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The Central themes of the play are developed by contrast and center on love. In the first and second scenes, three different kinds of love are depicted.
Sensual love is first presented in the ribald jokes of Samson and Gregory, in the bawdy comments of the Nurse, and in Mercutio’s sexual jokes about Rosaline at the expense of Romeo.
Next, petty love is presented in the “love sick” Romeo. Romeo is in love with the idea of love and fancies that Rosaline is the girl of his dreams. He praises her beauty, moans about her not returning his love, and sheds affected tears for his plight. Mercutio and the Friar both are aware of the shallowness of Romeo’s ‘love’ for Rosaline.
The third type of love presented in the play is “Conventional Love”, which is developed in the social situation of arranged marriage. Paris offers his rank in exchange for Juliet’s beauty. He respectfully asks Lord Capulet for the hand of his daughter before he has ever met her personally. There is no emotion here, only convenience and proper social matching.
Against the presentation of these three types of love, Romeo’s genuine and passionate love of Juliet stands out prominently. From the moment Romeo meets Juliet at the Capulet’s ball, his affected love for Rosaline vanishes. He puts aside his sentimentality and artificiality. True love takes complete possession of his mind and soul and becomes the driving force in his life. After meeting Juliet, even Romeo’s language undergoes a great change; it becomes more simple, pure, and lucid, truly the language of the heart. He is no longer a dreamy, but a practical young man who lays plans for marriage to the woman he loves.
True love knows no limits. It drives Romeo and Juliet to ignore the barriers of family feud and to defy parental authority. It finds a way to consummate a marriage in spite of Romeo’s exile and the danger involved in his staying in Verona overnight. It finds a way to prevent Juliet from marrying Paris. It finds a way, through death, to unite the lovers eternally. Romeo and Juliet have become immortal by the power of their ‘passionate’ love. Truly, this young couple shows how love can conquer all things.
Another key theme of the play is the tragic consequences of civil disorder. The opening scene clearly establishes the disorder in Verona by presenting the quarrel of the servants, who belong to the opposing houses of the Montagues and the Capulets. Prince Escalus, as a guardian of peace, threatens death for anyone who continues the strife, but his words, for the most part, fall on dear ears. In Act III, Scene 1, a quarrel again erupts between Mercutio and Tybalt, and later between Tybalt and Romeo; the fighting results in the deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt. In the final Scene, there is the fight between Romeo and Pairs, resulting in the death of Paris. Civil disorder has needlessly claimed several lives.
Romeo and Juliet also become sacrifices to the enmity between the two houses. Although deeply in love, they cannot openly admit their feelings since Juliet is a Capulet and Romeo is a Montague. They are forced to marry in secret and tell no one outside of Friar Lawrence. As a result, when Lord Capulet forces Juliet into a marriage with Paris, she chooses to take the potion that will put her in a trance rather than betray Romeo. Romeo misunderstands her death-like state, so he kills himself. Juliet, in turn, kills herself when she realizes Romeo is dead. Both of these deaths were indirectly caused by the civil disorder between the Montagues and Capulets. If Romeo and Juliet had been able to openly profess their love, they would not have become tragic heroes.
CRITICAL ANALYSIS / STRUCTURE ANALYSIS
THE PLAY AS A LYRICAL TRAGEDY
Literary critics have hailed Romeo and Juliet as a lyrical tragedy; rich in imagination and poetry and universal in appeal. Every utterance of the young lovers is bubbling with emotion; as it excites, it exalts as well. Romeo and Juliet become more than mere characters on stage; they are exemplary lovers who sacrifice unto death for their love and for one another. What appeals to the reader is not only the tragedy of young love, but also the exquisite composition, metrical melody, dulcet music, and lovely imagery of the play. It is the poetry of the play, more than the plot, which transports the reader into the rich world of romance. Sometimes blank verses blossom into rhymed lines, giving additional beauty to the words. Sometimes, Romeo and Juliet talk in sonnets to declare their love.
Imagery is another aspect, which lifts the play to a higher level of intellectual pleasure. When Juliet appears on the balcony, Romeo, full of love and passion for her bursts into poetic exuberance:
But soft! What light through window breaks? It is the last and Juliet is the Sun who is already sick and pale with grief The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars As day light doth a lamp.
O, that I were a glove upon her hand That I might touch that cheek!
In the tomb, Romeo again pours forth the passions of his heart in exquisite poetry:
Thou detestable maw, thou womb of Death, Gorged with the dearest morsel of the earth Thou , I enforce thy roller joins to open, And in despite, I’ll cram thee with more food !”
Shakespeare has obviously chosen the language for the play very carefully. The depth and beauty of the language and images are a true reflection of the depth and beauty of the protagonists themselves. Together they make Romeo and Juliet an unforgettable and lyrical masterpiece, an undying love song.