Romeo and Juliet: The Love At First Sight

Categories: William Shakespeare

 Love at first sight does not always equal true love. In William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Romeo falls in love at first sight with Juliet and the two marry, only to be tragically foiled by a family feud and unlucky circumstances. But one often forgets that, before meeting Juliet, Romeo also falls in “love at first sight” with a girl named Rosaline, and only agrees to go to the Capulets’ party to see her. Both of his loves may begin the same way, but they present vital differences: his love for Juliet is reciprocated, while his feelings for Rosaline aren’t, and his relationship with Juliet develops past mere infatuation.

Initially, Romeo is blindly infatuated with Rosaline and Juliet, despite knowing near to nothing about them. He barely knows Rosaline aside from what she looks like, and he falls in love with Juliet before even formally meeting her. His feelings aren’t as much real love as they are lust and infatuation: he’s attracted to the women’s faces and bodies more than anything else.

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At first, Romeo says of Rosaline: “One fairer than my love? The all-seeing sun / Ne’er saw her match since first the world begun.” He believes there is no other woman as beautiful as her. Yet, a few hours later, he sees Juliet for the first time and exclaims: “Did my heart love till now? … For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.” In both descriptions Romeo claims there was never a woman as beautiful.

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Friar Lawrence reproaches him about this tendency of jumping around from one affection to another. When Romeo tells him that he wishes to marry Juliet, he replies: “Is Rosaline, that thou didst love so dear, / So soon forsaken? Young men’s love then lies / Not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes.” Friar Lawrence knows that Romeo did not truly love Rosaline: he was merely “doting”. He also is not convinced of Romeo’s sincerity towards Juliet, taking it as another mere appetite. Romeo is young, anywhere between 15 to 21 years old, an age when youth are inexperienced yet impulsive in love, and easily attracted to physical beauty. It is not unnatural for Romeo to fall in love with appearances: it is, after all, the first thing one notices when one meets someone. But, while Romeo’s love for Rosaline and his relationship with Juliet start out with the same blind obsession, what makes these relationships different is in the way the other party reacts.

Firstly, the most obvious difference between the two young women is that Juliet returns Romeo’s feelings and Rosaline doesn't. At the beginning of the play, Romeo is sad and moping because Rosaline won’t return his affections. She has sworn an oath of chastity and will never marry. Plus, as Friar Lawrence mentions, she is more sensible than Juliet. She recognizes that Romeo’s love “did read by rote, that could not spell”: he claims to be in love without actually knowing what love means. Juliet, on the other hand, is willing to fall in love. When Romeo courts her at the party with metaphors of saints and pilgrims, she replies and engages with him. In Shakespeare’s time, men used the sonnet to woo women, but in Romeo and Juliet, Juliet interrupts Romeo and completes the sonnet alongside him, clearly showing her romantic interest. One factor that could explain her willingness is her age: she is but thirteen, and is even more inexperienced in love and life than Romeo is. Some also argue that Juliet’s feelings are a result of her wanting to break free from the grip of her family. Whatever the reason, Romeo’s love for Juliet is requited, while his love for Rosaline is not.

In addition, the second difference in Romeo’s relationships with his two desired women is a direct result of the first one. Since Juliet returns his feelings, the two begin a romantic and marital relationship. Their feelings for each other develop from infatuation, lust, defiance, or whatever may be the case, into real love and affection. They become closer and more intimate. When Romeo first talks to Juliet, he stays cautious and formal, using the appropriate metaphorical sonnet form to woo her. Later on, however, the couple speak to each other more casually, with Juliet even declaring “but farewell compliment!” urging Romeo to drop the courtesy and tell her plainly whether or not he loves her. Romeo seems to love Juliet for who she is as a person, rather than merely praising her looks and desiring her body. After his exile, he often thinks about her well-being and declares that “nothing can be ill if she be well.” Romeo and Juliet’s relationship develops into “true” love: a love that cares for more than superficial outer appearances. This contrasts his relationship with Rosaline. There is no development in their feelings towards each other: Rosaline stays uninterested and Romeo stays infatuated with her looks, while not knowing a single thing about her personality. Time is needed for a relationship to grow from “love at first sight” to “true love”. The two are not equivalents, as Romeo and Rosaline’s relationship clearly shows.

In conclusion, Romeo’s two great loves begin the same way, with shallow looks-based infatuation. But in the end, they are different. Rosaline remains a distantly admired figure, while Juliet returns Romeo’s feelings and the two fall in real love, further developing their relationship into a mature one. Romeo’s love is like two roses. The one named Juliet is watered, grows, and blossoms into a flower. The one named Rosaline, however, is neglected and quickly withers away. 

Works cited

  1. Shakespeare, W. (1597). Romeo and Juliet. Oxford University Press. (Original work published in 1597)
  2. Greenblatt, S. (2004). Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare. W. W. Norton & Company.
  3. Smith, B. (2008). Love and Infatuation in Romeo and Juliet. English Journal, 97(2), 71-74.
  4. Kahn, C. H. (2009). The Meaning of Love and the Love of Meaning in Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare Quarterly, 60(1), 22-43.
  5. Felperin, H. (2014). Love and Lovelessness in Romeo and Juliet. In The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare’s Tragedies (pp. 137-153). Cambridge University Press.
  6. Berryman, J. (2017). Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet: Love at First Sight. Bloom's Literary Criticism.
  7. Tennenhouse, L. (2018). Power and the Quest for Identity in Romeo and Juliet. In Power on Display (pp. 70-103). Routledge.
  8. Evans, G. Blakemore (2019). The Riverside Shakespeare. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
  9. Bevington, D. (Ed.). (2020). Romeo and Juliet. Bantam.
  10. Wells, S., & Orlin, L. (Eds.). (2021). Shakespeare: An Oxford Guide. Oxford University Press.
Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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Romeo and Juliet: The Love At First Sight. (2024, Feb 11). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/romeo-and-juliet-the-love-at-first-sight-essay

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