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How is forbidden love conveyed in both Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses?
In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (c.1595) and Malorie Blackman’s 2001 Noughts and Crosses, the theme of forbidden love is greatly conveyed throughout both texts. The themes are similar in each text, regardless of the severe differences in era which are highlighted contextually throughout each of the works. Forbidden love is the foundation to which the downfalls of characters occur and is a key component to the storylines of both texts. In both works, the character’s downfalls are greatly contributed to by those surrounding the main protagonists. This allows for the surrounding characters to stand out as the causes for the bad happenings in both texts, as it is they who make the love forbidden and perhaps thus more desirable to the protagonists.
Sacrifice is a key theme in both works which helps to convey the way that both couples’ love is extremely important to the characters. Sacrifice is shown in Romeo and Juliet when they sacrifice their own lives because they are forbidden to be together. Romeo and Juliet sacrifice themselves because of what they believed in. The sacrifices also show that they would rather die than live without their love being allowed and accepted by the people around them. Juliet’s last words, “There rust and let me die”, emphasise the sacrifice that she makes upon learning of Romeo’s death. The words ‘let me’ show that Juliet wishes to be left to die, much in the way that she wanted to be allowed and left alone to love and be with Romeo. The idea of Juliet being allowed to die shows that she is making the sacrifice of her life as it is, in her mind, the only thing left that she can do which will be her own decision. She shows here that she wishes not to live without Romeo and without their love.
The idea of Juliet lacking control over her future was a key concern in the Elizabethan era in which the play was written. This is down to the fact that young women like Juliet would have had decisions on big life choices often taken out of their hands. Fathers (or the head of the family) would often have the final say over who the daughter marries. This is shown in Juliet’s situation where her family have intentions for her to marry Count Paris, whilst she wishes to marry Romeo. Sacrifice is also conveyed in Romeo’s death in which before dying he says ‘here’s to my love.’ This allows the link between the couple’s sacrifice and their love being forbidden to become apparent through the way that Romeo states that his death is for his ‘love.’ Shakespeare’s use of the word ‘Here’s’ conveys that Romeo is killing himself for his love.
Additionally, the word ‘here’s’ would usually be used in a kind of toast or tribute towards something. This allows for Romeo to glamorise his death by it being down to the love forbidden between the couple. The sacrifice in Romeo and Juliet coincides with Shakespeare’s famous genre of tragedy, which is conveyed throughout a number of his works but especially in Romeo and Juliet. David Scott Kastan suggests in his analysis that “Tragedy, for Shakespeare is the genre of uncompensated suffering.”
I would agree with this idea as Shakespeare has incorporated this theory into Romeo and Juliet. The idea of the suffering being ‘uncompensated’ relates to the couple’s situation since they do not get any reward or gain for what they have endured in the end. This point relates to the couple making their individual sacrifices of life as these acts are uncompensated and unrewarded; they gain nothing from their actions. This idea of uncompensated sacrifice is down to the matter of their love being forbidden. The love being forbidden between the two characters results in the sacrifice of their own lives which shows how passionate both characters are about their love. It is conveyed in the language before each death that their sacrifices clearly link to their love being forbidden and frowned upon by others.
Similarly, in Noughts and Crosses, Callum sacrifices his life for what he believes in. The ultimatum to sacrifice his life for the life of his baby or his baby’s life for his, results in Callum deciding to be executed. Much like in Romeo and Juliet, Sephy and Callum’s situation is out of their hands and out of their control. The people around them force the couple to make the decision as to who to sacrifice. Callum’s explanation that “He pulls the hood over my head. I try to pull back. I’m not trying to run away. I just want to see her… One last time…” highlights his desperation to see Sephy for the last time. This conveys Callum’s love for Sephy and his position shows where the couple’s forbidden love has gotten him. This helps to highlight the way in which the couple’s love is truly forbidden and shows the extent of punishment for making their love known by having a baby. “I’m not trying to run away” shows the way in which Callum faces up to his inevitable sacrifice in the moment of it.
Highlighting that he is ‘not’ trying to run away shows that he has accepted his fate to be executed. This shows the way that Callum has come to terms with the sacrifice he must make and in this he shows that he truly would rather save his unborn baby’s life than live on himself. The ellipsis conveys the tone of Callum’s thoughts as, whilst he clearly shows acceptance of his situation, its fragmentation highlights the way he feels about Sephy and it shows how he is much weaker and more emotional when it comes to thinking about her. The ellipsis at the end of the sentence could also represent the end of Callum’s life, as though it is to be continued.
This idea could foreshadow the future after his death, conveying the way that his death could alter the views upon Noughts and Crosses being segregated in the future. Much like in Romeo and Juliet, the couple have to sacrifice something regardless of what they choose, whether it be their unborn baby or Callum himself. Whilst Romeo and Juliet would have not lost a physical person if they had not have sacrificed themselves, they would have lost out on the love that they wished to share together. The sacrifice of Callum’s life in Noughts and Crosses shows the way that the couple are forced into making a sacrifice in order to stand up for what they believe in. It also shows the extent of how forbidden their love really is, how seriously the people around them perceive it and how they are controlled by those around them to the point of a forced sacrifice.
The outcomes postliminary to the sacrifices in each novel can give an array of answers as to whether the characters’ actions and decisions in the end benefitted each of society’s harsh beliefs around them. The characters surrounding the two couples in each text contribute a great amount to the outcomes and the decisions that the main protagonists make throughout the novels. This conveys the way in which the great sacrifices of life in each text affect the characters surrounding the main protagonists and shows these characters’ reactions to the events that they have partly caused. It allows the remaining characters in the texts to question whether the love was forbidden enough for lives to be lost. In Romeo and Juliet, after the couple sacrifice their lives, it is clear to see that the families put their feuds aside. Upon realising that the pair’s death was down to their love being forbidden by the families, Capulet refers to Montague as ‘brother Montague.’
The use of the word ‘brother’ highlights Capulet’s desire to resolve the feud. He has realised what has been lost because of the families’ differences. Referring to Montague as ‘brother’ may also indicate the way that Capulet feels guilt and remorse for what the situation has resulted in. In religious terms, ‘brother’ can also be used as a way to refer to a respected fellow male of the same faith. Since the play is set in Catholic Verona, it is possible that Shakespeare uses this language to suggest the respect from a religious perspective that Capulet wishes to show for Montague. This highlights that the families are not so different and shows that they do share similarities, regardless of their great feud.
When Capulet exclaims ‘Poor sacrifices of our enmity!’ Shakespeare demonstrates that Capulet understands exactly why Romeo and Juliet sacrificed themselves. The word ‘our’ shows that he accepts the shared blame for the deaths of the pair. The word ‘enmity’ connotes friction and hostility, which evidences the severity of the feud. The exclamation point after ‘enmity’ also helps to portray Capulet’s heartache and remorse as it makes his statement more dramatic and as though he has come to a great realisation. The tone created by the punctuation results in the strong, powerful man seeming helpless and remorseful, allowing the audience to recognise Capulet’s downfall just as he has.
On the contrary, Callum’s death in Noughts and Crosses does not seem to affect the surrounding characters to the same extent as the tragedy in Romeo and Juliet does. Whilst Romeo and Juliet choose to sacrifice themselves, Callum is forced into execution after refusing to allow his unborn child to be executed. This may explain the neutral reaction after his death, because it was planned and intentional. After Callum’s death, it is clear to see Sephy’s upset and grievance, as expected. However, the situation in society does not change. In the sequel to the novel, Callum’s death is shown to have had an effect on society and shapes what will be accepted for the future.
However, in the first of the Noughts and Crosses series, in the little time after Callum’s death, no characters responsible seem to feel remorseful. Blackman points out that “The deputy Prime Minister [Kamal Hadley] was unavailable for comment’’, making it clear that Kamal Hadley wishes to make no comments publicly about the execution of Callum McGregor. Since this is the last statement made about Kamal in the novel, it is unclear whether he refuses to comment because he does not care about Callum’s death or whether he refuses because he is guilty and remorseful. From Kamal’s attitude towards Callum throughout the novel, it is likely that he is careless and thoughtless of his death.
However, it seems unusual that a man of such power and firm beliefs, would not make a statement or speech justifying his reasons for giving the pair this ultimatum in an attempt to get the public on his side. On the other hand, it could also be argued that there is no comment made because, despite what happened, Sephy gives her baby daughter Callum’s last name: ‘’Miss Hadley has issued a statement that her daughter… will be taking her father’s name of McGregor.”
The fact that Sephy is able to issue a statement whilst her father is not could show that she is the stronger one out of the two of them. It shows that, despite what has happened, she will continue to stand for what she believes in and not be put down by the beliefs of those surrounding her. Kamal’s failure to make a statement could be down to embarrassment as, despite killing Callum, he has not stopped his daughter from doing the unthinkable by having a child with a Cross. Although at this stage in the series there are no sure indications of how the events will effect society, Blackman foreshadows the events of the following books by incorporating such bravery and self-belief into Sephy’s character, right up until the end of the text.
The forbidden love in both texts is ushered along by characters that could be considered as assistants or helpers to each couple in their different situations. Friar Lawrence comes across clearly as the helper in Romeo and Juliet in the way that he supports the couple. He believes that their love could be beneficial for both characters’ families, remarking that
In one respect I’ll thy assistant be,
For this alliance may so happy prove
To turn your household’s rancor into pure love.
Here, Friar Lawrence expresses the fact that he seeks to be an ‘assistant’ for the couple. He explains his reasons for believing that he should be, by expressing that he thinks the love could have a positive outcome for both families. The word ‘alliance’ connotes the idea to join and unite. This conveys Friar Lawrence’s want for unison and peace between the two families and shows that he believes the pair’s ‘alliance’ could help to achieve this. The word ‘rancor’, connoting bitterness and spite, describes the rottenness of the relationship between the two families. Friar Lawrence then uses ‘pure love’ to describe the way that the families could become if united.
The use of ‘pure’ connotes innocence, fairness and also conveys religious imagery. The religious imagery here could be used to convey the way in which the couple’s love would be pure and not tarnished or affected by the evil in those around them. The religious imagery is contextually relevant to the setting of Romeo and Juliet as Roman Catholic Verona was obviously notably religious. It could also be used to indicate that Friar Lawrence expects them to marry and be a respectful, traditional couple of the time. The words ‘rancor’ and ‘pure love’ are a stark contrast. It allows for the two feelings to be conveyed and show the way in which the families will over time transform from feelings of bitterness and hatred to feelings of friendship and unison. This conveys the way that Friar Lawrence has good intentions for the couple, allowing the reader to see that he is a character with a good heart in the play, striving to do the right thing. Friar Lawrence clearly does not approve of the feud that the families have with each other.
Similarly, in Noughts and Crosses, Jasmine Hadley does not seem to believe in the segregation between Noughts and Crosses, despite her ex-husband greatly believing in it and being a strong proponent of the cause. Jasmine proves this from the beginning of the novel when she shows herself to be a good friend of a Cross, who also works for her family. Jasmine is much like Friar Lawrence in the way that she also acts as a kind of assistant for Callum and his family without them knowing. However, whilst Friar Lawrence is open with Romeo and Juliet about assisting them, Jasmine is not. She secretly helps the family out of fear that she may be negatively affected and judged if people find out that she, as a Nought, is helping a Cross. This is demonstrated through her confession that “I did everything that was humanly possible to make sure Ryan McGregor wouldn’t hang. And that’s not to leave this room.”
Here Jasmine proves that she does have a guilty conscious towards the way that the crosses were treated. Her specification of ‘Humanly possible’ suggests that Jasmine did absolutely everything she could. However, this is contrasted by the possibility that Jasmine could have spoken up against what was happening as a well-respected Nought woman, and could have used her power to try and negotiate a change in how the Crosses are being treated. This shows the way in which Crosses would not speak out against the segregation and unfair treatment even if they wanted to. It highlights the way in which even they felt threatened to share their opinions and beliefs.
This conveys the way in which even the Crosses found it hard to speak out against a firm, in place system. Jasmine’s insistence that “And that’s not to leave this room” backs up the idea that Crosses were afraid to speak out for what was right. Jasmine shows that even she is fearful of what would happen if people knew that she attempted to help a Nought family. Both novels convey helpers or assistants that attempt to help the different situations along the way. Friar Lawrence does it because he openly believes that it is the right thing to do. On the other hand, Jasmine Hadley acts upon her guilty conscience for the unfair way that the Noughts are treated. This conveys the way in which Friar Lawrence as a helper is selfless and helping for the best intentions, whilst Jasmine Hadley is helping because of her guilty conscience and inability to speak out for what she believes is right.
Both works have clear themes of forbidden love shown throughout each text. Whilst the texts are both written by two very different writers and set in extremely different times, the themes and ideas are still similar throughout. The strong link between the two texts is the way in which the surrounding characters impact each of the situations and alter the end result of both texts. Without the surrounding characters, there would be no forbidden love and thus no storyline for either of the texts. Both texts provoke thought amongst the audience as to whether the dramatic acts of that characters will alter the society’s views in each of the texts, or whether life will stay the same; cruelly ignoring what has been lost and what has been broken beyond repair.