‘Romeo and Juliet’ is a play about true love, but more than about true lovers. The play was written in and around the 1590s. ‘Romeo and Juliet’ are the eponymous heroes of the play their love is the strongest and the most true. To show this they are set against other characters who have their own, different, attitudes to love, this allows us to see contrasting views on love. The play is a tragic love story where true love triumphs and is then destroyed, but definitely not in vain. Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is not actually original and what Shakespeare did was traditional to borrow in the time it was made.
He relies heavily on Brooke’s narrative poem, but makes significant changes. In Shakespeare’s play things happened in days, in Brooke’s poem things happened in months. So the timescales were different. Brooke also disapproved of the lovers’ actions in the play. At the start of Shakespeare’s play Romeo is seen to be infatuated by Rosaline, he seems totally devoted and in love with her even though he hardly knows her. Friar Laurence calls it ‘doting’ and Montague says Romeo locks himself away and weeps all the time.
Away from the light steals my heavy sun and private in his chamber pens himself, shuts up his windows, and locks fair daylight out. ‘ Courtly love is what Romeo shows towards Rosaline. He uses the artificial language of medieval renaissance love poems. For example he exaggerates her beauty to the extent where it is not needed. ‘From loves week childish bow she lives uncharm’d’ and ‘oh she is rich in beauty; only poor That, when she dies, with beauty dies her store. ‘ Romeo also uses oxymoron’s to describe his love for Rosaline in an over reactive way. In act 1 scene 1 when he is infatuated by her ‘oh brawling love!
Oh loving hate! ‘ He hides away and weeps a lot and will probably never marry Rosaline. The reactions of Mercutio and Benvolio to Romeo’s love for Rosaline indicates we should not take this love too seriously because his friends mock this courtly love and tell Romeo to stop behaving like this. They are trying to say it will never work. Later on in the play after Romeo has met Juliet, Mercutio is not aware that Romeo is no longer in love with Rosaline and mocks courtly love in act 2 scene 4 he makes bawdy jokes, mocks Romeo’s behaviour toward Rosaline, makes fun of Romeo’s name, act 2 scene 4 ‘Without his Roe, like a dried herring.
O flesh, flesh, how art thou fishified! ‘ Mercutio is saying without Roe in his name Romeo has the lovers cry in his name me-O = O-me, also Roe is deer a pun on dear or it can also be the reproductive organs of a male fish. When a herring dies its roe is removed that is why he refers to dried fish. Mercutio also refers to Petrarch a well know writer of poetry in the courtly tradition lines 39 and 40 ‘now is he for the numbers that Petrach flowered in. ‘ he goes on to say how Laura, Petrarch’s love, had a more skilled poet to write love poetry to her.
Romeo’s friends realised the futility of the way Romeo thought about Rosaline so encouraged Romeo to go to the Capulet ball. Romeo’s courtly love allows us to see a different type of affected and insincere love before true and intense love. As soon as Romeo meets Juliet the audience notice a change in him he is tender and simple. When they meet it is a sonnet a fourteen line love poem of which at the climax they kiss and in a soliloquy before that sonnet he says how he has now really seen and found true love, ‘foreswear it sight! For I have never seen true beauty till this night. He says to himself that all he has said about Rosaline is wrong and he wishes to spoil Juliet with these new feelings for her, true love.
The extended metaphor ‘pilgrim saint’ is evidence of mutual love at first sight because Juliet replies to Romeo, in the sonnet, in the same language that he expresses his feelings to her. The beauty of this scene and other scenes where the lovers meet shows Shakespeare wants his audience to respond in support of this true love. Romeo takes immediate action to see Juliet again after their first meeting, in spite of the family feud and personal danger.
Act 2 scene 2 in this scene Juliet is first embarrassed that Romeo has heard her innermost thoughts but later relaxes and she and Romeo exchange promises of love and marriage. Marriage in those days was arranged and Juliet was breaking all rules by even suggesting marriage especially to a Montague. She was also not aware that she would, later on in the play, be expected to marry Pairs. True love then was thought to be of the kind Lord and Lady Capulet had, but when contrasted with Romeo and Juliet’s true love it is nothing, just an arranged marriage between two people. In response to Juliet he begins to organise a wedding.
We witness a new maturity in Romeo evidenced by the fact that he is no longer shutting himself away from life. His friends notice the difference. He is less mature when he loses self-control at news of banishment after Tybalt’s death. He regains some composure on news from Juliet and in realising plans for the wedding were still to go ahead. At dawn next day after a passionate night together, Romeo tells Juliet he is willing to stay with her and die ‘let me be ta’en, let me be put to death; I am content so thou wilt have it so,’ there is a lot of strength in this scene a scene of foreboding.
There’s also irony because the Capulets are planning Juliet’s marriage to Paris secretly whilst she is married to Romeo. When Romeo thinks Juliet is dead he immediately buys poison to kill himself with, this portrays his total and utter devotion to her he feels there is no point in living if there is no chance to be with her, this is fatal because he does not know that she is actually still alive. He takes the poison as a chance to be with her again in death, rather than being without her, he will not have to live through the pain of missing her.
In a soliloquy at the tomb he describes Juliets beauty as intense light ‘for here lies Juliet her beauty makes this vault a feasting presence full of light’ reminding us of his first comments about her. He then takes the poison to lie with her forever. He had been constant to her until death. In the play Juliet is only nearly 14 and still a girl, she has no thought of marriage and at the suggestion she should consider Paris her husband, she says ‘ill look to like, if looking liking moves’ this means that she will look at Paris, if that is what will make her love him.
She will try but cannot guarantee that she will fall in love with him. On meeting Romeo she is awakened to what love really is and breaks her obedience to her parents with her secret marriage to Romeo. Her strong character becomes evident in the balcony scene. She speaks plainly asking direct questions, and shows her honesty she does not deny her overheard confessions Juliet first mentions marriage to Romeo in the balcony scene act 2 scene 5. She waits impatiently for the nurse to return with news on the marriage that is going ahead despite all obstacles.
Act 2 scene 5, she waits for Romeo on their wedding night. The fact that she will marry Romeo but later refuses to marry Paris, confirms her true love for Romeo. She recognises her only obligation is to Romeo as her husband. Later on in the play she becomes independent and strong minded, enforced by the fact that she becomes isolated from everyone she knows and loves; Romeo is in Mantua, her parents have threatened to disown her because she wont marry Paris, she has disappointed them.
The Nurse suggests bigamy would probably be easiest since Romeo is gone and she probably will not get to see him ever again. In the end she turns to Friar Laurence, threatening to kill herself if he has no ‘remedy’ her depth of love is shown in the risk she is prepared to take. When the Friar offers her the potion, she is determined to take it. In her soliloquy act 4 scene 2, she goes through all the bad things that could happen by taking the potion, and how if she wakes up when Romeo is not there she will be in a scary tomb with all her dead ancestors.
She is scared but wants to take the potion anyway because if the plan works there is a chance she can be with Romeo again and that is all she wants. From here when she takes the potion, in her fake death, to her real death she is basically alone. With nobody to talk to about how she feels except the friar but he is not family. In that time she has no one to help her make decisions she does it all by herself. In the tomb at the end of the play she has the chance to be literally brought back to life and back into the world.
She chooses though, to kill herself rather than live life being separated from Romeo her true love. Lord Capulet loves Juliet and wants the best for her, his only surviving child. He follows the conventions of arranged marriage, which is how he is married to Lady Capulet, but he wants Paris to wait for two years, and for Juliet to meet Paris and give her consent before marriage. His views on love are romantic and he wants Juliet to be happy but unfortunately his decision over her marriage to Paris are to be taken further later on in the play, Capulet does this only with the best interests of his daughter at heart.
With Elizabethan audiences they would have agreed with this and how Capulet is cruel to Juliet in act 3 scene 5, he does this because he is disappointed and wants to know why Juliet will not marry Paris, he thinks it is because of Tybalt’s death, he is disappointed in her because he wanted her to get over this and have a happy future. These are the reasons why he agreed for the marriage to go ahead so early without consulting Juliet. He just wanted her to be happy again. He had no idea that she was already married. The fact that he did love her is shown in his response to her fake and actual death.
Lady Capulet is a cruel person. There are lots of examples of this. She is much younger that Lord Capulet and reminds him of his age by saying he is past the age of dancing. She shows little romance for Capulet, so therefore, we can assume her marriage was also arranged; this helps explain why she is so unsympathetic to Juliet when she doesn’t want to marry Paris. She thinks that she had to get married at the same young age so why shouldn’t Juliet. The attitude of both parents, and even more of Lady Capulet, is because neither can understand why Juliet refuses to marry such a well-off and handsome Paris.
Mercutio is kinsman to his Prince. He loves Romeo as a friend to the extent that his feelings run deep enough for him to take up Tybalts challenge to Romeo on his behalf. Mercutio gets impatient with Romeo’s courtly posturing, he is down to earth with his advice and in act 1 scene 4 he says ‘if love be rough with you, be rough with love’ he sees no sense in the misery that Romeo puts himself through. Mercutio makes fun of Romeos pretensions he is not unfeeling and unkind though, he is Romeos friend, he just simply does not understand. ‘He jests at scars, that never set to wound’ act 2 scene 1.
Mercutio’s bordy jokes, puns and innuendoes add outbursts of humour to the play and you have to be ready to think about and tackle the wordplay. He sometimes suggests that Romeos gestures are a fraud to cover his sexual passion act 2 scene 1 ‘if love be blind it cannot hit the mark . . . ‘ Mercutio dies in the play, during his duel with Tybalt. Like Mercutio the nurse adds humour to the play. She also adds humour to the suggestion that Juliet marry Paris she says if they find love together it should be like her own saying they will soon have the fun her and her husband did, when they are sexually active, she contrasts her love to theirs.
She has an obviously genuine love for Juliet, and as a foster mother who has cared for the child since the day it was born, she remembers incidents of Juliet’s earlier life. The recollections also reveal her attitude to love. She is not a romantic person and during the rude talk about her and her dead husband in act 1 scene 3 she repeats his joke about how Juliet will lie differently when she is sexually active. ‘Yea’, quoth my husband, ‘fall’st upon thy face?
Thou will fall backward when thou com’st to age’ she frequently makes sexual innuendos. She enjoys the anticipation of Juliet’s sexual pleasure. On Juliet’s wedding night with Romeo in act 2 scene 5 the Nurse reminds Juliet that if it wasn’t for her none of this would be happening, but she keeps her news away from Juliet making her plead for it. ‘I am the drudge and toil in your delight’ Clearly the nurse sees sex as the most important part of a relationship between a man and a woman, above loyalty and any other thing.
She allows help to bring about Juliet’s marriage to Romeo because she wants Juliet to be happy but in the end she is also quite happy to advise Juliet to marry Paris, as it would be easier. She does not understand the full extent and depth of Juliet’s love for Romeo. She did not set out to hurt the ‘Daughter’ in suggesting this because she very dearly loves Juliet. She just wanted the best for her, for her to understand life and to be happy. The play was about the comparisons in attitudes to love. No one but Romeo and Juliet had any understanding of the power and beauty of love.
True love given status in the play. Evidence of this and that true love was actually found is the change of Romeo and Juliet after they meet in the play and the poetic beauty of the language they use in their love scenes. There is so much power in the play and after all true love triumphs over all other love. It was obviously tragic that Romeo and Juliet had to die but they did not die in vain and as I have said before, their love had the power to achieve what no one else could, including the church and state, the healing of the feud between the two family’s is ended by this extremely powerful love.
The whole play is ended on a good note because the feud had stopped and people realised the true extent of the damage it had done. I suppose you could say things work out, they did for the people who survived but for Romeo Juliet and the other people who died it didn’t, but that is how people realised that the fighting had to stop so there would be no more tragic deaths like Romeo and Juliet’s. It ends with reconciliation not death, thanks to Romeo and Juliet’s true love for each other.