What views of love are expressed in Act 2, Scene 2 of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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One view of love that we see expressed in the balcony scene of Act II, Scene II is that it is a feeling of passion, even lust. We see both Romeo and Juliet expressing their lust in this scene.

Romeo expresses lust when he first sees Juliet appear in the balcony window. In particular, he refers to her beauty by comparing her to the moon, saying that she is "far more fair," or far more beautiful than the moon (II.ii.4). Focusing on her beauty is a way of focusing on his physical attraction for her, or his lust. We further see Romeo illustrate his lust for her when he metaphorically tells her in his mind to cast of her clothing or her virginity. We see him say this in his extended metaphor about the moon:

Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief
That thou her maid art far more fair than she.
Be not her maid, since she is envious.
Her vestal livery is but sick and green,
And non but fools do wear it. Cast it off. (II.ii.4-9)

In these lines, Romeo is using the moon to also refer to the Roman goddess Diana, whose symbol was the moon and who was the virgin goddess of childbirth. He is also calling Juliet the moon's handmaiden, or Diana's handmaiden. In telling Juliet to cast off "[h]er vestal livery," he is telling her to cast off her virginal handmaiden's uniform, or virginal clothing, with "vestal" meaning virginal and "livery" referring to a uniform or clothing. Therefore, in his imagination, in these lines, he is telling her to either cast off her clothes or cast off her virginity, another sign of his feelings of lust for her.

Juliet also shows in this scene how she equates love partially with lust. While she thinks she is alone, she asks herself what is so important about the name Montague, and answers:

[I]t is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. (42-44)

Juliet's list of manly anatomy ending with an unnamed "any other part / Belonging to a man" shows us that she is thinking of Romeo's physical attributes, thinking of her physical attraction to him, which means she is also feeling lustful.

However, both Romeo and Juliet make it clear that they also view love as a commitment, not just a passing, lustful phase. Juliet is the first to refer to commitment, asking Romeo to faithfully declare the he loves her. Romeo reciprocates by asking her to exchange "love's faithful vow for [his own]" (133). Finally, Juliet asks about marriage, which is the ultimate sign that Juliet views love as a commitment, as we see in her lines, "If that thy bent of love be honourable, / Thy purpose marriage, send me word to-morrow" (149-150).

Therefore, the two views of love that we see expressed in Act II, Scene II are that love is a feeling of lust and also a feeling of commitment.


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