What are the values portrayed in Romeo and Juliet?  

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is set against the backdrop of a lengthy vendetta. This is a world in which family honor is highly important, to the point that the defense of that honor takes the form of violence. At the same time, this is a deeply patriarchal world....

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is set against the backdrop of a lengthy vendetta. This is a world in which family honor is highly important, to the point that the defense of that honor takes the form of violence. At the same time, this is a deeply patriarchal world. We see this particularly strongly in the case of Capulet, who invokes parental authority over his daughter as he tries to force her to marry Paris, even threatening to disown her when she resists his wishes.

Meanwhile, this culture of family honor and vendetta is depicted as being in conflict with the power of the State (as is represented by the Prince) and its concern with maintaining law and order. Indeed, the Prince is opposed to the vendetta in his city (this stance is clearly expressed when he is introduced in act 1, scene 1). Thus, we see a tension between family honor (expressed through violence) and the rule of law, each fighting for dominance in Verona.

On a more personal level, I would say that Romeo and Juliet celebrates emotional self control. Think about the ways in which emotional turbulence is such a powerful and destructive force throughout the play: consider Tybalt's violence and rage wherever the Montagues are concerned, Mercutio's own tempestuous nature, not to mention Romeo himself. Indeed, the entire vendetta can be understood as part of this larger condemnation, being the cause of so much death and turmoil (including the deaths of the play's protagonists).

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Another value that Friar Laurence stresses is temperance, in the sense of moderation and self-restraint. When Romeo rushes to him after Cupid's Bow has struck him in Scene 5 of Act I, and he has spoken with Juliet in the balcony scene, Friar Laurence is surprised at Romeo's impetuous demand that he marry him and Juliet. He cautions Romeo:

These violent delights have violent ends,
And in their triumph die, like fire and powder
Which as they kiss consume....
Too swift arrives, as tardy as too slow. (2.6)

Tragically, the words of Friar Laurence prove all too true as the impulsive Romeo slays Tybalt shortly thereafter because Tybalt kills his friend Mercutio. Juliet also panics and acts out of desperation by drinking the potion to make her appear dead. Again, Romeo is impetuous in purchasing poison, killing Paris, and then himself in quick despair as he assumes that Juliet is dead. "Too swift arrives" their love and marriage--only three days--and too swift are the violent ends to the violent delights of Romeo and Juliet.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Values are a person's principles and are those things that define the way a person lives and makes decisions. Based on their values, the characters in Romeo and Juliet judge themselves and others according to a certain code, a moral standard which raises expectations and creates its own philosophy. In Shakespeare's day, all members of a household including servants would have been required to uphold that code, even at the peril of death.

As Romeo and Juliet opens, the feud between the families carries the main emphasis and even dominates the conversation between the servants who will defend their family's honor. As Sampson says in Act I, scene i, line 21, "I will show myself a tyrant." When Tybalt arrives there is a fight. Tybalt does not hide his contempt or his unmitigated hatred even though there is no apparent motivation. He warns Benvolio who is trying to avoid any hostility, "As I hate hell, all Montagues and thee" (69). Benvolio has not provoked him at all.  Even old Montague and old Capulet are calling for their swords without having any idea of what the arguing and fighting is about; except that it involves both households.

Accordingly, whilst many values and themes are explored throughout the play, the honor code would be the most important value. It drives and motivates the actions and reactions of all the characters, including Romeo and Juliet themselves.

  • Romeo and Juliet cannot admit their love for each other because it would dishonor their families. 
  • Mercutio feels duty-bound to defend Romeo's honor and gets killed which then prompts Romeo to commit the very act he thought he could avoid, especially as Tybalt is effectively now his family, and he kills Tybalt in defense of Mercutio's honor. 
  • Capulet has been the loving father up until the point where his dutiful daughter no longer shows respect for him and therefore dishonors him. He refuses to accept Juliet's excuses for not marrying Paris and his words are harsh. He calls her a "disobedient wretch" (III.v.160) and he even suggests that he will deny her and cast her out to "die in the street" (193). Juliet runs away to Friar Lawrence on the pretense that she needs to "make confession" because she has "displeased my father" (233). 
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team