What is a moral lesson we can draw from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet that is pertinent to the Elizabethan audience?  

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Elizabethan period happened at the climax of the Renaissance period. Queen Elizabeth reigned over England between 1558 and 1603 while the Renaissance period spanned between the 1500s and the 1600s. Hence, when looking for a moral from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet that can apply to the Elizabethans, one should consider morals derived from philosophies that were important in the Renaissance period.

The Renaissance was a period of great intellectual and philosophical awakening. One philosophy coined during the Renaissance period was Humanism. Humanism taught that all human beings are rational and "levelheaded" ("Renaissance Period," angelfire.com). We can especially see this philosophy portrayed in Romeo and Juliet and easily derive a moral from it.

In the play, Shakespeare characterizes all of his characters as being rash, emotionally driven, impetuous beings. They even respond to all situations with violent, passionate emotions of both love and hatred. The characters' response to situations is clearly seen in the feud between the Capulets and Montagues. Also, in the first scene, Prince Escalus points out that the Capulets and Montagues have started three all-city riots simply because of a trivial comment one family member has said to another, as we see in his lines:

Three civil brawls, bred of an airy word
By thee, old Capulet, and Montague,
Have thrice distrurb'd the quiet of our streets. (I.i.85-87)

The term "airy" can be translated as "meaningless," or trivial, showing us that the feuding families begin their battles based on trivial comments to each other, showing us just how much they respond to situations using rash, impetuous, violent, passionate emotions.

Rash impetuousness is also portrayed through the characters of Romeo and Juliet who decide to marry, and in secrecy, after having only just met. Juliet even declares that she thinks it is unwise, yet allows herself to be persuaded by Romeo, as we see in her lines:

Although I joy in thee,
I have not joy in this contract to-night.
It is too rash, too unadvis'd, too sudden. (II.ii.122-124)

Romeo also portrays violent, passionate emotions through his violent, passionate love for first Rosaline and then for Juliet. In fact, he allows his unrequited love for Rosaline to drive him to a state of agony, as when we first meet him in the first scene. In fact, Romeo is described by his father as being seen crying at dawn morning after morning, and Romeo, himself, refers to his state of mind as a state of madness and love as pure madness (I.i.127-130, 193). Since, the uncontrolled, violent, passionate emotions lead to the couple's rash, impetuous actions and contribute to the couple's young deaths, we can say that Shakespeare is telling us to allow ourselves to be governed by reason and rational thought, rather than violent, passionate emotions.

In fact, it can be said that all of the violent, passionate emotions that govern the characters either lead to their own deaths or to someone else's death. Hence, we can say that one moral we can draw from the play that is applicable to Elizabethans, as well as to people today, is that it is essential to remember that we are rational human beings and to allow ourselves to be governed by reason rather than emotion.

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Romeo and Juliet

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