Romeo and Juliet Themes
Themes are the recurrent ideas underlying a creative piece. These central ideas enable readers to view a certain piece from various angles to broaden their understanding. Regarded as one of the most significant and widely read playwrights, Shakespeare has skillfully explored diverse themes such as loyalty, the dichotomy of love and hate, violence, greed, and insanity in his tragedies. “Romeo and Juliet” is perhaps Shakespeare’s most significant contribution with various themes. However, instead of portraying an idyllic romance , this timeless play presents tragic themes governing human life. A few central themes in “Romeo and Juliet” are discussed below.
Themes in “Romeo and Juliet”
The abiding quality of romantic love.
Although presented as a short-term expression of youthful passion, Romeo and Juliet’s love for each other ultimately wins over every form of social constraints. The abiding quality of their selfless love is an essential theme of the play. It serves to reinforce the claim that if authentic lovers cannot be united in this world, they can certainly be together in the life hereafter.
Individual vs. Society
The conflict between individual desires and social institutions is a recurrent theme in “Romeo and Juliet”. The young lovers’ struggle against their respective families is the most important theme. By opting for individual fulfillment as opposed to social traditions, both Romeo and Juliet refuse to follow the commands of their families. They illustrate the triumph of an individual’s will over social customs. On a metaphorical level, this courage highlights the threat that young love poses to the absurd social traditions.
The theme of violence also plays a significant role in the play. Usually, blind passion, hatred and desperation are some instances of violence given throughout “Romeo and Juliet”. Tybalt kills Mercutio though it was not intentional. In order to avenge Mercutio’s death and in a moment of desperation, Romeo kills Tybalt and Paris. Both murders are classic examples of violence. The blind love of Romeo and Juliet that motivate them to commit suicide is another example. These examples show that violence has a vital role in this tragedy .
The Overarching Power of Patriarchy
In “Romeo and Juliet”, most of the significant decisions are made by the men of the two families, the Capulets, and the Montagues. Lady Capulet and Lady Montague’s views are not important. It is clearly displayed by their silent assertion of their husbands’ ideas in the play. It is Lord Capulet who selects Paris as his daughter’s future husband. Then forces Juliet to abide by his decision. Perhaps the most blatant example of the rule of men in the play is the feud between Lord Capulet and Lord Montague. Although their wives don’t harbor any ill-will toward each other, the two Lords force their families to support them in their pointless dispute and keep up their enmity against each other.
The Theme of Death
Death is a theme that lurks throughout the play. In many ways, “Romeo and Juliet” shows the journey of the two lovers from their initial, love-filled meeting up to their death. Thus, death serves as the tragic resolution of various conflicts. For instance, Romeo’s conflict with Tybalt ends with the latter’s death. Moreover, the two young lovers’ conflict with the hostile social conformity ends with their untimely deaths. These tragic losses make the entire play as if it is only a play of deaths.
The Inevitability of Fate
The inevitability of fate is another important thematic concern of “Romeo and Juliet”. The phrase , “star-crossed” refers to the fact that the two lovers were destined to die from the beginning. Hence, aside from a string of poor choices made by the two lovers and their families, the power of fate governs the end of the play. Friar John’s inability to deliver the letter to Romeo on time was inescapable fate and a deadly blow. The letter would have informed Romeo that Juliet was alive. It is the most fatalistic moment in the play that drives Romeo to commit suicide.
The institution of marriage is another important theme in the play. Contrary to popular beliefs, marriage is not shown as a good institution in the play. The play emphasizes the idea that though marriages of the Capulets and Montagues are socially approved, it lacks a soul. On the other hand, the union of Romeo and Juliet is authentic and yet condemned. Moreover, the political motive behind Friar Lawrence’s approval of Romeo and Juliet’s marriage highlights that in the Shakespearean era, marriage was seen as a means to ensure political strength.
Ideological Divide Between the Young and the Old
The ideological divide between the younger and the older generation is also a repetitive theme underlying the play. The impulsivity and youthful exuberance of Romeo, Juliet, Mercutio, and Paris serve as a strong contrast to calculating, the political foresight of Lord Capulet, Lord Montague, and Friar Lawrence. The tragedy of the play is in the fact that both the older and younger generations are unwilling to compromise and end the disagreement for good. They are not willing to resolve their pointless dispute.
The Absurdity Underlying Family Feuds
The absurd legacy of rivalry between the Montagues and the Capulets brings chaos that is shown later in the play. Although the actual reason for enmity between the two families remains undisclosed, it is shown that they are unable to reconcile with each other. It also shows that they have no credible reason for continuing the enmity between them.
In addition to violence, revenge is another destructive element that sustains the action of the play. Hence, it makes an important theme of the play. However, the tragedy carrying the cycle of revenge neither guarantees a good end nor does it lead to poetic justice . For instance, Romeo kills Tybalt in order to seek revenge for Mercutio’s murder. This rash action of Romeo is not tried in the court. Moreover, several other actions that require resolution are not brought to the law. Therefore, revenge seems to have the upper hand.
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Romeo and Juliet Themes
This page discusses the Romeo and Juliet themes that are evident in the play.
Whilst the play features the meeting and falling in love of the two main protagonists, to say that love is a theme of Romeo and Juliet is an oversimplification. Rather, Shakespeare structures Romeo and Juliet around several contrasting ideas, with a number of themes expressed as opposites. To say that the tension between love and hate is a major theme in Romeo and Juliet gets us closer to what the play is about. These – and other – opposing ideas reverberate with each other and are intertwined through the text.
7 Key Themes In Romeo and Juliet:
Historical time vs the present.
The first thing that strikes one is the feud , mentioned in the Prologue as ‘ancient grudge.’ Here we have a story about happy carefree young people, living in the modern world and enjoying it. The action moves very fast. All that is set against something that happened in the far distant past – an ancient grudge – and, on that level, time is moving very slowly. There is constant mention of time in the text. The nurse recalls Juliet’s early childhood, contrasting it with her young adulthood, using a crude reference to her current sexual maturity. Romeo imagines his life as a long sea voyage that ends in a shipwreck, in contrast to the pace of the life he is living in the present. So the fast-moving, optimistic life of the moment against the power of a toxic history and how it affects the present is a major theme.
Light and Dark
The interplay of images of light and darkness, often placed together, bring the text to life with illumination and shadows. Flashing and sparkling eyes, jewels fire, lightning, stars, exploding gunpowder, torches, the sun and the moon, are set against images of night, smoke, clouds, and a pitch-black tomb. The images, many of them of celestial bodies, connect with the prologue’s assertion that these are star-crossed lovers . The struggle of bright young hopes against the inevitability of the dark tomb is an important theme. In the midst of the brightness of youth, we are constantly reminded, in the way that Shakespeare juxtaposes those images with images of darkness, of the closeness death.
Fate and Free Will
The Prologue refers to the protagonists as ‘star-crossed lovers.’ The belief that Fate determines human life reverberates through the play. Fate versus free will is the theme here. Romeo and Juliet struggle to break free of the threats that Fate represents, expressed in their dreams and premonitions, and the imagery, throughout the text. Romeo is frustrated by the intervention of Fate at every move he makes to assert his will. ‘O I am fortune’s fool,’ he cries when he realises that he has killed Tybalt . When he hears of the death of Juliet, he shouts up to the heavens, ‘Then I defy you, stars!’
Love and Hate
The intensity of the love between Romeo and Juliet is pitched against the hate-ridden society in which they live. In the balcony scene , Juliet tells Romeo that if her kinsmen find him in the orchard they will murder him. It is that hatred that is going to destroy them. Not only them but Mercutio , Tybalt and Paris as well. The hatred generated by the ancient feud is just as intense, as we see from the emotional behaviour of Tybalt, as the intensity of the love between Romeo and Juliet.
Death and Hate
Death is ever-present in Verona. The old folk mutter about it all the time: ‘we were born to die,’ ‘death’s the end of all,’ and young lives are abruptly cut short – so abruptly that the speed of it is a shock in itself. The word ‘death’ pervades the text. Death is even personified: we see him shutting up the doors of life, eating the living, fighting on the battlefield. Most horrifying is that he is Juliet’s bridegroom. ‘Death is my son-in-law/Death is my heir/My daughter he hath wedded,’ wails Capulet as he weeps over Juliet’s body. Against all that are the hopes of the lovers for a life together doomed by the stars.
Youth Against Age
The youthful impetuous emotion of the lovers bumps up against the cautious, mature wisdom of the older people. Friar Lawrence cautions Romeo ‘love moderately, long love doth so.’ Tybalt’s rage at finding Romeo at the Capulet party and wanting to fight him there and then is put down by the older Capulet. This contrast is far more complex, however, when one thinks about the folly of Friar Lawrence in his support for the young lovers’ marriage, and also Capulet’s mood swings and outbursts of violence in his efforts to deal with his daughter. Such things throw doubt on the wisdom they proclaim, against the go-for-it approach of the younger generation. This is a major exploration of the relationships between the generations and feeds strongly into the time theme.
Language vs Reality
This is one of Shakespeare’s main thematic interests in all of his plays. He was intensely interested in the uneasy relationships between the words we use to describe things and what those things actually are in reality. In Romeo and Juliet Romeo is described as ‘Montague.’ The word creates prejudice and hatred, the impetus for revenge and violence. Tybald is blinded by malice at the very sound of Romeo’s voice. The word ‘Montague’ has nothing to do with what Romeo is in actuality: if he had been described as ‘Capulet’ the tragedy would not have happened. The text is full of sentiments that express this theme. ‘ What’s in a name? ’ Juliet says. ‘ A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. ’ That completely encapsulates this theme. This play emphasises the tension between words and action, language and life, that we find in all Shakespeare’s plays.
Shakespeare Themes by Play
Hamlet themes , Macbeth themes , Romeo and Juliet themes
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Ambition, Appearance & Reality , Betrayal , Conflict , Corruption , Death , Deception , Good & Evil , Hatred , Order & Disorder , Revenge , Suffering , Transformation
What do you think of these Romeo and Juliet themes – any that you don’t agree with, or would add? Let us know in the comments section below!
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Romeo and Juliet
About the Book
Themes and Analysis
Romeo and juliet, by william shakespeare.
Despite being hundreds of years old, Romeo and Juliet still packs a punch and is able to include several key themes throughout the play...
Written by Lee-James Bovey
Despite being hundreds of years old, Romeo and Juliet still packs a punch and is able to include several key themes throughout the play.
The Nature of Fate
Right from the beginning of the play, we are introduced to the idea of fate as Romeo and Juliet are described as star-crossed lovers . Throughout they are somehow able to divine their futures but neither of them seems to have the power to avoid them. When you consider everything that has to transpire to lead to their demise it really is a series of unfortunate events.
The Effects of Love
In Elizabethan, England love was associated with feminity . We see this reoccurring throughout the play as Romeo is unable to fight Tybalt because he believes his love for Juliet has made him effeminate.
Self Versus the State
The laws of the state suggest that fighting between the two houses are prohibited and yet we see those laws flouted by Mercutio and Tybalt in the name of their own honor and then Romeo in the name of revenge. We also see Juliet going against her father’s wishes to marry the man she loves. All of these decisions seem to have dire consequences.
Romeo and Juliet: Key Moments
There are several vital moments that make up the play. These are key because they move the plot towards its ending.
- Prince Escalus announces that any further civil unrest will lead to the death sentence. This sets up early in the play a situation that is probably going to come to the fore.
- Romeo and Juliet meet. Obviously, if this does not occur then they would not fall in love. However, this is destined to happen as we found out from the prologue. You also have to wonder if they didn’t meet would the ancient grudge ever have truly ended. Does the deaths of Romeo and Juliet serve a greater purpose?
- Romeo and Juliet declare their love for one another. The balcony scene is one of the most iconic in the play and has some of the play’s best-known lines including the iconic, “wherefore art thou Romeo?”.
- Romeo and Juliet marry – obviously, this is significant as marriage was far more sacred in Elizabethan England than it is in modern society.
- Tybalt kills Mercutio which leads to himself being killed by Romeo which results in Romeo being banished. This is the chain of events that leads Juliet to come up with her plan to fake her own death which tragically backfires.
- Capulet promises Juliet to Paris. This forces Juliet to take action that eventually leads to her demise.
- Juliet plans to fake her death so she can be with Romeo. On the face of it, this is a good plan unfortunately it is badly executed.
- Balthazar tells Romeo that Juliet is dead. This leads Romeo on a mission to be with her and end his own life.
- Romeo and Juliet die. Tragically if Juliet had woken a few minutes earlier or if Romeo’s fight with Paris had lasted longer then this end might not have played out. This really shows the nature of fate in this play.
About Lee-James Bovey
Lee-James, a.k.a. LJ, has been a Book Analysis team member since it was first created. During the day, he's an English Teacher. During the night, he provides in-depth analysis and summary of books.
Cite This Page
Bovey, Lee-James " Romeo and Juliet Themes and Analysis 💑 " Book Analysis , https://bookanalysis.com/william-shakespeare/romeo-and-juliet/analysis/ . Accessed 22 February 2024.
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The Five Major Themes of Romeo and Juliet with an Explanation of Each
Before addressing themes in Romeo and Juliet , it is important to define exactly what I mean by theme. Often theme refers to the overriding message an author tries to convey through his or her work. For this article, however, theme refers to a unifying idea that is a recurrent element in a literary or artistic work. The following sections answer the question: What are the five major themes of Romeo and Juliet ?
Love v. Lust
Romeo and Juliet is considered by most to be a love story, but are the lovers’ actions motivated by love or lust?
- Romeo pines over Rosaline as the play begins and he complains, “She’ll not be hit with Cupid’s arrow. She hath Dian’s wit, / And, in strong proof of chastity well armed.” (I, i, 199-201). The mythological allusions to Cupid, the Roman god of (physical) love, and Diana, the Roman goddess of chastity, allude more to hormonal acceleration than true feelings of love.
- Romeo’s “love” for Juliet is love at first sight (I, v, 43-52), more a sign of infatuation than love. He loves her, in fact, based solely on her beauty before even meeting her. The same is true for Juliet.
- In Act II, scene 2, Romeo and Juliet agree to marriage. They’ve known each other for a little over an hour. And you wonder why fathers with beautiful daughters go bald?
- Both Romeo and Juliet act rashly–they marry quickly and they react quickly. Love is patient. Lust is always in a hurry.
The Role of Fate
The chorus begins the play by calling Romeo and Juliet “star-crossed lovers” (Prologue, line 6), but does fate or poor decisions cause their death?
- Bad luck and unfortunate coincidences abound: (1) Of all the people the illiterate Capulet servant could have asked to read the invitation list in Act I, scene 2, he chooses Benvolio, Mercutio, and Romeo; (2) Of all the hotties at the Capulet party, Romeo spots Juliet first; (3) It just so happens that the County Paris decides he wants to marry Juliet the same day Romeo meets her; (4) Friar John is detained and unable to deliver an important letter to Romeo in Mantua; (5) If Romeo would have waited one more minute, Juliet would have awakened and the two could have fled together.
- Bad choices and stupid decisions rule the day: (1) The two marry too quickly; (2) Romeo chooses to attend the enemy’s party; (3) Friar Lawrence gives some of the worst advice in the history of literature; (3) Friar Lawrence abandons Juliet in the tomb; (4) They both choose to take their own lives.
The Role of Women
This analysis of themes in Romeo and Juliet is intended to help you enjoy the play as you read and discuss it. The role of women at this time was to be good wives and mothers. They were to be obedient to their husbands and fathers. It is no surprise, therefore, that when Capulet determines Juliet must marry Paris, the women in the play shrink, with one exception.
- Juliet’s name deserves to go first in this play. Her society does not consider her opinion worthwhile. Her family turns on her. Her best friend, the nurse, turns on her, the Friar gives horrible advice. Juliet marries an unstable, moody boy. Yet, she faces her fears and moves forward, defying social customs. It is not until her life has completely lost meaning–after all, once it’s discovered she has been married against her family’s wishes, she would be ostracized by the community–that she kills herself.
- Lady Capulet - Her opinion means nothing. Once Lord Capulet’s mind is made up regarding Juliet’s marriage to Paris, it matters little what Lady Capulet thinks. Her role is to listen and obey.
- The Nurse - Her charge is to raise Juliet and take care of her. She does a poor job. She eventually shrinks back into her role as servant to the capriciousness of Lord Capulet, abandoning Juliet when her need is greatest.
Love vs. Hate
For such a great love story, there sure is a lot of hate in the play.
- The Capulets hate the Montagues and the Montagues hate the Capulets. We don’t know why. It’s possible the Capulets and Montagues don’t know why. It is this hatred that establishes tension and conflict.
- Tybalt is unreasonably hateful. The mere sight of Romeo at the Capulet party angers him to the point of murder. It is ironic that the party which brought the two lovers together sows the seeds that destroy their lives. Perhaps Shakespeare is showing the reader the paradoxical relationship between the two emotions.
- Does love conquer hate or does hate conquer love? Romeo’s love for Juliet and hopes for a blissful existence is destroyed by Tybalt’s hatred of Romeo, Mercutio’s hatred for Tybalt, and Romeo’s inability to make amends through love (see Act III, scene i, lines 64-5). The families’ hatred forces the two to end their own lives. The love that prompted their rash actions, however, brings an end to the families’ hatred. Once again, Shakespeare shows us the two emotions are connected.
The Passage of Time
Poets and lovers contend that time passes differently for those who are in love. Shakespeare’s play about literature’s most famous lovers compresses events that seem to last years into four days. Is Shakespeare showing us how differently time is measured for lovers? I’ll let you decide (with a little help).
- Day 1 - The morning begins with a Capulet/Montague brawl. The Capulet invitation is received in the afternoon. Romeo meets Juliet and falls in love in the evening.
- Day 2 - Day 2 begins with the balcony scene followed by Romeo’s visit to Friar Lawrence. The two are married in the afternoon, soon followed by Romeo killing Tybalt and being banished. Romeo spends the night with Juliet and Lord Capulet decides Juliet will marry Paris.
- Day 3 - Romeo leaves at dawn. Juliet is informed of her impending marriage to Paris. Juliet runs to Friar Lawrence for advice. Juliet drinks the potion that night.
- Day 4 - Wedding preparations last throughout the morning. Juliet is found dead . Romeo hears the news and buys poison from an apothecary. At night, Romeo kills Paris at Juliet’s tomb and drinks poison. Juliet awakes and stabs herself.
- Day 5 - The Montagues and Capulets learn of the secret marriage, the double suicide, and end their feud.
- Shakespeare, William. Prentice Hall Literature, Timeless Voices, Timeless Themes. Romeo and Juliet . Saddle River New Jersey: Pearson Education. 2002. 768-877.
- Trent Lorcher’s 13 years of teaching experience.
This post is part of the series: Romeo and Juliet Study Helps
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Love in 'Romeo and Juliet'
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The play "Romeo and Juliet" has become forever associated with love. It's a truly iconic story of romance and passion—even the name “Romeo” is still used to describe enthusiastic young lovers.
But while the romantic love between the titular characters is often what we think of when we consider the love theme in "Romeo and Juliet," Shakespeare ’s treatment of the concept of love is complex and multifaceted. Through different characters and relationships, he portrays some of the various types of love and the different ways it can manifest.
These are some of the expressions of love Shakespeare threads together to create the play.
Some characters fall in and out of love very quickly in "Romeo and Juliet." For example, Romeo is in "love" with Rosaline at the start of the play, but it is presented as an immature infatuation. Today, we might use the term “puppy love” to describe it. Romeo’s love for Rosaline is shallow, and nobody really believes that it will last, including Friar Laurence:
Romeo: Thou chid'st me oft for loving Rosaline. Friar Laurence: For doting, not for loving, pupil mine. (Act Two, Scene Three)
Similarly, Paris’ love for Juliet is borne out of tradition, not passion. He has identified her as a good candidate for a wife and approaches her father to arrange the marriage. Although this was the tradition at the time, it also says something about Paris’ staid, unpassionate attitude toward love. He even admits to Friar Laurence that in his haste to rush the wedding, he hasn’t discussed it with his bride-to-be:
Friar Laurence: On Thursday, sir? the time is very short. Paris: My father Capulet will have it so; And I am nothing slow to slack his haste. Friar Laurence: You say you do not know the lady's mind: Uneven is the course, I like it not. Paris: Immoderately she weeps for Tybalt's death, And therefore have I little talked of love. (Act Four, Scene One)
Many of the friendships in the play are as sincere as Romeo and Juliet’s love for one another. The best example of this is in Act Three, Scene One, where Mercutio and Romeo fight Tybalt. When Romeo attempts to bring peace, Mercutio fights back at Tybalt's slander of Romeo. Then, it is out of rage over Mercutio's death that Romeo pursues—and kills—Tybalt:
Romeo: In triumph, and Mercutio slain! Away to heaven, respective lenity, And fire-eyed fury be my conduct now.— Now, Tybalt, take the “villain” back again That late thou gavest me, for Mercutio’s soul Is but a little way above our heads, Staying for thine to keep him company. Either thou or I, or both, must go with him. (Act Three, Scene One)
It is out of friendly love for his companion that Romeo acts out.
Then, of course, is romantic love, the classic idea of which is embodied in "Romeo and Juliet." In fact, maybe it is "Romeo and Juliet" that has influenced our definition of the concept. The characters are deeply infatuated with one another, so committed to being together that they defy their respective families.
Romeo: By a name I know not how to tell thee who I am. My name, dear saint, is hateful to myself Because it is an enemy to thee. Had I it written, I would tear the word. (Act Two, Scene Two)
Perhaps Romeo and Juliet's love is fate ; their love is given a cosmic significance, which suggests that the universe plays a role in the creation of deep romantic love. Despite their love being disallowed by the Capulet and Montague households , they inevitably—and irresistibly—find themselves drawn together.
Juliet: Prodigious birth of love it is to me That I must love a loathèd enemy. Act One, Scene Five)
All in all, Shakespeare presents romantic love as a force of nature, so strong that it transcends expectations, tradition, and—through the combined suicides of lovers who cannot live without one another—life itself.
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Romeo and Juliet Themes – GCSE English Revision Guide
Welcome to another GCSE English Literature revision guide from Tutor In. We’ve included everything you need to know about Romeo and Juliet themes. Find out how Shakespeare presents the themes and learn some key quotations. Your exam will ask you about either a theme or a character, so we need to focus on these areas to make sure our revision is efficient and effective. Make sure you’re confident in explaining how Shakespeare presents the themes in this guide and then learn about the characters. Learn some key quotations for each theme and character and practise plenty of exam style questions to complete your revision – it’s not rocket science, just focus on what rewards you with marks form the examiner.
You’ll notice that many of the quotations shown in this guide can cover multiple themes and characters. This is a good way to work efficiently. Memorise quotations that you can apply to a number of different questions to limit how many quotations you actually have to learn (which I’m sure you’ll agree is good news!)
Check out even more great free revision guides and practice questions on our resources page .
If you’re looking for some specific support with your GCSE English revision then why not book in a trial lesson with one of our expert online English tutors? Learn more about our specialist GCSE English tutors here and drop us a message to book your free consultation . We’ll help you achieve great results in GCSE English.
Now let’s get stuck into these Romeo and Juliet themes…
How the theme is presented
- It’s not a spoiler to say that love underpins most of the plot.
- Shakespeare explores the positive aspects of love, as well as the difficulties when different relationships are incompatible.
- We see the difference in how the older and younger generations approach love. Romeo and Juliet immediately have an all-encompassing love for each other. It’s by far the most important thing in their lives and they’re willing to give up everything for it. At different points the older generation, particularly Capulet, try to control romantic love and orchestrate Juliet’s relationship with Paris.
- The audience sees an obsessive love from Romeo. He’s initially madly in love with Rosaline, but she doesn’t feel the same. He then quickly switches affections to Juliet. An even greater obsession then begins.
- Shakespeare shows the power of traditional romantic love to shape Romeo and Juliet’s lives and lead to tragedy. On the other hand, Shakespeare shows the healing power of love as Romeo and Juliet’s death forces an end to hostilities between Montague and Capulet.
- Shakespeare also explores other types of love. He presents: the bond between friends with Romeo and Mercutio; family ties, particularly when Romeo declares his love even for Tybalt; and caring relationships like Romeo with the Friar and Juliet with the Nurse.
- It’s important to understand the historical context around every theme. In Shakespearean times people tended to get married at a much younger age than today. It was normal at the time to be married by the age of 13. Parents would also usually choose the spouse for their child. They’d look to secure a match to a rich, important family. It is, therefore, very difficult for Romeo and Juliet to decide who they want to marry, especially when they’re choosing someone from an enemy family.
- Romeo: ‘Here’s much to do with hate, but more with love. Why, then, O brawling love! O loving hate!’
- Mercutio: ‘If love be rough with you, be rough with love; prick love for pricking, and you beat love down.’
- Romeo: ‘Is she a Capulet? O, dear account! My life is my foe’s debt’
- Juliet: ‘My only love sprung from my only hate! Too early seen unknown, and known too late! Prodigious birth of love it is to me, that I must love a loathed enemy.’
- Romeo: ‘But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun…It is my lady, O it is my love! O, that she knew she were!’
- Juliet: ‘O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo? Deny thy father and refuse thy name; or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, and I’ll no longer be a Capulet.’
- Juliet: ‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet’
- Friar Laurence: ‘Young men’s love then lies not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes.’
- Juliet: ‘Romeo, I come! This do I drink to thee.’
- Capulet: ‘O brother Montague, give me thy hand’
- Prince: ‘For never was a story of more woe that this of Juliet and her Romeo.’
Revise all of the themes in Romeo and Juliet below. You can also check out our GCSE English revision guide on characters in Romeo and Juliet to complete your revision on the text.
- Fate has a very interesting role in Romeo and Juliet. Various characters refer to fate guiding their lives.
- The audience gets a clear sense of fate’s influence right from the start. The prologue tells us exactly what’s going to happen in the play. It’s as if fate has decided how Romeo and Juliet’s lives will play out.
- The words “pair of star-cross’d lovers” and “death-mark’d love” emphasise this idea that Romeo and Juliet’s love is ill-fated and doomed from the start.
- Again, thinking about context, many people in 16 th and 17 th centuries believed that astrology played some part in setting the course of their lives. So this idea of “star cross’d lovers” would seem realistic to a contemporary audience.
- This prologue creates a major sense of dramatic irony throughout the play. Remember dramatic irony is where the audience knows something that hasn’t yet happened or that the characters on stage are not aware of yet.
- When we get to the tragic end of the play Romeo refers again to the stars. The suggestion here is that he and Juliet never stood a chance in their love. Fate and the stars had pre-determined the tragic end of their love.
- Chorus: ‘A pair of star-crossed lovers take their lives’ (Prologue)
- Juliet: ‘My grave is like to be my wedding bed.’
- Romeo: ‘O, I am fortune’s fool!’
- Prince: ‘Mercy but murders, pardoning those that kill.’
- Juliet: ‘O fortune, fortune! All men call thee fickle’
- Friar Laurence: ‘Unhappy fortune!’
- Romeo: ‘Is it even so? Then I defy you, stars!’
- Friar Laurence: ‘Fear comes upon me: O, much I fear some ill unlucky thing,’
- Friar Laurence: ‘A greater power than we can contradict hath thwarted our intents.’
- Conflict is central to the play, with the feuding families providing a dramatic background to the tale.
- Shakespeare starts the play with a serious fight between the Montagues and Capulets, ending with the Prince’s dire warnings – showing this conflict has been an ongoing problem in Verona.
- Mercutio (the audience favourite for his humour) is killed in a fight with Tybalt, Romeo goes on to kill Tybalt and Paris. With so many main characters dying in fights Shakespeare shows the potential price of conflict in defence of honour. No one wins. Both families lose people before they draw an end to the fighting.
- As well as this obvious fighting in the streets of Verona, Shakespeare portrays more nuanced, personal elements of conflict both within the families and within individuals themselves.
- Juliet displays her inner conflict on her balcony in Act 2 Scene 2 when she knows she loves Romeo, but knows the difficulty his being a Montague will bring. She decides that she would happily give up her name and family to be with Romeo.
- Shakespeare shows us conflict within a family as Capulet tries to persuade Juliet – more and more forcefully – to marry Paris.
- Ultimately it takes multiple deaths for love to (in some way) overcome conflict. The final scene sees Montague and Capulet agree to end their feud following Romeo and Juliet’s suicides.
- Tybalt: ‘What, drawn, and talk of peace! I hate the word, as I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee’
- Romeo: My life were better ended by their hate, than death prorogued, wanting of thy love.’
- Friar Laurence: ‘These violent delights have violent ends and in their triumph die’
- Mercutio: ‘A plague o’ both your houses!’
- Tybalt: ‘Romeo, the hate I bear thee can afford no better term than this,- thou art a villain.’
- Mercutio: ‘ask for me tomorrow, and you will find me a grave man.’
- Mercutio: ‘Why the devil came you between us? I was hurt under your arm.’
- Prince: ‘See, what a scourge is laid upon your hate, that heaven finds means to kill your joys with love. And I for winking at your discords too have lost a brace of kinsmen: all are punished.’
- Shakespeare explores the complex nature of family relationships. He shows us the strong connection of family as well as the alienation caused by going against a strong family. This theme links closely with love and conflict.
- The Montagues and Capulets are high status, wealthy families in Verona. In this position the binds to Montague and Capulet go far beyond their immediate families. Many people who worked for the families would owe allegiance to them and wear their livery (the colours associated with that family). This means that the family feud ranges across Verona and involves many people beyond the families.
- We see some big differences between contemporary and modern families, but also some timeless similarities.
- ‘Ancient’ family conflict between the Montagues and Capulets is the backdrop to the play and is shown to overwhelm people’s lives.
- The conflict has been going on for years and the warring between the two sides is almost natural.
- It’s strange, therefore, how similar the two families appear. Both high status, with children around the same age and a huge retinue of servants and allies.
- Both Romeo and Juliet are shown to be very young. Juliet is 13 and, although we don’t hear Romeo’s exact age, it is implied that he too is very young. Both characters are quite immature. Romeo roams around the streets with his mates and uses hyperbolic language to describe his love. Juliet refers to herself as an ‘impatient child’.
- Romeo and Juliet’s youth makes their alienation from their families and their ultimate tragedy all the more horrific for the audience.
- The two families are only reconciled after the death of their children. Shakespeare presents the strength and power of conflicts between families, as only such tragedy can overcome their feud.
- Capulet: My child is yet a stranger in this world; She hath not seen the change of fourteen years’
- Friar Laurence: ‘In one respect I’ll thy assistant be; for this alliance may so happy prove, to turn your households’ rancour to pure love’
- Nurse: ‘first let me tell ye, if ye should lead her into a fool’s paradise, as they say, it were a very gross kind of behaviour, as they say: for the gentlewoman is young.’
- Romeo: ‘Tybalt, the reason that I have to love thee doth much excuse the apparenting rage to such a greeting: villain am I none; therefore farewell; I see thou know’st me not.’
- Romeo: ‘good Capulet,- which name I tender as dearly as my own,- be satisfied.’
- Capulet: ‘But fettle your fine joints ‘gainst Thursday next, to go with Paris to Saint Peter’s Church, or I will drag thee on a hurdle thither. Out, you green-sickness carrion! Out, you baggage! You tallow-face!’
- Capulet: Hang thee, young baggage, disobedient wretch! I tell thee what: get thee to church o’Thursday, or never after look me in the face: speak not, reply not, do not answer me’
Just two more themes to revise. Keep going!
Individual vs Society
- Romeo and Juliet are presented as strong individuals. No matter their feelings, it takes strength for each to go against their whole family in the way they do.
- They also live a very oppressive society that demands allegiance to the law, religion, family and a very structured social order. Romeo and Juliet have to face down all of these constructs.
- Beyond their families they also go against a lot of the institutions and norms in their society. The society Shakespeare portrays relied heavily on loyalty to family and to social superiors. It was also a very patriarchal society where the head of the household (almost always a man) would have huge influence over his family and their lives. It was unthinkable for most people to go against this loyalty, even for such intense love. We do see bot Romeo and Juliet struggling with these conflicting ideas through the play.
- Given this patriarchal society, Juliet, in particular, shows her strong individual character in standing up to her father’s wish for her to marry Paris.
- Romeo and Juliet’s suicide is their final act of individual defiance against a society that won’t let them be together. Suicide was considered a tremendous sin in their very religious society and a dishonour. Romeo and Juliet even go against religion and society in their tragic deaths.
- Romeo: ‘my reputation stain’d with Tybalt’s slander,- Tybalt that an hour hath been my kinsman! O sweet Juliet, thy beauty hath made me effeminate and in my temper soften’d valour’s steel!’
- Juliet: ‘That “banished”, that one word “banished” hath slain ten thousand Tybalts.’
- Romeo: ‘ Ha, banishment! Be merciful, say “death”, for exile hath more terror in his look’
- In response to Romeo on banishment – Friar Laurence: ‘O deadly sin! O rude unthankfulness!’
- Death overshadows the whole play and links to all of the other themes discussed in this guide.
- From the opening prologue the audience knows that Romeo and Juliet have to die to end the feud between their families. We know their love is doomed and this shadow of death overhangs the play.
- We see death throughout the play. From Act III the death toll rises quickly – Mercutio, Tybalt, Paris, Romeo and Juliet. Many of the main young characters die because of the family feud and the complexity of Romeo and Juliet’s love.
- The number of deaths by the end of the play follows the classic ideas of the Tragedy. Tragic plays show the audience the downfall of the main character and usually end with many of the characters dying. Those left usually promise to improve things and learn the error of their ways following the deaths of their friends and family. We see this here with Montague and Capulet promising to end their feud.
- Romeo and Juliet refer to the threat of death in their lives. Both would face retribution if the other family found them with each other. Shakespeare shows us that both characters are acutely aware of the risks they are taking.
- There’s some quite morbid context for this theme, but we should note that death was far more common in everyday life and even ‘normal’ at the time when Shakespeare was writing, particularly death from conflict and at a young age. For a Shakespearean audience death was present in their lives in a way that’s (thankfully) very different from the lives of a modern audience.
- Capulet: ‘Death is my son-in-law, Death is my heir; My daughter he hath wedded’
- Romeo: ‘O true apothecary, they drugs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die.’
- Juliet: ‘O happy dagger! This is thy sheath: there rust, and let me die.’
- Prince: ‘For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo.’
There’s quite a lot to learn here, but it’s all important for your exam. The information in this guide should provide the basis for your revision of Romeo and Juliet themes. Use this guide to help ensure you feel confident explaining these themes. After that, have a go at some past exam papers and practise assessing the presentation of each theme while integrating and analysing the quotations.
You can find more help with Romeo and Juliet on the Royal Shakespeare Company website . They have some very useful plot summaries, quotation lists and revision resources. You can also leave me a comment below or message me directly with any specific questions.
2 thoughts on “Romeo and Juliet Themes – GCSE English Revision Guide”
These articles about specific topics are so informative, thanks for putting the time and effort, Liam!
I am in year 10 and have my mock that I used this website to help revise and it was so helpful for quote memorising
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Romeo and Juliet
William shakespeare, everything you need for every book you read..
Though the forbidden love between Romeo and Juliet lives at the heart of the play and drives much of its action, their love is only forbidden in the first place due to the “ancient grudge,” or feud, between the noble houses of Capulet and Montague. The source of the age-old fight between the two families is never explained or even hinted at—all that is clear is that these houses loathe each other and will leap at any chance to do violence unto each other, much to the dismay of Verona’s citizens. Romeo and Juliet are bound by duty to honor their respective families, but as their love for one another deepens and their families’ violence towards each other escalates, Shakespeare shows that parents owe their children the duties of respect, openness, and kindness—not exclusively, as the Capulets and Montagues demand, the other way around.
Many of Shakespeare’s works examine the duty children and younger generations within a family owe their parents, or the older generation—in Hamlet , King Lear , and The Merchant of Venice , for example, Shakespeare interrogates filial duty, familial honor, and the difficulties of seeing a parent’s will through. In Romeo and Juliet , however, Shakespeare turns this interrogation on its head. While a child’s honor-bound duty to his or her parent is complex, to say the least, in the world of Hamlet and King Lear , in Romeo and Juliet , it is portrayed outrightly as an absurd, punitive, and even cruel demand. Romeo and Juliet are bound to honor their families’ hatred of one another—when each learns who the other is after falling in love at a party at the Capulets’ home, they are crestfallen to realize that they are enemies by default. Of course, Romeo and Juliet are not, as individuals, each other’s enemies—but the codes of honor their parents have thrust upon them demand that they hate one another simply out of duty. As Romeo and Juliet secretly conspire to shirk that duty, surrender to their love for each other, and marry in great haste, Shakespeare points out the ridiculousness of feuds and grudges like the one between the Capulets and Montagues—ancient resentments whose root cause no one alive can even remember. Shakespeare shows that it is the very fact that Romeo and Juliet’s love is forbidden which spurs their passion—as young teenagers, they long to get in trouble and defy their families, and marrying one another is the ultimate transgression against their parents’ wills.
Shakespeare also points out just how profoundly the Capulets and Montagues fail their children by honoring their desires for social climbing and political advancement. The Capulets are more concerned with throwing gaudy feasts that will draw the envy and attention of all their friends than they are with nurturing their own family. Though Capulet insists that Juliet is the most important thing in his life, it is clear from his behavior that he (and Lady Capulet , as well) are interested only in impressing their fellow citizens, marrying Juliet to a man who will improve their family’s social standing, and keeping under wraps the very scandals and brawls with the Montagues that they themselves stoke. When Juliet fakes her own death and Capulet mourns her loss in loud, ridiculous, florid terms, Friar Laurence chides him for his hypocrisy—while Juliet was alive, “the most [Capulet] sought was her promotion”—now that she is dead and in heaven, the friar points out, she has received the greatest social “promotion” of all. The Montagues, too, are guilty of shirking their duties to their son— Lady Montague is concerned about Romeo being seen brawling in the streets but doesn’t actually bother to keep track of her son’s wellbeing or whereabouts. Montague , too, seems deeply uninterested in learning about Romeo’s inner emotional life—he knows his son is, at the start of the play, struggling with feelings of unrequited love, but has not bothered to get to the heart of his troubles. All of the parents in the play are shown to be more concerned with social appearances and their own petty problems than with honoring their duties to their children—even as they demand their children conform to arbitrary, outdated social mores and back their own feuds mindlessly.
Ultimately, Shakespeare uses the tale of Romeo and Juliet and their “star-crossed love” to show the chaos and devastation that can befall parents who do not listen to or respect their own children. “See what a scourge is laid upon your hate,” Prince Escalus orders the Capulets and Montagues at the end of the play. “All are punished.” In believing their children owed it to them to continue sowing the seeds of their own petty hatred, the adults in the play have done their offspring—and their community—a great disservice. Shakespeare clearly believes that familial duty runs both ways, and that in failing to acknowledge that fact, society’s pompous elders will only bring endless woe upon themselves.
Family and Duty ThemeTracker
Family and Duty Quotes in Romeo and Juliet
Two households, both alike in dignity, In fair Verona, where we lay our scene, From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean. From forth the fatal loins of these two foes, A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life; Whose misadventured piteous overthrows, Doth with their death bury their parents' strife. The fearful passage of their death-mark'd love, And the continuance of their parents' rage, Which, but their children's end, nought could remove, Is now the two hours' traffic of our stage; The which if you with patient ears attend, What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.
My only love sprung from my only hate! Too early seen unknown, and known too late!
O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo? Deny thy father and refuse thy name; Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, And I'll no longer be a Capulet.
'Tis but thy name that is my enemy; — Thou art thyself though, not a Montague. What's Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot, Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part Belonging to a man. O, be some other name! What's in a name? That which we call a rose, By any other word would smell as sweet; So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd, Retain that dear perfection which he owes Without that title: — Romeo, doff thy name; And for thy name, which is no part of thee, Take all myself.
I take thee at thy word: Call me but love, and I'll be new baptis'd; Henceforth I never will be Romeo.
For naught so vile that on the earth doth live But to the earth some special good doth give; Nor aught so good but, strain'd from that fair use, Revolts from true birth, stumbling on the abuse: Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied; And vice sometimes by action dignified.
Romeo, the hate I bear thee can afford No better term than this: thou art a villain.
Romeo: Courage, man; the hurt cannot be much. Mercutio: No, 'tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church-door; but 'tis enough, 'twill serve: ask for me to-morrow, and you shall find me a grave man.
Is there no pity sitting in the clouds That sees into the bottom of my grief? O sweet my mother, cast me not away! Delay this marriage for a month, a week, Or if you do not, make the bridal bed In that dim monument where Tybalt lies.
Or bid me go into a new-made grave, And hide me with a dead man in his shroud - Things that, to hear them told, have made me tremble - And I will do it without fear or doubt, To live an unstain'd wife to my sweet love.
For never was a story of more woe Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.
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English Literature - Romeo & Juliet Theme of fate
Age range: 14-16
Resource type: Lesson (complete)
13 February 2024
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Lesson / revision for Y11 who are studying Romeo & Juliet - it focuses on the theme of fate
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ROMEO AND JULIET Stars File New Lawsuit Over Movie’s Nudity
By Movieguide® Contributor
ROMEO AND JULIET stars Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting have filed a new lawsuit over the enhanced nudity depicted in the 2023 digital release of the Shakespeare classic.
“After an extensive search by our manager, Tony Marinozzi, we found two passionate lawyers Bill Romaine and Zishan Lokhandwala, who after examining our situation, expressed a sincere and realistic optimist in filing new causes of action against Paramount and Criterion for their 2023 digitally vividly enhanced re-creation of our images from the original 1968 ROMEO AND JULIET film…which they had no consent to do,” Hussey and Whiting said in a statement.
“This case seeks damages for Paramount’s and Criterion’s use of the product which has further humiliated us with its digitally enhanced private photos, which serve as a constant and painful reminder of Zeffirielli’s betrayal,” they added.
The actors began seeking recompense last year for being forced to shoot scenes in the nude while underage. Throughout the movie’s productions, the director, Franco Zefferielli, told them they would be shooting in skin-colored body suits. However, this was changed to body makeup when the time for shooting the nude scene came. They were told the movie would fail if they did not shoot the scene in the nude.
“What they were told and what went on were two different things,” Marinozzi said in January 2023 when the actors filed their first lawsuit. “They trusted Franco. At 16, as actors, they took his lead that he would not violate that trust they had. Franco was their friend, and frankly, at 16, what do they do? There are no options. There was no #MeToo.”
The case they brought last year was dismissed under the First Amendment, but they are now seeking payment, as well as a cease and desist, for the distribution of an enhanced digital version, which includes enhanced images of their shots in the nude.
“We want people to understand our suit relates only to the digital recreation,” said lawyer Bill Romaine. “The clients felt [after they saw it] that effectively turned what was a classic into a porn flick. That’s really the difference.”
“The emphasis on the youthful nudity is exploitative and our clients feel like there’s absolutely no excuse for that,” Romaine continued. “The story doesn’t need it, they’ve never consented to those nude pictures being in the film, even back in the 1968 film. Zeffirielli persuaded them to be photographed in the nude, there’s nothing in the contract about it, there’s nothing in the script.
“The facts, evidence, and law is on our side… and by the grace of God, we are confident that our voices will continue to be heard in our fight for accountability and firmly believe that Divine Justice will be done,” the actors added.
The case will commence in court this June.
Movieguide® reported on the previous lawsuit:
The stars of 1968’s ROMEO AND JULIET have sued Paramount Pictures for more than $500 million over a nude scene they shot when both were underage. Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting were 15 and 16, respectively, when they shot the now iconic Shakespeare adaptation. The two actors filed a suit alleging sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and fraud. Director Franco Zeffirelli, who passed away in 2019, reportedly told the young actors that they would be wearing flesh-colored undergarments for a sex scene. However, when it came time to shoot, Zeffirelli told Hussey and Whiting they would be wearing body makeup. The director told the pair the camera would be placed in such a way that no nudity would be shown, but Whiting’s bare buttocks and Hussey’s bare breasts can be seen.
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