Exploration of a Theme
Love is at the centre of the play and drives much of the action. Shakespeare uses the characters to explore the many different aspects of love.
‘O she doth teach the torches to burn bright!’
Love is seen as an overwhelming and positive emotion.
The metaphor is a spontaneous outburst of passion which is full of emotion; the plosive ‘b’ sounds capture Romeo’s passion and enthusiasm.
The metaphor also associates Juliet with light, a positive image showing her to be dazzling. Light is a symbol of hope which conveys to us that love is a force for good in the violence of Verona.
‘make blessed my rude hand’
Romeo sees himself as profane (not religious) but improves himself and blesses himself when he touches Juliet’s hand upon first meeting her. This reflects the conflict between the profane and the sacred in the play.
Juliet is constantly seen as pure and sacred with religious imagery such as ‘bright angel’ used to describe her. Romeo is seen as more down-to-earth. This is reflected in the staging of the balcony scene when Juliet is above Romeo.
The conflict between the profane and the secular is reconciled when Romeo and Juliet are married and so have the blessing of the Church. Love is presented as a pure and elevating emotion which improves Romeo.
Context: The religious imagery validates the pure nature of Romeo and Juliet’s love so that when the couple commit suicide, seen as a serious sin by the Church, the contemporary, Christian audience still feels sympathy.
‘You shall bear the burden soon at night’
Nurse uses puns, making crude sexual reference to Juliet’s wedding night.
Shakespeare uses the Nurse as a contrast to the purity of the young lovers’ feelings for each other, revealing the physical side to love.
Context: Shakespeare’s original audience would have enjoyed the play on words and the bawdy humour. In the theatre, the audience would have been standing in front of the stage, fidgeting and chatting, so humour would have been a device to hold their attention.
‘too rash, too unadvised, too sudden’
Juliet is aware of the possible consequences of their love, and the anxiety captured in this tri-colon here reminds Romeo, and the audience, of the many negatives to their love. It is not just foolish, but it is rushed; the tri-colon emphasises that this love is not straightforward and could, and indeed will, be dangerous.
‘Spread thy close curtain, love-performing night’
Love is seen as a force that changes the characters. Juliet is impatient for night-time as she waits for her husband on their wedding night and the imperative verb ‘spread’ portrays Juliet here as passionate and hot-blooded, full of desire for her new husband. We see her development from the beginning of the play when, shy and demure, she waited on her parents’ pleasure. Here, she is seeking her own pleasure and the command verbs capture this control she has taken over her own life.
Juliet’s sexuality and the physical pleasures of love are clearly shown here, safely shown, as she is now married.
Context: Sex outside marriage would be outside the boundaries of acceptable behaviour in the Elizabethan era; as she is now legally married in a holy ceremony, Shakespeare can show Juliet’s sexual side.
‘These violent delights have violent ends’
Love and violence are seen as two sides of the same coin. Even the lovers’ wedding day is underscored with references to death. Friar Lawrence’s words here warn of the explosive nature of love; the repetition of the word ‘violent’ issues a warning to the characters and to us.
One of the themes of the play is that of conflict and clashes and the need to reconcile opposing forces; love and violent hatred are in direct opposition throughout the play and are only reconciled at the end.
Grade 9 Analysis
Look at the theme in a different way.
Does love triumph over violence?
Yes: Although the play ends with their tragic suicides, Romeo and Juliet’s love has ensured peace and harmony in Verona. Capulet promises to pay for a statue of Romeo that will match Montague’s statue of Juliet, saying ‘as rich shall Romeo’s by his lady’s lie/Poor sacrifices of our enmity’. Structurally, the Prologue’s warning or promise that the deaths will ‘bury their parents’ strife’ is now evident. Shakespeare uses the classic five act structure of Greek tragedy in order to end with a resolution; with Capulet’s symbol of friendship, the audience feels a sense of catharsis and closure and this is emphasised with the use of rhyming couplets ‘lie/enmity’. Love has ensured that the violence in Verona is over.
No: Capulet only mentions the statue of Romeo because Montague states how he intends to raise a statue of pure gold for Juliet first; this is a clear attempt to upstage his old foe. Even at the end, in the midst of the death and grief, Capulet seems to be concerned about his status against the Montagues and not his daughter. It makes the audience wonder whether the feud is really settled and buried or whether there will be future conflict; it seems that the love of Romeo and Juliet will be forgotten and nothing will have been learnt.