Discuss the various perceptions of love in Shakespeare’s Essay
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William Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet in 1595. When it was written, Shakespeare was quite young, 31, already five years into his career. Queen Elizabeth I was on the throne at the time, and many of the characteristics of Elizabethan lifestyle are included within the play. In the Elizabethan times, it was not unusual for people to get married and have children young. In the play Lady Capulet says, “By my count, I was your mother much upon these years,” to Juliet, who appears to be about 12 years old.
She is telling Juliet that she was already a mother at Juliet’s age, implying she should be getting ready to marry now. Women were also not considered of much importance in those days. They were not as ‘important’ as men, and just used for sex, which plays a big part in the topic of conversation between characters throughout the play. Women/girls also had to obey their fathers until they got married, and then obey their husbands when they did get married.
It was a very male dominant era. Romeo and Juliet is partly a comedy, tragedy and history.
It is a tragedy obviously because of all the death in it. It is a comedy because of the irony and contrast the characters raise, and also because of the humour some characters like Mercutio and the Nurse bring into the play. It is a history as well because of the fact it was written a long time ago, and has historical contents in it. There is a great deal of love and passion in this play, but not all the same. Different characters have different perceptions of love, and different passions. The play is also as much about hate as it is about love, which is a very important element.
Shakespeare puts emphasis on themes such as the relationship of love and hate and old and young. This is what I will be analysing in the essay. The play tells the story of Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet; the children of two rival families living in Verona, who fall in love and get married without their families knowing. The hatred felt by their families leads to the death of five people. Two of who are Romeo and Juliet, the star-crossed lovers who die because they want to be together but cant be. It shows the young as they struggle to escape from the morass of hatred created by their elders.
The ancient family feud makes Romeo and Juliet’s union even more significant as they both hate each other’s families, but manage to overcome it when they meet each other. This play represents ‘true love’ because it shows pure hatred turn into pure love. Romeo and Juliet went against everything they were brought up with and gave up their lives to be together. Romeo is a very passionate person when we first meet him, and his passion stays throughout the play. We do learn however, that Romeo is very impulsive, and acts on this impulsive streak very often, and it leads him to do some stupid things, which I will show further on in the essay.
The first reference to love in the play is in the opening scene where we meet Sampson and Gregory (two Capulet servants). They are both very vulgar and crude characters and show this straight away when they are talking about the Montague women. In lines 17-20, Sampson says, “Tis true, and therefore women being the weaker vessels are ever thrust to the wall. Therefore I will push Montague’s men from the wall, and thrust his maids to the wall. ” This is where the punning becomes sexual. He is implying that he will assault the Montague maids against the wall.
Later on in lines 27-28, he says, “Ay, the heads of the maids, or their maidenheads- take it in what sense thou wilt. ” Here he is saying that he will either chop off the heads of the Montague maids, or rape them, depending on what he feels like. Their behaviour shows that they do not actually think of love itself, and only think of sex. They view women as mere objects to serve their pleasure. They are not the only bawdy characters in the play to have this perception of women and love thought. In act two, scene one (lines 34-38); Mercutio is making fun of Romeo’s talk of love for Rosaline.
He talks about a ‘Medlar tree’, and describes sex as a ‘Medlar fruit’. He is saying that Romeo really wishes Rosalie were a Medlar fruit, even though he says he loves her, all he really wants is sex. This is probably because this is all Mercutio sees love as. The Nurse is another one of these characters. She constantly talks about the physical side of marriage. To her, love is merely about sex and having babies. For Sampson, Gregory, Mercutio and the Nurse, love is something non-emotional, and they have obviously never experienced love like Romeo and Juliet’s.
Love for Romeo and Juliet is very emotionally bonded, and they cannot live without each other. This however does not mean there is no physical element to their relationship. Romeo and Juliet eagerly look forward to the physical side. This can be seen in act three, scene two, lines 1-30, where Juliet is looking forward to her wedding night, or her “love-performing night. ” But even this is altered by their love into something of which Mercutio, the Nurse and the servants know nothing of. In act one, scene one, Romeo’s parents show parental love when they are concerned about him.
The first evidence to show they care about Romeo is in lines 118-119, where Lady Montague says, “Right glad I am he (Romeo) was not at this fray,” meaning she was glad that Romeo was not involved in the fight that had just happened. In lines 133-144, Montague talks about Romeo’s worrying behaviour. He says that he is always crying, distances himself from everyone else, and shuts out light, making himself “an artificial night”. Montague is obviously worried about his son’s behaviour, and asks Benvolio if he could talk to Romeo because he does not understand him.
This doesn’t mean however, that he does not care how Romeo feels, but he evidently does. It just shows the contrast between young and old. The first time we meet Romeo, he seems very sad and down (in the exact state his father describes him to be in). he is sad because he is ‘in love’. For Romeo, being in love (at this stage in the play) is a very painful, negative thing, especially because here there is a situation of unrequited love. However, by studying Romeo’s language in this scene, I believe that he is not in love with ‘Rosaline’, but infact in love with the idea of love itself.
The fact that he does not say Rosaline’s name once, but talks about being in love, shows that the she is irrelevant. Romeo’s doting over Rosaline is introduced to show the difference between love and infatuation. He talks about love as a painful situation to be in, as shown in lines 195-196, “A madness most discreet, a choking gall, and a preserving sweet. ” This changes drastically though, when he meets Juliet. From the second he sees Juliet (in act one scene five); you can see he has changed. He suddenly speaks in a more positive tone, with more positive views on Juliet not just of love.
“O she doth teach the torches to burn bright. ” Romeo is referring to Juliet as an actual person, whereas before he was talking about being in love (supposedly with Rosaline), but never refers to her as a person. On meeting Juliet he experiences ‘love at first sight’. He goes on to say, “For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night”. This shows that he has forgotten about Rosaline already, almost like she never existed. Romeo constantly compares Juliet to a saint throughout the play, “O then dear saint. ” He has made Juliet out to be the most important person (to him), in the matter of minutes.
In their first meeting, Romeo and Juliet share a sonnet (lines 94-107). This immediately shows the connection of love and harmony that exists between them. In the sonnet, love as a religion seems to be the key subject, and Romeo talks about it so passionately. He refers to Juliet as a “holy shrine”, and his lips “Two blushing pilgrims”. By studying Romeo’s language here, and that of which he used when we first met him, you can see that his feelings have gone from being self-centred, self deceiving and essentially negative, to less self-centred, genuine and sincere passion, positively approached when he meets Juliet.
The love between Romeo and Juliet is different from any other in the play, because both share the same view on love. It is so strong that they fought through everything to be together and when they weren’t they felt empty and sad. No one else in the play shows love for anything this deep. The words Romeo and Juliet use when flirting with each other emphasise their love for one another. They use words to do with the body “lips, hands, palms”, religion “pilgrims, saints, prayer, devotion and holy” then they put both ideas together, “holy palmers’ kiss” and “saints lips”. Romeo is trying to ‘woo’ Juliet with romantic gestures.
In line 139 Juliet says, “My only love sprung from my only hate! ” Two types of love are at conflict here for Juliet. Romantic love (for Romeo) and love for her family, (because she was brought up to hate the Montague’s). This saddens her. There is another type of love in the play – parental and familial love, the love between parents and their children. We do not learn much about the Montague parents, but we do see a great deal of the Capulet parents. At first when we see Capulet talking to Paris, he is saying Juliet is his only daughter and she means a lot to him, so he does not want her to marry as young as she is.
However, this changes completely by Act 3, scene 4 when he shrewdly decides to marry off his daughter to Paris and arranges the wedding. In Act 1, scene 3, Lady Capulet has a talk with Juliet about marriage (to Paris). She does not seem to care much about Juliet’s opinion, but more than she does later on. This is where we see her first selfish streak, and realise that their mother-daughter relationship is not a very close one. It is not until Act 3, scene 5 we see the Capulets completely fail their daughter, when they force an arranged marriage onto her.
This is a striking scene, where Lady Capulet wishes Juliet was dead after she says that she does not want to marry Paris “I would the fool were married to her grave”. Capulet is even more heartless in this scene. He completely loses his temper with Juliet, and threatens to throw her out and disown her is she does not marry Paris. The love of the Capulets’ for their daughter is so possessive and domineering, that when she doesn’t do as they wish, it turns into utter cruelty and really makes you question whether they love Juliet or not.
Her parents want to force her into a loveless marriage because they obviously do not consider love to be at all important in a marriage, and also because they think they know what is best for Juliet and that she is theirs to treat however they like “An you be mine I’ll give you to my friend; An you be not, hang, beg, starve, die in the streets, for by my soul, I’ll ne’er acknowledge thee,” (line 192-194). This also shows the contrast between young and old – the old don’t understand the young.
Lord and Lady Capulet actually show more love for Juliet when they find her supposedly dead, but even this is selfish love as they are more worried about how they are going to live without her. This shows just how superficial their love for Juliet is. Other characters that act as surrogate parents for Romeo and Juliet and the Nurse and Friar Lawrence. The Nurse nursed Juliet as a baby, and has practically brought her up. The Friar is someone who both lovers turn to for advise. Romeo goes to the Friar when he wants to marry Juliet. The Friar and the Nurse acted as messengers between Romeo and Juliet.
They showed great support and parental love towards Romeo and Juliet when they got married, but even this was partially superficial. At the end of Act 3, scene 5, just after the big argument between Capulet and Juliet, the Nurse is trying to comfort a distraught Juliet, but instead she fails her miserably. When Juliet asks the Nurse what she thinks she should do, the Nurse surprises her by saying that she might as well marry Paris because Romeo has been banished and they can no longer be together. She thinks that love (marriage) is no more than having sex and having babies, then to her Paris would make just a good husband as Romeo would.
She does not understand the depth of emotion involved in true love, and Juliet is very upset by this because she thought that the Nurse understood how she felt. After this conversation, Juliet goes to the Friar for advice (Act 4, scene 1). The Friar helps her a great deal, and you think he really understands Romeo and Juliet, but he in turn fails Juliet in Act 5, scene 3. When Juliet wakes up and find Romeo dead she wants to spend more time with him, but the Friar insists that they leave when he hear people coming their way, “Come I’ll dispose of thee among a sisterhood of holy nuns”.
The Friar’s inadequacy in this crisis is shown by this ironic suggestion. He is fine until now to help the lovers be together, but when it comes to him nearly being caught out, he just tries to run away from the situation. This shows his selfishness, and the fact he does not understand the lovers’ affections and intentions to be together always. In this play of overflowing love and passion we are introduced to a character very different from all the others – Paris. Paris is an altogether good man, who is genuinely in love with Juliet and is the only one genuinely upset when she dies.
Here there is another situation of unrequited love for Juliet from Paris. He is quite an innocent character caught up in the Capulet family’s complications and does not think there is anything wrong with the arranged marriage. He does not actually speak to Juliet until they meet in the Friar’s cell in Act 4, scene 1, and the marriage is arranged through Capulet. He is very thoughtful towards Juliet’s feelings, and in lines 6 and 7, he says he has not talked to her about ‘love’ (the marriage), because she has been weeping and is very sad about Tybalt’s death, but thinks that by getting married she will be happy again.
Another character apart from Romeo and Juliet who is also driven by great passions and love is Tybalt. Tybalt shows the greatest passion for hate. In Act 1, scene 1 he says, “what, drawn and talk of peace? I hate the word, as I hate hell, and all Montague’s and thee”. He is a very passionate character who also shows a tremendous amount of familial love, because he is prepared to fight and in turn die for his family. Mercutio is also another one of these characters. Although he is neither Capulet nor Montague, he shows a great amount of love of friendship towards Romeo and the Montague’s he dies whilst duelling against Tybalt for them.
In his “Queen Mab” he lets his tongue run away with him because he is talking passionately about something (love) that he doesn’t believe in. The mood in the scenes in which we see Romeo and Juliet together, contrast with the atmosphere of most the other scenes in the play, because of their feelings for each other. They are the two main characters who are star-crossed lovers, so obviously their scenes are going to be much more romantic and intense with passion for love than any other.
Their scenes are also more calmer, relaxed and create a pleasant, positive atmosphere, whereas the rest are mainly to do with the family feud or other less positive things (such as the arranged marriage). In the balcony scene (Act 2, scene 2), you can tell that they both see their love as more important than any ancient family feud. In lines 66-69, Romeo speaks of how “stony limits cannot hold love out”, meaning that even high walls are no challenge for love and that nothing can stop them from sharing their love.
By the end of the play Romeo and Juliet have changed quite a bit. Romeo went from being almost in a state of depression, to this fiery most positive character. However the same impulsive streak he has at the beginning is still there right till the very end when he acts on his impulse and decides to drink the poison not knowing the facts of Juliet’s ‘death’. Juliet was quite childish at the beginning of the play, because she does exactly what she was told by her parents.
You could say that both character stayed childish right till the end, because of the way they hid everything from most people because they were too scared to come out. You could also say though that they grew up, matured a lot and became more independent because they disobeyed their parents and found a way to be together practically by themselves (even though the Nurse and the Friar knew, they did not understand Romeo and Juliet properly). I also think that by spending their first night together, Romeo and Juliet matured more as they cemented their love.
They both made huge sacrifices for each other, making their love even truer, and even though they both died in the end, Romeo died after kissing Juliet, and Juliet died after kissing Romeo. Just before Romeo takes his poison, he says, “here’s to my love! ” and just before Juliet stabs herself she says “Oh happy dagger! ” This shows they didn’t mind dying as long as they were able to be together. Also in the play, the actions for the older members, affect the younger members a lot. Because of them, Mercutio, Tybalt, Paris and Romeo and Juliet all die.
This is what makes Romeo and Juliet such an immense tragedy. Now I have shown the various perceptions of love in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, I will now pick out two contrasting scenes I have discussed and explain how I would stage them to show their differences. The two scenes I have chosen are, act 1, scene 1, with Sampson and Gregory (lines 11-27), and act 1, scene 5, where Romeo and Juliet meet for the first time (lines 94-107). Sampson and Gregory are two very crude characters, and this has to be shown by not only their performances, but also their surroundings.
The actors should wear green or khaki colours, with their swords hanging from a belt on their sides. This makes them look like they are army soldiers, who are ready to fight at any moment. They would have stubble showing, and walk as if they had something heavy on their shoulders, which makes them look ‘rough’, and rude. I would have them talk very loud, almost shouting, as if they owned the place, inconsiderate to other peoples’ feelings and are boosting about what they are saying. The lighting should be a bold green when Sampson says, “A dog of that house shall move me to stand.
” Green is quite a hard, ‘sick’ looking colour, which will emphasise their foul minds. They should walk side-by-side, in the middle, and people should walk on the very edges (of the stage) to look as if they are trying to stay away from them. When they talk about the Montague maids and pushing them against the wall, one of them should pretend he is going to push a woman passing by into the wall, and then they both laugh about it. Romeo and Juliet’s first meeting is very special. In lines 94-107 they share a sonnet, so this should be a very romantic scene.
Juliet should be dancing with someone else, then they all switch partners, and Romeo hurries to be hers. Until they start dancing with each other, there should be other people all around the room (on the stage), but as soon as Romeo says his first line, “If I profane… ” they should all move into the background, the music (at the party) should die slowly into a soft beat. Romeo and Juliet will dance in he middle, up-stage, and this will show the audience who they should be looking at and listening to.
The lighting would hover from a calm yellow, to subtle orange, then to a soft red, then eventually to a light pink. These colours remind me of a beautiful sunset, and also romance, so I think it will work well because of the softness. They should go behind a pillar on the right side of the stage to kiss to show they are hiding it from everyone else. Romeo should wear a mask all throughout, and pull it off just before they kiss, and they should both look into each other’s eyes the whole time. This will show that they do not care about each other’s bodies.
Both would be in their party outfits- Juliet’s should be in a long cream or white dress to show her purity, with red flowers or embroidery on it, also wearing red lipstick. Romeo’s outfit should be a red or maroon velvet material, with a yellow belt and silver mask. This will make him look like a ‘prince’, and the red worn by both characters, emphasises the ‘red’ associated with romance. They should speak softly to each other, and when they speak it should not be as if this is their first meeting, but as if they have known each other for a lifetime. This will show the special connection they have straight away.