Love in Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet meet at the ball

Through Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare deals with the idea of love - its meaning, its causes and its impact - both positively and negatively, and its goal. In the play, we see many different types of love and their impact on individuals, families, friendships and the wider society of Verona.

Romeo and Juliet centres on the developing relationship of Romeo and Juliet and how it impacts on other characters and relationships. Even though Shakespeare's play is about a pair of 'star-crossed lovers', Shakespeare also wanted to examine the other types of love and how love can sometimes consume us, in a positive and negative way.

How is the theme of love shown in the play?

Shakespeare explores love through a variety of ways:

  • Romeo and Juliet's first meeting
  • Romeo's friendship with Mercutio
  • Romeo and Juliet's deaths
How does Shakespeare show this?EvidenceAnalysis
Romeo and Juliet's first meetingWhen Romeo and Juliet first meet, they instantly fall in love. Shakespeare presents their initial meeting as passionate, flirtatious and true."To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss."Romeo suggests that he is 'rough' and not worthy of Juliet's touch. The fact Romeo describes the kiss as 'tender' illustrates Romeo's gentle and true emotions and feelings for Juliet. This shows that their first meeting was charged with love and desire for one another.
Romeo's friendship with MercutioRomeo refuses to fight Tybalt so Mercutio takes his place. When Tybalt kills Mercutio unjustly, Romeo swears to avenge his best friend's death, thus killing Tybalt."Mercutio's soul is but a little way above our heads, staying for thine to keep him company. Either thou or I, or both, must go with him."This shows Romeo's determination for avenging Mercutio's death, as he is willing to die to see Mercutio's murder avenged. He tells Tybalt that either he or Tybalt 'must go with him'. This directly shows how passionate he feels about Mercutio, as someone will be joining Mercutio's soul in the journey to heaven.
Romeo and Juliet's deathsRomeo goes to find Juliet in the Capulet tomb, believing her to be dead. He takes some poison and dies. Juliet awakens, finds her love poisoned and kills herself with Romeo's dagger so they can be together in the afterlife."O happy dagger!"This shows that Juliet is happy to die, as she describes the dagger, the instrument of her death, as 'happy'. The use of the exclamation mark illustrates her emotion - she is both elated and distraught - she cannot cope with life without Romeo so decides to join him in death.

Social and historical context

In Elizabethan times, people got married much earlier than they do today. It would be common practice to get married at 13 years of age. Normally, parents chose their child's partner and this would be based on wealth, potential titles and family ties.

Romeo and Juliet both decide who they are going to marry - this would have been highly disrespectful to their families, particularly as they both decided to marry their family's sworn enemy.

Question

Why has Shakespeare made the relationship between Romeo and Juliet tragic? What is he trying to show the audience?

  • At times, love can have a damaging effect on the individuals involved or those surrounding them.
  • The course of true love never runs smooth.
  • Families must listen to one another and have honest relationships.