In what ways does Romeo and Juliet provide a valuable lesson about the destructive effects of hatred?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One need not read far into William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to attain a sense of the play’s statement regarding the pernicious, destructive effects of unbridled hatred.   Romeo and Juliet is not a mystery.  It is a tale of innocence and love denied solely on the basis of an ancient feud dutifully passed down from generation to generation.  Its resolution is a foregone conclusion, eloquently set forth by Shakespeare’s in the play’s Prologue:

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents' strife.

The morally and physically corrosive ramifications of the feud between the Montagues and Capulets is further emphasized early in Act I when Prince Escalus, encountering partisans of both clans in the midst of an impromptu duel, launches into an angry tirade directed against both sides to the dispute.  The prince is clearly weary of these recurring episodes and the threat they pose to Verona’s tranquility.  Emphasizing the irrational yet persistent nature to this feud and its effects on the citizenry, the prince angrily exclaims the following:

What, ho! you men, you beasts,
That quench the fire of your pernicious rage
With purple fountains issuing from your veins,
On pain of torture, from those bloody hands
Throw your mistemper'd weapons to the ground […]
Three civil brawls, bred of an airy word,
By thee, old Capulet, and Montague,
Have thrice disturb'd the quiet of our streets,
And made Verona's ancient citizens
Cast by their grave beseeming ornaments,
To wield old partisans, in hands as old,
Canker'd with peace, to part your canker'd hate;

If every you disturb our streets again,

Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace.

The fact that six deaths occur in Romeo and Juliet directly or, in the case of Lady Montague, indirectly, and that two very young lovers lie dead solely because of a feud the causes of which have long ceased to remain relevant or even known is testament to the power of hatred.  Romeo and Juliet ends on a hopeful note, but not before the Capulets and Montagues are forced to confront the demons that have torn their families apart.  It is, again, Prince Escalus, whose earlier warnings about the deleterious effects of this feud on Verona went unheeded, who captures the insanity that has reigned and resulted in the deaths of these two young people:

Where be these enemies? Capulet! Montague!

See, what a scourge is laid upon your hate,

That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love.

And I for winking at your discords too

Have lost a brace of kinsmen: all are punish’d

Romeo and Juliet is, as much as anything, a story about the way hatred consumes those who harbor it and destroys all those involved.