“Here’s much to do with hate, but more with love.” Shakespeare’s world is foreign to us only in some of its customs and value systems. The variations he plays in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ on the theme of love, its corollaries and antitheses are timeless. Do you agree?
Throughout ‘Romeo and Juliet’ aspects of time and love play major parts in the destiny of our two lovers. Whilst features of the play seem foreign and unknown to us, there are also many situations with which we can relate. Maybe this sixteenth century play is not so far off from our modern day world.
One aspect of Elizabethan life that stands out in the play is that of arranged marriages. When reading about how Juliet is forced to marry Paris, we are quite shocked. At present, for most of us, the idea of an arranged marriage seems highly absurd and quite outrageous; surely people are allowed to make their own mind up! Yet in the Elizabethan world this was not uncommon. Juliet is given a choice; marriage or turned out ‘to hang, beg, starve, die in the streets.’ This event seems unfair, yet it is just illustrating how, in certain aspects, our two worlds do not share their views.
This idea of love, where Juliet is treated as a possession, is a perfect example of how times change. Both Juliet’s mother and her father love her not because of who she is, but more because of what she is worth. Lord and Lady Capulet show this throughout the play, in particular during Act 3 Scene 4, and Act 4 Scene 5 when they find out Juliet is dead. Lady Capulet shows how selfish she really is, saying ‘ But one, poor one, one poor and loving child,
But one thing to rejoice and solace in.’
A daughter is merely a possession, reducing love to making a ‘good’ marriage, ensuring social and financial enhancements.
Another element where our two worlds collide is that of family grudges! Television programmes such as ‘neighbours from hell’ demonstrate this in our modern world. The bitter resentment between the Montagues and the Capulets illustrate this in the sixteenth century. The rancour felt between the two families resulted in the death of both of the children. It also led to many street brawls; a feature with now remains foreign to most modern citizens. ‘Clubs, bills, and partisans! Strike!’ The weapons used in this time period were somewhat different to those that we now use.
However, Shakespeare’s theme, timelessly modern, is love and its antitheses of hatred, and rancour. Tybalt mainly expresses these feelings, with his negatively destructive attitude towards others. He seemingly loves to hate, and then hates to love. Tybalt appears jeopardized by the happiness felt by other characters. When he sees the love felt between Romeo and Juliet, he vow to turn this intrusion ‘now seeming sweet’ to ‘bitterest gall.’ Sadly, to the regrets of others, he succeeds. Many people in our current situation share these beliefs and views. September 11th is a perfect example of where these feelings come into play in our modern world.
The nurse expresses a rather more humorous corollary of love. To her, love is really legalised copulation. She may be well meaning, but unfortunately her views on love seem not to extend further than that of sexual activities- ‘Thou wilt fall backwards… women grow by men.’ The nurse appears dithery, voicing her views and opinions differently, depending on which character she faces. I suppose to the audience she could appear very two-faced, yet this is really just her harmless manner. Maybe it is due to her lack of experience, that she cannot feel the depth and strength of true love.
Both Paris and Benvolio show types of love that are truly genuine. These are attitudes that are truly timeless, and will never falter. Benvolio expresses love of man for man. Whilst he may jest and laugh at Romeo’s infatuation with Rosaline and then Juliet, he secretly cares deeply about Romeo. Paris on the other hand, expresses the genuine love of man for woman. Regrettably, his feelings are not returned, yet Paris stays devoted to Juliet, promising to strew flowers and weep over her tomb every night. Even when facing death, his only wish is to be near Juliet- ‘If thou be merciful, Open the tomb,
Lay me with Juliet.’
Surely love like this still exists, whether it may occur in a simple playground crush or a more deep and demanding love.
Another corollary of love, which we all hope is as foreign as possible to our world, is the love felt by Sampson and Gregory. Love, to them, simply means the rape of Montague women. This is rather absurd to most people, although rape and sexual assault are still present in society. Sampson and Gregory also portray many customs that are unfamiliar to us. From them we learn of bucklers and colliers (weapons used in fighting). In the rather comical fighting scene between Sampson, Gregory, and two other servicemen from the house of Montague, we hear of quite a few insults; ‘a dog of that house’ and ‘I do bite my thumb.’ To the audience, this is rather entertaining but is quite ‘out of date.’
Towards the beginning of the play we read of the grand Capulet ball. It is here that the lovers first meet. It also provides a large insight into the customs of the Shakespearean era. This gives us many material aspects where the era is foreign to us. The plates are wooden instead of pottery, the tables, chairs, and buildings on the whole, are wooden. When people arrive, they bring their own knives, which they put down on the table to mark their place. These are just a few of the differences that are unusual to us.
True love is possibly one of the only emotions or aspects that has remained completely whole over the years. It is blinding and inspiring, creating moments of pure amazement and perfection. It is from this true form of love that Romeo and Juliet’s relationship began. Yet true love could also be the cause of ruin to both of them, because it is from true love that the hatred and envy has sprung.
This love inspires Romeo- she ‘teaches the torches to burn bright…’ It makes him question what he previously believed- ‘Did I ever love until now?’ It is clearly love at first sight, an electric flash of blinding light. The verbal kiss shared between Romeo and Juliet is a poem of love. Religion is mentioned, whereby Romeo sees himself as a pilgrim at a saint’s shrine. This relation to religion is slightly foreign to us now. As times have changed, the necessity to talk of religion has faded. In Elizabethan times the country was mainly Christian, with most people attending church. Now, modern England is multicultural, along with many atheists. Although this connection to religion is foreign, citizens understand the broad meaning of the passage today. We can relate to these feelings of true love.
Juliet’s love, being rather similar to that of Romeo’s, is true love, suddenly sprung from nowhere. This love at first sight may be the end of both of them, yet consequently, it is these deaths that reunite the families after years of hatred. Maybe these deaths could have been avoided if our two lovers had not been so hasty, yet this was not so.
Shakespeare’s world, in Elizabethan times, varies greatly to our current world, yet in many ways, certain parts of their life can be related to. From a materialistic view, we share no similarities; we dress differently, speak differently, and even fight differently. However, when one looks harder, one realises that, whilst appearances have changed with time, love has become timeless. In its many different corollaries and antitheses, love has passed the test of time, and still lives on.