How does Shakespeare explore different characters' experiences with love in Romeo and Juliet?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Shakespeare explores many different experiences with love through his many different characters and their own individual experiences. Some of the experiences with love that he portrays through his characters are infatuation, real love, friendship, familial love, and even the casual sexual love enjoyed by play boy types like Mercutio. Below are a couple of ideas to help get you started.

Juliet is the one character Shakespeare portrays as actually experiencing love as a fully developed emotion. While Shakespeare portrays her love for Romeo as beginning with physical attraction, just like Romeo's love for her, unlike Romeo, her love does not remain a form of infatuation. Instead, her love matures into a conscious choice, which is real love. When she hears the news that Romeo has just killed her cousin Tybalt, her first response is to feel that she has been deceived by him. She had used his handsome looks to judge that his soul was just as beautiful and now feels that his looks deceived, proving that her love for him was at first based purely on physical attraction as we see in the lines, "O serpent heart, hid with a flow'ring face! ... O, that deceit should dwell / In such a gorgeous palace!" (III.ii.76-88). But when her Nurse begins to speak ill of Romeo, Juliet has a moment of awakening. She realizes that she has a duty to trust and respect Romeo merely because he is her husband. She then further reasons that Romeo must have killed Tybalt out of self-defense and had Romeo not killed Tybalt, Tybalt would have killed him. Hence, Shakespeare has her restore her trust in her husband, not due to any specific actions on his part, but simply because she chooses to, and she chooses to because she sees it as her duty. Thus, despite Romeo's faults, she makes the conscious decision to love him, making her love go beyond physical attraction and develop into real love rather than infatuation. Shakespeare uses this conscious decision to explore what real love truly is.

Shakespeare also uses Mercutio, as one of Romeo's dramatic foils, to relay an interesting experience with, or perspective, on love. While both Mercutio and Romeo relate love to purely physical attraction, Romeo takes his infatuations deeply seriously, while Mercutio treats love as a joke. We especially see Mercutio treating love as a joke in the scene in which he and Benvilio try to persuade Romeo to crash the ball with the them. When Romeo says he can't possibly dance because feels to heavy at heart over his rejection from Rosaline, Mercutio mocks both love and Romeo by jokingly relating Romeo to Cupid and telling him to fly, "You are a lover. Borrow Cupid's wings / And soar with them above a common bound" (I.iv. 18-19). In addition, when Romeo says that love is a "rough" emotion, Mercutio makes what can be seen as a sexual innuendo, "If love be rough with you, be rough with love. / Prick love for pricking, and you beat love down" (28-29). Mercutio's sexual innuendo, plus all of the sexual innuendos he makes in later scenes, shows us that Mercutio treats love as a joke and that his experiences with love are merely sexual encounters. Hence, Shakespeare uses Mercutio to explore the more licentious side of love, the more purely sexual side of love.