Discuss the theme of appearance vs. reality in Romeo and Juliet.
The theme of appearance versus reality threads throughout this play and drives its plot. First, the feud between the Capulets and Montagues means that Romeo and Juliet, from the two rival feuding houses, "should" hate each other, but they instead fall in love. This leads to one of the most famous quotes in English literature, pointing to the reality that exists under what words or rhetoric would try to make appear as true: "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." By this, Juliet means that Romeo's hated name, Montague, can't disguise the good she sees in him. Further, because of the feud, Romeo and Juliet are forced to marry in secret. Therefore, Juliet appears to be single when her father decides she must marry Paris, though in reality she is married. This leads directly to the final tragic mix-up in which appearance and reality become fatally confused: Romeo mistakes Juliet's appearance of death as the reality of her death and kills himself, which in turn leads to Juliet's suicide.
Shakespeare points both to the reality that exists beneath words and to the kind of tragic misunderstandings that can arise when people have to live lives based on deception.