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Love in 'Romeo and Juliet'

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'Romeo and Juliet'

Love in 'Romeo and Juliet'

Photo © NYPL Digital Gallery

Romeo and Juliet has become forever associated with love. The play has become an iconic story of love and passion, and the name “Romeo” is still used to describe young lovers.

Shakespeare’s treatment of love in the play is complex and multifaceted. He uses love in its many guises to thread together the key relationships in the play.

Fickle Love

Some characters fall in and out of love very quickly in Romeo and Juliet. For example, Romeo is in love with Rosaline at the start of the play, which is presented as an immature infatuation. Today, we might use the term “puppy love” to describe this. Romeo’s love for Rosaline is shallow and nobody really believes that it will last, including Friar Laurence:

Romeo. Thou chid'st me oft for loving Rosaline.
Friar Laurence. For doting, not for loving, pupil mine.

Similarly, Paris’ love for Juliet is borne out of tradition, not passion. He has identified her as a good candidate for a wife and approaches her father to arrange the marriage. Although this was the tradition at the time, it also says something about Paris’ staid attitude towards love. He even admits to Friar Laurence that in his haste to rush the wedding through he hasn’t discussed it with his bride-to-be:

Friar Laurence. On Thursday, sir? the time is very short.
Paris. My father Capulet will have it so;
And I am nothing slow to slack his haste.
Friar Laurence. You say you do not know the lady's mind:
Uneven is the course, I like it not.
Paris. Immoderately she weeps for Tybalt's death,
And therefore have I little talked of love;

Romantic Love

Our classic idea of romantic love is embodied in Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare presents this as a force of nature, so strong that it transcends societal conventions. This idea is established in the play’s prologue with the line “a pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life.”

Perhaps Romeo and Juliet's love is fate - there love is given cosmic significance which can therefore overturn the social boundaries of “fair Verona.” Their love is disallowed by the Capulet and Montague households, and Juliet is to marry Paris – Yet, they inevitably find themselves drawn together.

Other Types of Love

Many of the friendships in the play are as sincere as Romeo and Juliet’s love for one another. The close relationships between Juliet and her Nurse, and between Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio are meaningful and heartfelt. They care deeply for another and protect each others honor – this ultimately costs Mercutio his life.

This platonic love is offset by the sexual innuendos made by some characters – particularly Juliet’s Nurse and Mercutio. Their view of love is earthy and purely sexual, creating an effective contrast with Romeo and Juliet’s romanticism.

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