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Love is a universal emotion that affects everyone and for many, it is a familiar feeling experienced in a variety of intensities and forms. This idea is clearly represented in ‘Romeo and Juliet’, a play written by William Shakespeare in the late sixteenth century, set in fourteenth century Verona, Italy. Love is naturally the play’s dominant and most significant theme, which not only overpowers individuals belonging to the noble class but all Veronese social classes. This is demonstrated in the play’s plot, characters and language. It is evident that Shakespeare’s message for his audience is that love is a violent and ecstatic force that supersedes all other values, loyalties, and emotions which should not be blindly followed.
‘Romeo and Juliet’ clearly demonstrates the theme of love and its inescapable grasp on Veronese society throughout its plot. The first mention of love is in the prologue, where a “pair of star-crossed lovers” and a “death-marked love” are made known, referring to the intense passion between Romeo and Juliet and its inevitable tragic outcome which is the main focus of the play. However, many other forms of love are explored in this text, in Act 1 Scene 1, parental love is demonstrated when Montague and his wife discuss Romeo’s recent melancholy behaviour with Benvolio: “Could we but learn from whence his sorrows grow / We would as willingly give cure as know” (Lines 147-148). Benvolio takes it upon himself to find out what’s wrong with Romeo and make him feel better. Later he shows his ability to be empathic towards his cousin stating, “no, coz, I rather weep…at thy good heart’s oppression” (Line 177). He learns that Romeo’s unreciprocated love for Rosaline is to blame for Romeo’s sadness. The themes of filial, friendship and unrequited love are all evident in this scene, as Romeo trusts Benvolio enough to tell him what he had been keeping secret, and both Benvolio and Montague care enough about Romeo to know something is wrong.
While the text depicts the theme of doomed romantic love between Romeo and Juliet, it is evident that other forms of love also play a role in its tragic outcome, this is demonstrated by its characters. This is evident in the Nurse’s care for Juliet and her closeness with her. She has been caring for Juliet since Juliet was born, she loves Juliet deeply and she is a confidant to her. Besides Friar Lawrence, she is the only other character to know of about the wedding. As a result, she is trusted to act as a messenger between Romeo and Juliet and teases her about it. This shows how close the nurse’s relationship is with Juliet and how caring love can extend into the servant class. However, the Nurse’s involvement allowed Romeo and Juliet to arrange the wedding which indirectly lead to both Tybalt and Mercutio’s deaths. Friar Lawrence demonstrates counselling love to both Romeo and Juliet, and before he secretly marries them, he advises them to take things slowly: “Therefore love moderately” (Act 2, Scene 6, line 14). He also devises a plan that will allow Romeo and Juliet to run away together in Mantua, away from the family feud. This shows that he cares about the lovers. However, his plan leads to both their deaths as well as Paris’s when Romeo is misinformed and the lovers take their own lives at the Capulet tomb in Act 5 Scene 3.
The famous balcony scene of the play is overflowing with descriptive language as the author uses soliloquy to inform the audience what the two characters are thinking. Romeo begins by using the sun as a metaphor for his beloved Juliet: “It is the east, and Juliet is the sun” (Line 3). This conveys how Juliet transcends humanity in Romeo’s eyes. In the same scene, Juliet utilises simile, “My bounty is as boundless as the sea” (Line 133). This clever technique allows the audience to visualise Juliet’s generosity using imagery. In addition, this figurative language is also used by Friar Lawrence in Act 2 Scene 6, “like fire and powder / Which, as they kiss, consume.” (Line 10-11). Here, he foreshadows the narrative’s tragic ending, as he compares Romeo and Juliet to fire and powder which when combined lead to a violent explosion, much like Romeo and Juliet’s violent end.
To conclude, ‘Romeo and Juliet’ clearly demonstrates the recurring theme of love and its catastrophic and inescapable power over individuals and society. Shakespeare successfully represents this though his clever utilisation of language features such as metaphor, foreshadowing and simile. The playwright also uses characters which exemplify caring and counselling love such as the Nurse and Friar Lawrence. The narrative arc carries an important message which remains applicable in today’s contemporary society, blindly following hate will always end tragically and on must be deliberative when making decisions. This play inspires the audience to ponder the effect love has on individuals and society.
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