Romeo and Juliet, one of the world's most famous love stories focuses on the love between two 'star cross'd lovers' in rival families.
Shakespeare portrays love as the most significant theme within the play; it is the catalyst for all of the play's action and the driving motivation for the characters. The play centres around the idea of romantic love and the passion that is brought about by the feelings of it; this love embodies a model view of a romantic relationship between two lovers. Romeo and Juliet sets the standard of a classic love story illustrating love at first sight; this is demonstrated by the use of a sonnet in their first conversation as this structure, typically about love, signifies how the two young lovers feel about each other as they both 'dream to love'. The power of love that Shakespeare indicates through the characters of Romeo and Juliet is a very simplistic idea that love holds a power over someone which blinds them from social convention and transcends over morals.
Shakespeare creates a clear link between love, hate and passion in the play; it is not wholly obvious that there is a link between both love and hate due to the typical contrasting natures of both emotions. It is passion that fuels these emotions which overwhelms so powerfully that values and beliefs get lost in what stems from either love or hatred. Often there is an evident link between the feeling of hatred and violence, however it is not usually as common to see the connection between love and violence, it is a subtle relationship throughout the play. Shakespeare suggests a link between love and passion, with love being the overriding theme, the theme and idea of passion links equally to love and hatred. It is a deep rooted passion that causes the actions of each character ; this shows the brutal and powerful emotions that are love and hatred.
Indeed the forcefulness of love and its close connection to violence underpins both moments of joy and complete despair and rage. Romeo's love for his friend Mercutio, for example, leads him to murder Tybalt in a blind rage as he calls out:"That later thou gavest me, for Mercutio's soulIs but a little way above our heads,Staying for thine to keep him company:Either thou or I, or both must go with him." (Act 3, scene 1. 117-120)Shakespeare, therefore presents love as an emotion so strong that the characters are prepared to kill, or die, for it.Shakespeare introduces the theme of love through the portrayal of Romeo's feelings for Rosaline, which is a clear demonstration of unrequited love that is experienced in the early scenes of the play. Romeo's love for Rosaline is a focus point as his so called 'love' is really an obsession where he objectifies and idolises her, yet he truly feels that he is 'in love with her'.
Here, Shakespeare portrays Romeo as a Petrarchan lover who suffered from unrequited love and became infatuated with the idea of being with Rosaline rather than her as a person. The extent of Rosaline and Romeo's relationship was that of courtly love, another form of love explored by Shakespeare in the play. This type of love was the way of attracting a woman in medieval times, near to when the play was written. Romeo is insistent that he will love her regardless of the fact that she wants to 'live chaste'.
This contrasts with his later relationship with Juliet as their relationship was filled with passion which Romeo was willing to give up for Rosaline. Romeo's immature approach to love is apparent as he is unable to see that was it was unrealistic and left him in 'despair'. The juxtaposition of Romeo's two relationships is made obvious to the audience by the form and structure of Romeo's language to each woman. When he first discusses Rosaline he uses basic and infantile language to portray his feelings for her and speaks in a rhyming couplets. Whereas, Romeo speaks in iambic pentameter when speaking to Juliet in Act 2, Scene 2 to show his growth in maturity and understanding of the complexity of love. Shakespeare uses an extended metaphor of the sun and stars throughout the play as Romeo declares that 'Juliet is the sun' with 'two of the fairest stars in all the heaven'.
Shakespeare also uses a metaphor of day and night to present Romeo and Juliet's love because the two lovers require the privacy that is provided by the darkness of the night in order for them to be together due to Romeo's banishment from 'fair Verona'. Both Romeo and Juliet see each other as sources of light, which they very much need in the darkness of the night. These ideas create a contrast to show the audience the true power that love has as it enables the lovers love to shine out through the darkness that they are presented with, this could either be the literal darkness of the night time or the darkness in the 'ancient grudge' between the two families which is only buried by the ultimate darkness of death. Juliet is unaware of the events that have taken place during the day involving her beloved, this juxtaposes the event of Tybalt's death with her hunger for the night to be upon them.
The reader is already aware of the violence Romeo experienced in the brawl which sets the scene for tragic outcome that will come upon the two young lovers. Shakespeare uses the themes of both violence and death to contrast with the depth of Romeo and Juliet's love for one another. This demonstrates one of the plays key ideas; that love is an overwhelming force that supersedes all other values. Shakespeare uses the theme of love to justify the actions of the characters in the play as it is the love felt for different people that fuels their actions to certain situations demonstrated by Romeo and Tybalt's brawl, in Act 3, Scene 1, which resulted in the death of Juliet's cousin. Regardless of Romeo's reluctance to fight Tybalt he fights Tybalt after the death of his friend, Mercutio. Juliet's absence of grief surrounding her cousins death is due to her sacred bond between her and her husband and a deeper love than she has for her cousin.
Romeo reveals that it was his love for Juliet that made him effeminate and 'in temper softened valour's steel' that caused him to refuse Tybalt's offer to 'turn and draw'. However, it was Romeo's love for Mercutio that caused him to fight Tybalt and kill him because he took it upon himself to seek revenge for his recently dead friend. Shakespeare is careful to not portray love as a romanticized and idealized idea but a powerful emotion that alters views and perceptions which, in turn, results in a change of morals. Instead, love is conveyed as a powerful nature that lead to the death of two young lovers; the love between Romeo and Juliet was strong enough to overcome an 'ancient grudge' and 'bury.
..parents strife' which demonstrates a realistic brutality of love. This contradicts Shakespeare's portrayal of love in 'Sonnet 116' because he does portray love as a romantic idea that is timeless and 'an ever fixed-mark'. However, Romeo and Juliet are reunited in death due to their love which proves that love 'is never shaken' The power of the young couples love is so clear which is demonstrated by their decision to defy their families wishes and their feud. The tragic ending of the play enables Shakespeare to present his ideas that love is not always pure and without flaw.
The way that Romeo and Juliet's love is presented is destructive and it could be argued that if the their immaturity to love could have prevented the tragic ending of their love story as the passion of their love endangered one another lives.The familial love within the Capulet family is not made clear until the death of Capulet's only heir. It isn't made obvious to the modern reader that the family contained much love due to the protective and controlling nature of Juliet's father. He states that 'with my child my joys are buried'; this means that Capulet's joy was contained within Juliet and now that she has gone forever, so have his joys. Equally with Juliet's death came the end of the Capulet name which means there are no heirs for Lord and Lady Capulet. At the time the play was written women 'belonged' to their fathers and were expected to do as they were told.
Capulet is the epitome of a powerful father in the Elizabethan era as he is controlling and treats Juliet's marriage to Paris more like a business deal rather than an opportunity for her happiness. It was not uncommon in Renaissance Italy for women to marry who were 'not fourteen', just like Juliet. Despite the differences in the play between the modern era and when the play was written in the Elizabethan era. Many of the themes are still relevant as the play focuses upon love, which shows that it surpasses all ages. This can also be demonstrated by Baz Luhrmann's 1996 adaptation of Romeo and Juliet showing how the play can be applied to modern societies.
This play demonstrates that time does not fade true passionate love which is the same love today as it was in 1594 when Shakespeare wrote a play about 'two star-crossed lovers'. Love still has the same power over people as it did which shows that love is a constant and 'Shakespeare is not of an age, but for all time'.