TABLE OF CONTENTS
I. THE WORLD OF “ROMEO AND JULIET” ……………….
I.1. A story about young love…………………………………………………………………..
I.2. Shakespeare’s sources …………………………………
I.3. Family constraints ………………
II. THE MANY FACES OF LOVE IN “ROMEO AND JULIET” …………………….
II.1. Love represented as a unifying force …………………………………………………………………
II.2. Love, tragedy and tragic heroes in Romeo and Juliet ……………………………………………………………….
III. LOVE VERSUS SOCIAL CONVENTIONS …………………………………………….
III.1. Family feud as a source of social disorder ……………………………
III.2. The triumph of young love against old hate ………………………….
III.3. Healing society through sacrificial deaths …………………………
I. THE WORLD OF ROMEO AND JULIET
I.1. A story about young love
In Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet two important families of Verona, the Capulets and the Montagues are presented. Because of the feud between them, it is impossible for a servant of the Capulet house to meet with a servant of the Montague house without fighting each other. In the first act of the play, the old lord Capulet organizes a grand dinner where he invites a lot of beautiful women and nobles. There everyone is allowed at this party except the Montagues. Despite this rigorous rule, Romeo, old lord Montague’s son, goes to the party wearing a masque. He wants to see Rosaline, the woman he loves. When Romeo arrives, he notices a gorgeous woman and instantly falls in love with her, even though he does not know that she is Juliet, the daughter of lord Capulet. During the same evening, Juliet falls in love with Romeo. Although the two lovers don’t know each other’s names, they “have as yet no idea of their respective identities so that the inception of their love is not hindered by social considerations” but they find it out later that night. In the second act, Romeo doesn’t realize the danger he exposes himself to and goes to Juliet’s room, where they plan to marry secretly. The lovers are finally married the next day by Friar Laurence, a friend of Romeo’s. In the third act, after a conflict, Romeo kills Tybalt, a member of the Capulet family, and prince Escalus exiles Romeo from Verona. Meanwhile, Juliet’s father decides that it’s time for Juliet to marry Paris and also establishes the date of their wedding. Being scared, Juliet talks to her mother about her father’s plan to marry Paris. Her father finds out that she discussed it with her mother and has a fight with his wife. The nurse tries to convince Juliet to marry the nobleman Paris, because if she does not obey her father’s decision Romeo will die for sure. After the fight with her parents, Juliet goes to confess to Friar Lorenzo who advises her to marry on Wednesday. The Friar also tells Juliet that before the wedding night she has to drink a potion he will prepare for her. This potion will give the others the impression that she is dead, but she will wake up after 24 hours. Juliet accepts the advice because she thinks it is the only solution to escape from this unwanted marriage. The young girl decides to drink the potion the night before the wedding, so she can run away with Romeo. When Paris arrives, the Capulets discover that Juliet is dead. Thus the wedding preparations turn into a funeral. In the last act, Romeo comes to see his beloved Juliet in Verona, but he knows nothing about Juliet’s plan. After Paris is murdered by Romeo, Romeo drinks a potion, too. He gives Juliet one last kiss and dies. When the poison’s effect is gone, Juliet wakes up. The girl sees that Romeo is dead when she wakes up; she kills herself because she cannot live without him.
As readers, what can we do is to admire their powerful love because, in a world of darkness, they are each other’s light. Romeo and Juliet is a story of young love and presents the obstacles the two lovers have to overcome in order to fulfill their love. There is an isolation of the young lovers in this play. They have a different vision of the world as compared to that of the rest of the people. Even if the older generation rules in Verona, the young lovers want to change this perspective and do what their hearts say. For Romeo, the isolation begins with the fact that he is an adolescent who fights with loneliness. The lovers want to eliminate the pressure of their social milieu, they want to be free to decide what to do and whom to love.
Romeo and Juliet are isolated from their families; they ignore their parents and hide their secrets and feelings from them. From the beginning of the play, lord Montague complains about Romeo’s behavior, about how he spends his time not talking to anyone, preoccupied with his own thoughts. Despite the fact that Romeo has no friends, he does not have a close bond with his parents. He doesn’t care about their family’s pride. The Capulet family are confronted with the same problem. Juliet is young and daydreams a lot. She is lord Capulet’s only daughter. When Juliet finds out that Romeo is a Montague she has a hesitation, but this hesitation lasts just a few seconds. She also lives in her own world; she is closer to the nurse than to her mother, that’s why she asks the nurse’s help in arranging her marriage with Romeo. Lord Capulet doesn’t understand his only daughter and he doesn’t realize what is going in with Juliet’s life when he tries to marry her. He never asks his own daughter what kind of life she wants to live with her future husband. Moreover he gives Juliet only a few days to mentally and emotionally get acquainted with the idea that she has to be Paris’ wife. When she opposes her father’s decision, he threatens to punish her.
Romeo and Juliet are both lonely and maybe this loneliness binds them so much. Like Montague, lord Capulet does not imagine what is happening in his child’s head. Her father’s threats make Juliet run to Friar Laurence. She is desperate to find a way to escape from the life she has within her family. Thus the loneliness of the two lovers is also one of the causes of their death; this feeling makes them act in an extreme and dangerous way.
I.2. Shakespeare’s sources
The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is one of the most famous writings of William Shakespeare. This love story has travelled throughout the world and it has always conveyed powerful emotions to audiences. The melodrama is woven around the two lovers’ premature death, the feud between the families and the power of love. The story was so much appreciated that the lovers in the story, Romeo and Juliet, became archetypal stereotypes. Shakespearian traits such as the variation between tragedy and comedy, the multitude of backgrounds and characters make this text into a work of art.
The story of Romeo and Juliet was written by William Shakespeare between 1594 and 1595, in his early career. The first performance of Romeo and Juliet took place in the autumn/winter of 1594 at a playhouse called The Theatre.
This story is similar to stories found in the comedies Love’s Labour’s Lost and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The plays may be grouped together because they share the same themes of love and marriage. They also have in common the convention of falling in love at first sight.
It is well known that William Shakespeare wasn’t fully original in his writings. In many of his stories he was inspired by other authors’ writings. Even if he took his subjects from other books, he improved the former stories and made them into his own. Thus he made the stories popular very quickly. It is the proof that Shakespeare was a master of words; he knew how to write in order to attract the interest of the audience and to be loved by his readers. The story of Romeo and Juliet was very popular in Elizabethan England.
The story of Romeo and Juliet can be found in its basic structure in classical Antiquity, the story of the young lovers from Verona being a version of Ovid’s poem Pyramus and Thisbe. Shakespeare proves to be a good imitator who gets the material from Ovid’s Metamorphoses and fits the texts to his purpose.
Pyramus and Thisbe are two lovers from Assyria. Their neighboring families, which are divided by a wall, are enemies. The lovers’ relatives oppose the union of Pyramus and Thisbe through marriage. One day, Pyramus and Thisbe agree to meet during the night at the tomb of King Ninus, even if Thisbe’s father is opposed to their relationship. The girl arrives earlier at the meeting place but she runs because a lioness with the mouth full of blood is following her. Thisbe runs so fast that she drops her scarf close to the savage animal. When Pyramus arrives at the meeting place and finds his lover’s bloody scarf, he thinks that the lioness killed Thisbe. He is filled with despair and kills himself with his sword. When Thisbe comes back to Ninus’ tomb, she discovers her lover’s breathless body. Thisbe is shocked by this irrecoverable loss, she cries at Pyramus’ head and commits suicide by using the same sword. The two lovers’ parents bury them in that place, putting their ashes in the same urn.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is also inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Shakespeare locates a tragedy of love in which two lovers end up dead through mistake within a comedy, and uses it as a play within another play. He shows the readers the fact that love in a comedy can bring pain and makes us experiment powerful emotions. The tragedy is transformed into a ridiculous comedy. The characters have serious things to deal with but the outcome becomes ridiculous just because the craftsmen chose to perform the play. As a craftsman of words himself, Shakespeare demonstrates again that he can easily transform even a tragedy into a comedy if he wants to.
The earlier sources of William Shakespeare for Romeo and Juliet came to him through Arthur Brooke’s poem The Tragicall History of Romeus and Juliet from 1562. We find out that Brooke’s poem is a translation of Matteo Bandello’s poem Giulietta e Romeo written in 1554. So neither Shakespeare nor Brooke are original in their stories. Five years later, in 1559, Pierre Boaistua translated Bandello’s version into French in his Histoires Tragiques. Bandello himself was inspired by a previous text written by Luigi da Porto Historia novellamente ritrovata di due amanti. He set it in Verona and introduced the two feuding families, the Montecchi and the Capelletti. The characters in love are called Romeus and Giulietta. The difference between Shakespeare’s version and Luigi da Porto’s is that in Luigi’s there is no sleeping potion. However, it was not Luigi da Porto who officially recorded the legend of Romeo and Juliet. In his turn, he took his inspiration in writing his love story from Masuccio Saternitano. Da Porto changed the characters’ names from Mariotto and Gianozza into Romeus and Giulietta, situated the action in Verona (while in Masuccio’s version the action takes place in Siene) and introduced modern elements which can also be found in Shakespeare’s play.
The names of the two feuding families, Montecchi and Cappelletti, also appear in the fourteenth-century well-known work by Dante Alighieri Divine Comedy. They appear in a passage from Purgatorio, “where Dante laments the collapse of civil order in the Italian lands of the former Roman Empire.” Italy suffers in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries because of the disfunctionality of these families. Shakespeare had an affinity for Italian stories, that’s why he also set some plays in Italy. Thus “he appears to have had little knowledge of Dante or the Divine Comedy”.
The story of Romeo and Juliet had been part of European literature for a long time when Shakespeare chose to improve it and gave it to the English audiences Thus, he made it into a work of art known worldwide. Shakespeare thus proved that if he pushed his own limits, he could create stories whose plots became a subject of discussion and controversies throughout time.
I.3. Family constraints
Romeo and Juliet is a play that presents the relation between young people and their parents and relatives. The two lovers are permanently involved in a conflict with the world of the adults and despite their attempt to integrate their passion in the society, they fail. In this authoritarian space in which they live, dominated by social conventions as it is, there is no openness for a love like theirs. For the Capulets and Montagues, this love between Romeo and Juliet is no more than a betrayal on their children’s part. Romeo and Juliet endure a huge pressure from the parents’ part because they always have to hide their feelings for each other. They meet and get married in secret. The parents exploit the innocence of their children and the beauty of their young souls. They just profit from these.
The play also focuses on the dysfunctional relationship between Juliet and her father. She has little interaction with her parents throughout the play and the smallest interaction provokes misunderstandings. Juliet is not yet 14 when Paris asks her hand in marriage from her authoritarian father. In the Capulets’ opinion, marriage is a fact that can be decided only by a father who wants to make his daughter happy for life and Paris can do this because he is a young nobleman and a relative of the prince of Verona. Even if Capulet seems very protective of his daughter, the idea that Paris, a nobleman, wants to marry Juliet, makes him accept the proposal for his daughter to be a wife with a respected name.
In Shakespeare’s time, daughters expected that their fathers decide for them because they knew better and they had enough experience of life. This allows the audience to see that women in a patriarchal society are subordinated to men, they have to do what men say and to agree with them. Prudently, the Capulet father chooses the best future husband, but not from the rival family, who, in the paternal view, has nothing to offer to his educated and beautiful daughter. It is such a pity that the two young lovers should be born in Verona where names have a colossal importance. Juliet chooses to stand against her father’s decision to marry her to Paris. But the moment Romeo kills Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin and also a Capulet, lord Capulet hurries the wedding of his daughter with Paris. Even if the family sees Juliet crying and suffering, she doesn’t really suffer because of her cousin’s death but because of her hidden love for Romeo. Thus Juliet is not announced that she will marry sooner than she imagined and she gets angry. This feeling of anger makes her become rebellious and think of a better solution for her love affair with the son of her father’s enemy and they marry in secret. Juliet never gives up, she always “remains true to her conscience and inner desires.”
Despite her parents’ opinions, Juliet is not concerned at all that he breaks her family’s rules. She decides to leave the stress behind and to follow her heart’s voice. However, her father is not flexible in his decisions concerning his daughter because he is an honorable man and he cannot be changed by his daughter’s prayers or by her youth which can sometimes melt parents’ hearts. Thus, at the end, Juliet will be the sacrifice made by her father “in a contest with death for the power to be in control of events.”.
Romeo too encounters difficulties, his relationship with his father. He does not exteriorize his feelings, and is tormented by an inner struggle. So his father tries to find out what is going on with his son and talks with Romeo’s friend, Benvolio. Even if the parents don’t realize it, their authority transforms Romeo and Juliet into a sacrifice for the gods. The only person in front of whom Juliet opens her heart is the nurse. It is normal for a 14 year-old girl to have a maternal figure to talk to, and the nurse is the person who raised her and Juliet trusts her more than she trusts her mother. The nurse hopes that Juliet will finally be happy with Romeo but she is devastated when she sees the outcomes of this love.
Fights and tensions between parents and children are part of the culture, and in patriarchal families the pressure is very intense and it kills some children, not necessarily physically but psychically. Relationships between parents and their children always become boring and children choose to interiorize themselves or to choose a friend to talk to about what should be discussed with parents. That’s why they make extreme decisions which sometimes cost them their lives. First of all the children stop communicating with their parents. They hide and do things which are not allowed just because they are very stressed and scared of the consequences. Secondly, they think a lot about how to escape from this world full of constraints, they make a solid plan that has to function but at the end, as in Romeo and Juliet, they finish in death.
II. THE MANY FACES OF LOVE IN ROMEO AND JULIET
II.1. Love as a unifying force
In Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare shows a man and a woman who experiences an overpowering love. This feeling is presented in literature from various angles. In Romeo and Juliet love appears in three forms: love as initiation, love as passion and tragic love.
Love as initiation is illustrated in the first part of the play. When Romeo goes to the Capulets’ feast, he hopes to see Rosaline, the girl he is in love with. He risks everything when he decides to go there, because a Montague is not allowed to join such a grand event organized by the rival family. He follows his heart and goes there. But he doesn’t want to show his true face, which is part of his identity, so he chooses to wear a mask. At that moment, Romeo is “a failed lover, more in love with the melancholy image of himself that failure has engendered than with his presumed beloved, Rosaline”. Even if his intention is to meet Rosaline, Romeo sees a beautiful young girl who makes his heart beat very fast. He doesn’t hesitate and goes to the mysterious girl. It is love at first sight for sure. It is amazing how powerfully this love at first sight develops. At the moment they meet, Romeo follows the formalities of the Veronese society and his talk contains only compliments. Juliet is a young obedient girl, she knows nothing about love and men. She follows her heart and answers Romeo’s compliments. The next step they make is sharing a kiss. This first kiss is asked by Romeo and it seems to be stolen rather than given. It isn’t a shared kiss because in Juliet’s head the image of her authoritarian father appears who would never agree that his only daughter, his treasure, shares a kiss with the enemy’s son. Romeo is Juliet’s first love. At the moment they meet, she sees her destiny in a second and follows her heart without hesitation. In time, when love becomes stronger day by day, kissing will not be a sin anymore, but a reciprocal act. This act will give Juliet control and certainty.
What brings the two lovers together is the spiritual love which unifies them. They first see each other’s spiritual beauty and fall in love with each other immediately. Their souls are pure and innocent, especially Juliet’s, who is just fourteen years old. Juliet is just a child and the idea of experiencing love sounds good for her. William Shakespeare reinforces the purity of Romeo and Juliet’s love by using religious imagery. Romeo sees Juliet’s hand as a “holy shrine” . The metaphor of the pilgrim highlights the fact that Juliet is a saint icon for Romeo and he is the pilgrim who glorifies her. In the first act this metaphor refers to the lovers’ first kiss: “My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand” (Act I, Scene 5). Romeo is ready to touch the “holy shrine” with his mouth and to pray in front of it, begging Juliet to “let lips do what hands do” (Act I, Scene 5). They feel this unifying force of love from the very beginning, even if they don’t know each other , they experience a unique feeling. Romeo and Juliet meet In Act I, scene 5. They both realize the danger of they are in, but they don’t give up. They let things flow naturally and believe in their destiny.
Romeo and Juliet are attracted to each other not only spiritually, but also physically. One particular passage shows that Juliet sees Romeo’s body parts and his physical traits: “What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot, / Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part / Belonging to a man” (Act II, Scene 2, Lines 42-44). Romeo also alludes to Juliet’s virginity, which shows his sexual desires. Their attention focuses on physical traits because the intimate love-moments unite their bodies and souls. The two lovers experience love “as an immediate and absolute demand, with which there is no possibility of compromise”.
Love as passion is one of the most imposing phases of love in Romeo and Juliet. It is indicated by the strong attraction between the lovers from the first moment they see each other. Nevertheless, the Montague and Capulet families and the Veronese society could break the connection between Romeo and Juliet. Yet, the two lovers know that their love is stronger than anything and, by breaking some crucial rules of the community in which they live, they prove that love can manifest as an unstoppable force. Romeo feels now that he “is beloved and loves again” (Act II, Prologue). In this euphoria of passionate love, they don’t think that love could be the one that will bring their death. Moreover, they live every moment at high intensity, as if it were the last moment. They unite their bodies and souls after their wedding.
They want God’s blessing before having sexual relations. Romeo and Juliet are religious and they know that a sexual encounter before the wedding is unacceptable. They feel peace in their souls after God’s blessing. The sexual consummation brings them physical joys. Now that the barrier falls, they feed their passion with romantic moments. Even if Juliet is just a girl in her family’s eyes, she has sexual needs. Moreover, the marriage with Romeo makes her mature. If in the first scene she is a young obedient girl, after the marriage she is a self-possessed, mature woman. Thus, on her wedding night, Juliet anticipates that this will be followed by her death. For Juliet, a short marriage with Romeo is better than a long one with Paris. The passion of Juliet’s love for Romeo will remain in eternity. In a marriage with a person she doesn’t want in her life, the passion would transform in domesticity. A life with Paris, for example, would bring her sadness, not happiness. That’s why Juliet revolts against her father’s decision.
Romeo and Juliet will shortly be in danger because of exterior circumstances. When Romeo kills Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin, the Prince exiles Romeo. But this imposed distance between the lovers is required to check their feelings, and, at the same time, to maintain their intensity. Romeo and Juliet know that their feelings are very strong. In these moments they both think about what they need to do in order to be united again. In Romeo’s head there is a struggle, the first thing he wants to do when he is allowed to come back in Mantua is to see his lover’s face. Paris talks with Friar Laurence and tells him about his plan to marry Juliet. Unfortunately, Juliet hears the conversation and is terrified because she didn’t want to become his wife. Friar Laurence offers Juliet a remedy because he supports the love between her and Romeo. The remedy consists in a sleeping potion that she is to take before her arranged wedding with Paris. The potion will keep Juliet unconscious, and she will seem to be dead for 42 hours. During this time, her body will rest in the family tomb. In the meantime, the Friar will let Romeo know of this plan. Juliet immediately agrees and leaves with the potion. Thus, Juliet makes an extreme decision. She prepares to take the potion and exclaims: “And bid me go into a new-made grave / And hide me with a dead man in his shroud.”(Act IV, Scene 1). Although these images suggest the wild fears of a young teenager, they also highlight her bravery and the depth of her love for Romeo. Not every girl would drink a potion she knows nothing about. This love transforms in “a consuming love, and in shortening the original time-scheme Shakespeare greatly increases the intensity”. But Juliet’s love makes her take this extreme step because she knows that it’s the only solution if she wants to escape the unwanted marriage with Paris. So she is tempted to be dead for a short period if it’s worth it.
In Romeo and Juliet the tragedy of love starts with their names. In this Shakespearian love story, everything is in a name. When she hears Romeo’s family name, “Juliet immediately foregrounds the complex social circumstances that any relationship between them must negotiate.” She is aware that the man she loves belongs to the rival family. Romeo also excuses himself: “My name, dear saint, is hateful to myself/ Because it is an enemy to thee” (Act II, Scene II, 55-56). Romeo and Juliet know that the world wouldn’t accept their values and they decide to deny their names, “as though the physical separation did not exist”. Moreover, there may be the names which connect them so much. They could be attracted by the danger their names involve. This unites them more; they want to prove to the Veronese society that their love is powerful and that nothing can prevent them from being together.
Friar Laurence is the one who advises Romeo to think twice about his decision to marry Juliet. He is aware of the consequences of this marriage. Friar Laurence is a religious man. He is sure that the two lovers’ marriage will unite them in front of God and, in consequence, it will end the conflict between two families. Throughout the play, the Friar is very optimistic and really hopes that the young lovers will put an end to their fathers’ feud. Through marriage, the love which functions in the entire play as a unifying force will unite the Montague and Capulet households. God makes this union possible. If they lived their entire love story in secret, without marrying each other, Romeo and Juliet would never stop their fathers’ fray.
Romeo has a special relationship with his beloved Juliet, but to highlight this idea, we can make a parallel between him and Hamlet, another Shakespearian character. It is true that they are similar, and we have many reasons to say that “Romeo is Hamlet in love”. Both live in their own world of imagination. Hamlet is detached from everything, while Romeo is absent from society, but present in his relationship with Juliet. He is completely lost in it. Romeo “is himself only in his Juliet; she is his only reality, his heart’s true home and idol. The rest of the world is to him a passing dream”. Romeo’s entire universe focuses only on Juliet. She benefits from Romeo’s whole attention and eternal love.
Hamlet loves Ophelia. Romeo loves Juliet. Each of these boys loves a girl but they are not allowed to be together with their lovers. Romeo and Juliet are forbidden to be in love with each other. They cannot even think that they can ever have a relationship in the eyes of the Veronese society, because Romeo is a Montague and Juliet is a Capulet. In Hamlet’s case, he and Ophelia are forbidden to stay together because Ophelia’s father thinks that Hamlet in crazy. Hamlet loves Ophelia, but he does it with ruthless lucidity. He is aware of her mediocrity; he suffers when he hears the discussion involving her, the King, the Queen and her father, Polonius. She offers to report to them Hamlet’s deeds and words. He both loves and hates her. Hamlet knows that even after her betrayal, when he is heart-broken, he will continue to love her. He sees in Ophelia the woman who falls. Hamlet is aware, that she is actually a common woman and not an exceptional one. He decides to leave Ophelia, while Romeo loves Juliet as she is, with her good and bad parts. Romeo sees Juliet as an angel, that is why sometimes we “feel that Romeo is in love with the idea of being in love”. For Romeo, Juliet is perfect, she has no flaw. He is crazily in love with Juliet’s perfection and beauty. Hamlet sees, while Romeo is blind.
In Romeo and Juliet, erotic speeches are mystical-religious. For each of them, the other represents the absolute, a surrogate God whose purpose is to offer happiness. In their case, happiness is there, in its maximum dimension. They are united by God in marriage. More is not possible, a better situation does not exist. In Hamlet, Ophelia’s death stresses Hamlet’s tragic side. His hate for her ends with her physical disappearance. There remains just a real and profound love. Ophelia is present in Hamlet’s life even if she is dead, because she remains in his mind, while Romeo and Juliet go hand in hand, they die together. Romeo and Juliet’s dream of living happily together is removed from temporality with their death. It dies together with the protagonists in the physical world, but it remains eternal. In the end, it is not Hamlet and Ophelia that are prototypes of absolute love, but Romeo and Juliet.
II.2. Love, tragedy and tragic heroes in Romeo and Juliet
For Romeo and Juliet to be a tragedy, it must have a tragic hero. In Shakespeare’s plays, tragedy is seen as a story which contains an unhappy end. Moreover, a tragedy leads to the fall of the protagonist, which is tragic, too. In this Shakespearian play, there are two tragic heroes, Romeo and Juliet, both being the main characters. To be tragic heroes, they must have a high estate and a tragic flaw which is the cause of their destruction. Moreover, “Romeo and Juliet shows the tragic outcome of the play as determined not by any fault of either named protagonist but by necessity.”
We can say that the tragic love between Romeo and Juliet is just a case of bad luck. It is fate which controls the tragedy of love in Romeo and Juliet. Fate is a driving force in the lovers’ life and this force leads to many consequences. Romeo took a bad decision when he decided to attend the party at the Capulet house. This was a critical decision that led to the series of tragic events in the entire play. The feud and rivalry between the Capulets and Montagues is evident from the very prologue. Though, the cause of their hatred is unknown, Romeo always has the tendency to act on impulse with little consideration. He accentuates the feud between the two families because he fails to think about the consequences: “With this night’s revels, and expire the term / Of a despised life closed in my breast / By some vile forfeit of untimely death. / But he that hath the steerage of my course, / Direct my sail. “(Act I, Scene 4). He refuses to think that his actions could lead to his death. This demonstrates that Romeo’s decisions are poor, which further proves that the tragedy of the two lovers is not caused just by bad luck. It could also be caused by the rush of the protagonists to make decisions.
The tragic destiny comes along with the intervention of the blind fate. Here also intervene those things that happen wrongly. Other characters’ lack of responsibility is also a factor that we cannot ignore. Tybalt and Mercutio have inappropriate behavior. Tybalt’s anger makes him fight with Romeo for his vanity and family honour. When Tybalt looks for Romeo, Romeo doesn’t want to fight but Mercutio fight in his place and dies. It is only when he sees his close friend is dead that Romeo fights and kills Tybalt. These consecutive deaths of characters in the tragedy are due to their immature behavior. Also Juliet’s nurse, who helps her, later betrays her “Romeo’s a dishclout to him “(Act III, Scene 5). When she hears that Romeo was banished from Verona, the nurse advises Juliet to forget about him and to marry Paris. But Juliet has already married Romeo, so he was her husband. The nurse’s disloyalty to Romeo and Juliet’s love breaks Juliet’s heart quickly and she decides to ask Friar Lawrence to help her. At this moment, he is her last chance. The tragic results here from the things that never happen, such as the fact that Friar Lawrence’s letter never reaches Romeo, who knows nothing about Juliet’s plan when he sees her unmoved in her family’s tomb: “it may be called an accident, in this sense, that Romeo never got the Friar’s message about the potion, and that Juliet did not awake from her long sleep a minute sooner”. Friar Lawrence doesn’t guard Juliet in the tomb. This can be also a thing that happens in a wrong way and that eventually leads the couple to tragic death because both “Romeo and Juliet have promised suicide if their absolute love is in any way thwarted. Friar Laurence saw what such a confession before all of Verona might do to the private lovers.”
Moreover, the other characters’ defects contribute equally to this tragedy. The lovers’ fate depends on this aspect too, though “in the world of Romeo and Juliet there is a marked tendency for people to turn themselves and each other into objects and functions”. We can consider Friar Lawrence’s bad luck as unforeseen, but it was foreseeable from the moment Romeo and Juliet decided to have a relationship, even if they were aware that this would lead to their destruction. They have the opportunity to avoid this tragic end of their love but they leave everything as it is and they continue to consume their passion. Juliet also had the opportunity to avoid this dangerous relationship with Romeo. She could stop the relationship, but she didn’t. Therefore, both of them ended tragically.
The tragedy is not caused only by bad luck, but by a combination between the two lovers’ passion and adults’ failure. The adults in the play are not responsible and their actions are also a cause of Romeo and Juliet’s death. Everything in the play is rushed; the decisions are taken very quickly without thinking twice. These actions lead to the tragedy which could have been avoided.
The tragic destiny is a result of the conflict which appears between love and social demands. It is the Veronese society which doesn’t accept a relationship like Romeo and Juliet’s. Social disorder opposes their love. Married love can be easily integrated into society and the lovers can continue this kind of love. Romantic love is a threat for the society and it cannot be integrated even if the lovers keep trying. Such love must be destroyed quickly and the lovers must separate from each other. Moreover, “if the consecration of the love can be neither the separation of the lovers nor marriage, then it must be death, for it is only the immobility of death that can cheat either society or time and nature.”
The tragic side of Romeo and Juliet’s love-story is based on the close relation between love and death. From the youthful love, they confront with death. This doesn’t happen because they want it from the beginning. It happens because they cannot conceive their life one without another. In Romeo’s case, his tragic end comes because he doesn’t think before he does something. He listens only to his heart instead of thinking twice. He could balance all the consequences he knows he will have to endure after his decisions. Even when he sees that Juliet is dead, he rushes to kill himself. Thus, in his last moments of life, when the poison made its effect, he sees Juliet is alive. Then he realizes that he made a mortal mistake just because of his rush. He regrets his act of love but it is too late. Romeo proves to be a slave of passion, killing himself for Juliet, his love. In Juliet’s case, she is too loyal to Romeo and this thing makes her a tragic heroine. Her loyalty is very well represented at the moment she sees that Romeo has poisoned himself, maybe because she knows that she could have been the cause. For Juliet, Romeo’s act of heroism makes her kill herself without hesitation, just because she cannot conceive her life without him. These tragic flaws are the cause of Romeo and Juliet’s destruction because ” a love so alienated from any possibility of social integration turns quite naturally to desperate passion, to violent self-destruction, to the hopeless remedy of suicide. ” They lost the fight with their parents and the Veronese society. They were tired to fight for their love with a society which proved to be so strict and unopened to young people in love. Even if they fought for their love, they were defeated.
Romeo and Juliet’s death is the result of an unhappy combination of events. Conflicts between individuals and society can be seen throughout Romeo and Juliet, as its characters often find themselves choosing between individual desires and bowing down to society’s demands.
III. LOVE VERSUS SOCIAL CONVENTIONS
III.1. Family feud as a source of social disorder
Honor is the type of love for oneself. However, sometimes it is love which brings death and imposes hatred for other people. When honor is valued too highly, it may lead to tragedies and huge disasters. In Romeo and Juliet the conflicts between Montagues and Capulets are so intense than even a little dispute between the opposing families could turn every situation into a war. Throughout the play, it is the honor of Capulets which causes conflicts and also death. The Capulets are guilty of this feud because they valued too high their honor. They think that is worth fighting for their honor which proves to be more important than their daughter’s happiness. In the opening scene, the Capulet’s servants want to know if the Montague’s servants will argue with them. They couldn’t wait for such an occasion to have a fight with the Montague’s servants. Surprisingly, the Montague’s servants did not accept the proposal. Even if the latters don’t look for trouble, the Capulet’s servants drew their swords. This is proof that they have valued the name of their house too highly and they intend to fight in their house’s name for their honor without thinking twice.
Juliet’s cousin, Tybalt, also refuses to keep peace in the Veronese society despite Benvolio, Romeo’s cousin, who has no intention to fight with him: “I do but keep the peace. Put up thy sword” (Act 1, Scene 1), even if he is provoked by Tybalt: “What? You’ve pulled out your sword to fight with these worthless servants? / Turn around, Benvolio, and look at the man who’s going to kill you.” (Act 1, Scene 1). Therefore, Benvolio has no choice but to confront Tybalt. From the first lines of the play, Tybalt ensures everyone that he is against peace and he would fight anyone who stands in his way. He also expresses his burning hate for the Montagues: “What, drawn, and talk of peace? I hate the word, / As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee. / Have at thee, coward! “(Act 1, Scene 1). This fight was taken for the Capulet’s honor. Their personal hate against the Montagues has increased the hate between the two houses and the feud “between the families is continually described in terms of misogynistic violence.”
The lack of communication is also a factor which makes the society suffer. Firstly, the parents and their children do not communicate to each other. Secondly, “Veronese society’s masculine peer group cannot establish a frank and open dialogue”. Lastly, the Veronese institutions, the state and the church, cannot maintain order. These institutions which are very important in a society are unable to intervene between the disunited parents and their own children. It is the power of love which would heal the society.
This feud also provokes social disorder because they are ruling families of the Veronese society: “In the beautiful city of Verona, where our story takes place, a long-standing hatred between two families erupts into new violence, and citizens stain their hands with the blood of their fellow citizens.” (Prologue, I). This hatred blinded the two families. The members of these families want revenge; they want to fight even if loyal citizens are included, they don’t care. So, the Veronese society suffers together with Romeo and Juliet and fights for their society to heal. This “beautiful city” deserves peace and harmony. All the harmony is broken by the long feud between the Montagues and the Capulets. The entire city suffers and grieves. Though “the great families rule society, and, therefore, the marriage of their children in an obvious economic factor in the shaping of their society.” In Juliet’s case, his father wants to marry her with Paris just because he was related to the Prince which would have been a political advantage for Lord Capulet. However, she disobeys her parents’ wishes to marry Paris: “Not proud you have, but thankful that you have. / Proud can I never be of what I hate, / But thankful even for hate that is meant love.” (Act III, Scene V). In this scene, Juliet is informed of her arranged marriage with Count Paris. She says the aforementioned quote to Lady Capulet to express her individual opinion that she does not wish to marry Paris. Lord Capulet disagrees with her, however: “How, how, how, how? Chopped logic! What is this? / “Proud,” and “I thank you,” and “I thank you not,” / And yet “not proud”? Mistress minion you, / Thank me no thankings, nor proud me no prouds” (Act III, Scene V). Even if she tries to make her parents change their mind she fails. As Lord Capulet is the head of the House of Capulet, this is essentially a societal institute (family) conflicting against the will of an individual (Juliet). This marriage would be just an economic factor for Juliet’s father.
Shakespeare illustrates the idea of family through the members of the Capulet house and Montague house. The idea of loyalty between the families is expressed through these powerful families who always fight against each other. Because they have always a motive to argue for, the peace of the Veronese society cannot be established. But this endless feud affects society just because these two families are not ready to forgive and forget the past. The world of Romeo and Juliet is shaped by love and hate. Hence, the hate is “the result of the feud of the Montagues and Capulets, a hate destroying the society of Verona”. The Capulets and the Montagues are a disturbance to the peace of the fair Veronese society. Even Prince Escalus is fed up with their endless rivalry. He warns the feuding families with death penalty if they don’t stop this disturbance. It is obvious that both households and mainly Old Capulet play the most significant roles in the tragedy. Though, due to this ancient family feud and Capulet’s overwhelming authority over Juliet, his daughter, they create a world of chaos. It is Verona which suffers not just the members of their families. The Montagues and the Capulets are both stuck in the past of a family feud. This feud was started before they were even born. But it is family honor which doesn’t let them make peace. The families are too determined to move on in their life to realize that this feud is just ruining their lives. As both households are too proud to share the dignity, the feud between them reaches every day new heights on the Verona’s streets.
The feud made these families become even hungrier for power and respect. Thus, all they do is to stain their swords with their neighbor’s blood. The Capulets and the Montagues fight for revenge and power. But this power endangers the Veronese people. Because they are on opposite sides in a bloody feud, they try with every occasion to kill each other on the streets of Verona. Every time a member of one of the two feuding families dies in a fight. Because of this feud, Romeo is in danger. Romeo has to hide because it would probably be killed if he was seen with Juliet by the Capulets, as illustrated during the balcony scene where Juliet says: “If they do see thee they will murder thee.” (Scene II, Act II). She is conscious that Old Capulet would demand Romeo’s dead body. However, in this tragedy the readers are never told the reason the families are fighting for. In this sense, the feud becomes pointless and goal-less. The hatred between the Capulets and the Montagues gives forth to violence. Also the children of these enemy families become lovers and die because of their parents’ pride and anger. The feud of the two families is illustrated in the Chorus: “Two households, both alike in dignity / (In fair Verona, where we lay our scene), / From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, / Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.” (Prologue, I).
Both the allure and the hatred of the feud between the two families and its horrifying violence are presented with a huge impact in the opening scene of the play in the petrol station. We, as readers, understand how powerful this social situation in the Veronese society covers the love which is ignored totally. But the fight in Romeo and Juliet is not just between Montagues and Capulets, the rival families. The collision is between “two worlds and two ways of being: the world of the feud in which every encounter is tense, risky, noisy and potentially violent, and the world of love in which we first find Romeo, private, withdrawn, lyrical, sighing, apart.” Moreover, the play’s struggles are not between the two ways of being, feuding and loving, but “between two different ways of seeing the world, one comic and one serious.”
Prince Escalus tries to break up the fight between the houses of Montague and Capulet. As the Prince is the head of Verona’s civil government (another societal institute), he is therefore imposing his will, and by society’s extension, unto the will of the fighting members of both houses. He and society are conflicting with the individuals’ will to fight: “Rebellious subjects, enemies to peace, / Profaners of this neighbor-stainèd steel!— … Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace. / For this time, all the rest depart away “(Act I, Scene I). His words have no effect. It is the sacrificial death which will end the feud between the Montague and Capulet houses.
I think that individuals should have more freedom within society. However, their freedom should also be limited if it poses a danger to society as a whole, or to their well-being. Conflicts between an individual and society can be seen throughout Romeo and Juliet, as its characters often find themselves choosing between individual desires and bowing down to society’s demands. They mostly conflict with their family, their religion, and their government. Juliet’s desire is suppressed by her father. The characters constantly go against the values of the Church, and the government suppresses the Capulets’ and Montagues’ wish to fight. The struggle between the individual and society started since human civilization existed (and is recorded in various works of literature and art), and will continue as long as civilization exists.