Throughout Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, outside forces, particularly those resulting from the ongoing feud between the Montague and Capulet families, constantly test the title characters’ passionate love for each other. However, these conflicts unexpectedly fail to destroy the relationship between Romeo and Juliet and in fact render it stronger. The scenes depicting the tension between Mercutio and Tybalt, Juliet and her parents, and the Montagues and Capulets illustrate that these outside forces serve to embolden and amplify Romeo and Juliet’s love.
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Through the persistence of Romeo and Juliet’s love despite the obstacles they face, Shakespeare conveys to the reader that love is more powerful than hate.
The fight between Mercutio and Tybalt reveals the effect on Romeo of his relationship with Juliet and the endurance of his love for her despite the hatred between their families. As Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin, approaches Mercutio, Romeo’s servant, a fight begins to brew. When Romeo enters, he interjects and urges them to stop fighting. Tybalt taunts Romeo, telling him, “No better term than this, thou art a villain!” (3.1.57). Tybalt’s attack and his threats to both him and Mercutio force Romeo to choose his loyalties. As a Montague, his duty is to defend his family name and fight Tybalt. But the confrontation instead forces Romeo to side with his new bride, whom he has recently married in secret. Rather than attacking Tybalt, Romeo seeks to include him in the love Romeo feels for Juliet: “Tybalt, the reason that I have to love thee / Doth much excuse the appertaining rage / To such a greeting” (3.1.58-61). Romeo’s love for and marriage to Juliet have thus transformed him, blurring the lines between the Montagues and the Capulets: “And so, good Capulet–which name I tender / As dearly as my own–be satisfied” (3.1.67-68). By his own estimation, Romeo has become “effeminate” and his valor “softened” because of his love for Juliet (3.1.110-111). Through Romeo’s transformation, Shakespeare shows the audience that love is stronger than hate. Although Romeo eventually kills Tybalt to avenge Mercutio’s death, his love for Juliet perseveres despite the rivalry between the two families.
Similarly, Juliet’s parents test the love between her and Romeo, which unexpectedly strengthens their relationship. When Juliet objects to her father’s plans for her to marry Paris, Sir Capulet becomes enraged and threatens to disown Juliet: “An you be mine, I’ll give you to my friend. / An you be not, hang, beg, starve, die in the streets, / For, by my soul, I’ll ne’er acknowledge thee” (3.5.192-194). While the audience would expect for Juliet to obey her father and marry Paris, Juliet unexpectedly does the opposite and runs to Friar Lawrence for help. Sir Capulet’s ultimatum, coupled with Lady Capulet’s concurrence and the nurse’s praise of Paris, drive Juliet to abandon her life as a Capulet and to seek out Romeo, who has already been cast out. Juliet tells Friar Lawrence she would rather die than live without Romeo: “O, bid me leap, rather than marry Paris, / From off the battlements of yonder tower; / … And I will do it without fear or doubt, / To live an unstained wife to my sweet love” (4.1.78-79, 88-90). Sir Capulet’s threats therefore serve to solidify Juliet’s resolve to be a wife to Romeo and give her the strength to carry out the plan that Friar Lawrence concocts: “Love give me strength, and strength shall help afford” (4.1.126). By showing the audience that Juliet would rather die than be forced to marry someone other than Romeo, Shakespeare shows the audience that love can overcome any obstacles.
In addition to the obstacles that Romeo and Juliet face individually, perhaps the most significant obstacle to their relationship is the hatred between their two families, which prevents them from meeting. Because they are not able to visit each other publicly, Romeo and Juliet are forced to arrange secret meetings. The lack of communication seemingly emboldens Romeo and Juliet, whose love for each other appears stronger each time they meet. Shakespeare uses Romeo’s language to reflect the deepening of his love for Juliet. When he first sees Juliet, Romeo describes mostly her beauty, saying Juliet “teach[es] the torches to burn bright” (1.5.42) and “hangs upon the cheek of night / Like a rich jewel” (1.5.43-44). The chorus explains that because of the families’ feud, Romeo does not have as much opportunity to woo Juliet as others would: “Being held a foe, he may not have access / To breathe such vows as lovers use to swear” (2.prologue.9-10). Despite their inability to meet freely, Romeo and Juliet’s relationship progresses, as reflected by the language they use to describe their love. When they meet at the quarters of Friar Lawrence, Romeo says, “Ah, Juliet, if the measure of thy joy / Be heaped like mine … / then sweeten with thy breath / This neighbor air, and let rich music’s tongue / Unfold the imagined happiness that both / Receive in either by this dear encounter”(2.6.24-29). Shakespeare’s comparison of love to the sound of “rich music” reflects how ardent Romeo’s love is for Juliet. Similarly, Juliet explains to Romeo that her “true love is grown to such excess / I cannot sum up sum of half my wealth” (2.6.34). Whereas at their first meeting Romeo compares Juliet to a jewel, as the play progresses, Romeo and Juliet refer to a love that cannot be quantified and that is richer than any ornament.
By showing the progression of Romeo and Juliet’s love despite their lack of time together, Shakespeare demonstrates that “passion lends them power” (2.prologue.13) and love overpowers hatred.
Romeo and Juliet’s love is tested time and again throughout the play, especially by outside forces. Rather than crumbling, their love perseveres until they end their lives rather than allowing their families to keep them apart. Their ability to overcome obstacles convinces the reader that love is more powerful than hatred. Ironically, although Romeo and Juliet’s love for each other is not enough to unite their families during their lives, it is in their death that the Capulets and the Montagues are able to reconcile. The families’ vows to raise statues of Romeo and Juliet in Verona so that their love can be remembered gives the reader hope that at last love has prevailed.
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