English Literature » Notes » How is love portrayed in “Romeo and Juliet”?
Romeo and Juliet scene

How is love portrayed in “Romeo and Juliet”?

Shakespeare portrays love in Romeo and Juliet in many ways. Their love is portrayed by images of light and dark and is juxtaposed against death, and he sets next to Romeo and Juliet the love associated with sight and appearances. In all, their love is of another world. The love of Romeo and Juliet is portrayed as otherworldly and heavenly. They are “star-crossed lovers”, with their destiny pre-determined; they and other humans have no control.

Instead the control lies with fate and God. The lovers are “fortune’s fools”. This dependency on fate and otherworldly powers lend their love a sense of being something heavenly, “hanging in the stars”.

With their love, they are able to rise above their world and everyone else. Their love is a means to escape the world of reality and to create their own world of darkness. This world of darkness is their consequential deaths, because their love is “death-marked”. Their love is too passionate and powerful to remain in their world, ruled by family hate and violence. Shakespeare describes love in terms of sight and appearances. Romeo and Juliet’s love is blind, they first meet at a ball, where Romeo is “covered in an antic face” and Juliet’s identity is unknown to him.

Their first meeting is love at first sight. Romeo has “ne’er saw true beauty till this night” and this shows their love’s dependency on sight. During their second meeting at the balcony, Juliet asks Romeo to “doff thy name”, as names are also a type of disguise and mask. Romeo in turn replies that he is hidden “from their sight”, so that his appearance is seen only by Juliet, who has the “mask of night” on her face. Despite both of them admitting that they love each other, their love is heavily depended on their sight and the appearance of the other person.

This theme is an important element of Shakespeare’s portrayed love because the play itself is based on sight, appearances and masks like the family name. In the play, a common theme is contrasting images of light and dark. Shakespeare uses these images of light and dark often in terms of light and day. Most of Romeo and Juliet’s meetings happen at night. At the Capulets ball, Romeo’s first description of Juliet is that “she doth teach the torches to burn bright”. To Romeo, Juliet, the “fair sun” will be forever associated with light. But to Juliet, she links Romeo, “bescreened in night”, with darkness and the moon.

In the morning after their wedding night Romeo and Juliet argue whether it is light or dark. If it is dark, they are able to stay with each other for longer, but since it is the “lark, the herald of the morn; no nightingale”, the light separates them. Light reveals and exposes, and before the light can expose the truths and realities of their relationship, they are forced to separate. Light and dark can never coexist, and symbolising their love as that show how it can never survive in reality. Throughout Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare employs opposing factors. One of the most potent contrasts is how he sets love next to death.

Their love has “sprung from my [their] only hate”. This juxtaposition emphasises their love and how out of place it is in their society they live in. Both love and death are very strong themes all through the play and are linked. Juliet often refers to death, almost subconsciously. If she does not meet Romeo, she thinks that her “grave is like to be my [her] wedding bed”. Juliet orders that when Romeo dies, he should be cut “out in little stars”. These are not only foreshadowing the lovers imminent deaths, but the constant link between love and death in the play.

They spend one night together, and the next morning Juliet comments how she imagines him “dead at the bottom of a tomb” and that he “lookst pale” Romeo replies that so does she. Exactly a day later, they are lying together again, dead in the tomb. Their love is so passionate and intense, but “violent delights have violent ends”. Instead of being that type of love that pushes and protects them from violence and death, their type of love pushes them towards it. The “violent ends” are the lovers’ suicide, they must finally meet death to preserve their love.

Shakespeare does not want to portray the sweet, gentle and almost childish love, like the love Romeo thought he had for Rosaline. Instead he wanted to portray Romeo and Juliet’s love as powerful, violent, passionate, and as intense as death. Because of the way in which Shakespeare employs images and common themes, the play records Romeo and Juliet’s evolving love, from their metaphorical and heavenly meetings at the ball with “torches” to their literal and dramatic deaths in the darkness of the mausoleum. In the space of four days, Shakespeare has encompassed a lifetime.

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