What is the relationship between Romeo and Juliet?

The relationship between Romeo and Juliet in Shakespeare's play is one of intensely passionate young love. Although Romeo is probably a few years older, Juliet is the more intelligent and thoughtful of the two and provides Romeo with direction.

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Romeo and Juliet are supposed to hate each other; their families have an "ancient grudge" between them, and these two young people are expected to continue the cycle of hate. The two realize this predicament from their first moments of falling in love. After their first kiss, Romeo is told that Juliet is a Capulet and laments, "Is she a Capulet? / O dear account! My life is my foe's debt." Juliet also seeks to learn the name of the man whom she's just kissed, and when her nurse returns with this information, she is dismayed: "My only love sprung from my only hate!" Despite the fact that they have been raised to view the other family as a "loathed enemy," Romeo and Juliet quickly fall in love.

Throwing aside their families' expectations, Romeo and Juliet make their own independent plans. They marry in secret just before Romeo is banished for killing Juliet's cousin. This complicates their relationship, but Juliet eventually makes plans to join Romeo, leaving behind her comfortable lifestyle and the support of her family. Lord Capulet expects Juliet to marry Paris, and when she refuses, Juliet's father calls her a "disobedient wretch" and tells her that if she doesn't, she can "hang, beg, starve, die in the streets." Juliet's loyalty has shifted from the Capulet family to Romeo, and she is willing to risk this fate in order to be with him. Thus, she undertakes a risky plan to fake her own death in order to be with Romeo.

Although the two are young, they are bold in their actions, determined to find a way to be together despite the expectations of their parents. In the end, their love demonstrates the need for their parents to bury the long-standing grudge that exists between the two families.

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Romeo and Juliet have become synonymous with a certain type of love which is widely celebrated in Western popular culture. This is intensely passionate, romantic love, first love as well as love at first sight. It is also necessarily tragic, because it cannot be sustained for very long.

This popular idea of Romeo and Juliet is a fairly accurate reflection of their relationship in the play. They do both fall in love at fist sight, and in act 2, scene 2, Romeo finds that his expressions of adoration for Juliet are echoed by her when she thinks she is alone. This means that, from the first, there is scarcely any dissimulation between them. Juliet, who is more thoughtful, and worries more than Romeo, is concerned that he will think she is "too quickly won," but this reservation, along with any others, is quickly swept away by the intensity of young love.

The two are generally well-matched. Romeo is presumably a few years older than Juliet, but she is more intelligent, more insightful, and more resourceful. She also endures more conflict, particularly with her family. Her love for Tybalt briefly makes her doubt her love for Romeo in act 3, scene 2, but she is quick to forgive her husband and reproach herself for having thought ill of him. For the short time they are together, Romeo and Juliet truly are incorporated, "two in one," as Friar Laurence says a husband and wife should be. Their relationship therefore presents an ideal of marriage as well as one of romance.

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The relationship between Romeo and Juliet can be largely defined as the passionate, all-consuming first “love” of two relatively naive teenagers, as that is what the characters are. Juliet is 13 years old (Act 1, scene 2, line 12), and assumedly, Romeo is not much older. And while Juliet is advised by her mother to begin thinking very seriously about marriage, both her and Romeo are very inexperienced in romance. Romeo is initially infatuated with Rosaline, whose lack of reciprocating feelings causes him to be morose and cynical about “love” on the whole (Act 1, scene 1, lines 189-197), which reveal his affection and understanding of love revolve more around the concept of “love” rather than on a specific person. Romeo and Juliet fall in love entirely on appearances, with Romeo completely snapping out of his previous grief, claiming “Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight! For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.” (Act 1, scene 5, lines 54-55). Juliet experiences a similarly quick reaction, as she says to Romeo, “My ears have yet not drunk a hundred words of thy tongue’s uttering, yet I know the sound.” (Act 2, scene 2, lines 58-59). And despite her recognition of the unadvisable quickness of their affections in lines 117-118 in Act 2, scene 2, “...I have no joy of this contact tonight. It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden…” Juliet and Romeo’s love continues to overshadow everything else.  Juliet proclaims, “if all else fail, myself have power to die,” in answer to her possible marriage to Paris, indicating her desire to die rather than be with someone besides Romeo (Act 3, scene 5, line 244). Juliet’s love for Romeo surpasses her grief over his killing her cousin, Tybalt, as she reconciles, “My husband lives, that Tybalt would have slain; And Tybalt’s dead, that would have slain my husband. All this is comfort…” (Act 3, scene 2, lines 105-107). And while Juliet and Romeo may love with intensity, it’s still a very immature, illogical love. This is evidenced in Romeo’s actions after his banishment, when he weakly attempts to stab himself. As the Friar states in lines 117-118, Romeo failed to think of how his suicide would have affected Juliet. The blinding nature of their loves, coupled with their relative inexperience, culminates in their eventual suicides, spurred by Romeo’s failure to control his emotions in the wake of hearing of Juliet’s “death.”

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