Discuss the theme of appearance vs. reality in Romeo and Juliet.

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teachersage's profile pic

teachersage | (Level 1) Senior Educator

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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.

wannam's profile pic

wannam | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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Often the way we think things are is not necessarily reality. The same could be said for the characters in "Romeo and Juliet." For instance, it would appear that Juliet has no other options when her father tries to force her to marry Paris. She is already married to Romeo. Her confidant, the nurse, says she should remarry. Her mother and father have turned their backs on her until she marries Paris. Since Juliet is too young to support herself, it would appear that her only option is suicide. The reality of the matter is very different than the appearance. Juliet could have simply run off to Mantu and lived happily ever after with Romeo. Her father wouldn't come looking for her or try to harm Romeo since he had turned his back on her. Romeo would be able to support her from his home in exile. This play contains multiple other examples of this type of appearance verses reality.

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