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What are the main ideas in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and how are they conveyed?

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The main ideas in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet include the inescapability of fate, the dichotomy between love and hatred, and the consequences of uncontrolled emotions. Shakespeare conveys fate through the concept of "star-crossed lovers" and references to stars. The fine line between love and hatred is shown through family conflicts and character reflections. Finally, uncontrolled emotions, whether love or hate, lead to grave consequences, as seen in the tragic outcomes for Romeo and Juliet.

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Another of the play’s central ideas relates to fate and free will. Specifically, Shakespeare explores the notion of fate as inescapable. It is this idea that no matter what we do, no matter how strongly we exert our own free will, our lives are destined to follow a course that has been predetermined.

This idea of fate is conveyed through the characters of Romeo and Juliet. When the reader is first introduced to them, for example, it is made clear that they were fated to meet and that, more importantly, that no matter what they do, they are destined to die:

A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life,
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Doth with their death bury their parents' strife.

In addition, Shakespeare conveys this idea through his many references to the stars, which are symbolic of fate. For instance, when Romeo compares Juliet’s eyes to stars, in Act II, Scene II, he is alluding to and reinforcing this idea that they were fated to meet, as first laid out the Chorus. You can find many more examples of this symbol throughout the text.

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One of the central ideas, or themes, in the play is the dichotomy between love and hatred. It's clear that it is the two families' hatred that keeps Romeo and Juliet's love separated. However, Shakespeare also shows us that there is actually a very thin line that can be drawn separating love from hatred, which he shows us through both lines and characters. In the opening scene, when Romeo first appears onstage and observes all of the damage the most recent Capulet and Montague brawl has caused, he reflects that a lot of the fighting has to do with hatred, but also with love, as we see in his line, "Here's much to do with hate, but more with love" (I.i.173). What Romeo is observing here is that it is truly the two families' passionate, stubborn love for their own ideas that is causing the hatred and the fighting. As we lean from the First Prologue, the fighting stems from some ancient conflict, meaning that both families have their own perspective on the way things should be, and it is their love for their own perspective that is truly causing the hatred. Even Juliet walks a very fine line between loving Romeo and hating him after he kills Tybalt. Hence, one main idea is that there really isn't a clear distinction between love and hatred and that love, especially selfish love can even lead to hatred.

Another central idea, or theme, found in the play is that violent, passionate, uncontrolled emotions have grave consequences, whether those emotions are hatred or love, which, again, Shakespeare portrays through both characters and lines. Benvolio is one of the play's more rational characters, and one of the only characters who emerges from the play unharmed. We see Benvolio's rationalism when he begs Romeo to listen to his advice and forget about Rosaline. Lords Capulet and Montague are guilty of acting upon violent, uncontrolled emotions, and they both lose their children to early deaths. Even Romeo and Juliet are guilty of violent, passionate, uncontrolled emotions, and just as Friar Laurence warns, their "violent delights have violent ends," meaning that their violent passions and lack of rationality are contributing factors leading to their early deaths (II.vi.9).

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What are the ideas communicated in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet?

We can see that Shakespeare communicated many different ideas all throughout Romeo and Juliet. Ideas can be thought of as themes, which are central ideas found in a work. Many themes can be found all throughout Romeo and Juliet, including love vs. infatuation, hatred vs. love, fate vs. choice, and even grudges. But one of the most important themes, the one upon which all action in the play hinges, is intense, violent, passionate, uncontrolled emotions vs. rational thought.

Violent, intense, uncontrolled emotions are presented in both the form of love and hatred. The two feuding families hate each other for unclear reasons. Shakespeare even makes a point of stating in the first prologue that, although the feud is a longstanding one, it had been put to rest, but the present generation of Montagues and Capulets have decided to rehash the old argument, as we see in the line, "From ancient grudge break to new mutiny" (Prologue.3). Therefore, the feud is an example of violent, uncontrolled emotions and its consequence is a great deal of bloodshed, including Mercutio's, Tybalt's, and even Romeo's and Juliet's deaths.

Romeo's and Juliet's love is also depicted as violent, passionate, uncontrolled emotions. It's the type of love that is brought on suddenly and only caused by physical attraction; their love is really more of an intense infatuation than real love. Even Friar Laurence points out that their love is infatuation and hints at the dangers of it in his lines, "These violent delights have violent ends / And in their triumph die, like fire and powder" (II.vi.9-10). If we contrast Romeo's and Juliet's rash, intense emotions with the sense and reason of dramatic foils like Benvolio and Prince Escalus, we can see clearly that Shakespeare's central theme is intense, violent, passionate, uncontrolled emotions vs. rational thought and that one of his intentions is to show the dangers of being guided strictly by rash emotions rather than rational thought.

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