How Is Love Presented in Romeo and Juliet and Two Poems from the Shakespeare Literary Heritage

Category: Metaphor, Philosophy, Poetry
Last Updated: 27 Jan 2021
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How is Love presented in Romeo and Juliet and two poems from the Shakespeare Literary Heritage Love is presented in a variety of different ways in Romeo and Juliet and my chosen poems from the Literary Heritage: Stop All the Clocks and Sonnet 130. For instance, in Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare is attempting to challenge the tradition of courtly love that was prominent in the Elizabethan era. He is suggesting that the tradition of courtly love is artificial and essentially false. Courtly love was a hidden love between the nobility in medieval times.

In Sonnet 130 Shakespeare has a different goal; he is attempting to challenge the traditional Petrarchan sonnet that was popular at the time. These sonnets were grand declarations of love but also seemed rather overblown and unnecessarily dramatic. W. H. Auden’s poem Stop All the Clocks is dramatic and very emotional, however this is justified in this instance as his lover has died. This would undoubtedly be an exceedingly traumatic experience. In Act 1 Scene 1 of Romeo and Juliet love is presented as being like a poison that can infect a person.

Shakespeare uses a metaphor in a very interesting manner in this scene to show this. For instance, when Montague is describing how his son Romeo is acting due to Romeo’s unreturned love for Rosaline he states, “As is the bud bit with an envious worm, Ere he can spread his sweet leaves to the air, Or dedicate his beauty to the same. ” He is suggesting that Romeo is like a flower “bud” that won’t open itself up to the world because it’s been poisoned from within by parasites. Just like the flower has been poisoned by parasites, Romeo has been poisoned by love.

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Romeo only goes out at night and shuts himself away in a darkened room during the day. This metaphor helps the audience to see that love can be a dangerous force that causes people to act in unusual ways. Shakespeare uses this dramatic metaphor to show the intensity with which Romeo seems to love Rosaline, however he does this to raise questions about how real Romeo’s love is for Juliet when he meets her later in the play. Shakespeare is depicting the lovesickness stage of courtly love and challenging how real it is by his use of this over the top metaphor.

Additionally, in Act 1 Scene 1, love is presented as a complicated and contradictory thing. Shakespeare uses oxymorons effectively to show this idea. For example, when Romeo is describing the love he feels for Rosaline to his cousin Benvolio he states, “O brawling love, O loving hate”, amongst a series of other oxymorons. Shakespeare here uses oxymorons to show that the love Romoe feels for Rosaline is something that gives him great joy but also great pain at the same time. He is in love with Rosaline and that is wonderful but he hates the fact that she will not return his love.

This allows the audience an insight into the intensity with which it appears Romeo loves Rosaline. This reinforces Shakespeares goal of setting up a situation in which the audience will doubt Romeo’s love for Juliet later in the play. In Act 1 Scene 5 love is presented in an over the top and overly dramatic way. Shakespeare uses hyperbole extremely well here to show this. In this scene Romeo and his friends have crashed Capulet’s party and he catches his first glimpse of Juliet. When he does so he states that she “doth teach the torches to burn bright! This is hyperbole because obviously Juliet cannot literally teach the torches to burn bright. The hyperbole is used to show that Romeo thinks that Juliet’s beauty overshadows everyone and everything in the room. The audience is supposed to once again feel the intensity with which Romeo can love, however the audience is left with doubts about how real this love is because just a few scenes earlier he was in the depths of despair over Rosaline. Shakespeare uses Romeo’s hyperbole and Romeo’s quick switch from Rosaline to Juliet to question how real courtly love is.

Furthermore, this over the top dramatic presentation of love continues through Romeo’s description of Juliet’s beauty. Shakespeare switches to using a simile to continue this trend. For example, he continues his description of Juliet by saying “It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night, Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear. ” Again, this shows that Romeo feels that Juliet beauty stands out from the crowd just like an shiny earring would stand out in an African person’s ear. This encourages the audience to further doubt how real Romeo’s love for Juliet is as his language becomes more and more over the top.

If Romeo can so quickly forget Rosaline is his love for Juliet genuine or just another infatuation? Shakespeare is attempting to drive his point home that courtly love is a false and unrealistic version of love through his depiction of Romeo’s descriptions of Juliet. This over the top overly dramatic depiction of love is continued before Romeo and Juliet kiss for the first time. Shakespeare uses the sonnet form to show their conversation leading to their first kiss as this was the traditional form of exaggerated love poetry at the time. Within the sonnet he uses extended Christian metaphor to great effect.

As Romeo is trying to flirt with Juliet he states “(taking JULIET’s hand) If I profane with my unworthiest hand, This holy shrine, the gentle sin is this. ” Basically as he takes her hand he states that her hand is like a holy place that his sinful hand is not worthy to touch. He is using a religious metaphor to put Juliet up on a pedestal as a thing of purity. This further adds to the audiences doubt about how real Romeo’s love for Juliet is as they are left wondering has Romeo simply switched his attention to Juliet because she is returning his affection whereas Rosaline didn’t want to.

Shakespeare is continuing to show the falseness and fickleness of courtly love through Romeo’s over the top language. The sonnet form is perfect to use here as it was a form often used to depict courtly love. Furthermore, the overly dramatic depiction of love continues through this sonnet. Again this is within the extended Christian metaphor of the sonnet. When Romeo is just about to kiss Juliet he says “O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do. They pray; grant thou, lest faith turn to despair. ” Here his “prayer” is the kiss he is about to give to Juliet.

The metaphor is once again intended to show the purity of Romeo’s love for Juliet as his kiss is not sinful but is more like a thing of purity: a prayer. At this stage, the audience should be completely doubtful of how real Romeo’s love for Juliet is as he continues to use overly cliched and over the top language to show his devotion to her in combination with the fact that he has completely forgotten about Rosaline. Shakespeare’s use of Christian metaphor is intended to further mock the courtly love tradition as he is saying that courtly love is false and not in fact pure at all.

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How Is Love Presented in Romeo and Juliet and Two Poems from the Shakespeare Literary Heritage. (2017, Jan 05). Retrieved from

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