ever in love with Rosaline and that these emotions paled in comparison to those he dedicated towards Juliet. I think Shakespeare intends to present Romeo as initially, an immature lover and as a stereotype of the youth; Romeo does not know what love is. His use of rhyme, iambic pentameter and Petrarchan style also makes his words seem unnatural and forced. This is contrasted with the significant improvement in Romeo’s language once he meets Juliet and falls in love with her. He becomes much more fluid with his language, abandoning his use of rhyme which makes his words sound significantly less forced and overall more natural, suggesting that his love was more legitimate with Juliet and perhaps highlights the difference between reciprocated love with Juliet and the unreciprocated, depressing version of love that he felt for Rosaline. In act 2 scene 1, when Romeo first meets Juliet, rather than using overused imagery to describe love, he describes her using multiple images of light and compares her to an angel in a consistent way that does not appear to be lifted straight from a poetry book. He invests time and lines to his metaphor of her being the sun and executes the metaphor well. ‘It is the east, and Juliet is the sun./Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,/ Who is already sick and pale with grief’. In this line, we see Romeo describing Juliet’s beauty as so striking that she is like the sun despite the fact that it is the night, transforming the darkness into daylight. He also says ‘As daylight doth a lamp; her eye in heaven/Would through the airy region stream so bright/That birds would sing and think it were not night’ claiming that her eyes were so bright that birds would think that the darkness was daylight. In this phrase, he uses images of light with the words ‘lamp’ and ‘heaven’, ‘airy’ and ‘bright’ as well as mentioning birds that sing in relation to Juliet’s beauty. This powerful imagery all in relation to each other contrasts with his language at the beginning of the play where the extent of his literary devices were overdramatic and overused oxymorons that were plunged into his speeches.
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Before meeting Juliet, Romeo expressed love, or at least his idea of love, as painful and something weighing him down. His use of the oxymorons ‘O brawling love’ and ‘O loving hate’ suggest that Romeo is certainly confused by love and cannot pinpoint his feelings and also expresses the misery he is feeling whilst being in love with Rosaline. Again, when talking about his love for Rosaline he uses more paradoxes such as ‘O heavy lightness . . . Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health.’ The image of a feather suggests flight, freedom and almost a heaven like
concept whereas Romeo describes them as being made of lead – a poisonous metal weighing him down and chaining the feather down, almost like a prison in itself. For Romeo, before meeting Juliet, love was not presented in a freeing light and through his use of persistent oxymorons and vivid paradoxes, it is apparent that he viewed love as something holding him back, causing him pain. However, after meeting Juliet and falling in love with her, Shakespeare uses images of flight and weightlessness, suggesting that love was no longer a burden for Romeo. In act 2, scene 2, Romeo, in response to Juliet asking him how he got over the wall says ‘With love’s light wings did I o’erperch these walls. / For stony limits cannot hold love out.’ Not only do we see Romeo using images of flight and light wings which suggest freedom, but he directly associates these images with love claiming that it is indeed his love for Juliet that helped him get over the wall both physically and metaphorically. Romeo’s love for Juliet enabled him to overcome his period of misery using his ‘wings’.
Although there are ways in which Romeo has changed that cannot be accredited to his love for Juliet. Shakespeare displays Romeo as an impulsive young man with a fickle mind; one moment he is in love with Rosaline and the lack of reciprocation makes him wallow in his own pity and the next minute, he commits suicide over a girl he met four days prior. To an audience, it is clear that Romeo has an impulsive personality which would make one doubt that he has changed at all. For instance, in act 3 scene 1, the audience sees Romeo grow past the feud and attempt to make peace with Tybalt. Despite receiving hostility from Tybalt, Romeo responds with a sense of maturity saying ‘Tybalt, the reason that I have to love thee/Doth much excuse the appertaining rage/To such a greeting’. In this moment, Shakespeare initially precures to the audience that perhaps Romeo’s attitude to the feud has been changed by his love for Juliet and that his love for Juliet had overcast this generational hatred between the Montagues and the Capulets. ‘the reason’ that Romeo references is his love for Juliet; Romeo and Tybalt were now, unbeknownst to Tybalt, family and Romeo treated him that way. Romeo also later even states that it is his love for Juliet that weakened him. Following the death of Mercutio, Romeo states ‘Thy beauty hath made me effeminate /And in my temper softened valour’s steel!’. He acknowledged that there was a change, which he later undid, and saw it in a negative light. Romeo felt as though Juliet took away part of his masculinity and that love enfeebled him. He claims that Juliet’s beauty has ‘softened valour’s steel’. This quote expresses the true power of love. He compares his bravery to that of steel, a strong metal shielding him even but Juliet's love is even stronger and has melted through the steel softening his line of protection, conveying the power and cruelty of love. Romeo, not so long after calling Tybalt family, then murder Tybalt. To the audience, it is abundantly clear that although Romeo may appear to be a changed man as a result of his strong love for Juliet, it can be undone very easily and this change certainly cannot be a radical one when Shakespeare portrays Romeo going back on the change in an instance. Not only is this change not a long lasting one, but Romeo also viewed the change in a negative light, claiming it made him ‘effeminate’ and that Juliet has made him weak and feminine, where in this case femininity is seen as a symbol of weakness.
Overall, in this play, we certainly see Romeo change significantly through his writing and use of literary techniques as we watch him become a better poet, through the more positive way he views love and through his actions where we initially see him rise above the feud, but there are also instances where an audience can question whether he really has changed. For instance, although initially we saw him begin to rise above the feud, these actions were completely undone when he murdered Tybalt. It is also easy to question what extent this change extends to; this radical change takes place over the course of four days so can it be attributed to his love for Juliet or is it simply a bi-product of his impulsive character, his youth and how quickly he can grow as a result of his youth and also his lack of intellect.