Shakespeare in focus: Love in Romeo & Juliet

Home learning focus

To analyse the theme of love in one of Shakespeare’s most well-known works.

This lesson will feature examples from Romeo & Juliet.

It includes:

  • one video
  • three activities

Created in partnership with the Royal Shakespeare Company

Learn

In every new theatre production of a play, the director and actors will discuss and decide how to represent the characters and themes. Watch this video to find out how the relationship between Romeo and Juliet is approached in a recent Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) production.

The cast discuss their acting choices for this production.

Before Romeo meets Juliet, he is in love with a woman called Rosaline. She never appears in the play and, from the way he talks, it seems that she doesn’t love him back. He uses simile and metaphor to complain, saying he has a ‘soul of lead’ and declares that love 'pricks like thorn’. These images create a sense of the pain and heaviness he feels at being in love with her.

At the time Shakespeare was writing there was a fashion for ‘courtly’ love, in which men would talk about love in terms of pain and sickness, indulging these emotions. This is where Shakespeare uses the sonnet form.

The sonnet

A sonnet is a 14 line poem written in iambic pentameter (the name for the rhythm Shakespeare writes in, using ten beats per line, with one soft beat and one strong beat repeated five times). A sonnet has regular rhyming scheme and ends with a couplet (two rhyming lines). Shakespeare’s audience would have been familiar with this form of poetry and the image of a suffering ‘lover’.

Practise

Activity 1

Read Romeo’s speech from Act 1 Scene 2.

Romeo
Alas, that love, whose view is muffled still,
Should, without eyes, see pathways to his will!
Where shall we dine? O me! What fray was here?
Yet tell me not, for I have heard it all.
Here's much to do with hate, but more with love.
Why, then, O brawling love! O loving hate!
O any thing, of nothing first create!
O heavy lightness! serious vanity!
Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms!
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health!
Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is!
This love feel I, that feel no love in this.
Dost thou not laugh?

Antithesis is the term we use to describe the use of opposites. It may include images that are the opposite of each other, contradictions in the way something is talked about, or even words that are placed next to each other like ‘loving hate’.

Write down all the examples of antithesis that occur in the speech.

  • For example, in the first line, love’s ‘view is muffled’ but in the second line it can ‘see pathways’.

Other things to think about:

  • Can you identify the two words that are repeated?
  • Why is this repetition important to the play as a whole?
  • Which words describe how Romeo is feeling?

Activity 2

Read the following extract, when Romeo and Juliet first meet at the Capulet’s party, then answer the questions underneath.

Romeo
If I profane with my unworthiest hand
This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this:
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.

Juliet
Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this,
For saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss.

Romeo
Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?
Juliet
Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.
Romeo
O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do;
They pray, grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.
Juliet
Saints do not move, though grant for prayers' sake.
Romeo
Then move not, while my prayer's effect I take.

  1. Find every word used associated with the body. What tone does this imagery help to create?

  2. What other imagery is used throughout? Find a couple of examples and explain why you think Shakespeare might have chosen the imagery.

Top tip!

Whenever you see a rhyming couplet (two lines of the same length that rhyme and complete one thought) used, pay particular attention to the lines and make a note of them. Rhyming couplets are deliberately used to capture the moment a character makes a significant choice or decision; or when doubt becomes removed and they can end a thought. Think about what action are they going to take here.

Activity 3

Look at these images that show the first meeting of Romeo and Juliet in different productions, then answer the questions below.

What can these images tell you about each of the productions?

1 of 2
  1. How has each production tried to show the connection between the two characters?
  2. How is the language and structure from their shared sonnet in Activity 2 reflected in the staging?

Where next?

In this lesson you have explored the theme of love in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

There are other useful resources that will help you to explore Shakespeare's work.

Please note: Bitesize revision guides are split by exam board - to check if there is a specific version of a guide for your board, choose your subject and then exam board here.

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