Target grade 8 (low A*)
Starting with this speech (Act 2 Scene 2, lines 62-78), write about how Shakespeare explores love in Romeo and Juliet. (30 marks, AO4 4 marks)
Shakespeare explores love with conviction throughout Romeo and Juliet: he implicitly expresses his distaste for Romeo’s fickle attitude whilst simultaneously presenting their love as perfect and pure. By incorporating his well-established views on the idealistic nature of the blazon form into the play whilst also structuring Romeo and Juliet’s first conversation into a perfect Shakespearian sonnet, the playwright goes far to demonstrate his own uncertainties about love and its presentation in Elizabethan society.
Within the given extract, Shakespeare makes use of religious imagery to discuss love and its effect to demonstrate its purity. By saying that ‘love’s light wings’ carried him over the wall, Romeo is associating his love for Juliet with angelic and holy imagery; suggesting that the power of his love lifted him towards Heaven and thus towards his love. This also presents a stark contrast to his attitude towards his love for Rosaline, in which he said that she will not ‘ope her lap to saint-seducing gold’. By presenting this contrast in language to the audience, Shakespeare is suggesting that Romeo’s love for Juliet is pure and holy. This is a significant exploration into the theme of love in Romeo and Juliet, because it lays the foundations for the lovers to meet the requirements of a Greek tragedy: being a good person with a fatal hubris. Without this reinforcement about the purity of their love, the Elizabethan audience may not have been able to fully recognise the tragic nature of the play.
By contrast, there is also a continuous link between Romeo and Juliet’s love and death. Within the extract, Juliet tells Romeo that her kinsmen will ‘murder’ him and says that ‘the place death’. This blatant reference to the outcome of the play- that was detailed in the prologue- would serve to show the audience the darker side of love, as they would become increasingly aware that this youthful, innocent love will end in tragedy. This is further supported by Tybalt’s compulsion to kill Romeo after seeing him at the feast being almost simultaneous with Romeo falling in love with Juliet upon first sight; it links their passionate love to death at the moment of inception. This consistency throughout the play goes far to solidify the link in the audience’s mind, and may go far to indoctrinate them with the Shakespeare’s almost cynical approach to the idealistic representation of love within Elizabethan society. Therefore, this is a key aspect of the playwright’s exploration of love within his work, because it juxtaposes its perfect portrayal in the remainder of the play, giving the audience a raw image of the reality of love.
Throughout the play, the audience are told implicitly about the perfect nature of Romeo and Juliet’s love, as seen in lines 92 to 105 of Act 1 Scene 5, when the lovers first meet. The combined conversation between both Romeo and Juliet in this section of the text forms a perfect Shakespearian sonnet. Shakespeare’s employment of form is here used to symbolise that the couple are perfect for each other, that they complete each other. This shows the audience that they can only find true love when joined together, as only when united together do their words create a sonnet. This would go far to evoke delight within the audience, as they would be aware from the earlier scenes in Act 1 that both characters were unhappy with the way that their life was heading, and would be able to recognise now that they have found perfect happiness. This idea of perfection is vital in Shakespeare’s exploration of the theme of love because it heightens the sense of loss when the play reaches its inevitable conclusion: a double suicide. This would also ensure that the play meets Aristotle’s requirements for a tragic form, detailed in ‘Poetics’, as it establishes the idea the good nature of the lovers before introducing the ‘hubris’ that would lead to their demise.
Shakespeare also makes use of the blazon form throughout the play, for example in the phrase ‘Juliet is the sun’. Upon first glance this would suggest to the audience that their love is true, but with knowledge of the playwright’s wider body of work- as the vast majority of an Elizabethan audience would have- it brings its sincerity into question. In Sonnet 130, Shakespeare famously rejected the blazon form, stating that his ‘mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun’, which criticises the idealism presented in this form through parody. In essence, the sonnet tells us that real love is love which accepts the other’s imperfections, and therefore its use in Romeo and Juliet implies that their love is in fact unrealistic. This can be seen especially in the description of Juliet as being ‘the sun’, as it is incredibly exaggerated- perhaps drawing parallel to Romeo’s love for Juliet being merely an example of a young, fickle character falling deeply in love with woman after woman. Thus, this is a critical element of Shakespeare’s exploration of love within the play, because it shows the audience Romeo’s critical flaw, or ‘hubris’: that he simply cannot help himself from falling in love. This provides the integral part of the tragedy and presents Shakespeare’s own views on love within his society.
The portrayal of love in Romeo and Juliet goes far to show the audience that their preconceptions about its uniformity were in fact incorrect. The combination of ideas that the playwright presents to the audience prove its multifaceted nature, replicating Shakespeare’s own ideas as presented in his rejection of the idea of love being an elementary, idealistic concept. Therefore, Shakespeare’s exploration of love is vital to the infrastructure of the play.
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