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How is Love Presented in 'Romeo and Juliet' by Shakespeare

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Words: 1504 |

Pages: 3|

8 min read

Published: Feb 9, 2023

Words: 1504|Pages: 3|8 min read

Published: Feb 9, 2023

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Romeo and Juliet are widely regarded as one of the greatest love stories ever told. In this paper, we will research in more detail how is love presented in Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare tells the story of two young people who are so in love that they would rather die than live without each other. The theme of love is interwoven into every scene in the play, the different forms of love are also explored by Shakespeare. Shakespeare presents love as complex and everchanging through his use of oxymorons. He contrasts the purity of first love with the passionate and uncontrollable force of the emotion, and further, thoughts and feelings of infatuation against long-lasting love and marriage. He uses existing conventions, as well as his own elaborate language and imagery, to further present love as unrequited, elevated and holy, physical, and linked with violence and death.

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Unrequited Love is portrayed through Romeo's infatuation with Rosaline; instead of bringing him joy he becomes depressed as his love is one-sided and she doesn't feel the same way. In Act 1 Scene 1, Romeo uses a range of oxymorons to express his emotions about love. ‘O brawling love, O loving hate’. The verb ‘brawl’ is used as an adjective here and has connotations of fighting, which emphasizes the conflict within the play. The oxymoron between ‘brawling’ and ‘love’ represents the contrast between Romeo and Juliet's love with the quarrelling and violence of the family feud. It also foreshadows the amount of violence that will occur throughout the course of the play between the families, and links with the important theme of the coexistence of love and hate. The unending list of Romeo's oxymorons from ‘feather of lead,’ ‘bright smoke,’ ‘cold fire,’ to ‘sick health,’ suggests Romeo's inability to comprehend what is in front of him and his overall confusion on love. In addition to this, it strongly alludes to Romeo's immature and inexperienced character, and his tendency to make rushed decisions. This is reinforced when Juliet says in Act 2 Scene 2, ‘too rash, too unadvised, too sudden, too like the lightning', the asyndetic listing builds to the simile which encapsulates Romeo's character as someone who is reckless and impulsive. Furthermore, whilst we may see the relationship between Romeo and Juliet as one of reciprocal love, each of their own inabilities to clearly discuss their own relationship without the use of oxymorons contrasting their speech makes their love seem unrequited.

Religious love becomes more of an apparent presentation of love as we progress through the play and events such as the marriage between Juliet and Paris becomes increasingly relevant to the plot. The pure and chaste religious imagery when Romeo and Juliet meet is contrasted to Act 5 Scene 3 where the imagery becomes sexualized. In many cultures, sex is a way of consummating a marriage and thus completes the unification of a couple. In the play, the couple is unified in death and the sexual imagery is symbolic of the consummation of their unity in the afterlife. Romeo drinks to his death from a round vial which in Elizabethan times was an allusion to female sexuality. This combines with the action of Juliet killing herself with a dagger, a phallic symbol that could also be seen as representing a re-consummation of the marriage. This highlights how they had a love that was transcendental and able to connect them across three levels; physically, mentally, and spiritually. The fact that the two lovers die together also cements their eternal devotion for each other, and further presents their relationship and further the theme of love, as one which is wholly based on religion.

Emotional and physical love is heavily contrasted by Shakespeare and the concept is exemplified in various places throughout the play. In Act 1 Scene 4, Mercutio says that if ‘love be rough with you, be rough with love’ . This alludes to the sexual nature of love which is physical and not pure. This also suggests that love can also be ‘rough’ emotionally which is evident in the way that Romeo is suffering from unrequited love. In Act 2 Scene 1 Mercutio subverts the convention of romantic poetry when describing Rosaline's body. He lists her body parts saying; 'conjure thee by Rosaline's bright eyes, by her high forehead and her scarlet lip, by her fine foot, straight leg, and quivering thigh'. This shows Mercutio is reducing what was previously a love-filled romance for Rosaline to nothing but a sexual description of her body. Later, the Friar shows his lack of emotional understanding in this scene as he says that ‘Young men’s love lies not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes' , essentially disregarding the idea that love can be something from the heart. This could be seen as Shakespeare shining light on the superficial nature of love, perhaps cloaking the whole play in irony and showing a fresh view of love, which contradicts the more romantically idealized conventions of the time. This idea is further explored as the Friar says that Romeo was only ‘doting’ for Rosaline. This sexual form of love is not just focused on by men. The Nurse checks out Romeo's body and comments that his ‘leg excels all men’s'. The Nurse's sexualized view of Romeo contrasts with the emotional attachment Juliet feels towards him. This could be viewed as Shakespeare stressing how Romeo and Juliet's love transcends the conventional ideas of love that we see from Lady Capulet, the Nurse, and Mercutio. As a result of this, Shakespeare's presentation of love seems to be not just emotional, but physical and highlights the impulsiveness of Romeo's actions in the play as he quickly moves on from Rosaline to Juliet seemingly due to their physical attraction.

The passionate love of Romeo and Juliet is unsettled by the violence and conflict that takes place in the play. However, while some might think that the conflict corrupts their love it actually fuels it and makes it more powerful. The amalgamation of love and violence is what characterizes the drama as a tragedy. Love is also linked with violence and death in many other ways within the play. In Act 1 Scene 1, Sampson and Gregory describe acts of violence and rape with the use of a ‘naked weapon’. The word ‘naked’ fills the description with both sexual ideas of intimacy but also highlights an idea of truth. The juxtaposition of this with ‘weapon’ which has connotations of violence again highlights how there is an overlap between love and hate. It is said along with desires to ‘thrust Montague’s maids to the wall' and to rape the women. Rape can be seen as violence infiltrating what is supposed to be an act of love and intimacy. The use of sonnet form which was conventionally used to depict love is used by Shakespeare to describe death and feud. He uses blood-filled imagery of ‘civil blood makes civil hands unclean’ which highlights how this play is contained within ideas of love but is just as much to do with hate and fighting. The marriage of Romeo and Juliet is described as a ‘violent delight’ by Friar Lawrence. This use of oxymorons emphasizes the difference between the two ideas but also highlights a connection between them. The use of the adjective ‘violent’ echoes the fighting that has gone on within the novel. However, the use of the verb ‘delights’, rather than love also puts emphasis on how the violence occurs within the indulgence rather than the relationship. The almost prophetic words of Juliet that her ‘grave is like to be her wedding bed’ again highlight an intersection between violence and death with love. The image of a wedding bed suggests the consummation of a marriage and finality which has links to death which is also final. Moreover, Shakespeare further presents love as a theme that deeply correlates with violence and is essential to fuel the desirable, forbidden relationship between Romeo and Juliet.

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In Conclusion, Shakespeare's presentation of love varies greatly throughout the play, and the attitudes to love differ from each character. Shakespeare's use of oxymorons expresses the dichotomy of love, as while it is pure and ‘beautiful’ it can also be the exact opposite. Further, we are able to see other presentations of love through the Prince and his love for his community and in many ways, the amicable love between Romeo, Mercutio, and Benvolio. However, we can surmise that love holds one of the greatest powers in the play, so strong that it transcends expectations, tradition, and through the combined suicides of lovers who cannot live without one another. Shakespeare depicts what may seem to be a beautiful confession of love on the surface, yet underneath has undertones of impending death and arrogance. Despite its power throughout the play, we could argue that this violent and unrequited idea of love that Romeo and Juliet hold and die for is more of a loss due to their childless and impulsiveness rather than a beautiful sacrifice as it is often interpreted to be.

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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

Cite this Essay

How is Love Presented in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ by Shakespeare. (2023, February 09). GradesFixer. Retrieved April 20, 2024, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/how-is-love-presented-in-romeo-and-juliet-by-shakespeare/
“How is Love Presented in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ by Shakespeare.” GradesFixer, 09 Feb. 2023, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/how-is-love-presented-in-romeo-and-juliet-by-shakespeare/
How is Love Presented in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ by Shakespeare. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/how-is-love-presented-in-romeo-and-juliet-by-shakespeare/> [Accessed 20 Apr. 2024].
How is Love Presented in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ by Shakespeare [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2023 Feb 09 [cited 2024 Apr 20]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/how-is-love-presented-in-romeo-and-juliet-by-shakespeare/
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