Romeo and Juliet Themes
by William Shakespeare

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Romeo and Juliet Themes

The main themes in Romeo and Juliet are the transformative power of love, loyalty and family honor, violence and conflict, and tragic fate.

  • Love's Transformative Power: Romeo and Juliet's relationship alters them as individuals and forever changes their families.
  • Loyalty and Family Honor: Caught between their feuding families, Romeo and Juliet must choose between their duty to their parents and their relationship.
  • Violence and Conflict: The violence of the longstanding feud casts a shadow on the hope represented by the protagonists' youthful love.
  • Tragic Fate: The lovers are ill-fated from the start, and the circumstances surrounding them oftentimes seem out of their control.

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Themes

The Transformative Power of Love

Juliet first appears in the play as a submissive, almost silent child, who dutifully promises not only that she will try to fall in love with Paris, the suitor her parents have chosen for her, but that she will love him only as much as her parents give her their permission to do so. Romeo, at the same time, is the conventional despondent lover of a troubadour’s song, weeping and sighing for a disdainful young woman who barely acknowledges his existence.

There are few moments even in Shakespeare’s drama to equal the excitement and transformative power of Romeo and Juliet’s first meeting. Romeo seizes Juliet’s hand, the first of several actions on his part (such as breaking into her garden and staring up at the window of her bedroom) which might seem worrying if the audience, like the lovers, were not swept away by the sheer energy of the verse. While the tongue-tied lover is a common trope of fiction, Romeo and Juliet continually pour out their adoration in a flood of passionate words, beginning with a perfect sonnet, which is symbolic of their immediate certainty that they were made for each other. Romeo opens their conversation with a complex religious image, to which Juliet responds with an intelligent and beautiful extension of the conceit. The perfect sonnet ends with a perfect kiss.

Juliet was indifferent to Paris and prepared to accept him out of filial duty. Meanwhile, Romeo sighed for Rosaline, who made him miserable. The galvanizing effect of true love on both of them is shown as Juliet instantly becomes a brilliantly expressive woman, whose passion is equalled by her intelligence and loyalty, while Romeo turns with equal suddenness into a paragon of joy. Mercutio, who has mocked Romeo’s moping about Rosaline, is astonished by the transformation he sees after Romeo’s engagement to Juliet (although he is, of course, unaware of the cause), exclaiming “now art thou sociable, now art thou Romeo; now art thou what thou art.” It is this same transformation that makes Romeo so reluctant to fight Tybalt, leading to Mercutio’s intervention and death. After Romeo and Juliet meet, the transformative power of love is evident in everything they do and say. The audience is in a privileged position to understand this, since no one around them, not even Friar Laurence and the Nurse, ever sees the intensity of their love, and Juliet’s parents are baffled by her sudden aversion to marrying Paris. The audience alone sees the transformative power of love, which turns two young people who first appear rather commonplace into the archetypes of romance.

Family Loyalty and Honor

Juliet’s devotion to Romeo wavers only for an instant—when she hears that he has killed Tybalt, her cousin. Tybalt is perhaps the least attractive character in the play: bloodthirsty, humourless and permanently angry. Nonetheless, he is a Capulet, and all the Capulets mourn his death with apparent sincerity. Juliet quickly reproaches herself for her momentary disloyalty to her husband, but it has been inculcated in her since birth that her first loyalty is to her family.

The blood feud between the Montagues and the Capulets includes not only family members but the entire retinue of each great household. Ultimately no one is outside it,...

(The entire section is 1,340 words.)