The main theme in Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet is that of love. Shakespeare uses various ways to display the theme of love, notably in the characters varied attitudes towards love and also the different language devices in the play. Characters attitudes towards love are sometimes developed and changed throughout the play, allowing for Shakespeare to show more opinions of love that may have been common in his day. From the play it is noticeable that actions and attitudes towards love have changed since the time of Shakespeare. One example of this is courtly love. This is a style of love that is little known nowadays but is evident from the play that was a common idea in the days of Shakespeare.
Courtly love was an accepted fact of life, it was love from a distance, usually from a male to a female that was unobtainable, usually from marriage or a higher socio-economic class. This still happens today but it is not normally displayed publicly, whereas in Elizabethan times the accepted thing to do was make a big fuss and sulk around a lot, making a lot of noise and letting a lot of people know about it. Courtly love does not lead to marriage normally. Shakespeare displays courtly love from the very start of the play through the character Romeo and his courtly love for Rosaline. The audience at the time of Shakespeare would be able to empathize with Romeo but nowadays most of the audience would only see Romeo as a whinging idiot. This highlights one of the changes in attitudes between Elizabethan times and today.
We know that Rosaline was outside of Romeo's grasp as he says: "Out of her favour where I am in love" A 1 Sc 1 L 167 This means that Romeo sees Rosaline as unobtainable and so as was the accepted action he complains out loud. Courtly love happens today for example in the caste system in Hinduism, but also in our society, although not as strongly or publicly. Arranged marriage is another example of changes in attitudes towards love form Elizabethan times to nowadays as this is now thought of a terrible idea and a violation of our freedom of choice in modern society. In the time of Shakespeare arranged marriage was a fact of life, much like courtly love. Children respected their parents so much as to trust them to choose a suitable partner. Arranged marriage was not for love, but to unite families, strengthen political bonds, and increase power and wealth.
The average age for girls to get married would have been about fourteen or fifteen years old as at this time it was legal to get married at any age that your parents thought you were mature enough. In the play the Capulets wanted Juliet to get married at the age of thirteen. Shakespeare's audience would have accepted these ideas and practices as Italian culture. The idea of 'true' love was probably more alien to them than that of courtly love and arranged marriage whereas nowadays modern audiences find the concept of courtly love and arranged marriage controversial.
On the whole many attitudes towards love have changed since then: love or infatuation of a person at a distance is less public now, respect for parents is often challenged, people chose their partners for love - not just family convenience, possibly because the age of consent for marriage is higher now and the independence of choice increases with maturity. In some cultures the values that Shakespeare encompassed in his play are still respected and acted upon. Arranged marriages still take place and the belief is fate and destiny rule people's lives. Shakespeare gives different views on love to each of the characters that reflect the different views of people from his day. Sometimes the characters views get developed or changed throughout the play For example Romeo starts the play with his courtly love for Rosaline.
He knows that she is well out of his reach because she basically just ignores him and does not return his love. This is just an infatuation. "Out of her favour where I am in love" A 1 Sc 1 L 167 Romeo also sounds very confused about his emotions for Rosaline and as this was socially accepted at the time he talked about it and made a big fuss. To make his point and show that he is confused he uses a technique which was being used by a lot of poets who wrote about love at the time, he uses oxymoron's.
These are contradictions within sentences. For example: "o brawling love, o loving hate" A 1 S 1 L 175 "O heavy lightness, serious vanity" A 1 S 1 L 177 "She is fair, too wise; wisely too fair" Romeo's attitude towards Rosaline possibly has a sexual element to it "Nor ope her lap to saint-seducing gold" A 1 S 1 L 213 This could be because he does not know her any better and all he can see are her physical attractions which means he only wants her for her body. Romeo also compares his love towards Rosaline with night time, blindness and darkness, creating an image of darkness and negative thoughts. "Being black... blind... forgot...
The precious treasure of his eyesight lost" A 1 S 1 L 230-234 From this we see that Romeo, at this point, sees love as a pain and as a bad thing that is more like an illness than anything else. Later on in the play Romeo still compares love to darkness and night when he has met Juliet and he has gone to her house but he contradicts the images of darkness: "It is the east, and Juliet is the Sun Arise fair sun and kill the envious moon Who is already sick and pale with grief" A 2 S 2 L 3 This shows that Romeo sees Juliet as the opposite to Rosaline, she is within his grasp although she is on the opposite side and his family would not agree to him marrying Juliet. He asks Juliet to kill his love for Rosaline, meaning he has given up trying to love Rosaline and has moved on to Juliet When Romeo first meets Juliet he sounds as if he is worshipping her and is possibly afraid that she will reject him like Rosaline. It is love at first site and is something more than what he felt for Rosaline. "if I profane with my unworthiest hand" A 1 S 5 L 92 Romeo and Juliet's relationship grows stronger throughout the play "not by the moon, th' inconstant moon" A 2 S 2 L 109 Romeo loves Juliet so much that he is willing to die rather than be without her love "Ha banishment? Be merciful, say death" A 3 S 3 L 11 Romeo sees Benvolio as a brother.
Benvolio tries to find out what is wrong with Romeo at the beginning of the play and defends him after Tybalt's death. Romeo and Mercurio are very good friends and enjoy each others company "Thy wit is a very bitter sweeting, it is a most sharp sauce" A 2 S 4 L 80 Romeo sees father Lawrence as a father figure as he gives Romeo advice a lot and tells him what to do and even marries him to Juliet. "wisely and slowly they stumble that run fast" A 2 S 3 L 96 Juliet has no idea what love is at the beginning of the play as she is only thirteen years old. She learns about love when she meets Romeo. This is 'true' love. She is very passionately in love with Romeo.
"But of thou girl / boy thing meant not well I do first afraid beseech thee... To cease of losing him thy strife, and leave me or that he will to my grief" A 2 S 2 L 152 Juliet's love is so strong for Romeo that it impairs her better judgement. She is distraught when she discovers that Romeo is a Montague, but she loves him so much that she is willing to die rather than be unfaithful. She has enough love for him that she is willing to risk death by taking the drug that Friar Lawrence gives her. "My only love sprung from hate Too early seen unknown and known too le"And with this knife I'll help it presently" A 4 S 1 L 54 "O bid me leap rather than marry Paris From off the battlements of any tower."This is thy sheath; there rest; and let me die." Juliet loves Tybalt a lot but in a very different way to Romeo. Tybalt is her cousin but even when Romeo kills him she still forgives Romeo.
"My dearest cousin. My dear lord" A 3 S 2 L 66 Juliet loves the nurse as a friend and as an advisor, but when the nurse takes the side of Lady Capulet and says that Juliet should marry Paris, Juliet starts to dislike the nurse. Juliet loves and respects her parents as was expected at the time. As she develops and grows up throughout the play she goes against the culture of the day and defies her parents as she loves Romeo so much. At this point she expects no love from her parents but does not really care as she has Romeo's love. Benvolio on the other hand does not see women and relationships in the same way that Romeo does.
Benvolio believes that women are interchangeable and disposable. He believes that there should be no grief at the end of a relationship and that you should just move on. Paris and Lady Capulet both believe in love in appearance. Paris believes that Juliet is his property. He sees her death as a bad thing because he is very selfish and is only concerned about himself. The nurse and the other servants see love as a bawdy, lustful, sexual thing.
They keep this attitude no matter what company they are in, which discomforts all of the higher class characters around them and helps to lighten the mood, especially after very serious times. This also helps break up the play and keep the audience interested. "My naked weapon is out" A 1 S 1 L 33 "women being the weaker vessels are thrust to the wall" A 1 S 1 L 15.