What does Shakespeare have to say about love in the play 'Romeo and Juliet'? We are introduced to many different aspects of love throughout the play 'Romeo and Juliet'. Shakespeare does this by expressing his own views through his characters and their opinions. As the play unfolds we begin to see several themes evolving, although some of Shakespeare's views appear to contradict one another. For example, the Nurse and Mercutio believe that love can only be sexual whilst we see the complete opposite of this in Romeo and Juliet's powerful love for one another. Why does Shakespeare do this? Is it to confuse the reader so that they think more about the play and what it is really saying? Or is it because Shakespeare believes that love can be very different for different people? The way in which his characters think about and view love in many different ways means that Shakespeare is not trying to prejudice us to believe that love can only be one thing, he is simply presenting to us many different versions so that the audience can see love in it's many forms and levels of intensity.
It is then up to the audience to judge the different characters and their different beliefs themselves.
However, Shakespeare does try to influence his audience to think certain things about his characters through their use of language. We see this happening in our first meeting with Romeo when his use of oxymorons, 'feather of lead' and 'cold fire', whilst talking of Rosalind and his love for her lead the audience to believe that Romeo is in love with the idea of being in love and therefore the only love he feels for Rosalind is puppy love and not true love. We can also see innocence and unawareness of what can feel like in the character of Juliet when she tells her mother that she will not 'endart mine eye' until her parents consent gives the relationship the 'strength to make it fly'.
From the moment the two 'star-crossed lovers' meet we see their attitudes to love change dramatically, in a very short space of time as the love they feel for each other blossoms. Romeo's language changes from being full of oxymorons to a manner in which he speaks of Juliet as a 'rich jewel' and someone who would 'teach the torches to burn bright'. This comparison of Juliet to shining light in the darkness is carried through into the balcony scene where we hear Romeo tell us that 'Juliet is the sun' and that she would 'shame those stars'.
Shakespeare begins to introduce a theme of the stars and heaven into Romeo's language. By doing this he is perhaps trying to express the awe Romeo feels for Juliet as her 'beauty is too rich for use'. So his language begins to reflect this, using words and phrases such as 'her eyes in heaven' to show that he feels he is always looking up to Juliet.
This could also be Shakespeare making a play on words as in this scene Romeo is literally having to look up to Juliet as he is stood at the foot of her balcony! In the character of Juliet we can see that falling in love acts as an awakening to a different side of her character. We see her change from an innocent young girl who believes that love is 'an honour that I dream not of' to someone who knows what she wants from her relationship. Juliet does not shy away from away from asking Romeo if he loves her, she asks him to 'pronounce it faithfully.' The love she feels for Romeo is obviously very deep as she finds the courage to question what she has been brought up to believe, asking 'What's in a name?' and telling Romeo 'Tis but thy name that is my enemy.' By saying this she would be labelled as traitor by her family which leaves the audience in no doubt that the love she feels for Romeo is true. We are shown this transformation in Juliet because Shakespeare is trying to tell us that we cannot pick who we fall in love with. He is also saying that as Romeo and Juliet's love is so strong their predicament in coming from families that have an 'ancient grudge' against one another only serves to make both of them, in particular Juliet, stronger. We can see another example of Juliet's strength when she makes a stand against her father and tells him that if she has to marry Paris he should make the bridal bed in 'that dim monument where Tybalt lies'. Verona at this time would have been a patriarchal city and Juliet risked being exiled form her family by making this stand against her father. Shakespeare is again demonstrating the strength of Juliet's love for Romeo as it is tested once more and Juliet decides that she cannot betray him.
Although idea of marrying Paris is horrifying to Juliet her parents believe this is an ideal match as they can only gain from it.
However, Lord Capulet does warn Paris of marrying girls that are too young telling him that 'soon marred are those so early made' in response to being told by Paris that 'younger than she are happy mothers made'. This statement is probably in reference to his own marriage to Lady Capulet which would have been decided upon because it was a chance to make a political alliance. Lord Capulet seems to have a certain amount of affection for Juliet, calling her the 'hopeful lady of my earth' although this could have a double meaning, implying that through Juliet marrying he has a chance to acquire more social status in Verona. This social status is ultimately more important to him than his own daughter as we are shown in the language he uses when he hears of Juliet's refusal to marry Paris calling her names such as 'green-sickness carrion' and 'tallow-face'. There are many reasons for this social status being so important to him but the most prominent of these is obviously to gain the advantage over the Montague family.
The 'ancient grudge' between the Capulet and Montague families has probably derived from a love of power as we are told the two families are 'alike in dignity' and are obviously equals who are trying to better each other. Their reputation obviously means a lot to them and we can see an example of this when Lord Capulet refuses to let Tybalt fight Romeo at his 'old accustomed feast' saying that for the 'wealth of all this town' he will not let Tybalt 'in my house do him disparagement'.
Throughout the play, despite it being fast-moving, we constantly see the past being set against the present as the shadow of the feud between the Capulets and the Montagues is constantly hanging over Romeo and Juliet's 'death~marked love'. We also start to see a love of power, in a far more subtle way in the character of Juliet, when she becomes very frank and tells Romeo what she wants if his 'love be honourable' and asks 'where and what time' he will marry her. From this we can see that she is starting to take charge of her relationship.
However we see Juliet's position reversed in one of the later scenes when the Nurse teases Juliet by deliberately changing the subject and using phrases such as 'Jesu, what haste!' and 'How my head aches' to keep herself from telling Juliet Romeo's message. This leaves Juliet impatient and hanging on to the Nurse's every word. The Nurse obviously enjoys this and tries to keep this going on for as long as possible.
We have a chance to see another side of the Nurse and Juliet's relationship and the deep love between them when the Nurse calls her 'lamb' and 'ladybird' and also when she declares that she can tell 'her age unto an hour'. The motherly affection which the Nurse has for Juliet is also mirrored in Romeo's relationship with Friar Lawrence. We can see this in the fatherly advice which he gives to Romeo on hearing of his relationship with Juliet, this is when he tells him to go 'wisely and slow' and tells him that 'they stumble that run fast'. Friar Lawrence also mirrors the Nurse in the way which he addresses Romeo calling him his 'good son'. As well as seeing deep motherly and fatherly affection between characters we also see the opposite in the characters' relationships with their actual parents. We see this in Juliet's relationship with her mother in the way which she calls her 'madam' and asks 'what is your will?'. We can also see the lack of what we would call normal motherly love in the way that Lady Capulet is nervous of talking to Juliet about marriage and has to ask the Nurse to 'come back again' to help her talk to her about Paris. It becomes obvious to the audience as the play progresses that Nurse cares much more for Juliet than her mother does as the Nurse is willing to stand up to Juliet's father telling him 'you are to blame' and saying that speaks 'no treason.' The Nurse defends Juliet voluntarily, whilst even when Juliet appeals to her mother begging her to 'cast me not away' her mother refuses to help telling her 'I have done with thee'. By showing again how deep the Nurse's love for Juliet is Shakespeare is telling us that the Nurse is capable of true affection although it is obvious that she does not believe in romantic love.
This disbelief of romantic love is obvious as the Nurse's speeches are often littered with sexual innuendoes, telling Juliet that 'bigger women grow by men' and on hearing of Juliet's possible marriage to Paris giving her the advice to 'seek happy nights to happy days.' The Nurse's sense of humour is obviously in line with Mercutio's as he too cannot resist making sexual jokes which are often puns saying 'raise a spirit in his mistress' circle' and also joking at the Nurses's expense calling her 'a bawd'. Mercutio's love of punning carries right through to his death as he cannot resist punning saying that if they ask for him tomorrow they 'shall find me a grave man'.
It is only when Mercutio dies that the special type of love, found only in close friendships, between Romeo and Mercutio becomes apparent. Romeo's declaration after Mercutio's death that 'fire-eyed fury be my conduct now' shows how much the death of his best friend has affected him. The way in which he is more than willing to put his life on the line, not only in fighting Tybalt but also in the Prince's threat of death if there is more trouble, proves that there was a very special bond between him and Tybalt. He declares that either himself or Tybalt 'must go with him', referring to Mercutio 'to keep him company'. It is from this moment onwards that we see the tragedy throughput the play beginning to occur which perhaps relates to the fact that in Mercutio's dying words he declares 'a plague a'both your houses' and also Romeo's premonition that 'this days black fate on moe days doth depend'.
The idea of fate is prominent throughout the play, in the opening chorus Shakespeare called the two lovers 'star-crossed' and many of the characters make references to the stars. Many of the characters, in particular Romeo, have premonitions starting with Romeo declaring his 'mind misgives' and he can see 'some consequence yet hanging in the stars' before attending Lord Capulets feast. Despite characters views on love many of them warn of impending doom, for example, Friar Lawrence warns that 'violent delights have violent ends'. Shortly before this we also hear Romeo make the ironic statement 'love-devouring death do what he dare'. The bond between Romeo and Juliet is so great that they even state the same idea that without one another their is only death. We hear Romeo express this idea when declares to Friar Lawrence that the Prince's decision to exile him instead of have him executed is 'torture, not mercy' and disagrees with him saying 'sayest thou that exile is not death?' He believes that not being able to see Juliet is much worse than death and he would have preferred this punishment. Whilst Juliet says 'window, let day in, and let life out'.
Romeo is just about to leave Juliet to go to Mantua through this window thus explaining the idea of the window taking the life out of her room. Although the characters in Romeo and Juliet express many different versions of love the theme that Shakespeare seems to carry throughout the play is that all love, in particular the romantic love shared by Romeo and Juliet, is determined by fate and whether that love is allowed to survive and blossom cannot be determined by us.