GCSE Exam Question & Answer
Read the following extract from Act 2 Scene 2 of ‘Romeo and Juliet’.
Answer both questions below the text.
At this point in the play, Romeo and Juliet are falling in love on the balcony after meeting at the Capulets’ party.
ROMEO: O, wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?
JULIET: What satisfaction canst thou have to-night?
ROMEO: The exchange of thy love’s faithful vow for mine.
JULIET: I gave thee mine before thou didst request it:
And yet I would it were to give again.
ROMEO: Wouldst thou withdraw it? for what purpose, love?
JULIET: But to be frank, and give it thee again.
And yet I wish but for the thing I have:
My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.
a) Discuss how love is presented in this extract.
b) Discuss how love is presented in the play as a whole.
Start with an overview
Love is at the centre of the play and drives much of the action as Shakespeare uses the characters to explore the many different aspects of love. In this extract, the audience watches in delight as the romantic love develops between the two protagonists yet other types of love are also presented in the play: filial love, carnal love and the platonic affection of friendship are all part of the complex emotion that is love.
Make the point that love is presented as a powerful and positive emotion
In the extract, Juliet claims that ‘my bounty is as boundless as the sea/My love as deep’. This nature simile reveals the strength of love through comparing it to the incredibly powerful sea, without boundaries or limits. She extends the simile to present love as generous and selfless, as ‘infinite’. In a play where selfish actions based on family honour and revenge abound, Juliet’s words illustrate the more noble side to human emotions. This famous balcony scene is set in the cool of night; Shakespeare deliberately uses setting to highlight the pure emotions of love, sharply juxtaposing this scene with the vengeful tempers in the ‘hot’ days that lead to violence and tragedy.
Develop this point that love brings joy
The communication between the two lovers presents love as something which brings great joy. Romeo asks why she would ‘withdraw it? for what purpose, love?’ and Juliet replies ‘but to be frank, and give it thee again.’ Communication is easy and warm; the endearment ‘love’ is tender and respectful. Juliet’s answer is humorous yet also shows how she seeks to please Romeo and herself through the joy of commitment. This joy is shown when Romeo first sees Juliet and exclaims ‘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 while 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 the point that love is seen as pure
Juliet asks ‘what satisfaction canst thou have to-night?’ She is referring to the physical satisfaction that she thinks Romeo has asked for- and denying it. Sex outside marriage would be outside the boundaries of acceptable behaviour in the Elizabethan era and Shakespeare again is showing their love to be true and pure. 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 and so love is presented as a pure and elevating emotion which improves Romeo.
‘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.
Move to the point that love is seen in much coarser ways
Later, safely married, Juliet is allowed to show her sexual side in her soliloquy: ‘spread thy close curtain, love-performing night’, the imperative verb capturing her impatience to enjoy her wedding night. The Nurse is also used to show the more physical side to love with her bawdy language, for example, in the pun ‘you shall bear the burden soon at night’. Shakespeare’s original audience would have enjoyed the play on words and the bawdy humour. In the theatre, the audience would have been fidgeting and chatting so humour would have been a device to hold their attention.
Make the point that love is constantly under threat
Love and violence are seen as two sides of the same coin. Even the lovers’ wedding day is underscored with references to death as Friar Lawrence’s words warn of the explosive nature of love, cautioning that ‘these violent delights have violent ends’. 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 violence/hatred are in direct opposition throughout the play and are only reconciled at the end. Although the play ends with the 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 that the deaths will ‘bury their parents’ strife’ is now evident. Shakespeare uses the classic five act structure of a Greek tragedy to end with the 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. Yet an audience might question whether love has really triumphed. 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.
Essential Exam Tips
- When writing about themes, make sure you explain how the ideas affect the characters and also apply to the audience.
- Exam boards use different wording for the Shakespeare question. Check with your teacher or the exam board’s website to see if you have to answer part a) and part b) separately OR whether you can weave the questions on the extract and the whole play together into one answer.