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Whether it is a poem, play, or sonnet, the household name of William Shakespeare will forever be known as one of the very few playwrights who influenced literary culture and society for centuries to come. His romantic tragedy, Romeo and Juliet, stands as one of Shakespeare’s most recognized and most popular plays produced, with many modern-day narratives using the story of Romeo and Juliet as inspiration for another romantic chronicle. Despite sending his readers and viewers on an intense and passion-fuelled affair, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet stands as an example of enamored young love, and just how powerful its possession can be.
The story of the ill-fated lovers, Romeo and Juliet, is based on the acrimonious animosity of the two rival families; the Montagues and the Capulets. Romeo, from house Montague, falls in love with Juliet, from house Capulet but with the knowledge of their parents never approving of their union, they struggle to keep their love a secret. Shakespeare projected Elizabethan views of love in this play, whereby it was considered inconsequential, secondary to the political, economic, and familial affairs in arranged marriages. However, the characters of Romeo and Juliet challenge this idea and come to prove that ‘love’ is integral to human existence.
Throughout the entirety of the play, there is a subtle suggestion of light and dark imagery; Shakespeare uses this technique to elucidate the prospering relationship of the “star-crossed lovers”. In act 2, Scene 2, Romeo uses metaphor as he calls Juliet “the sun”, suggesting to the audience of his newfound desire for Juliet. The sun connotes light, radiance, warmth, and power; and to Romeo, Juliet is almost eclipsing. As he is sneaking around Juliet’s courtyard (quite literally in the shadows), Juliet appears “breaking the light through yonder window”, and Romeo begs the sun to “arise… and kill the envious moon”. Interestingly, Romeo makes reference to Rosaline (his former love interest) as the moon, but it also signifies how his love for Juliet (the sun) outshines (or eclipses) the moon, or rather, Rosaline.
It is also in this scene that Romeo praises Juliet’s purity, making reference to her celestial appearance and influence. Shakespeare set Romeo and Juliet in a time where religion was a driving force; a moral compass in everyone’s lives. When Shakespeare includes the religious language, readers and viewers note how the love of Romeo and Juliet directs their lives. For example, when Romeo and Juliet first meet and share their first kiss at Lord Capulet’s Ball, Shakespeare subtly includes religious imagery with a “holy shrine”; “good pilgrim” and “’my sin is purged”. Shakespeare also cleverly uses the setting of the garden in Act 2, Scene 2 to make the reference to a pastoral Eden, symbolizing both purity and virginity. Romeo’s opening monologue elevates Juliet to such a grandiose and divine prominence, aligning her with the “sun” and the “stars”. He even alludes to the Goddess of the Moon and the Patron of Virgins, Diana; implying that she is “sick [of jealousy] and pale with grief”, that “her maid”, Juliet, is “far more fair than she”.
Romeo returns to the praise of Juliet’s eyes as “two of the fairest stars in all the heaven” and indulges in hyperbole: “What if her eyes were there, they in her head? The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars, As daylight doth a lamp.” Here, he concludes that even if the stars of heaven traded places with Juliet’s eyes, the brightness of her presence would surpass the light the stars produced, much like daylight outshines a lamp. Shakespeare has also found another rather romantic way of saying that Juliet takes Romeo’s breath away as he recounts her attractive visage.
Shakespeare used Romeo and Juliet as martyrs to promote the notion that love, even if it is hasty, young, and ill-fated, deserves to be experienced. Shakespeare had a talent for producing plays that engaged audiences through the presentation of powerful ideas that could be applied to everyday man. It is evident that the characters each leave a permanent impact on the viewer and reader’s minds. Romeo’s quick infatuation with Juliet is an example of how that ‘young love’ can be possessive but powerful and yet, still heavenly and beautiful.
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