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Love Concepts in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet


1. INTRODUCTION............................................3


1.1. The question of "love" in Romeo and Juliet...........3

1.2. Preliminary remarks on the method of investigation...3

1.2.1. Love "concept"? - A qualification..................3

1.2.2. How to sift out the topic of love..................4



2.1. Real world of Verona.................................5

2.2. World of love........................................7

2.3. Incompatibility......................................9


3. LOVE: A GREAT ATTEMPT.................................10

3.1. Two young lovers....................................10

3.1.1. Individuality and family..........................11

3.1.2. Romeo vs. Juliet..................................12

3.2. Love as the very meeting of two identities......................................14

3.2.1. Romeo's love to Rosaline..........................14

3.2.2. Romeo's meeting with Juliet.......................14

3.2.3. Banishment........................................17



4.1. Solution of the dichotomy...........................18

4.1.1. Double suicide....................................18

4.1.2. Reconcilation.....................................19

4.2. Love: The intersection of responsibility and doom............................................20

4.2.1. Responsibility and doom...........................20

4.2.2. The force of Fortune, Love and Death..............20

4.2.3. The love of Romeo and Juliet......................21



Appendix: T. Brown: Untimely deaths.



1.1. The question of love in Romeo and Juliet

At first sight Romeo and Juliet may seem to be a simple, domestic romance. It has been moving the audiences of more than three centuries and has been the source for many adaptations like Gottfried Keller's Romeo und Julia auf dem Dorfe or Bernstein's musical The West Side Story. It is one of the most widely known works of Shakespeare and shares a large popularity up to today.

But beyond this tragic and romantic love-story, which uncountable people have simply enjoyed on stage or screen, there could be more: a didactic message, a hidden social criticism or some elaborated concepts.

Obviously, one of the central subjects dealt with in Romeo and Juliet is the subject of love. This interpretation attempts to find out whether there are distinct ideas of love beyond the level of simple sentiment. This question is not only an important aspect to be regarded in an interpretation of the play as a whole, but it will also influence the production of a theatrical performance of the play.


1.2. Preliminary remarks on the method of investigation

1.2.1. Love "concept"? - A qualification

But this question may immediately lead to inconsistencies, as we don't know if there is a clear and constant idea of a complex issue like love. The play provides a cohesive but nevertheless complex plot. So we can't expect to obtain a unified concept of love like a philosopher would give, for instance.

Yet we can look into the play carefully and we may try to find out to what its elements help to elucidate the question of love. The evaluation to which one will be led after interpreting the treatment of love in Romeo and Juliet depends on the aspect on which the investigation focuses: if, for example, the deeds of Romeo and Juliet, their errors and responsibility are regarded as the crucial point of the question, the investigation will probably show that Romeo is not the perfect and ideal lover, but a vain, partly inconstant, inexperienced young man, whose overhasty love to Juliet, as well inexperienced, leads to the death of both. But if the incredible coincidences and misunderstandings in the play are the focus of attention, the corresponding assessment of love will lay emphasis on the power of fate and fortune against the good intentions and the refined feelings of the two young lovers.

So on the one hand "the interpretive problem is a problem involving proportion and balance"; but on the other hand it is inevitable to draw a conclusion finally, that is to collect the different aspects and perhaps try their integration. But according to the doubts I pointed out at the beginning of this paragraph one has to be careful not to integrate the different, perhaps contradictory elements violently.

Therefore I will thoroughly compare the different results and investigate what the many voiced answers reveal as regards the question of love. Thus, the concept I will try to phrase in conclusion is an integration which I have made, but probably not a proper concept which the author himself provided intentionally. The final evaluation (cf. 4.2.3.) will show that this approach is justified.

1.2.2. How to sift out the topic of love

The next step to be taken is to find a way which allows to obtain aspects concerning the question. On the one hand it is necessary to keep the question limited, on the other hand the examination ought to be roughly complete.

Romeo and Juliet's relationship develops in a decisive manner while the action proceeds. Partly the changes in their relationship stem from their own decisions and behaviour, but the development also involves events from the outside. The question of Romeo and Juliet's love concerns a large part of the plot. To solve this problem and to separate elements concerning love from other aspects without leaving their influence out of account, I will compare the structure of love, especially the relationship between Romeo and Juliet, with other elements and thereby distinguish the subject. This gives a list of characteristics which regards the behaviour and character of the lovers as well as the influence from other institutions and events.

First I will prove that there are two basic levels in the play, the real world of Verona and the private, intimate sphere of Romeo and Juliet's love, and I will try to define their relation. Then I will investigate how Romeo and Juliet behave and how their love develops. Finally I will find out what their separation and final suicides reveal about their love. I know that this Referat on the scale of the introductory course cannot give the thorough investigation which I have announced here and which the approach requires. Yet I prefer to try this project instead of writing another interpretation of romantic "Liebestod" and Shakespeare's alleged ideal of love.




2.1. Real word of Verona

The fulfilment of Romeo and Juliet's love in the social life of Verona is being hindered by some influences, the most obvious of which is the feud between the Capulets and the Montagues, the "ancient grudge" whose origin nobody knows any more. But this conflict does "not represent the total threat to the love of the central figures". The feud is "not of itself a villainous thing that destroys the lovers intentionally". It is only one of many conditions and incidents which together can be considered an influence counteracting the relationship between Romeo and Juliet.

In the very first scene the audience is introduced to the feud, which is represented by a quarrel between the servants of the households. As even the servants take part in the feud and show an intense feeling of hatred, the conflict seems to be an institution involving the whole public of Verona. Besides, people behave very spontaneous and impulsive: They start fighting without any substantial reason. "Gregory: The quarrel is between our masters and us their men.- Sampson: 'Tis all one".

It is important that the setting of the play is laid in a Mediterranean climate in the month of July. During this time the days are hot, especially in the bright sunshine around midday. A trifle can easily become the trigger for a fighting, because "for now these hot days is the mad blood stirring". Brown has laid special emphasis on the climatic condition: "Dog days. Violence, like lightning, in the air. Vendatta. Feud."

The very first scene gives a perfect characterization of the public life of Verona in the play. Quarrel is the subject of the dialogue from the first line on. The central expression "choler" appears in the third line of the play. Up to the fighting in line 69 the dialogue is full of words which have an implication of physical action: "to move" (lines 5, 6, 7, 9, 10), "to thrust" (line 16), "to push" (line 16), "to fight" (line 21), "to feel" (in a very powerful sense, lines 26 and 27), "to bite one's thumb" (lines 40, 42, 43, 44, 47, 48), "to run" (lines 9 and 34). Even death, the utmost fulfilment of hate, is being mentioned in line 64. Benvolio's attempt to keep peace and bring the servants and kinsmen back to reason fails. "Hate" is immediately set against his "reason" and "peace": "What, drawn, and talk of peace? I hate the word".

But this real world of hate and ancient grudge does not only stay a destructive condition but it will also get its own dynamic: Once the play has begun, the speed of the action accelerates more and more, people behave more unreasonable, more impulsive. "It's the speed of the thing which gives a special horror to the action [...]. No temporal alternative, human or spiritual, can arrest the terrible flow of events as they quicken in the second half of the play".

2.2. World of love

Despite these obvious obstacles the love of Romeo and Juliet comes about (cf. chapter 3.2.2.). When Romeo meets Juliet for the first time in I. v. during the Capulet's feast, the language and form of the dialogue shared by Romeo and Juliet shows that their private sphere is totally different from public life. Their first conversation is a sonnet, a poetic convention very popular in the Elizabethan age. Usually a sonnet expresses a very intimate feeling of the "lyrical I". It allows Shakespeare to break through the limits of dramatic performance and to involve the audience emotionally as if they were recipients to a poem. "The spectator at the theatrical performance [...] is here involved in an experience equivalent to that created in the imagination of the solitary reader".

The language also helps to create this intimate, different sphere. When Romeo catches sight of Juliet, he imagines "touching hers, make blessed my rude hand". "To touch her hand" is a linguistic representation of touch, a tactile sign. In the pilgrim sonnet (I v 92-105) the focus of attention is also led to touch, by semantic means. The words "hands" and "lips" appear four times each, "kiss" and "touch" twice each, besides, there are expressions with physical implication like "tender", "mannerly" and "palm". "Daß Romeos erster Blick wie seine erste Anrede an Julia der Hand solche Wichtigkeit verleiht, hätte schon längst darauf aufmerksam machen sollen, daß es Gebärde ist, was hier im Mittelpunkt steht". But contact is only possible in a physical closeness. Thus the formal convention of a sonnet and the stressing of contact and physical closeness create a totally new atmosphere in the middle of Capulet's feast.

This distinction runs through the whole play. The next time they meet is on Juliet's balcony (II ii). Romeo has entered Capulet's ground and Juliet is aware of the danger: "and the place [is, ed.] death, considering who thou art. [...] If they do see thee, they will murder thee". Romeo answers Juliet's fears with claiming that their love is stronger - and probably more dangerous - than the physical power of Capulet's kinsmen: "there lies more peril in thine eye than twenty of ther swords". Romeo's answers to Romeo show that he does not completely consider the situation as part of real life: "With love's light wings did I o'erperch these walls".

This distinction corresponds to the contrast between night and day. During the hot day, in the bright sunlight, the feelings are running high, but the night is the place of shelter and calmness, where love may take place. After the fateful fight in public (III i), Juliet longs for the night, without knowing what has happened to Romeo. "Come night, come Romeo, come thou day in night". "Während dies alles in der Wirklichkeit des hellen Tages, in der Mittagshitze auf dem Markt geschieht, [...] bittet Juliet, daß die Zeit der Liebe, die Nacht widerkehren möge". Their last meeting before Romeo has to leave Verona is the wedding-night. Their parting shows that to them, day is a foe to their love.

Juliet: O now be gone, more light and light it grows.

Romeo: More light and light: more dark and dark our woes.

Romeo himself feels this isolation of his love to Juliet from ordinary life when he says in a soliloquy between two of Juliet's appearances on the balcony: "I am afeard, being in night, all this is but a dream".


2.3. Incompatibility

By looking closely at the language, the poetical conventions and the action of the first half of the play I have made explicit that the play basically takes place in two contrary levels. As regards the introductory question of chapter 1, we now know that, if there is a love concept, it embodies a rival idea to the ordinary aristocratic life of the Renaissance age. One could argue that the love concept is just the rival to real world. But the issue is not that simple because the intimate sphere of love takes place exactly in the rude ordinary world - at the same time and at the same place. Moreover, we have not regarded the conclusion yet, where the two worlds become totally incompatible, and a solution is inevitable.

But up to Romeo's banishment in Mantua, the two levels are continuously opposed against each other. I will show this by the fifth scene of act one. By his first speech on Juliet's beauty (I v 43-52) Romeo arouses Tybalt's attention. Tybalt behaves exactly like he has done in the first scene: "Fetch me my rapier, boy. What, dares the slave come hither...". Capulet has difficulties in calming him down. After Tybalt has expressed his anger in the foreboding words "this intrusion shall now seeming sweet, convert to bitt'rest gall", he leaves the stage and Romeo and Juliet perform their sonnet. When they start another sonnet, they are interrupted by Juliet's Nurse. The two spheres almost regularly alternate and this happens without a change of place: "Die Liebe von Romeo und Juliet ereignet sich nicht in einem märchenhaften, wirklichkeitsfernen Raum, sondern an einem geographisch genau fixierten Ort und auf bestimmter sozialer Ebene".

Thus there are two levels, incompatible rivals as regards their demands, but unified in the individuals Romeo and Juliet and in the time and place of the setting. They can neither coexist or be unified (because they are incompatible), nor be separated (because they take place in one physical world).



3.1. Two young lovers

In the play there are only two persons who are really involved in love: Romeo and Juliet. Besides, Paris appears as a wooer to Juliet, but Shakespeare shows already in the first two lines which Paris speaks in the play that he is not a lover as true as Romeo: "of honourable reckoning are you both". Paris has the role of an ordinary wooer, and not of an emotional and individual lover. That also becomes clear from the plot because Romeo directly meets Juliet (cf. paragraph 3.2.2.), while Paris does not encounter Juliet until IV. i. where they share only 18 lines. So there is no opportunity for Paris to experience an intimate sphere of love with Juliet (cf. paragraph 2.2.).

In a way Friar Laurence deals with love because of his role as a counsellor and as the priest who performs the marrying rite. But his ghostly position stops him from experiencing any conventional love-affair or physical love.

Romeo and Juliet make basically the same experiences in the play, "they have equal claims in the role normally reserved for a single protagonist". Both are quite young and inexperienced. but they both have their own character and manners of behaviour. This paragraph is to describe their social situation in the play; furthermore, it is to outline the differences in their behaviour.

3.1.1. Individuality and family

As we have seen in the second chapter, Romeo and Juliet are parts of two spheres, which both have their claims. The public sphere, containing also the families and the feud, demands hate. When Capulet urges Juliet to marry Paris in III. v., it becomes clear that the family order with which we are concerned in Romeo and Juliet is authoritarian and patriarchal. As Juliet is in love with Romeo, she first has to ignore the imperative of hate given by her kinship group, and later she must evade her father's command to marry Paris. In order to have room for their individual love, which ignores the families' barriers, they announce to ignore their names, i. e. their origin

Juliet: Art thou not Romeo, and a Montague?

Romeo: Neither, fair maid, if either thee dislike

But Capulet's decision to have Juliet married to Paris and Romeo's banishment bring them both back to their names and thus back to reality: "...die strenge Wirklichkeitsbindung, die Determination durch Herkunft und Namen, deren Anspruch gilt". Even in the smallest social unit, the structure of family, the tragic situation of Romeo and Juliet appears and calls for a solution: They cannot live together in the usual way because their families would not (and, as regards the feud, hardly could) agree with it, and because Juliet is commanded to marry Paris. They cannot part and Juliet cannot follow her Nurse's advice to marry Paris because they are married and because their love is unconditional and individual. Mercutio, who has noticed in I. i. 197 "This is not Romeo, he's some other where", encourages Romeo, when the latter is in love with Juliet and not weeping for Rosaline any more. "Now art thou sociable, now art thou Romeo". Hutchings has correctly observed that for Romeo "being sociable has social consequences". Once they have re-entered public life by marrying, Romeo and Juliet are "drawn into the web of hatred, obligation, honour and revenge".

3.1.2. Romeo vs. Juliet

Though Romeo and Juliet share the experience of hindered love, they both have a distinct character. The audience first gets to know Romeo when he is weeping for Rosaline in I. i. 158-236. The utterances he gives to his feelings mainly consist of conventional patterns. In lines 174-179 we find lots of conceits, of oxymora like "o brawling love, o loving hate, ...o heavy lightness, serious vanity". As the Renaissance audience was very familiar with these rhetorical devices, Romeo's sorrow appeares as a conventional lamentation of a young lover. Juliet, when she is introduced to the audience, seems to be totally inexperienced with love.

When they meet at Capulet's feast in I. v. 91, the language changes. They share the pilgrim sonnet, which creates an intimate atmosphere, but they still use the convention of a sonnet. In the balcony scene (II. ii.) Romeo tries to prove his love to Juliet by using a vow - again a conventional form of speech. But Juliet immediately interrupts him and explains that not any convention but only his "gracious self" can guarantee his true love.

O swear not by the moon, th'inconstant moon,

That monthly changes in her orb,

Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.

His helpless question "what shall I swear by?" leaves the line open, which must be completed by Juliet's advice "Do not swear at all". After Juliet has reaffirmed her opinion in line 110 ("Well, do not swear"), her next topic of dialogue is the hurry in which their love has come about:

I have no joy in this contract tonight;

It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden.

Unlike Romeo, she feels that there is uncertainty in their relationship. Before they part, she makes clear that she intends to accept the social obligation that lovers have to marry. "If thy purpose [be, ed.] marriage". It is also she who conceives a plan to "perform the rite". Stoll regards this as a feature of Romeo's character. "Romeo is more a prey to his imagination and is less compact and practical, less ready and resolute [...]. It is she that arranges for wedding, priest and means of communication, while Romeo is still rapt and lost in love's young dream". If we add the Friar's reaction on Romeo's new love, there is indeed a kind of criticism on Romeo's "unadvised" behaviour.

Is Rosaline, that thou didst love so dear

so soon forsaken? Young men's love then lies

not truly in their hearts but in their eyes.


Wisely and slow, that stumble that run fast.

When Romeo is faced with his fate, banishment, he is overwhelmed by his sorrow. Rozett interprets this reaction again as a sign of Romeo's character. Shakespeare "emphasizes Romeo's passivity and immaturity; rather than giving advice, Romeo succumbs to despair and must be counselled by Friar Laurence and the Nurse". In contrast to Romeo, Juliet is completely inexperienced but behaves more skilfully and carefully though, and she is aware of the rash which accompanies their love.


3.2. Love as the very meeting of two identities

In this paragraph I will investigate how Romeo and Juliet's love comes about, to what extend it differs from ordinary relationships and how they are finally separated.

3.2.1. Romeo's love to Rosaline

As I have already explained in chapter 3.1.2., Romeo's grief caused by Rosaline is expressed by conventional rhetorical means. He uses well known images to describe Rosaline: "she'll not be hit with Cupid's arrow". Rosaline "is rich in beauty", but her beauty is transitory. "Only poor that when she dies, with beauty dies her store".

His love seems to be stereotype, his experience is like that one of the typical Petrarchan lover. "Romeo, when he enters, is ridiculous, a very conventional melancholic lover"

3.2.2. Romeo's meeting with Juliet

The way in which Romeo's love to Juliet is expressed in the play reveals that there is something different in their love. "That is don not by analysis, but by poetry and the quality and individuality of their speech".

Romeo and Juliet meet four times in the play until they lay together, dead, in the last scene of the play.

When Romeo and Juliet first talk to each other in I. v., they share a sonnet (cf. paragraph 2.2.) and "Shakespeare shows us how a poetic convention can take on entirely new life in a dramatic context". In chapter 2.2. I have shown that the syntactical structure (of the sonnet) as well as the semantic means (words referring to touching) create an intimate sphere of love. Landauer noticed in 1920: "Wie die Strophen und Reime des Sonetts [...] sich mehr als jede andere Form in einander verschlingen, so flechten ihre Hände, ihre Blicke, ihre Lippen zusammen". Gibbons supposes that there are "general analogies between the play and a sonnet sequence, [...] where the private emotional experience of lovers is intently explored in isolation and in relation to their social context and to ideas of love, destiny and death". It strikes how Romeo and Juliet meet without any preparation, they did not know each other before. The confidence they show towards each other in the sonnet and the first kiss, shortly after they have met, are totally unconventional. Their encounter is obviously different from Romeo's relationship to Rosaline and Paris' trial to marry Juliet. Of course, it has to be different, because in contrast to the latter, Romeo and Juliet's love is "star-cross'd", it is against the social order of Verona (cf. paragraph 2.3.). Leimberg discovered an analogy between the development of the treatment of love in Romeo and Juliet and the development of Elizabethan sonneteering: "Die Rosaline-Episode verhält sich zur folgenden Juliet-Handlung wie die traditionelle Sonettpraxis zur avancierten".

During the balcony-scene (II. ii.) Juliet notices that Romeo's name is his tie to the ordinary world. Her idea is both, inventory and naiv: "Deny thy father and refuse thy name". Thens she shows the arbitrariness of names: "That which we call a rose / By any other word would smell as sweet", and offers to cast off her name ("And I'll no longer be a Capulet"). Romeo also wants to substitute the love to Juliet for his family bounds. "Call me but love and I'll be new baptis'd". "Der nächtliche Garten ist der Ort, in dem Juliet ihre Namenskasuistik übt, die mit dem Sieg der Liebe über die konventionelle Wirklichkeit endet".

In II. iv. they marry and enjoy a short period where they are happy together.

Let rich music's tongue

Unfold th'imagined happiness that both

Receive in either by this dear encounter

Their marriage is kept secret, and Friar Laurence only performs it because "this alliance may so happy prove / To turn your household's rancour to pure love". Tragically, it will reconcile the households, but only at the cost of "this alliance". Between these three meetings of Romeo and Juliet we see how preparations for their meetings and, finally, for their marriage are arranged. In II. iii. Romeo asks the Friar for his assistance. In II. iv. Romeo meets the Nurse to make an appointment for marriage. These interjections focus on the preparations made to make the love of the two young lovers happen. Despite the bad conditions (i. e. the feud and the rush behaviour of the citizens), Romeo, Juliet, the Friar and the Nurse make the attempt to fulfil Romeo and Juliet's love. "And what love can do, that dares love attempt". "Die Liebe Romeos und Juliets gleicht dem großen Versuch, dem Ikarusflug der Liebenden, den die Sonettdichter jedem Verharren auf sicherem Grund vorzogen".

Romeo and Juliet meet and fall in love at first sight. They find means to meet again and even to marry. Their relationship is not as planned as the conventional love (cf. Capulet's marrying Juliet to Paris) of that age. It is spontaneous, it happens in the very sense of that word. Romeo and Juliet are assisted by Friar Laurence and the Nurse, but they themselves initiated the process.

3.2.3. Banishment

Between the marriage and the wedding night in III. v., their last meeting before death, the development of their relationship has a turning point. Tybalt kills Mercutio (which is indirectly brought about by Romeo's good will), Romeo kills Tybalt, Juliet hears of these incidents and Romeo's punishment, which is banishment. In III. iv. Capulet decides to marry Juliet to Paris (cf. 3.1.1.). All these events have a destroying influence on Romeo and Juliet's attempt to live in love. Juliet realizes that reality, which only hours ago provided room for their meeting, now destroys their sphere: "Despised substance of divinest show! / Just opposite to what thou justly seem'st".

Romeo's banishment from Verona means separation of the two lovers, means that they can not see and feel each other, that they can not talk to each other. To both, this means something equal to death: "Romeo is banished, / There is no end, no limit, measure, bound, / In that word's death. [...] Hence 'banished' is banished from the world, / And world's exile is death". Here Romeo shows a reaction evoked by the experience of real separation, not like his conventional longing for Rosaline in the beginning. Obviously, he did feel grief in act I, but this excels his former experience by far. "Romeos Verbannung unterscheidet sich von seiner harmlosen Einsamkeit in der Rosaline-Phase in dem Maße, in dem seine Liebe zu Juliet überzeugendere Wirklichkeit hat als die Leidenschaft für Rosaline".

In his talk to Friar Laurence in III. iii. Romeo again turns out to be very impulsive. Rozett writes on "Romeo's passivity and immaturity; rather than giving advice, Romeo succumbs to despair and must be counselled by Friar Laurence and the Nurse". On the one hand, as we already know from his weeping for Rosaline and his sometimes helpless behaviour towards Juliet in II. ii., this stems from his inexperience, but it also shows him the consequences of his rush behaviour when he revenged Mercutio.

But even if he did not kill Tybalt, their love would be in serious trouble because of Juliet's planned marriage to Paris which is appointed in III. v.So Romeo and Juliet have not considered the possible consequences of their spontaneous love and marriage.



4.1. Solution of the dichotomy

4.1.1. Double suicide

At the end of act IV, after Romeo and Juliet have taken their farewell and Juliet's (second) marriage has been appointed, the situation seems hopeless. Act III concludes with a soliloquy by Juliet, in which she mentions the possibility of suicide.

I'll to the Friar to know his remedy.

If all else fail, myself have power to die.

There are lots of other passages which point to Romeo and Juliet's final death. In the Prologue the Chorus already announces "their death" and "their death-marked love". The Friar also anticipates the cruel end of their love when he warns "these violent things have violent ends".

Shortly before Romeo and Juliet are married Romeo says

But come what sorrow can,

It cannot countervail the exchange of joy

That one short minute gives me in her sight

Basically, he has reached what he has described as his utmost fulfilment. "It is enough I may but call her mine".

In chapter 3, I explained that the love of Romeo and Juliet appears as an attempt. But are we to evaluate their love as a success, as a successful attempt? Or are does their death show that their love was a failure?

Though the circumstances which led to the death at the end of act V were coincidence to a large extent, both their deaths are suicide, committed through their own decision. They both prefer death to a living without each other.

Romeo hears about the false message o Juliet's death in V. i. His reaction is immediate and resolute: "Then I defy you, stars!". His man Balthasar unwittingly has the correct suggestion: "I do beseech you sir, have patience". But Romeo's decision has been made, though he has not got any affirmation of Juliet's death. "Hast thou no letters to me from the Friar? [...] No matter.". After that, he concludes to kill himself in Juliet's tomb. When Juliet awakes from her pretended "death", she finds Romeo dead and also kills herself.

4.1.2. Reconciliation

To Romeo, this double suicide is a kind of everlasting reconciliation.

Well, Juliet, I will lie with thee tonight.


O here will I set up my everlasting rest.

As we have seen in chapter 2.3. and 3.1.1., the real world does not provide any room for the realization of their love. Romeo regards death as the only place for it.

In Juliet's speeches we do not find any explicit hint that she regards death as a reconciliation, as a fulfilment.

Scholars have discussed the question whether the end of Romeo and Juliet belongs to the motif of "Liebestod", like the conclusion of Antony and Cleopatra, for example. Hillgärtner stresses the bad influence of society on Romeo and Juliet's love. "Vordergründig werden Romeo Und Juliet das Opfer der besonderen Bedingungen. Tatsächlich gehen sie an den allgemeinen Verhältnissen zugrunde". To him, death is the place where mischievous society has no influence. Der Tod "ist das Ort- und Zeitlose Nirgendwo der immerwährenden Vereinigung, in der die absolute Liebe ihre utopische Zuflucht hat".

However, the death of Romeo and Juliet brings about reconcilation of the families, as the Prologue has announced.

And the continuance of their parents' rage,

Which, but their children's end, nought could remove

They have been "tempering extremeties with extreme sweet".


4.2. Love: The intersection of responsibility and doom

We have now investigated how the play presents the development of Romeo and Juliet's love and the situation in which it happens.

To return to the question of chapter one, I will now collect the main aspects given by this interpretation.

4.2.1. Responsibility and doom

We have seen that Romeo and Juliet's decisions and actions play an important role in the play. It is them who manage to start a relationship, it is Romeo who kills Tybalt and therefore is banished, it is them who commit suicide and so on. Romeo's lack of experience to cope with the situations in which he finds himself is repeatedly shown in the play (cf. 3.1.2., 3.2.3.).

But they are also always haunted by coincidence and the social conditions: Their families have been quarrelling for decades, Mercutio is killed because Romeo interferes in the wrong moment, the message of Friar Laurence does not reach Romeo, Juliet awakes only a minute too late and so on.

4.2.2. The force of Fortune, Love and Death

One could regard these influences as malevolent forces counteracting the ideal of love. But in contrast to Greek tragedy, in Romeo and Juliet there are no personified allegorical characters like "Fortune" or "Death". "Liebe, Fortuna und Tod sind nicht mehr personifizierte Abstrakta, allegorische Rahmenfiguren, sondern dämonische Mächte, die den Ablauf von Entwicklungen beherrschen und sich in menschlichem Handeln verwirklichen". So it is not a question of either determination or responsibility, but their love is constituted by both. "This play is not simply a moving tale of Liebestod; it is based on more than a romantic death-wish: to love is to be responsible".

The sequence of events show that in their love responsibility and doom concur. "Das bedeutet, daß Determination und Verantwortung viel enger verknüpft sind, ja in den menschlichen Entscheidungen zusammenfallen"

4.2.3. The love of Romeo and Juliet

As Romeo and Juliet do not only appear as victims of doom, but also as acting and responsible subjects, the play is not a mere show of "Liebesstimmung" and "romantischem Zauber".

Romeo and Juliet are a couple driven by ordinary desires, though their love is not "essentially domestic and sexual", because they undertake a dangerous great attempt to make love conquer hate. "At the centre of their experience is the paradox that only through the body can the limits of the body and the self be transcended.

Now it becomes clear that not an ideal of love, a "love concept" in that sense is the centre of Shakespeare's play, but the individual progress of Romeo and Juliet's love. The play does not primarily provide a didactic message but only shows how Love and Fortune lead Romeo and Juliet to death. "The point of the play [...] is not how such a love can arise out of hatred and then triumph over it in death, but that it does". Therefore, though Romeo and Juliet are responsible for their deeds, their love is not a question of guilt. "An die Stelle eines möglichen Schuldmoments tritt die Würde des großen Versuchs". "Nowhere in this play is it suggested that damnation lies in wait for the lovers. The audience is likely to feel that Romeo and Juliet had dared greatly

The plot shows that Fortune and Death are powers who take place in the individual deeds of Romeo and Juliet. As love is the motif for their important decisions in the play, the power of love also belongs to these forces, it is even the central power.

From the real world's point of view their love failed, but as Romeo and Juliet at least try to defy their fortune, it was a great success for the power of love.




I) Source

Shakespeare, W.: Romeo and Juliet, ed. by Brian Gibbons, The Arden Shakespeare (London, 1980).



II) Secondary Literature

Baumgart, W.: "Romeo begegnet Julia" in: Archiv für das Studium der neuren Sprachen und Literaturen 206 (1969),

p. 81-95.

Brown, T.: "Untimely Deaths" in: Programme of the production of Romeo and Juliet at the Gate Theatre, Dublin, directed by Alan Stanford (Dublin, 1991), unpag.

Cole, D.: "Introduction" in: ------ (ed.): Twentieth Century Intepretations of "Romeo and Juliet" (Englewood Cliffs: N. J., 1970), p. 1-18.

Gibbons, B.: "Introduction: The play" in: Romeo and Juliet, ed. by Brian Gibbons, The Arden Shakespeare (London, 1983), p. 42-77.

Hillgärtner, R.: "Liebe und Patriarchat in Romeo and Juliet" in: Shakespeare Jahrbuch (ost) 124 (1988), p. 148-162

Hutchings, G.: "Love and Grace in Romeo and Juliet" in: English Studies in Africa 20 (1977), p. 95-106.

Landauer, G.: Shakespeare (Frankfurt, 1920), Vol. 1.

Leech, C.: "The moral tragedy of Romeo and Juliet" in: English Rennaissance Drama, Essays in Honor of M. Doran and M. Eccles (Carbondale: Ill., 1976), p. 59-75.

Leimberg, I.: Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (München, 1968).

Rozett, M. T.: "The comic structures of tragic endings: the suicide scenes in Romeo and Juliet and Antony and Cleopatra" in: Shakespeare Quarterly 36 (1985), p. 152-164.

Stoll, E. E.: "Shakespeare's young lovers" in: Cole, D. (ed.): Twentieth Century Intepretations of Romeo and Juliet (Englewood Cliffs: N. J., 1970), p. 40-48.

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