Romeo and Juliet by playwright William Shakespeare is a tragic love story. It has two main protagonists Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet. Love is the play’s most overarching theme but as the chief characters are from long standing feuding families, hate is also clearly embedded throughout the tale.
In act one, scene one, the play wastes very little time in setting the scene of unnecessary spitefulness between the two families. The younger generations and servants have inherited hatred from their warring forefathers and initiate the play with rude gestures and violence. In this opening scene the audience is introduced to the hateful elements of Verona. The act starts with members of each family engaged in negative banter which quickly escalates. Benvolio, a member of the Montague party, attempts in vain to quell arguments. However, because the peaceful approach is largely outweighed, he is ignored and violence ensues.
This is foreshadowing the end of the story, as in a society that is predominantly hate filled, love will never triumph. The reigning monarchs arrive at the brawl and further instigate the issue, until the prince intervenes. Romeo uses an oxymoron when speaking to Benvolio in Act I, upon learning that there has been another street fight. He says: “Why, then, O brawling love! O loving hate!”
This dialogue, filled with conflict, showing his disappointment and confusion at the ongoing feud.
In the second scene of act two, the fast pace of the play shifts from hate to love within a matter of seconds as Romeo had previously been escaping from bloodthirsty Capulets. Romeo now finds himself standing beneath Juliet’s balcony. He starts poetically reciting his romantic love for the maiden in the hopes that she will hear and look upon him. Juliet questions, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/ By any other name would smell as sweet.” Implying that Romeo’s surname has nothing to do with their love but everything to do with their families hate for each other. Juliet is applying the metaphor of a rose to Romeo by stating that a name is merely a label and a meaningless convention. She is questioning why the love of her life has to be her family’s enemy.
Prior to their impending nuptials in act two, scene six, Friar Lawrence cautions Romeo to love with less intensity and impulsivity. In this setting, Romeo worries the Friar right before he is set to wed the young lovers. Friar Lawrence is wary of Romeo’s fairytale ideas and innocent approach to love. Despite a direct warning, Romeo blissfully ignores the statement and the wedding proceeds. Friar Lawrence says, “these violent delights have violent ends / And in their triumph die, like fire and powder, Which as they kiss consume: the sweetest honey…”
The excerpt is a particularly ominous foreshadowed warning of the tragedy about to befall the couple. The Friar uses metaphorical phrases that show how he truly feels about their relationship. A spark makes gunpowder explode in the same way the first taste of sweet honey momentarily satisfies the most voracious appetite. The Friar is advising him to take it slowly even though he himself still goes through with the plan of marrying the teens.
In the opening events of act three, scene one, there is a flicker of hope for the fate of Romeo and Juliet. However, this is quickly overcome by the harsh reality that if people indulge in hatred, it will always defeat love. In this scene, Mercutio starts taunting Tybalt and other Capulet men against the advice of Benvolio. Romeo arrives but refuses to engage with Tybalt as he is technically related to him now, although Tyblat is unaware of this. The arguments escalate resulting in Tybalt killing Mercutio and Romeo, in a fit of despair and rage, ends up slaughtering Tybalt. Mercutio uses alliteration with the /m/. The phrase ‘as soon moved to be moody’ is balanced against the inversed, ‘as soon moody to be moved.’ This is a rhetorical device called chiasmus because the concepts are repeated in the reverse order to give added emphasis. Shakespeare depicts love and hate as similar passions. A struggle between love and hate is a reappearing theme throughout his play.