In Shakespeare'sRomeo and Juliet, how does Romeo's language in Act 1, Scene 1 and Act 2, Scene 2 show his contrasting attitudes towards love/women?

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

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In Act 1, Scene 1, Romeo's language portrays Romeo's feeling that women are tormentors and love is a torment. However, after he sees Juliet, he begins to see women as a saving grace and love as a heavenly emotion.

In Act 1, Scene 1, using oxymora, Romeo calls love a feeling that is related to both love and hatred. When love is not returned, love becomes a form of hatred. Also, the passionate intensity felt in both love and hatred makes them very similar emotions. We see Romeo calling love hatred in the oxymora, "O brawling love! O loving hate!" (I.i.174). He also uses oxymora to point out that love is not what it seems it should be because it causes such pain and sorrow. We see these oxymora in the line, "Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health" (178). He also uses a paradoxical analogy to argue that while he is in love, he feels no love because his love is not returned. His paradoxical analogy can be seen in the line, "This love feel I, that feel no love in this" (180). All of these oxymora and paradoxical analogies serve to portray Romeo as feeling tormented by love.

Romeo also points to Rosaline as his tormentor when he proclaims that she refuses to be moved by his advances of love and has vowed to remain chaste. We see him refer to Rosaline's vow of chastity by metaphorically relating her to the goddess Diane, known for her chastity, as we see in the lines:

She hath Dian's wit,
And, in strong proof of chastity well arm'd,
From Love's weak childish bow she lives unharm'd. (211-213)

Since Romeo uses a metaphor to refer to his sexual desires, he shows that his true torment is the unfulfillment of his sexual satisfaction, which he mistakes for love. Since he sees women, such as Rosaline, as the fulfiller of his sexual desires, he also sees women as his tormentors. Hence, Romeo's language shows us that he sees love, in the form of sexuality, as a torment and women as his tormentors.

However, when he meets Juliet, his language becomes far more celestial and uplifted, even though his is still dwelling on sexuality. In Act 2, Scene 2, he metaphorically refers to Juliet as a celestial being, such as the sun and an angel. We see him refer to her as the sun in the line, "It is the East, and Juliet is the sun!" (II.ii.3). He metaphorically refers to her as a celestial angel in the line, "O, speak again, bright angel!" (28). The celestial imagery in Romeo's language portrays women, not as oppressors, but as ones who now uplift his soul. We still see him dwelling on sexuality when we see him metaphorically ask Juliet to cast off her clothes, or her maidenhood, in the lines, "Her vestal livery is but sick and green, / And none but fools do wear it. Cast it off" (8-9). The word "vestal" refers to "chastity" while "livery" refers to "clothing." Therefore, Romeo is telling Juliet to cast off her clothing. However, Romeo leaves that night, not after requesting sex from Juliet, but after requesting her to exchange vows of marriage with him. Therefore, we see through his language in this scene that he has now taken love and sexuality to a new, higher, more spiritual level.

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