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Discuss the various perceptions of love in Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. Then choose two contrasting examples from scenes you have discussed and explain how you would stage them to show these contrasts. 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.