What are the values portrayed in Romeo and Juliet?
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).
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.
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When it comes to Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," the play offers numerous opportunities to study themes, subjects, and values. The most apparent values are loyalty, friendship, trust.
Loyalty is probably responsible the entire Montague and Capulet feud. Each family member and supporter of he family must stay on their side of the feud, regardless of if anyone knew how the feud even began. This demonstrates that loyalty when it comes to family is much thicker than any other type of loyalty.
Friendship, as in the friendship between Mercutio, Benvolio, and Romeo, reveals that friendship should never be taken lightly and that friendship can outlast anything. It almost appears as if the friendships in the play are stronger than bonds between family.
The value of trust between the families servants show just how much they are truly valued as they offer their opinions and advice freely throughout the play. You would be hard-pressed to find other works where the servants have such favor in the families.