Romeo and Juliet is a play about two young lovers who fall helplessly in love. However, both belong to two rival houses of Verona, the Montague’s and the Capulet’s, both in a feud filled with hatred. In this essay I intend to discuss and analyse the role that love and marriage play in Romeo and Juliet.
We first see Romeo prior to his first meeting with Juliet, alone and grieving for Rosaline. Romeo’s language is melancholic and complains in the then fashionable elaborate language of love about his sorrow at Rosaline’s rejection.
Benvolio is the first to experience Romeo’s melancholic tone in Act 1 Scene 1 “Ay me, sad hours seem long”. Romeo regards Rosaline to be the most beautiful woman in existence calling her “the all-seeing sun” (this is also very outrageous to a Shakespearian audience, as astrological images such as that were and that she “ne’er saw her match since first the world begun”. He worships her and swears his love in religious terms.
His language is depressed over his rejection, reciting “feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire” to Benvolio and uses oxymoron. An oxymoron is a poetic device meaning the use of combining contradictory terms for effect and can heighten the emotion of a poem. Romeo using oxymoron almost wants Benvolio and the audience to ‘feel’ his pain.
Romeo appears inexperienced in love and rejection because of his melancholy behaviour and his desperation to seek others for help. Romeo’s depression means that he prefers to grieve in isolation, despite the fact that his rejection cannot help prevent him from thinking of Rosaline.
This Romeo’s behaviour is courtly love. He obsessed with of Rosaline, lives only for her and expresses his feelings in extended images and rhetorical phrases exclaiming “for beauty starved with her serenity” and “cuts beauty off from all posterity”. To the audience, it is hard to ever imagine that his claims of having never loved someone else before are true. Courtly love was an accepted fact of life and accepted fact of society. It was love from a distance, such as Romeo’s love to Rosaline. Romeo has met Rosaline so little times (evidence of this would be that she isn’t even in the play, only talked about) it seems absurd that he would be truly in love.
Romeo’s two friends, Benvolio and Mercutio, both have very different ideas about love. They feel that Romeo is overreacting about being rejected. From Romeo’s point of view both Benvolio and Mercutio are more experienced in life and are therefore suitable advisers to Romeo about love. Benvolio is both understanding and happy to listen to Romeo’s problems, similar to Act 1 Scene 2 where Benvolio attempts to help Romeo and his parents by finding out what is bothering him, saying “But stand you both aside; I’ll know his grievance or be much denied.” Benvolio’s character is more mature and less humorous than Mercutio but nevertheless has the same intention of advising Romeo about love. Evidence of this can be seen when Benvolio attempts to persuade him to stop wasting time chasing after Rosaline exclaiming very mature advice: “examine other beauties”. This also shows that Benvolio’s finds the chivalric code old fashioned and absurd and appears to have his own views on love – that a girl should be one with whom one can have a happier future.
Mercutio however is neither interested in nor is a believer in true love, and is eager to explain to Romeo his own views in his Queen Mab speech. Mercutio’s views on love are clearly expressed via his tone and words. During the Queen Mab speech he uses puns and wordplay often in reference to sex. His language portrays women as objects for sexual purposes whilst also making fun of Romeo’s pretensions. Mercutio cannot see the sense of Romeo’s love sickness, retorting with a mocking and bawdy pun “if love be rough with you, be rough with love; prick love for prickling, and you beat love down”. Mercutio has little patience with Romeo’s high feelings of love and gives ‘down to earth’ remedies as in above.
In the 1600s a wedding was important because by marrying off their daughter the parents would receive a good name and connection to another rich and powerful family. This was usually the reason that parents arranged marriages between the bride and groom, as with Juliet’s wedding with Paris. For Juliet’s mother the marriage process is a matter of worldly wisdom and a way of learning for her daughter. Lady Capulet is absurd in her description of Paris, “a flower”, “to beautify him only lacks a cover”. Her attitude towards marriage and love is so artificial and she seems more interested in the wealth and nobility of Paris. For Lord Capulet, marriage and love are matters to be decided by a father with the best interests of his daughter at heart. In the Capulet’s eyes, a marriage to Paris would bring increased social status and wealth for the Capulet’s, as Lady Capulet observes: “So shall you share all that he doth possess.” The Capulet’s believe it to be very important to have a higher status in the world.
They also believe that Paris is a nobleman and a worthy choice as Juliet’s husband and there is therefore no reason why she should not want to marry him. Their views on marriage are therefore totally materialistic. Capulet himself defers to her ability to choose for herself, shouting “my will to her consent is but a part” as his power to force her into a marriage is always present. Indeed, when Juliet refuses to marry, he tells her to “graze where you will” and “you will not house with me.” This language is very shocking for the audience as it is hard to believe a parent would treat their child in such a manner. Juliet’s parents’ materialistic views on love mean that neither parent can fully understand why Juliet should possibly want to decline such a handsome offer of marriage such as Paris, unflatteringly called a “man of wax” by the Nurse. The term “man of wax” implies that Paris is a model and perfect man, made out of a mould as it were.
I am certain that Romeo and Juliet were fated to meet one another. The chorus puts them as “a pair of star-crossed lovers” claiming that their meeting was fated from the start. During the Capulet’s ball once Romeo and Juliet see each other there is no force that can stop them from falling in love, changing all of Romeo’s beliefs, forgetting about Rosaline, and now regarding Juliet to be “true beauty” – “did my heart love till now? Forswear it sight; For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night”. When they dance, Romeo and Juliet say a combined sonnet; this suggests that the two are meant for each other and are similar in speech and thought. Romeo continues to speak of love in religious terms, referring Juliet as a holy object: “If I profane with my unworthiest hand this holy shrine, the gentle fine is this”. Romeo’s sudden change of affection at the party suggests that he is easily swayed by love, as shown by his sudden desire for Juliet. This means therefore that due to Romeo’s sudden infatuation with Juliet is in fact true love (it seems true that Romeo has had countless other ‘loves’ however, if we observe his self with when he was in ‘love’ with Rosaline and Juliet, there is a great difference”. The concept of “star-crossed lovers” also suggests that love in the play is a driving supernatural force that no human effort can prevent.
Both the Nurse and Friar Lawrence are important in achieving love – they assist in bringing Romeo and Juliet together. Although he is not present in many scenes in the play, the Friar’s role is highly important. Many of the main events relate to him. Romeo first turns to the Friar for support, advice and confidence after being with Juliet. Friar Laurence’s motives in the play are for Romeo and Juliet to be happy, and for their marriage to bring peace to the civil feud between the families: “For this alliance may so happy prove to turn your households’ rancour to pure love”. He thinks of the possible consequences of the marriage and realises that good may result from the heirs to the Montague’s and Capulet’s being joined in marriage, hopefully resulting in peace between the two families. By secretly marrying the couple the Friar is not only going against the two richest families in the city but also is risking his reputation.
Juliet’s Nurse also plays an important part in the assisting the pair’s marriage. It is clear that she has more parental love for Juliet than the Capulet’s -evidence being that she talks to Juliet constantly and shares and confides secrets with her, an illustration her love for Romeo. One reason for this is that the Nurse once had a daughter of Juliet’s age who died. When Juliet announces her love for Romeo the Nurse is glad that Juliet is happy, but is worried about the feud. The Nurse’s motive for marrying Juliet is simply for her to be happy, unlike the Capulet’s who are purely materialistic in their motives. Regardless of the family feud, the Nurse acts as a go-between, exchanging messages between the two lovers. She takes many risks for Juliet just to make her happy, something that her parents do not.
When Juliet is ordered to marry again shows the Capulet’s’ views on marriage can also be clearly seen. Lady Capulet uses the news to, what she believes, cheer Juliet up after Tybalt’s murder. When Juliet refuses and states that she loves Romeo, Lady Capulet is not shown to be infuriated, but warns her of her husbands response: “Here comes your father, tell him so yourself: and see how he will take it in your hands”. Capulet is enraged at Juliet’s denial, saying she should be grateful that they have chosen for her such a “worthy gentleman”. Capulet then threatens her to either marry or to be an outcast. This proposal is evidence that Capulet does not care of what his daughter thinks with regards to marriage and merely wishes the wedding to satisfy his own desires: “God had lent us but this only child, but now I see this one is one too much and that we have a curse in having her”. Juliet’s Nurse defends her by blaming the parents for making Juliet as she is: “You are to blame my Lord to rate her so”. Capulet’s threat of abandoning Juliet suggests that he has little concern for his daughter at this point. When the parents leave the scene the Nurse suggests simply marrying Paris so as to avoid further grief or trouble: “O he’s a lovely gentleman! Romeo’s a dishclout to him”. This is a shock to Juliet – she has realised that her reasons for wanting to get married are nothing like those of the people around her.
The ending to the play Romeo and Juliet is very tragic with many of the characters needlessly dying. It suggests that warfare is appalling, and should be stopped. Shakespeare also suggests that love is a delicate matter, and must be taken slowly, unlike in the manner Romeo and Juliet had. Because the two lovers had taken love so quickly, both their lives ended tragically.