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‘The most excellent and lamentable tragedy of Romeo and Juliet’ is one of the most performed plays in history; it has been recreated in film and intoxicated its audiences with its tale of forbidden love and blinding hatred. The play is brimming with contradictions, oxymorons and contrasts. ‘O brawling love, O loving hate, O anything of nothing first create!’(I.I.176-177) is a quote which sums up the play in its entirety. ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is set in the town of Verona in northern Italy, and throughout the play, certain themes recur time and time again. Violence, death and duty just to name some of them; however the most prominent themes that recur in the play are those of love and hate. Although ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is a love story; the love shown in the play is by no means just romantic.
There is the love that Romeo feels for Rosaline, which is lustful and slightly obsessive; the love that Romeo feels towards Benvolio and Mercutio which is a bond of friendship. There is the paternal love that Friar Lawrence shows towards Romeo, and to a lesser extent, Juliet, and there is the deep true love that blossoms between Romeo and Juliet. Also, there is Romeo’s love with the idea of being in love and Juliet’s love for her own pure, angelic self image. If marriage has anything to do with love then Juliet is the willing and loving bride of death.
There are several quotations throughout the play that add a sense of the macabre, such as when Juliet had almost kissed Romeo at the Capulets ball, she remarks ‘If he be married, / My grave is like to be my wedding bed’ (I.5.134-5). There are also several different types of hate shown in the play for example, the innate hatred that the houses of Capulet and Montague have for each other which is unquestioning and without reason, there is also the vengeful hatred which Mercutio has for both the Capulets and the Montagues just before he dies and which Romeo endures on his behalf after his death.
The love of Romeo and Juliet seems at first to be a case of love at first sight for Romeo, almost as soon as he sees her at the Capulets ball (I.5.41-2), launches into a sonnet describing her unmatched beauty. This though could be seen as lustful because he is just describing her beauty; it could also be seen as a comment on the fickle nature of love because he only came to the ball to prove to his friends that there was no other girl on the planet that even came close to the beauty of Rosaline ‘The all seeing sun/ Ne’er saw her match since first the world begun.’ (I.2.91-2). When Romeo was in ‘love’ with Rosaline, he was a tiresome young man constantly complaining about the fact that Rosaline rejects him, he uses the elaborate and flowery language of the Petrachan lover, this is because he totally adhered to the rules of love and courtship set down by the Italian poet Francisco Petrarch (1304/1374).
His poetry set out the conventions of how one should behave and talk whilst in love, to dote upon one lady, to live only for her, to be devastated if she frowns and be overcome with joy if she smiles. Similarly, Romeo’s love for Juliet is shown as an obsessive love to begin with but matures over time into something deep and meaningful, yet still filled with the passion and energy of youth to the point that they are willing to kill themselves rather than be apart.
As strange as it may seem, the fact that they are willing to kill themselves for their love shows that they are much more mature than at the beginning of the play because they are making their own decisions and the decision of life and death is a mature decision to make. This shows that love changes both Romeo and Juliet; at the beginning, Romeo was obsessed with Rosaline, he doted on her in the way Petrarch dictated that he should, Juliet says to Romeo just after they have kissed ‘You kiss by th’ book.’ (I.5.109). This indicates that he has kissed her just like he should, but it could also mean that he is immature and hasn’t yet developed a sense of how he should behave to and around her following the dictates of courtly texts.
Throughout the play there are many different types of love shown. Not just Romeo and Juliet experience love; most of the characters in the play have been shaped by some form of ‘love’ at one point or another. There are continual puns and sexual innuendos during the play. The opening scene starts with Samson and Gregory talking about erections and rape; they only seem to care about sex and that is the only point of a relationship to them. Shakespeare shows by his use of form, that this is an ignoble way of thinking; shown by the use of prose. Throughout the play, prose is used to indicate things which Shakespeare values as immoral or wrong to be thinking. The nurse also makes sexual comments such as repeating her husbands joke when she is describing how baby Juliet fell down.
‘A was a merry man-took up the child.
‘Yea,’ quoth he, ‘dost thou fall upon thy face?
Thou wilt fall backward when thou hast more wit.
Wilt thou not, Jule?’
The meaning is that when Juliet is older and ‘hast more wit,’ she will fall backwards when a man is making love to her. The nurse also likes to anticipate the sexual pleasures of Juliet’s wedding night to Romeo, and to Paris, she disregards all of the normal conventions of love and virtue to the extent that she even says to Juliet that she should marry Paris even though she is already married to Romeo. The nurse as well as the servants see sex as the sole thing worth having in a relationship.
Romeo and Juliet’s relationship, although it starts out sexually, changes to something much more deep and spiritual. Benvolio cannot see why Romeo is down in the dumps at the beginning of the play and jokes at Romeo about his obsession and how silly it is and he should be looking at all of the girls, not just one of them. He also calls Romeo a fraud for covering up his simple sexual frustrations as that is what Benvlolio thinks of Romeo. He can’t accept that Romeo is maturing before him and wants to make Romeo feel small, in the end, Mercutio’s immaturity leads to the deaths of Romeo and Juliet.
Another contrast in the play is that of passion and moderation; Friar Lawrence is always concerned about Romeo and Juliet’s spiritual welfare. He would rather drug Juliet into a fake death rather than let her commit bigamy; he also advises against uncontrolled passion , for example when he says that Romeo ‘dotes’ on Rosaline rather than loves her he is clearly disapproving. For the friar, love is something that is meant to be in moderation. As such, he advises Romeo to ‘love moderately’ as he believes that such a love will last. The fact that the friar is speaking in couplets gives a sense of wisdom to the message he is giving, could this be that Shakespeare is speaking to the audience through the friar.
Most of the characters in the play advise Romeo and/or Juliet against extreme passion because they have got their best interests at heart. However, Romeo and Juliet ignore all of these warnings and go ahead and get married, Arthur Brooke, the poet who provided the source material for Shakespeare’s interpretation of the tale of Romeo and Juliet, saw this as the point at which the real tragedy took place, when Romeo and Juliet ignored their parents wishes.
In the preface to his poem, he says that Romeo and Juliet’s love was nothing but ‘unhonest desire’ and using ‘superstitious friers’ to help them achieve their ‘wished lust’; he says that death is just reward for Romeo and Juliet because they disobeyed their parent’s wishes. In context, though Romeo and Juliet sneaking around with each other in disobedience to their families could almost be considered admirable in today’s society, the people who would have watched the play first performed, hundreds of years ago would have seen this as a terrible thing to do, even if it was in the name of true love.
The main representation of hate in the play comes in the form of the ancient feud between the Capulets and the Montagues, if either Romeo or Juliet had been of any other house in the whole of Italy, then there would have been little wrong in their families’ eyes, with their love. We are made aware of the ‘ancient grudge’ (Prologue.3.)
The main character that represents the feud in the play is Tybalt; he is present in the earlier scenes of the play and is unwilling to let Romeo’s intrusion into his families ball go unpunished. He thrives in hate and war, he “hate[s] the word peace” and will go to any lengths to have a fight, for example when he accuses Mercutio, ‘thou consort’st with Romeo.’ (3.I.44). Tybalt is in the play to keep the quarrel alive, just as Benvolio is in the play to try and bring peace. After Mercutio and Tybalt are dead, Benvolio disappears. Shakespeare has no qualms about dropping him with no explanation as he sees him simply part of the design, part of the balance and therefore now redundant in his role as peacemaker.
Possibly one of the strongest portrayals of hate in the play is that of Act I Scene I; the scene opens with Samson and Gregory, two men of the house of the Capulets who are in the middle of a conversation. For the first six lines, they fire word play back and forth and even when Samson sees ‘A dog of the house of Montague’ the witty language carries on for a few lines until they start to talk of raping and killing the Montague women because they are the ‘weaker vessels’.
This presents the two men in two ways: firstly, they are normal, generally friendly men who seem to be quite good tempered, we can tell this because of the fact that they are using word plays and comic language forms such as ‘coals’ ‘colliers’ ‘choler’ and ‘collar’. This suggests that the feud is so deep that they do not need to be bad people to hate the other house. In relation to the fact that the play started out in a very male dominated way, there is also lust, which is the object of Samson and Gregory’s conversation later in the scene. Romeo’s lustful love for Rosaline, which turns out to be false, this could be Shakespeare saying that lustful love is wrong and that there should be something more within it than just physical attraction.
In conclusion. ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is a play of contrasts, most importantly, the contrast of love and hate. The many types of love and hate presented in the play help to exemplify that fact also helping to show Shakespeare’s opinions on a range of subjects from honour and family values to lustful ill thought out love and vengeance. The complexity of the messages about love and hate in the play is shown using a variety of mediums such as wordplays, puns, sonnets and couplets. however, there is only one main theme of hate in the play, the feud.
Without the feud, Romeo and Juliet would never have had to have killed themselves. Romeo would never have been banished, because Tybalt wouldn’t be picking fights with Romeo’s friends and friar Lawrence wouldn’t have had to have drugged Juliet so she could pretend she was dead so she could have got out of marrying Paris because she only had to marry Paris because her father thought that it would cheer her up because he thought that she was morning Tybalt. All in all the play is very complex in it’s portrayal of love and hate and Shakespeare may have been giving advice on how complex feelings can be.