Homework Help

The image of Cupid in Shakespeare's plays and more particularly in Romeo and...

user profile pic

florine | Student, Undergraduate | Valedictorian

Posted February 3, 2012 at 2:21 AM via web

dislike 1 like
The image of Cupid in Shakespeare's plays and more particularly in Romeo and Juliet

   I've always taken a keen interest in the image of Cupid in Shakespeare's plays. Cupid is not just a tool, a mere prop in his plays. He is comic, even grotesque at times when the characters quip about love and courtship. And tragic as the arrow thrown by Cupid brings about the tragedy. I wonder if Cupid  discharges his arrows blindly, haphazardly? If he doesn't, if his acts are always deliberate, does he always "hit the mark"? Does he really have a will of his own? Can one resist his power?

11 Answers | Add Yours

user profile pic

tinicraw | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted February 3, 2012 at 4:05 AM (Answer #2)

dislike 0 like

In Act I, Scene i, lines 201-202, Romeo says, "She'll not be hit/ With Cupid's arrow" when discussing his failure to get Rosaline to do what he wanted her to do. In this case it seems that Romeo is blaming both Rosaline and Cupid for his failure with love. Cupid is either blamed in order to avoid facing failure or he is the figure that men can place a name for the unexplained craziness that results from love.  Also, one might consider Cupid's arrow as a phallic symbol to mask the innuendo and provide a cover for the conversation that is really taking place.

user profile pic

vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted February 3, 2012 at 4:51 AM (Answer #3)

dislike 0 like

Early in the play, Romeo explains to Benvolio that he has been unsuccessful in attempting to seduce Rosaline:

. . . she'll not be hit
With Cupid's arrow; she hath Dian's wit;
And, in strong proof of chastity well arm'd,
From love's weak childish bow she lives unharm'd.
She will not stay the siege of loving terms,
Nor bide the encounter of assailing eyes,
Nor ope her lap to saint-seducing gold . . .

As this passage implies (and as other Renaissance writings about Cupid make clear), it was widely believed that human beings had the power to resist Cupid (symbol of cupiditas, or selfish desire) if they chose to do so. They could rely on their reason, their faith, and their sense of shame (among other motives) to control their passions and reject the temptation either to seduce or to be seduced in inappropriate ways or by inappropriate persons.

user profile pic

litteacher8 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted February 3, 2012 at 4:54 AM (Answer #4)

dislike 0 like

 I think that in Shakespeare's mind, Cupid is love himself. Love is incredibly complex. It can be fickle or obsessive, minor or passionate. Whether or not we resist falling in love really depends on our situation and our personality, and what the love has to offer us.

user profile pic

Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted February 3, 2012 at 5:47 AM (Answer #5)

dislike 0 like

It could be argued that Cupid's arrows are aimed deliberately at those who are more receptive to them. Romeo is a born romantic who falls in love at first sight, not once, but twice--first with Rosaline and then with Juliet. While Romeo pines for Rosaline, we see many instances in which his friends mercilessly tease him for his heartbreak over Rosaline, proving that they take love and Cupid much more lightly than Romeo. Romeo's friends are much more likely to treat their feelings as mere infatuation, rather than true ardent love.

For instance, in Act I, Scene IV, Mercutio, when trying to persuade Romeo to crash Rosaline's party says of Romeo "You are a lover; borrow Cupid's wings, and soar with them above a common bound." When Romeo responds by saying "I am too sore enpierced with his shaft to soar with his light feathers" and describes himself as sinking in love, Mercutio's repartee declares that Romeo's sinking is burdening tender love, to which Romeo replies that love is not tender, but "rough." Mercutio's chiding proves that he is not taking love or "Cupid" as seriously as Romeo, showing that Mercutio has not yet dealt with heartbreak in the same way as Romeo. Cupid has aimed his arrow solely at Romeo, not at Mercutio.

user profile pic

literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted February 3, 2012 at 7:18 AM (Answer #6)

dislike 0 like

I have to agree with litteacher. I think that Cupid represents the idea of love and, therefore, his use in depicting love is inevitable. That being said, he is a complex character, and his complexities add to the plays of Shakespeare given the complexities of Shakespeare's plays.

user profile pic

booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted February 3, 2012 at 12:11 PM (Answer #7)

dislike 0 like

Cupid is a powerful part of Shakespeare's stories. In A Midsummer Night's Dream, for instance, Oberon sends Puck to a place where Cupid's arrow fell to the earth onto a flower that holds such a powerful spell, that it can make someone fall in love with the first person--or thing--she/he sees upon waking, even a man with the head of a donkey. While the Elizabethan audience would not necessarily have been been so drawn to other gods or demigods from mythology (though they would know them), Cupid falls right in there with fairies, sprites, changelings and witches, which Elizabethans believed in completely. They believed that if someone ventured into the forest after dark, that person was at the mercy of fairies who weren't necessarily harmful, but loved to play tricks on humans. However, where witches were evil, and fairies were playful and mischievous, Cupid was the entity that controlled love: a powerful force if one believed. I can only imagine that as love is believed to be a powerful force today, and for hundreds of years volumes of poetry have been written about love—lost, found or somewhere in between—Cupid was at one time a necessary ingredient for love to thrive. For if Cupid were present, who could resist his "magic?"

Act One holds the conversation between Benvolio and Romeo. Rosaline will not give in to Cupid's spell, but is smart and wise like Diana, the huntress. Roseline will not succumb to Cupid's power, or man's wooing. Cupid is, as others have said, the epitome of love, but some people (such as Rosaline) cannot be conquered by Cupid, by love.

Cupid may be generally seen as "Doctor Love," but whenever love is not the result of Cupid's involvement,  it must come from the direction of the plot development. Cupid—in Romeo and Juliet—is presented as Shakespeare intends the character to affect the story's outcome, so Cupid's characteristics are limited only to the writer's imagination.

user profile pic

accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted February 3, 2012 at 3:03 PM (Answer #8)

dislike 0 like

Let us remember that in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Helena laments the capricious habits of Cupid, saying that he is "painted blind" precisely because love is a power that overwhelms our better judgment and our senses and causes us to act in truly stupid ways, as the play goes on to amply testify. Therefore I think we need to be aware of the way in which Cupid is presented in Shakespeare's plays. He is often more of a troublesome, Puck-like character than we give him credit for.

user profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted February 3, 2012 at 4:46 PM (Answer #9)

dislike 0 like

Well, in that hit you miss. She'll not be hit(210)
With Cupid's arrow. She hath Dian’s wit,
And, in strong proof of chastity well arm'd,
From Love's weak childish bow she lives unharm'd.
She will not stay the siege of loving terms,
Nor bide th’ encounter of assailing eyes,(215)
Nor ope her lap to saint-seducing gold.
O, she's rich in beauty; only poor
That, when she dies, with beauty dies her store.

In the first scene of Act I, Romeo speaks of Rosalind in terms of courtly love, so the allusions to Cupid are, indeed, appropriate.  In addition, after this introduction, Cupid plays a part in the attraction of the "star-crossed lovers."  For, Romeo and Juliet are certainly shot by the arrows of Cupid.  In Act II, Scene II, the famous balcony scene, Juliet's response of being able to recognize Romeo's voice indicates that Romeo is not the only one shot by Cupid's arrow:

My ears have yet not drunk a hundred words
Of that tongue's utterance, yet I know the sound.
Art thou not Romeo, and a Montague?
(2.2.62-64)

 Cupid is, thus, strongly connected to fate in Romeo and Juliet.

user profile pic

enotechris | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted February 3, 2012 at 7:38 PM (Answer #10)

dislike 0 like

As an iconic figure, Cupid, like the icon of Justice, is depicted as blindfolded (of course for different reasons); hence the addage "Love is blind." The force of Love appears to us to be random, or is something so overpowering it cannot be comprehended by the usual means of sight, only by feeling. As stated from A Midsummer Night's Dream:

Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.

http://blog.shakespearegeek.com/2011/02/blind-cupid.html

user profile pic

florine | Student, Undergraduate | Valedictorian

Posted February 3, 2012 at 11:17 PM (Answer #11)

dislike 0 like

  A reference in Midsummer Night's Arden edition shows evidence that humans could resist Cupid's power provided they were strong enough and sought to resist the cast that would be spelt on them. The Boke of the Governor, written by Sir Thomas Elyot, a favourite with Shakespeare, quotes Ovid, the poet: "If thou flee Idleness, Cupid hath no myghte / His bow lyeth broken, his fire hath no lyghte"!!

user profile pic

lmetcalf | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted February 4, 2012 at 1:21 AM (Answer #12)

dislike 0 like

The problem with Cupid is that his arrows go to people who don't always "correspond." His original job was to put people together who were destined to be together, but somewhere along the line, he started making people fall in love with others who did not or could not return the love; they were not meant to be together, and one party is miserable. If Romeo was struck by Cupid's bow to love Rosaline, then why wasn't Rosaline hit by Cupid's bow too? If Romeo and Juliet are meant to be together, then Cupid "got it right" and hit both of them, but Cupid, it would seem, frequently gets it wrong.

Join to answer this question

Join a community of thousands of dedicated teachers and students.

Join eNotes