How is love presented in lines 1-23, 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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In this passage, Romeo presents love and women in two ways. First he presents love as a feeling that transcends reality making it a celestial feeling and women as celestial beings. Secondly, he presents love as being purely related to sexuality. Since Romeo perceives love as being purely related to women, it is difficult to separate his perspective of love from his perspective of women, namely, Juliet.

We see Romeo portray Juliet as a celestial being, thereby presenting love as an ethereal emotion, when we see him relate Juliet to the sun, the moon, and even to an angel. We see Romeo relate Juliet to the sun in the first couple of lines in his soliloquy, "But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? / It is the East, and Juliet is the sun!" (II.ii.2-3). We also see him comparing her beauty to the moon, declaring that she is more beautiful than the moon, making the moon "envious" and "sick and pale with grief" (4-7). We also see him relating Juliet to heaven or an angel in a couple of places. First he relates her to heaven by comparing her eyes to the brightest stars in heaven (15-20). We also see him more directly refer to Juliet as an angel later in the line, "O, speak again, bright angel!" (28). Since Romeo represents Juliet as a celestial being, we can say that Romeo is also perceiving love as an ethereal, or celestial, emotion, one that transcends all reality.

However, we also see Romeo relate love to sexuality. In fact, we can say that he primarily associates romantic love with sexuality. We especially see him relate love to sexuality when, in his mind, in his soliloquy he asks Juliet to cast off her maidenhood by casting off her clothes. We see this when he refers to the moon's "vestal livery" as "sick and green," telling her to cast it off, as we see in the lines, "Her vestal livery is but sick and green, / And none but fools do wear it. Cast it off" (8-9). In these lines the word "vestal" can be translated to mean "chastity" while "livery" refers to clothing, particularly a uniform. Therefore, Romeo is telling Juliet to cast off her maiden clothing, meaning her virginity. Also, references to anatomy in this soliloquy show us that his attraction for Juliet is physical and that, therefore, he thinks of love in sexual terms. Comparing Juliet's eyes to the brightest stars in heaven can be considered an anatomical reference and so can a reference to her hand and cheek, as we see in the lines, "O that I were a glove upon that hand, / That I might touch that cheek!" (24-25).

Hence, we see through both Romeo's celestial and sexual references that this passage presents love as both an ethereal emotion and a sexual emotion.

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