How Does Shakespeare Present the Theme of Love in Romeo and Juliet
Sexual love is used in this play as comic relief between the serious parts, as an ice-breaker and to keep the audience entertained. Shakespeare included sexual love in this play because at the time, the audience for whom he’d be performing wouldn’t be very educated and including this would grab their attention straight away Sexual love is the first type of love displayed in this play. You meet two Capulet servants, Sampson and Gregory in the first scene.
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They are talking about women as sexual objects and nothing more.
Sampson is talking about how he will ‘be cruel with the maids’ once he has taken care of the men, and how he ‘will cut off’ their ‘maidenheads’. He is talking about raping the wives of the men he has killed, referring to their virginities as their heads. He is also very generous about himself, suggesting that his penis is “a pretty piece of flesh’ and that women will be able to feel him while he is ‘able to stand’, meaning that he’s having an erection against the women.
This is very sexual because to feel a man’s erection, you have to be very close to him and he has to be practically grinding against you, and be turned on by you. While they only see women as objects of lust, sexual love is not only relatable to men; women can be just as sexually-minded. In this play, Shakespeare does have a lot of sexual-orientated characters but one of the most amusing ones is possibly Juliet’s nurse. She finds a way to make everything she says sound suggestive when most people wouldn’t be able to.
She may get it from her late husband, who was just as inappropriate as her, telling a three year old that she ‘will fall backwards when thou hast more wit’ which basically translates to him telling her that when she gets older she’ll know to lie backwards so a man can lie on top of her, which is completely senseless to say to a child. On the other hand, it is more likely Nurse was just always like that. Nurse seems to think that the only important thing to consider in a marriage is sex, saying that Juliet should ‘seek happy nights to happy days’ as if a good sex life is the key to having a happy marriage.
She also has the skill to twist things that seem perfectly innocent into a sexual innuendo. Nurse also says that ‘women grow by men’ which is a double entendre of that women grow in status when they marry the right men, but Nurse is saying that they also grow pregnant and sex is a very important factor in a good and healthy marriage. Romeo and Mercutio also have the tendency to be sexually minded. Mercutio refers to Rosaline, the girl Romeo thinks he’s in love with as ‘medlar’, a rude way to refer to a woman’s or a man’s sexual anatomy and he also talks about Romeo as if he was ‘a poperin pear’ which is a pear shaped like a penis.
Mercutio is very crude and sexual throughout this entire speech. Romeo, while you don’t see him being sexually orientated throughout the book, does have his moments away from the spiritual plains of love. He sneaks out to meet Juliet and is hoping that ‘her vestal livery is but sick and green’ and that she should ‘cast it off’ because ‘none but fools do wear it’. By saying this, he’s implying that he hopes she will not remain a virgin because he wants to marry her and have sex with her.
While this isn’t quite as bad as the long speeches that Nurse and Mercutio make, it is still slightly sexual which shows that even people as spiritually inclined as Romeo can be orientated this way. Surprisingly, Juliet also has her moments even though she is very young. When Juliet is about to leave Romeo, Romeo inquires whether she will really leave him ‘so unsatisfied’. Not realising that he’s merely talking about keeping her forever through the gift of marriage, and thinking he’s asking her if she’ll really leave him without having sex, she immediately asks ‘what satisfaction canst thou have tonight’.
She immediately jumps to the conclusion that he was asking for sex before even considering the other options. Shakespeare includes this because it shows that anyone can have sexual thoughts about another, even someone like Juliet who appears to be so innocent and young. Sexual love, while present throughout the play is not the only love explored by Shakespeare in ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Courtly love is also present, but only in the beginning of the play. At the time ‘Romeo and Juliet’ was set, courtly love was very popular and many poets were using it, thus including it in the play was making the play very fashionable for its time.
Romeo is the character that feels courtly love for Rosaline, meaning that his love for her in unrequited but he seems to love her anyway. The first time you meet Romeo he is pining over Rosaline because ‘she’ll not be hit with cupid’s arrow’ and won’t return his feelings for her. He is acting very pathetic and spewing out long speeches full of oxymorons and rhyming couplets, making it very obvious that he’s practiced what he’s going to say because people don’t go around just talking in rhyming couplets and oxymorons. His long speeches have a rather pathetic ending.
He has put together very fashionable, lengthy spiels full of oxymorons about ‘loving hate’ and ‘heavy lightness’. When Benvolio finally comprehends and asks him ‘who is that’ Romeo loves, Romeo quite pathetically admits that he does ‘love a woman’. This declaration is a rather meager way to sum up all he’s spent hours preparing while privately ‘in his chamber’ and wandering around in the woods ‘many a morning’. Throughout most of his speeches he isn’t giving a proper answer to any of Benvolio’s questions. He keeps giving Benvolio very vague responses in an attempt to make Benvolio question more.
Romeo is coercing people to worry about him more than necessary by pretending that the situation is more confusing than it is. After his long oxymoron-filled speech he asked Benvolio ‘Dost thou not laugh’, wanting Benvolio to worry about him and to give him attention. As in true courtly love fashion, Romeo is enamored with Rosaline and will do anything to see her. Benvolio, a true friend, tries to make Romeo see sense that there are ‘other beauties’ in the world and Romeo should ‘examine’ them and forget about Rosaline.
However, Romeo won’t hear of it and attempts to convince Benvolio that he ‘canst not teach’ Romeo ‘to forget’ how beautiful Rosaline is and how much he loves her. Although Romeo’s courtly interests are mostly kept to the first few scenes of the play, the Friar does bring it up later on, saying that ‘thy love did read by rote, that could not spell’. The Friar is explaining to Romeo that Romeo knew the way that people were supposed to act when they were madly in love and he was simply pretending to be in love when he wasn’t, which is what courtly love is.
Another type of love showcased in this play is Romantic love, and ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is one of the most famous romantic plays ever written. In the play, I think that Shakespeare presents the love between Romeo and Juliet as very artificial. He shows it through their first meeting, Juliet’s inexperience, Romeo’s attitude and the attitude of Romeo’s friends. Romeo and Juliet’s conversation forms a sonnet when they first meet. This is the first conversation they have and before he even hears her speak, he refers to her as a ‘shrine’, invoking the deepest religious love for her.
Romeo is flattering her to get her to fall for him. Before he even knows who she is, he asks to ‘smooth that rough touch’ that is his ‘unworthiest hand’ with a kiss. She immediately counters that by telling him ‘you do wrong your hand too much’. She’s trying to tell him that there is nothing wrong with his hand, and he doesn’t need to kiss her. Finally he asks outright for her to ‘let lips do what hands do’, showing he’s rather desperate to get to kiss her. Juliet says in return that she isn’t going to move and that he can kiss her, but that she won’t kiss him.
Their conversation does form a sonnet, but Juliet is just playing along with Romeo because he’s the one that initiated the conversation in rhyme and she’s simply joining in. She is attracted to him, but she’s not just going to give in to his desperation. He has to work for the right to kiss her. After the kiss, Juliet is understandably very taken aback, considering she is quite inexperienced and this is her first kiss. She tells him that ‘you kiss by th’ book’, showing that Juliet only knows what love is like in books and fairytales and she’s comparing her feelings about Romeo to that.
It is arguable that this is not real romance. I think that the best evidence for the idea that the romantic love displayed in this play is artificial is the attitude of Romeo. When we first meet him he is obviously enamoured with Rosaline, but sees this beautiful girl that removes any thought of Rosaline from his mind. This is superficial because he doesn’t know anything about Juliet, he doesn’t even know her name and yet he’s certain that he loves her, saying ‘did my heart love till now’, when just moments before he had been professing his undying devotion to someone completely different.
When Romeo attempts to talk Friar Lawrence into marrying him to Juliet, Friar Lawrence remains unconvinced, saying that ‘these woes were all for Rosaline’. Romeo insists, illogically, that his love for Juliet is real because she loves him back and Rosaline ‘did not so’. He says that even though he was going on and on about her, she’s old news and he no longer loves her because he’s found someone better. I don’t think He really loves Juliet because her prettiness is the only reason he ever spoke to her and it is reasonable to believe that if he sees someone prettier he might forget all about her.
Even Romeo’s friends know that he’s being pathetic. Mercutio actually makes fun of him for spewing out all the rhyming poems which really don’t have any semblance towards true love by saying ‘speak but one rhyme and I am satisfied’. Mercutio is certain that this will all be over soon. Before the party Mercutio tries to cheer Romeo up with his big ‘Queen Mab’ speech, showing that he wants Romeo to be happy. We trust Mercutio because he is a very likeable character.
Benvolio, who has been primarily concerned with Romeo’s wellbeing throughout the play so far, is certain Romeo will move on and ‘examine other beauties’. We trust Benvolio’s opinion because he shows the most direct concern about Romeo and even he seems to think that this is all a phase. Before Balthasar brings Romeo news of Juliet’s death, Romeo is very happy because he has had a dream about Juliet which is the ‘flattering truth of sleep’. This is very similar to his dream in an earlier scene about Rosaline, which was about ‘things true’, being how much he loves Rosaline.
Referring to both Rosaline and Juliet by using the word ‘true’ makes it plausible that he is just being as over-dramatically ecstatic about a dream about Juliet as he was depressed over a dream about Rosaline before the party in which he saw Juliet. I think that this makes us doubt his sincerity because he is using the same story about a dream for both girls. When Romeo finds out about Juliet’s supposed death, he doesn’t even stop to think, which proves that he doesn’t consider the possibilities of his actions. He immediately goes to buy ‘a dram of poison’ so he ‘may fall dead’ by Juliet’s side.
In my opinion, for a girl that he hasn’t even spent a full day with, this seems like a very rash decision. Juliet, waking up and finding Romeo dead beside her also kills herself with a dagger after trying to take the poison off his lips so she will ‘die with a restorative’ but when that proves to be a failure, stabs herself with Romeo’s dagger. She is allowed a little more leeway, being very young and traumatised at finding her new husband dead on top of her and is likely to be very dramatic. They barely know each other and yet they kill themselves over the premise of ‘true love’.
I think that the real tragedy in this play is not that true lovers are forced to kill themselves to be together but that two young and healthy people with long lives ahead of them kill themselves over miscommunication and feelings that ultimately end up to be an over exaggeration of two hormonal teenagers! Parental love, whilst a minor aspect of love in this play, is still very present. Neither Juliet nor Romeo have very close relationships with their parents and seek out parental advice in the forms of Nurse and Friar Lawrence. Romeo does get along with his parents and they do love him.
When you first meet the Montagues after a large street fight, his mother expresses her relief that Romeo ‘was not at this fray’, showing that she is concerned about his physical wellbeing. His father is obviously concerned about Romeo’s mental state at the fact that Romeo is currently wandering around by himself ‘many a morning’ and stays ‘private in his chamber’ during the day, cutting himself off from everyone else. After the deaths of Romeo and Juliet, when the Capulets and Montagues have realised what happened, we find out that Montague’s ‘wife is dead tonight’ because the ‘grief of’ her ‘son’s exile hath stopped her breath’.
This makes it obvious that the Montagues really do love their son, but don’t have a strong connection with him because he never talked to them about what was troubling him. Even though Romeo and his parents are emotionally close to each other, they do not communicate with each other well and to show this Shakespeare does not put one scene in this play in which Romeo directly interacts with his parents. This shows that while they are family, they don’t really rely on each other to help out.
Instead of questioning Romeo about his actions himself, his parents send Benvolio, Romeo’s friend and cousin, which shows that Romeo is more likely to confide in Benvolio than in his own parents. Romeo, instead of going to his parents for advice, goes to Friar Lawrence for parental help. The Friar knows what’s going on in Romeo’s life more than the parents do. It is normally a parent’s job to chide their children but Romeo says to Friar that ‘thou chid’st me oft for loving Rosaline’ which means that the Friar has taken on the responsibility of telling Romeo off about Rosaline, whom Romeo has not even told his parents about.
Juliet’s predicament with her parents is similar as they also love her very much. When Paris, a suitable young man, requests Juliet’s hand in marriage, Lord Capulet thinks Juliet ‘is yet a stranger in this world’ and tells Paris to come back in ‘two more summers’. That Lord Capulet doesn’t want to marry her off so young even to such a suitable person shows that he really cares for Juliet’s well-being. When Juliet is mourning the banishment of Romeo, Lord Capulet decides to throw her a party to take her mind of what he thinks is an over-reaction of Tybalt’s death.
He agrees to make ‘a desperate tender’ and allow her to marry Paris, hoping that this will cheer her up. He does this because he had Juliet’s best interests at heart and just wanted to please her and make her happy again, by giving her a large party and lots of attention. After Juliet is found supposedly dead, Lady Capulet gets very upset, saying that if Juliet does not ‘look up’ than Lady Capulet ‘will die with thee’. Both the Capulets genuinely love their daughter, calling her their ‘only life’ when she is found dead. Like Romeo, Juliet’s parents don’t communicate with her well.
They don’t understand her emotions and don’t know how to speak to her effectively. When Lady Capulet wishes to speak privately with Juliet she asks Nurse to leave but the minute she is left alone with Juliet she calls Nurse ‘back again’. Since Lady Capulet didn’t raise Juliet and Nurse did, Lady Capulet would feel more comfortable if Nurse is in the room because she is unsure of how to talk to her own daughter. When Juliet is distraught after Romeo’s banishment, they assume she is upset over Tybalt’s death because ‘she loved her kinsman Tybalt dearly’.
Instead of asking her what is wrong, they automatically think that she is upset over Tybalt, which shows miscommunication. Like Romeo has the Friar, Juliet has Nurse whom she trusts with her personal life. Nurse is the only one Juliet tells about Romeo, and ‘did send the Nurse’ to get information out of Romeo about the wedding. She trusted her Nurse with this part of her life that she didn’t tell her parents about. Friendly love in this play is possibly the only love that is not somewhat superficial and fake. Primarily, we see friendly love being expressed amongst Romeo and his friends.
Benvolio is the most open about how much he cares for Romeo’s well-being. He expresses his concern to Romeo directly, wondering ‘what sadness lengthens Romeo’s hours’. Even though Benvolio is certain that he would sooner ‘die in debt’ than Romeo not forget his love for Rosaline, he is troubled that Romeo is upset in the moment. When Romeo is missing after the party Benvolio goes searching for him accompanied by Mercutio and is anxious that Mercutio ‘wilt anger him’ by insulting Romeo about Rosaline, even though Benvolio agrees ith him and Romeo arguably deserves it. This shows that Benvolio really does care about Romeo and doesn’t wish for him to be upset over anything. Mercutio shows his concern for Romeo in a different way, although he still makes it obvious that he cares. When Romeo is depressed with ‘a soul of lead’ before the party, Mercutio wants to cheer him up. When Romeo insists that he ‘dreamt a dream’, Mercutio picks up on that straight away and begins to make fun of Romeo in a jovial way, saying ‘and so did I’.
Romeo asks what Meructio’s dream was, giving Mercutio the perfect opening for his ‘Queen Mab’ speech, which is a jokey speech about a fairy queen so he can lighten Romeo’s mood and also point out that ‘dreamers often lie’. At the end Romeo tries to insist that Mercutio ‘talk’st of nothing’, to which Mercutio replies ‘true, I talk of dreams’, which is another way of telling Romeo to lighten up and enjoy the party without focusing on his dreams. This shows Mercutio cares because he just wants Romeo to have a good time and move on with his life without focusing on the past.
When Tybalt is calling Romeo ‘a villain’ and Romeo is not standing up for himself, Mercutio gets very angry on Romeo’s behalf and gets into a fight with Tybalt that kills him. Even though Mercutio was in a rather restless mood that day because of the weather, I find it hard to believe that he would fight Tybalt without a reason. It is plausible that he was just using Romeo as an excuse but the fact that Mercutio is so concerned about Romeo’s honour that he will fight for him, makes Mercutio a true friend.
Even though Balthasar is Romeo’s servant, he does have his moments of showing true friendship and concern for Romeo. Balthasar is the only person Romeo trusts other than Friar to tell about Juliet and Balthasar keeps Romeo updated about the goings and comings of Verona and of Juliet. Immediately after Juliet’s funeral Balthasar ‘took post to tell it’ to Romeo. Even though Romeo told Balthasar to leave once they got to Juliet’s crypt or he would ‘tear thee joint by joint’, Balthasar stayed behind because he doubted Romeo’s ‘intents’ and feared the way he looked.
This shows true friendship because even faced with the possibility of getting killed by his master, Balthasar remains behind to keep an eye on him. Even Romeo has his moments of being a genuine friend towards his boys, as shown after Mercutio has been fighting with Tybalt. At first along with everyone else he assumes Mercutio is just putting on a show for the audience, sure that ‘the hurt cannot be much’. His certainty that Mercutio will be fine shows his closeness to Mercutio because he refuses to consider the possibility that Mercutio might die.
After finding out that ‘brave Mercutio is dead’, Romeo is absolutely furious and all thoughts of ‘sweet Juliet’ leave his head and all he wants is for ‘fire-eyed fury’ to lead him to kill Tybalt for ‘Mercutio’s soul’. This is once again showing that his grief over Mercutio overwhelms his love for Juliet. Knowing the possible consequences Romeo refuses to let Tybalt ‘go in triumph’ and kills him because Tybalt killed one of Romeo’s closest friends. In conclusion, Shakespeare presents the theme of love in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ as mostly artificial.
Romantic love, which is the love most people arguably expect to read about in this play, is very artificial, creating the true tragedy of the play of two people dying for no concrete reason. Sexual love and courtly love are both put on for show. Sexual love is used as comic relief and is not taken seriously and courtly love is only a way of showcasing that romantic love really is artificial. Parental love is real but is strained with no communication so the only genuine form of love expressed successfully in this play is friendly love.