Sadly, Romeo and Juliet hail from the two feuding families, the Montagues and the Capulets respectively, which determines their intense, short love affair. Shakespeare presents many attempts in the play to bridge the hatred between the families, but only the deaths of the lovers has the potential to make a lasting difference. Ultimately, the families’ hatred for each other arises from a strong desire to uphold their family’s pride and honour and neither party seems capable of overcoming the “ancient grudge” and the simmering grievances and tension.
Despite the enmity of the Montague’s and Capulet’s, the attraction between Romeo and Juliet is instinctive and strong. Upon their first meeting, the “star-cross’d lovers” appear spontaneously attracted to each other and unaware of each one’s enemy status. Romeo emphasises how Juliet’s beauty stands out from the crowd. She is a “snowy dove trooping with crows.” He is immediately respectful towards her even though she is a Capulet, and his love is more heartfelt than his pretentious show of affection towards Rosaline. Juliet is also much more angelic and radiates purity and softness. Romeo expresses his rapture: “O she doth teach the torches to burn bright! It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night as a rich jewel in an Ethiop’s ear.” The fact that they come from hostile families makes their love more intense, urgent and desperate.
During the balcony scene Romeo and Juliet express their deep love and devotion to for each other. They deeply regret the fact that they are foes and resent the social restrictions placed upon their love because of their different “names”. Juliet exclaims in despair, “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo”. Juliet refers to the ambiguity of love and the fact that love and hate are intertwined: “my only love sprung from my only hate”. She is deeply saddened by the fact that Romeo is a Montague. However both agree that their love for each over outweighs their families’ hatred.
Shakespeare suggests that the love has the potential to bridge the feelings of animosity and hatred that swirl between the two families and for this reason Friar Lawrence agrees to wed Romeo and Juliet. He believes that it is unreasonable for the two lovers to be separated by their feuding families. He also believes that the marriage between the two families potentially could solve the aimless fighting that haunts the streets of Verona.
The brawls between the families as each seek to defend their family honour, the death of Tybalt and Mercutio and the proposed marriage to Paris are all events that seek to inject a sense of urgency into their relationship.
Despite the hatred, Romeo and Juliet are intuitively and romantically drawn to each other and reflect their desire to rise above petty grievances. Shakespeare suggests that love is far superior to hatred and does not respect borders and barriers. Juliet’s comments reveal her desire to “doff thy name”. Examine carefully Romeo’s and Juliet’s romantic first encounter, where the young lovers speak, touch, then kiss in the course of sharing a sonnet. “While Romeo addresses his beloved in the well-worn language of the Petrarchan lover, the division of the sonnet between the young man and the usually silent object of his love offers a new twist.” (James Shapiro, A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599, Harper, London, 2005, 193). In this case the lovers each speak in quatrains; the passionate pilgrim, Romeo, speaks first, and unlike other 16th century traditional sonnets wherein the female voice is silent, Shakespeare gives Juliet the right of reply, showing a greater sense of power of the feminine.
Shakespeare compares their love with other versions of love in the play to show their superiority and maturity and the capacity for reconciliation: compare their love with Romeo’s love for Rosaline which appears pretentious, affectatious and distant, the Nurse’s version of sexual love and the parents’ version of loved based on duty and obligation.
The contrasting darker forces of hatred inject a sense of urgency into the relationship and lead to risk-taking sacrifices as an expression of their love. Tybalt and Mercutio represent the dark forces of each family that threaten the peace and undermine the profound love of Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare suggests that these malign forces are disruptive and divisive and only lead to death. As a fiery Capulet, Tybalt plays a prominent role in perpetuating the feud through his provocative and misguided attempts to protect their family pride. In this regard, the playwright deliberately sets up a contrast between Tybalt’s indignant and fiery stance, and Romeo’s desire for peace to reinforce his point that the hatred only leads to death and division.
This is particularly evident during his fatal encounter with his mirror image, Mercutio. Mercutio cynically suggests that Tybalt (“Good King of Cats”) is a coward and urges him to draw his sword, “Tybalt, you rat-catcher, will you walk” (3.1) Indignant after Prince Capulet’s defence of Romeo during the masked ball, Tybalt has been spoiling for this opportunity. The audience is aware that he hates “peace” as he hates “hell, all Montagues, and thee.” Tybalt deliberately seeks to wound Romeo’s pride as Mercutio wounded his. His claim to Romeo that, “thou art a villain”, could be referring to a man of inferior birth, such as a peasant, which is deliberately offensive and seems to offer Romeo no option but to respond.
The ensuring fight and subsequent deaths undermine Romeo’s conciliatory actions and accordingly, Shakespeare suggests that the belligerent (bellicose) actions of both become the catalyst for Romeo’s exile and the hasty marriage. As a result, Tybalt can be blamed for the chain of events that lead to tragedy, resulting in the lovers’ date with destiny.
Shakespeare presents Romeo’s and Juliet’s spontaneous love for each other as a solution to the constant hatred that swirls between the family. Although forbidden, their love is also inspirational and exalted, particularly because of the maturity of both the young stars as evident in their deft language choices and sensible tone. Ominously, Romeo attends the ball with a feeling of trepidation which Shakespeare suggests is integral to the manner in which their destiny is determined by the feud” “I fear too early, for my mind misgives Some consequence, yet hanging in the stars” . That Shakespeare gives Juliet equal right of reply in their first sonnets sets the scene for a relationship forged on mutual attraction and a love that is reciprocal and equal. (“As mine on hers, so hers is set on mine” 11.iii.59). Shakespeare challenges the subordinate role of the female in conventional sonnets of the time to depict Juliet as an equal partner who is not typically silent. Her reply, “Then have my lips the sin that they have took” playfully mocks the standard habit of a textbook courtship (see Rosaline). Shakespeare uses religious imagery to depict the exalted nature of their love and to set up a comparison with other types of love in the play. The oxymoronic contrasts that pervade the death-love nature of their relationship inject a sense of urgency and poignancy into their relationship.
Juliet’s love appears heartfelt and wise as she urges Romeo to express his feelings as faithfully and candidly as possible. Set against a context of lewd and physical love, Romeo and Juliet’s love appears to be profound and sublime, hence the religious imagery in their interchange. Juliet is distrustful of fancy phrases and implores Romeo to speak as plainly as possible. (“If thou doth love/pronounce it faithfully”) She also asks Romeo to be himself and believes that the name is just a meaningless label that does not convey one’s true feelings. (“tis but thy name that is my enemy” ). She later states that words cannot convey the depth of her feelings, “but my true love is grown to such excess I cannot sum up sum of half my wealth”. She echoes Friar Lawrence’s advice to Romeo. He advises him to be clear and plain because fancy words have a tendency to camouflage or hide one’s true feelings. He begs Romeo, “be plain good son and homely in thy drift”.
Later during the ‘balcony scene’, Romeo is relieved of the burden to self-censor and struggles with the controls and commitments of the family name. “My name, dear saint, is hateful to myself”. He struggles to assert a self that is not confined to the boundaries of the feud (and indeed to the language of that feud). “As if that name, Shot from the deadly level of a gun, Did murther her, as that name’s cursed hand, Murder’d her kinsman”. (III. iii.102)
Contrastingly, Rosaline and Romeo have a tendency to be pretentious and affected. As Kiernan Ryan notes, Romeo is “trapped inside the hackneyed role and ossified verse of the Petrarchan lover. His rhyming speech is paralysed by the dead weight of clichéd paradoxes and inert metaphors, exiled from actual experience and emotions” (Ryan, Shakespeare, 2nd ed: Prentice Hall, 1995). “She is too fair, too wise, wisely too fair, To merit bliss by making me despair. She hath forsworn to love, and in that vow Do I live dead that live to tell it now”). Such language traps both lover and loved in a “degrading charade of domination and subjection”. Romeo seems to search for a self elsewhere, “I have lost myself, I am not here.”
Mercutio’s tendency to reduce love to male sexual aggression does nothing to reassure Romeo, “if love be rough with you, be rough with love/Price love for pricking, and you beat love down”.
In her turn, Juliet seeks to resist the male desire inherent in the patriarchal power-structure to turn her into a compliant female without choice or desire. Lady Capulet seeks to bind Juliet to the “golden story” of her husband’s destiny. As Ryan points out, Paris, the husband, “is assumed to be the author and the subject of the ‘precious book of love’, whose ‘content’ the wife is expected to digest and simply embellish with a glamorous ‘cover'” (Ryan, 79). Both lovers are expected to conform to the sexual conventions of their society which forbids them the liberty of speaking their own lines. Juliet meets the masked Romeo at the Capulet ball and both are unaware of their group identities before they fall in love. Nameless, they are not hemmed in by social convention. Soon Tybalt, hearing Romeo’s voice, reminds Capulet of the mindless feud.
Like Romeo, Juliet struggles to avoid the language that seeks to confine them both to an established sexual order. Rather, Juliet asks Romeo to avoid slipping into the role of devoted worshipper at her shrine. She bids him, “do not swear at all”, rather than swear to a formula that constrains them both. (“Fain would I dwell on form, fain, fain deny”).
The accidents that contribute to the double suicides spring from, according to Ryan, “institutional pressures that split and isolate the lovers, leaving them prey to such chance adversities” (Ryan, 84.)
Eventually, though love brings about a rapprochement between the families. Capulet and Montague agree to bury their feud in light of the tragedy that has befallen their families and the incredible sacrifice of the lovers. Shakespeare’s message at the end of the play is that love and tolerance can overcome hatred and prejudiced.
Who is to blame?
“Romeo and Juliet” is a young couple’s play about love and hate, adolescent angst and death. The continual feud between the Montague and the Capulet families results in ongoing conflict. There are many factors that are responsible for the deaths of Romeo and Juliet. Friar Lawrence, fate and their parents can be held responsible for their tragic demise. But the lovers and Friar Lawrence, unwittingly, make decisions that undermine their best intentions. They seem to choose against themselves. Miscalculation and accidents also play a part, whilst the lovers, to their misfortune, fall in love before they become aware of the social restrictions surrounding their “names”.
The feuding families
To a large extent, the feud is responsible for the tragic deaths. There is a lot of ill-feeling and hatred between the two clans and the feuding families creates a malignant context for the lovers, who are expected to marry within the social boundaries of the family. The play is about ‘The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love, And the continuance of their parents’ rage, which but their children’s end nought could remove.’
Significantly, both Romeo and Juliet fall in love before they become aware that they both hail from the enemy clan. Romeo’s mask at the Capulet ball is a symbol of the anonymity of love that knows no boundaries. Belatedly, when she discovers Romeo’s identity, Juliet realises that their relationship is cursed. Juliet and Romeo are both determined to find a way to be together and get married despite their enemy status. Juliet regrets that Romeo is a Montague, but she asks, “What’s in a name”. She tells Romeo, “doff thy name … and take all myself.”
Lord and Lady Capulet force Juliet to marry Paris without asking her opinion because they assume that she will obey them. They misunderstand the extent and purpose of her grief following Tybalt’s death.
Reflecting the patriarchal views about women, Capulet implies that Juliet is his property: ‘an you be mine, I give you to my friend’ (Paris). Upon her defiance, her father is enraged as he expects her to ‘give her thanks’ and be ‘proud’.
When she does not obey their orders, Lord Capulet angrily retorts: “Hang you, you minx! You disobedient wretch! I’ll tell you now: Go to the church on Thursday, or never look on my face again!” Arrogant and harsh, he shows little concern for Juliet’s feelings and accuses her of being ungrateful. This hardens Juliet’s resolve; she consults Friar Lawrence’s wise counsel.
Throughout the play, Shakespeare critiques prevailing social attitudes relating to women such as their status as chattels, and their subordinate social role. The typical derogatory and dehumanising view of women as property and sexual objects is exposed in the conversations between Sampson and Gregory, Romeo and his friends, and the Nurse and Capulet with Juliet. In Act I Scene I, Sampson and Gregory’s use of bawdy and crude humour, such as the description of their “maidenheads” and the decision to “thrust women to the wall” reflects the dehumanising attitude that women are merely sexual objects and their purpose is to provide sexual gratification. The Nurse’s support for Juliet’s marriage to Paris and her various crude comments about the literal and physical nature of sex and love also reflect her belief that it is easier and more convenient for women to accept this role. Romeo’s description of Juliet’s beauty that is “cut off of all prosperity” as “sparing makes a huge waste” is an example of the objectification of women which associates their beauty with sexual favours. Initially Romeo’s views of both Juliet and Rosaline echo this view of women as property, who exist primarily because of their appealing physical attributes. Furthermore, the marriage of Juliet and Paris is a typical example of the territorial view of women as its purpose is to extend and cement the family’s honour. Juliet, for instance, is forced to marry Paris in order to boost the Capulet’s family name in Verona. Her lack of choice, especially after she confesses her love for Romeo, also reflects the disregard of a woman’s personal view and highlights the subordination of woman during this time. (The passionate language of Romeo and Juliet had widespread appeal among the populace. John Marston mocked “young men about town from whose “lips … doth flow/Naught but pure Juliet and Romeo”. (Shapiro: 193.))
Mercutio and Tybalt
The continued brawling between clan members such as Tybalt and Mercutio directly leads to Romeo’s exile. Both Mercutio (Montagues) and Tybalt (Capulet) are troublemakers who reflect the patriarchal/masculine mindset that their reputation and honour must be protected at all cost. At this time, duelling was a traditional method of proving oneself and defending one’s honour and dignity. When Romeo declines Tybalt’s challenge, Mercutio is infuriated at his ‘dishonourable and calm submission’ and draws his own sword instead. (Later, when Romeo breaks down because he is exiled, the nurse scolds him and tells him to ‘be a man’.
Shakespeare constructs the two figures, Mercutio and Tybalt, as mirror images of their different families. Both incite hatred and inflame the tension between the two clans. Both bear a grudge against each other. They both use words and phrases to deliberately offend each other.
Mercutio is just as provocative as Tybalt. When they meet in Act III, Mercutio states that “I care not” that Tybalt is coming and that they must prevent a fight. His language and his words are very inflammatory. In response to Tybalt he states “a word and a blow”. He deliberately misunderstands/ misinterprets Tybalt’s words, “consortst” as an insult. Tybalt deliberately uses the word “consort’st” because of its double meaning. As a result, Mercutio interprets this offensively. He is the one who draws his “fiddlestick” or sword first and prompts a fight. He refuses to listen to reason from either Benvolio or Romeo. He also refers to Romeo’s words of peace as “vile submission”.
Likewise, Mercutio hates Tybalt and provokes him to a fight when he asks if Tybalt, the “Good King of Cats”, is a coward: “Tybalt, you rat-catcher, will you walk” (3.1)
- Provocatively, Tybalt greets Romeo with the phrase “here comes my man”.
- Tybalt bears a grudge against Romeo from the time he comes to the ball. He is stubborn and hot-tempered, admitting that he hates “peace” as he hates “hell, all Montagues, and thee.” He says to Romeo, “thou art a villain”, which refers to the fact that he is intended as an insult and refers to a man of inferior birth, as a peasant. He tells Romeo, “turn and draw”.
- He also feels slighted that Lord Capulet seems to have protected Romeo at the ball. Capulet believes that Romeo is a “virtuous” and “well-govern’d youth” with a good reputation. This seems to fuel Tybalt’s sense of inferiority, and, feeling aggrieved, he is constantly looking for an outlet to vent his anger on Romeo.
- He derails Romeo’s attempts to mediate between the clans. He refers to Romeo as his “man” which is a pun on servant; it is demeaning. He states that he cannot excuse the “injuries that thou hast done me”. Likewise, he calls Romeo a ‘villain’, suggesting that he is a peasant (which would be considered a very serious and provocative insult). Romeo responds only by saying ‘villain am I none’ (3.1.61) and turns down the challenge.
- Tybalt refuses to take Romeo seriously, when he states that he “loves thee better than thou canst devise”. He goes against the Prince’s orders and is so hot-tempered that he takes advantage of Romeo’s attempts to restrain Mercutio. He recklessly and impulsively stabs Mercutio thus precipating a chain of events that leads to the death of both Romeo and Juliet.
Both Tybalt and Mercutio play a major role in Romeo’s downfall. They refuse to settle for peace. They deliberately use inflammatory words and spoil for a fight.
Romeo has a tendency to be impulsive and this contributes to his exile. Even Friar Lawrence tries to warn him about the unforeseen consequences of impulsive actions. Friar Lawrence is shocked that Romeo has so quickly changed his affection from Rosaline, which is pretentious, to Juliet which appears heartfelt and genuine. However, Romeo does display his love for Juliet when he tries to restrain Tybalt and states that contrary to expectation he “love(s) thee better than thou canst devise”, thus showing the power of love to solve differences.
During this bellicose encounter, Shakespeare endorses Romeo’s refusal to fight, which undermines the “masculine” idea of a hero, and presents Romeo as “womanish”. We recall that Friar Lawrence also told Romeo that his tears are ‘womanish’ (3.3.110) and that he is an ‘unseemly woman in a seeming man’ (3.3.112).
In his own way, Romeo unwittingly contributes to his demise because of his inability to constrain the two warring foes during the fatal encounter that precipitates his exile. Tybalt and Mercutio are both spoiling for a fight and ironically, the more Romeo seeks to reconcile the two enemies, the more he provokes the duel. In this regard, Romeo becomes a victim of their confidential love affair and his confession to Tybalt that he “love(s) thee better than thou canst devise” enrages Mercutio. Shakespeare uses dramatic irony to show the differences between Mercutio and Tybalt who seek to provoke each other, and Romeo, who prioritises peace and reconciliation. Romeo’s tragedy seems to arise because he struggles with his sensitive persona that conflicts with the furious undertones of gang warfare. He struggles to articulate the consequences of his profound love that have an impact upon his conduct. He professes to Tybalt, “villain am I none”, “I see thou know’st me not”. However, his offer of peace is misinterpreted by Tybalt as a reason to fight. He intercepts the fight and pleadingly, reminds them of the Prince’s decrees. To no avail. The stage directions announce that Tybalt “under Romeo’s arm stabs Mercutio, then flies with his followers.”
After Tybalt kills Mercutio, Romeo decides that he must defend his honour and no longer shows control and restraint. He imagines that his love has weakened him. He worries that Juliet’s “beauty hath made me effeminate” and is determined to change this. He says let “fire-eyed fury be my conduct now” and resorts to the patriarchal, feudal sense of loyalty and honour. Only when it is too late, he realizes how foolish he has been. Dubbed, “fortune’s fool”, he realises that the feud has claimed him as another victim. Sadly, Romeo also panics when he sees Juliet in the casket.
The Ill-hatched plan
The tragedy is a catalogue of errors originating in Friar Lawrence’s ill-hatched plan, which was the brainchild of a well-intentioned and prudent mentor.
- The plan was too sophisticated and risk-laden (despite its worthy aims) and ends up with disastrous consequences
- The Friar encourages Juliet to deceive her parents; she fakes death which is a very upsetting experience for her parents.
- Friar Lawrence does not have any back-up plans; Friar John was waylaid by authorities and Friar Lawrence fails to inform Balthasar who hurries to tell Romeo about Juliet’s death.
- Romeo ends up distraught and unable to think clearly: Romeo is too young and impulsive to evaluate the situation when it backfired
- Friar Lawrence’s scheme is not well planned and is perhaps too sophisticated for the young lovers. Juliet blindly places her faith in Friar Lawrence and when the plan backfires both Romeo and Juliet are too young, naive and innocent to think of other remedies.
Although love and peace are his main aims, Friar Lawrence instigates the dangerous plan that has disastrous consequences. He states that “this this alliance may so happy prove to turn your households’ rancour to pure love”. Friar organises the risk-laden scheme which seeks to avoid Juliet’s hasty marriage to Paris. (Also he knows that Juliet is threatening to kill herself if he does not find a solution.)
The plan appears simple, but is risk-laden. It encourages Juliet to deceive her parents. She feigns death which leads to disaster upon the lack of communication with Romeo. Friar Lawrence’s scheme is not well planned and is perhaps too sophisticated for the young lovers. Juliet blindly places her faith in the Friar and when the plan backfires both Romeo and Juliet are too young, naive and innocent to think of other remedies.
He does not have any back-up plans. Friar John is held up by the authorities. He is unable to give Romeo the letter about Friar Lawrence’s scheme because he and another monk were delayed by the authorities and quarantined. (“Where the infectious pestilence did reign, Seal’d up the doors, and would not let us forth”.)
Friar Lawrence fails to inform Romeo’s servant, Balthasar, who hurries to Romeo with the news that Juliet is dead. He begs Romeo to show patience, which may have led to a different outcome. Pale and wildly impetuous, Romeo decides to go straight to her tomb.
When he learns about her “death” Romeo rushes to buy poison. In front of Juliet’s body he remains with their memories. He remembers the memory of her kiss: “Death, that hath suck’d the honey of thy breath.” After his death by “true apothecary”, Juliet wakes up and kills herself with a “dagger”
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Is the rivalry between the Montagues and the Capulets the main reason for the deaths?
The simmering brawl between warring clan members such as Tybalt and Mercutio directly precipitates the chain of tragic events that leads to Romeo’s exile and the lovers’ death. Shakespeare constructs the two figures as mirror images of their different families which bear an ancient grudge that is difficult, or impossible, to resolve.
Both Mercutio (Montagues) and Tybalt (Capulet) are clearly troublemakers; both are antagonistic towards the Prince’s decree that … “if you ever disturb our streets again, your lives shall pay the price of it”. Initially at the masked ball, Tybalt is warned by Capulet to bury his resentment, but instead he is left smouldering from what he feels as an offensive intrusion by a Montague. During the later street encounter, Mercutio is just as provocative as Tybalt. When they meet in Act III, Mercutio states that “I care not” that Tybalt is coming and that they must prevent a fight.
Shakespeare constructs the scene in such a way to show how their continued enmity obstructs reconciliation and peace. He employs puns that are used by both Tybalt and Mercutio to inflame the situation. For example, Mercutio misinterprets Tybalt’s words, “consortst”, used because of its double meaning, as an insult. Mercutio is the one who draws his “fiddlestick” or sword first and prompts a fight. He refuses to listen to reason from either Benvolio or Romeo. He also refers to Romeo’s words of peace as “vile submission”. Likewise, Mercutio hates Tybalt and provokes him to a fight when he asks if Tybalt, the “Good King of Cats”, is a coward, “Tybalt, you rat-catcher, will you walk” (3.1) Eventually Mercutio’s death and then Tybalt’s lead to Romeo’s exile and the ill-hatched plan of Friar Lawrence.
If Mercutio and Tybalt act as catalysts, Shakespeare also depicts Lord Capulet as a contributing partner to the tragedy owing to the misuse of his power and authority. His misguided arrogance and despotic nature seal her fate owing to the hasty order to marry Paris, in complete disregard of her wellbeing. Whilst there are some redeeming features to Capulet such as his conciliatory attitude displayed towards Romeo at the masked ball, Shakespeare does place considerable emphasis on his unreasonable order to hastily marry Paris. He clearly misunderstands Juliet’s wishes and the purpose of her grief following Tybalt’s death. Shakespeare depicts Tybalt as clearly sharp despotic ordering her to marry. “Hang you minx… “.. Shakespeare continues to show how the misuse of his authority and power, which could have been used to solve the feud, instead contributes to the tragic chain of events.
Whilst most members of the feuding families have a direct influence on the outcome, Friar Lawrence’’s ill-hatched plan has an indirect influence on the hasty deaths of the lovers as Romeo is bound for exile. However, in the scheme of the play, Shakespeare would suggest that his role, whilst unfortunate, is less blameworthy because of his motives to secure peace. Also, he acted in the best interests of the lovers aware of the depth of their feeling. However, the plan was nevertheless too sophisticated and risk-laden to withstand the degree of bad luck and unfortunate circumstances. The passionate lovers take drastic and impetuous measures.
Love and hatred in Romeo and Juliet
The Balcony Scene
Romeo visits the Capulet mansion at night. While hiding in the garden, he sees Juliet on a balcony and overhears her declare that she loves him. Romeo makes his presence known and the two discuss their love. Juliet agrees to marry Romeo if his intentions are honourable. Romeo assures her that is in honourable.
Romeo visits the Capulet mansion at night.
How does he express his love for Juliet?
- Romeo makes idealistic and flowery comparisons between Juliet and nature. He speaks in beautiful words and poetry to express his love.
Similes and metaphors reveal the idealistic nature of Romeo’s love
- Dramatic irony is evident because she is positioned on the balcony above but he is not at first aware of her.
This enables Romeo to profess his love in an uninhibited way, so that he appears more spontaneous, genuine and natural. This is one of the themes – the spontaneity of their love that transgresses boundaries.
- Romeo looks up to Juliet the same way he looks up to heaven. He compares Juliet with the sun.
“Rise up, beautiful sun and make the jealous moon invisible.” He wonders at her beauty. She is like the “mighty, holy and dazzling sun.”
He compares her to stars and daylight – the original is so much more powerful than the copy as a lamp.
He claims that her beauty is brighter than the twinkling stars.
- There are also sexual innuendos, as the maids can be compared to Diana’s maid servants and the uniforms as that covering their virginity. Their green pale sickliness is a sign of their virginity, innocence and naivety. He wishes that he were a glove on her hand that could touch her cheek. (figurative language and hyperbole dominates his profession of love).
While hiding in the garden, he sees Juliet on a balcony and overhears her declare that she loves him.
How do we know that she is ignorant of Romeo’s presence?
What does Juliet regret about Romeo?
- We discover that the love struck Juliet is in love with Romeo. (Juliet is shocked and embarrassed that Romeo has been eavesdropping.)
Juliet talks about her love but is ignorant of Romeo’s presence. This is evident because she talks freely and openly about her love.
- She considers the practical problems evident in the choice of a name. Explain the analogy with the rose and how it reflects her attitude to the name. For example, she regrets that he is a Montague. This name is an enemy to her family. She asks, “What’s in a name”. In their case, it determines social relationships and can be prohibitive.
- She claims that a name does not sum up a man’s character. She mourns that their names make them enemies.
- She shows remarkable maturity for a young girl; if the other characters also displayed such maturity and foresight then the violence and prejudice between the families would subside. Shakespeare suggests that discrimination and prejudice could be settled if people accepted others in a genuine and heartfelt way and looked beyond appearances and labels. (Also consider the fact that Shakespeare affords her the right of reply in sonnets, which is unusual in other typical 16th century sonnets.)
Their conversation shows their different personalities.
1) Juliet asks short and practical questions.
2) Romeo gives idealistic and flowery, descriptive replies.
- Juliet expresses her love in short and practical responses. She is worried that Romeo may have placed himself in danger. “If they see you they’ll murder you”. The danger also adds to the romance. Romeo says that he would go through any danger to reach her. He exaggerates. He flatters her with his descriptions of danger and hardship. He already has climbed the stony walls. He would also risk a voyage to “the most distant land on the most distant sea” to find her.
- She shows a lot of common sense. She wants to avoid and say “goodbye to proprieties” (good and proper behaviour, to play by the rules) She wants Romeo to be direct and honest. “Oh gentle Romeo, if you love me, honestly admit it.” She explains that her feelings are truthful and honest (sincere). “I’ll be truer than those who act more clever and pretend coolness.” She offers to be more shy and timid if he prefers her to be. She also loves him too much to play silly games. “If you think I am too quickly won by you, I’ll frown and be grouchy and say ‘no’”
- She asks him if he loves her and he swears “By the moon” that he does: Juliet says “but the moon is too changeable.”
- Juliet wishes that their love is not so sudden but she wants to do the right and honourable thing. She regrets that their love is too much “like the lightening”. But she is sure that it will ripen into a beautiful flower. She wants their love to remain constant.
She says she is honest and faithful and sincere. “ I will”.
- Romeo wants Juliet to declare her love and she does it more passionately. She says her love is as “broad as the sea and just as deep”. She tells Romeo that if his love is honourable and he wants to marry her he should say when they are going to marry. He promises her that he will arrange the wedding by 9am morning. They wish to consummate their love.
- The Nurse is bawdy, vulgar and garrulous; she has only four teeth left; she sounds like an old witch and can be insensitive and immoral; her husband and daughter, Susan, are dead
- The Nurse remembers them both with simple piety. (She has simplistic faith in god.)
- She was hired by Juliet’s family 14 years ago as a wet nurse for Juliet, perhaps so that Juliet’s mother did not have to breast feed.
- She remembers weaning Juliet when she was three years old.
- Because she is illiterate, the Nurse remembers events in terms of the time of year.
- She remembers the bitter tasting wormwood on her nipple, which Juliet found repulsive.
- The nurse repeats a tale told by the husband. It reveals the nurse’s bawdy and simplistic outlook.
- Juliet fell (forward) and bruised her forehead. The nurse’s husband took up the child and comforted her with crude wit. He said she would do better when she cam of age, to fall not forward but backward.
- Juliet naively recalls the tale; the nurse says four times: “it stinted and sayd Ay”. Juliet’s youthful innocence is offset by the nurse’s earthiness.
There is a deep mutual fondness between them.
- Woman falling on their backs has sexual overtones; it is prophetic because Paris has just asked for Juliet’s hand in marriage.
- The Nurse is her counsellor and her guide; the Nurse is Juliet’s confidante and has raised her from a young girl. She can be vulgar and funny and often says outrageous things. She is a message-carrier for the lovers.
- She understands love in literal and physical terms. She cannot understand the depth of lovers’ emotions.
- She says exactly what she thinks whether or not it is appropriate. When Romeo is a stranger who asks the Nurse who Juliet is, she replies: “I tell you, the man who can marry her will have a lot of money.” (1, v, 118)
- She enjoys plotting Juliet’s marriage but does not take responsibility for her actions. She encourages her to go to Friar Lawrence and organizes a way to help the lovers meet. “I have to get a ladder by which your love can climb to your room when it’s dark.”
- She often offends Juliet. When Romeo is banished, she tells her to marry Paris. She says that “Romeo is a dishrag compared with him”. “He’s better than Romeo”, especially now that Juliet’s first husband is dead. Juliet sarcastically tells the nurse, “You’ve really comforted me.” She loses her trust in the nurse and calls her a “wicked devil”. Juliet is abandoned by her nurse when she needs her the most. – needs to act alone: – tragic heroine – My dismal scene I needs must act alone.” (iv 3. 19)
When writing topic sentences, think about Shakespeare’s message
Love and hatred: Shakespeare suggests that those who seek to erect barriers between the clans and who insist on the hatred between the families are often those who are most responsible for the tragedy; Tybalt and Mercutio’s fight becomes symbolic of the irreconcilable differences between the clans based on resentment and spite.
Contrastingly, the scene that ironically seals Romeo’s fate and leads to his exile is the one where he seeks to bridge the gap and overcome these differences; he seeks, inadequately to articulate the love that brings them together; he insists on peace and reconciliation. In this case, it works against him.
Blame: the focus on their irreconcilable differences reaches a climax during the street brawl between Tybalt and Mercutio and contributes directly with Romeo’s exile which sets in train the unfortunate chain of events.
Tybalt and Mercutio have been conditioned to see the fight as inevitable. They equate courage with aggression and aggression with masculinity, pride and honour. Romeo struggles to conform to these conditioned stereotypes and shows his conflicting emotions and loyalties.
Romeo and Juliet intuitively believe that love is worth fighting for, even dying for.
Germaine Greer (Q&A, ABC, 5/9/16);
“One of the most important aspects of the Puritan/Protestant revolution, in the 1590s in particular, was the foregrounding of marriage as the most appropriate way of life for a modern religionist, as distinct from the Catholic Church, which prized virginity and monasticism and so on . . . This is deliberately done, I think, by Shakespeare. I think he understands that he’s actually promoting a way of life which has never been promoted before. People think that we had always a literature of courtship and marriage. We didn’t. As far as I can see, having scoured libraries all over Europe, Shakespeare actually invented the comedy of wedding, of courtship and marriage. What the tragedies show you is what happens when the woman is a cipher, when she doesn’t understand what’s going on, when she cannot assist in the salvation of the community or the body politic or whatever. If you think of something like Hamlet’s mother, who is a moral cipher – she doesn’t know or care – she’s almost autistic. You know, he asks her to keep a secret …”
- See Our Study Page – Romeo and Juliet
- To improve your persuasive and reasoning skills and written expression, see The Language of Persuasion: become an expert. Download the key exercises and work through the suggested responses and extension activities. You will soon see a difference in your expression, sentence construction, and more sophisticated use of vocabulary.