In the first two acts of William Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’, the context is set immediately, and the events follow in the form of prophecy, as the chorus told the audience what to expect straight away, therefore immediately giving the play context before the characters themselves have been seen; it states within the first few lines ‘A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life’, seeming at first very simple, as the assumption is it would be Romeo and Juliet.
However, interestingly, Romeo appears to be besotted with Rosaline in his first introduction. But since the audience knows the ending, they will not be distracted by suspense, but interest into how they come to take place and the language the characters use. The main depictions of love are portrayed as equally as those of hate, in a play which is considered to be a romance. This is because the circumstance in which Romeo and Juliet’s love is born is that of a deep family feud which imperatively forms a rift between them.
They must both struggle with the hate they are obliged to feel for each other by their family, and the love they both believe they feel for each other, apparently instantaneously. The language and imagery the characters use throughout the play portray the contrast of the feelings of each character, and the events which take place. The course of events which lead to the marriage of Romeo and Juliet takes place in a sequence of hate and suspicion, not completely of love. Their meeting occurs primarily as a result of the Montague’s wishing to interrupt the Capulet’s ball.
Any other reunions then take place under very secret circumstances as their families loathe each other. Juliet then suggests their marriage under the suspicion that his affections may not be true and constant, and does not entirely trust him as she says ‘if that thy bent of love be honorable, thy purpose marriage’. Her reasons for mistrusting the one she loves is the disadvantage she has of having declared her love without being aware the object of it was listening. She also must marry him if she is still to be considered a maid, so does not want to be used by him.
This juxtaposition of distrust and hate alongside the love and affection the characters feel for each other creates the dramatic irony throughout the play. As well as the differences in portrayal of feeling, it is also ironic as the audience knows throughout the play that they will eventually die. With this hindsight, we can see Friar Lawrence marrying them is an affirmation of what is to come, and in making them husband and wife, he is also seals their imminent deaths. However his opinion of their marriage is different, considering what he does not know.
He believes that their marriage may ‘turn [their] households rancor to pure love’. He has a great deal of influence over whether the marriage takes place at all, and provides an impartial opinion as he is a man of God and not involved with the feud. The reasons he chooses to let them is not because of his love for Romeo, or his belief that they are in love, for he had witnessed Romeo’s grieving for Rosaline and does not trust his fickleness, as he shows when he says ‘young men’s love lies, not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes’.
The friar wonders if Romeo just loves Juliet’s beauty, as he claims to have fallen in love simply by seeing her, which does support the Friars claims. He is assisting them in marrying because he hopes their union will make the two households unite themselves. Love is insignificant to him, as marriage in that period was permanent, and he cannot advise on love from experience, as he is forbidden from marrying himself by the church. Romeo and Juliet first meet without knowing who they are, so cannot know they are talking to their enemy.
So their affections for each other form with complete naivety and innocence of their situation. Before hand, both have been asked to open their eyes to love. Juliet is commanded by her mother to ‘think of [marriage] now’ so he may be able to think of loving Paris. Romeo has been ordered by his friend to seek out new women to look at, in order to get over Rosaline. As a result of this, when Juliet and Romeo meet, they are both previously influenced to look for love at the party. They speak to each other naturally in iambic pentameter, and when they first speak, in the form of a sonnet.
The fact their speech falls naturally into the eloquent form of poetry shows their immediate understanding of each other. When they find out their identities, they do not renounce each other or become sorrowful, as their love is already set in their minds. Juliet says ‘My only love sprung from my only hate, too early seen unknown and known too late! ’ Here she grieves that she did not know who he was before, but views her love as an unstoppable emotion which she must succumb to. They next meet in secret, when Romeo comes to find her and overhears her begging him to either stop being a Montague or she will no longer be a Capulet.
The feud not only means that they must keep their relationship secret, but that they are ordered to hate each other. Perhaps this is what makes their love so marked, that is can withstand what society wishes it to do, and in overcoming that, they are deepening their affections. Therefore, the brawl between the families has the ability to stop the relationship before it can develop, or deepen it further. In this case, the strength of their attachment means their love is strengthened further by the fact it is forbidden, which keeps it exciting in its element of danger.
To some extent, their love is very unique in the circumstances and the way it is created. The courtly love tradition would have the male almost idolizing the female, while she is stubbornly unavailable, which is in keeping with how Rosaline acts towards Romeo. However, Romeo and Juliet treat each other as equals and Juliet lets Romeo know of her feelings for him, unconsciously, before he has entirely declared his love for her. They also explore sexual subjects in conversation which would not have been breached under this tradition, as it was not seen as a womanly thing to do.
Juliet is promised to another, but she has completely forgotten him. Likewise, Romeo was besotted with Rosaline, but now he has ‘forgotten that name’ and is likewise smitten with Juliet. However, his language and description of Juliet as a burning torch, but creating an image of all consuming and torturing love when he speaks of Rosaline leads the reader to believe that his affections for Juliet are more sincere and more constructive. Theirs is far from an arranged marriage. On the contrary, it is forbidden and unknown to their parents rather than encouraged by them.
So their situation is certainly not traditional, but their love for each other proves to be true in their marriage. This, combined with the danger of a prohibited relationship, gives it the romanticism which, juxtaposed with the family feud, gives the play its ironic quality. There is not just love between Romeo and Juliet in the play. There are other forms of relationship between other characters. The Nurse, who helps to initiate the marriage to Romeo cares for Juliet like a mother, and acts very maternally towards her.
Whenever she speaks about Juliet, she has a tendency to talk in very long, uninterrupted passages on how she has cared for Juliet. The shows that she enjoys reminiscing about how she has cared, and still cares, for Juliet. Benvolio and Mercutio both give advice to Romeo when he is depressed over Rosaline. Their love for Romeo is depicted as fraternal, as they always assist Romeo, but tease him in a brotherly fashion. The other, more complicated relationship Romeo has is with Rosaline. She does not appear openly in the play, but is talked of as a great beauty and spurns Romeo’s affections.
During the day he locks himself up in his room and creates ‘an artificial night’ when he is mourning the sadness of his love for Rosaline. The imagery he uses to describe her is of a beautiful women, almost to the extent of unattainable beauty. He is here following the tradition of courtly love, where he likeness his situation to torture and uses images of a sea of tears, ‘smoke made with the fumes of sighs’ and other comparisons of her beauty; with Juliet, he likeness her to a bright torch, a jewel on dark skin and a dove among crows.
The images he creates of her are much more favorable and less destructive than those of Rosaline. The overall depiction of love in this play is contrasted with the context of hatred and violence set at the beginning. This hatred may be a contributing factor which drives them towards their inevitable deaths, but their love is also as destructive, as is pointed out by the Friar when he says ‘these violent delights have violent ends and in their triumph die, like fire and powder, which as they kiss consume’ He believes their love is so passionate that it could lead to a dangerous finale.
Their love is depicted as an unstoppable, destructive force. Their marriage is a symbol of their dedication to each other and proves to be their destruction, as the subsequent events show. However, their speeches about their love, with their eloquent languages, hyperbolic language and metaphors show their true affection for each other. The sequence of events which happily leads them to be married will be equally destructive in the culmination of their deaths, as the chorus had voiced at the start of the play.