What are some of the major themes in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Naturally, a major theme in Romeo and Juliet is love, but that theme has many different variations.

One variation explores the possibility of love at first sight. But beyond that, the play explores love as an overwhelming force. When Benvolio councels Romeo to forget about Rosaline, his reply is "O, teach me how I should forget to think" (Act 1, Scene 1). Furthermore, love is portrayed as a force that rushes Romeo and Juliet's relationship at full speed until it final leads to their demise. 

Another love theme is the portrayal of love as both a blessing and a torment. Romeo makes this clear in his opening lines about Rosaline, referring to love as "O brawling love!" and "O loving hate!" (Act 1, Scene 1).

Loyalty is also a recurring theme in the play. Juliet is expected to be faithful to her family, while Romeo is expected to be faithful to his. However, since both families are at war, their love for each other drives them to be disloyal. Juliet declares that she will cease being a Capulet if Romeo would say he loves her (Act 2, Scene 2). Romeo even abandons his cousins and friends to seek out Juliet in the garden (Act 1, Scene 1).

Finally, social constraints is also a major theme. The Montagues and Capulets are constrained from continuing their battles by the prince. Romeo is restrained from being able to marry Juliet because she is a Capulet and at war with his family. Juliet is constrained by her father, as head of the household, and commanded to marry Paris.

Further Reading:
krl10106 | Student

Motifs that can be developed into theme statements:

1. Youth vs. Age

2. Power of Love

3. Chance vs. Choice

4. Fatalistic View of the World

5. Impulsive Behavior

6. Revenge

7. Violence

8. Misunderstandings

9. Dramatic irony

lalithareddy | Student

fate is more powerful than choice

choice is more powerful than fate

well-intended secrets can be destructive

revenge destroys both victim and avenger

people are fallible(capable of making mistakes)

impulsive passion of youth

older people forget the power of love

consequences of violence

krl10106 | Student

Add another motif:

10: Light vs. Dark

Read the study guide:
Romeo and Juliet

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