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Thoughts on Romeo and Juliet’s Love

Popularity 2Viewed 1159 times 2015-12-14 22:49 |Personal category:Books|System category:Others| literature

Romeo and Juliet is one of the best known and best loved of Shakespeare’s plays. Over hundreds of years, it has grasped the audience’s and readers’ hearts, making them laugh, gasp and weep. Such is the strength of Shakespeare’s psychological insight, and of his poetry, that his hero and heroine are timeless, their emotions identifiable as our own, and their motivations and actions only pushed to the extreme by the pressure of events upon them.

 

While reading the play and watching the films and music dramas under the same title, I cannot help but develop a few doubts as to whether the love between Romeo and Juliet is true. No one has ever doubted the sincerity and intensity of their love, yet still, there are a few points that I would like to present here. From a modern point of view, the love between Romeo and Juliet could be called love at first sight. This is not rare, yet it is a little incredible that they should fall in love on the first day they meet, get married on the second, separate on the third, and die for each other on the fifth day. Everything seems to be so sudden as if it were a blur. They are pushed forward by fate “written in the stars”. Even Juliet herself says that “It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden; /Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be /Ere one can say ‘It lightens.’” And Friar Laurence has admonished that “Therefore, love moderately; long love doth so; /Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow.” The love that possesses such an intensive passion has the danger of burning out too soon.

 

According to the triangular theory of love developed by psychologist Robert Sternberg, consummate love, the complete and ideal form of love, entails three different components: intimacy, which encompasses feelings of attachment, closeness, connectedness, and bondedness; passion, which encompasses drives connected to both limerence and sexual attraction; commitment, which encompasses the decision to remain with each other and the shared achievements and plans made with that other. The second and third components can be easily deduced from the play, as they declare their love towards each other passionately in the balcony scene, as they trust and rely on each other when no one can help or understand them, and when they think that the other person is dead, they do not hesitate to kill themselves too. However, intimacy seems missing in their relationship. It is rather that they do not have the time to build intimacy. The little of the only time they have together is devoted to fully express their strong feelings, so reasonably little time is used to talk about each other’s values, preferences, views on everything, and inner thoughts. Overwhelming emotions bond them together, while the necessity and closeness of mutual intellectual understanding is obscured. But this is due to none of their own making, since it is fate that deprives them of the time to spend with and learn more about each other, and to gradually develop passion into a more enduring emotion.

 

Despite all these, there are also indications that Romeo falls in love with Juliet’s beauty only. Seeing from the metaphors that Romeo uses to describe Juliet, it is quite clear: “O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright! /Her beauty hangs upon the cheek of night /Like a rich jewel in an Ethiop’s ear; /…/So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows, /As yonder lady o’er her fellows shows. /…/Did my heart love till now? forswear it, sight! /For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.” “The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars, /As daylight doth a lamp; her eyes in heaven /Would through the airy region stream so bright, /That birds would sing, and think it were not night.” Being attracted to Juliet’s beauty does not necessarily mean that their love is untrue, yet one does tend to wonder whether this love is too shallow to last. Would Romeo love another girl if she is more beautiful than Juliet? During the course of the play, Juliet has presented to us her beauty, grace, and dignity combined with courage, energy and intuitive generosity of love. However, it seems that from the beginning to the end Romeo’s love is derived from her beauty and directed towards her beauty and purity. There is no direct evidence that he loves her other traits. From Juliet’s point of view, it is not clear to us why she loves Romeo at first sight. Before the ball, she answers her mother’s inquiry about her “disposition to be married” that “It is an honour that I dream not of.” Therefore, hers is first love, and for a fourteen-year-old girl who has never loved or known what love is, she might be swept off her feet by the handsome and clever-tongued Romeo’s talk of “holy shrine” and “pilgrims”, and be entranced with the kiss. First loves are usually pure and passionate, reckless and impulsive, yet over time some of them prove to not be able to bear the burden that true love entails.

 

Though these doubts are on my mind when I read the play, they are only fleeting. As I read the play over and over, more meanings seem to appear. I admit that there are certain aspects which affirm the genuine and sincere nature of their love. First, there is unconditional trust between the couple. When Juliet is worried about her bold profession of love, she says “Fain would I dwell on form, fain, fain deny /What I have spoke: but farewell compliment! /…/In truth, fair Montague, I am too fond; /And therefore thou mayst think my ‘haviour light: /But trust me, gentleman, I’ll prove more true /Than those that have more cunning to be strange.” For the sake of true love, she abandons all cautions and shyness, and boldly reveals her heart to her lover. The danger of being made light of and being looked down upon is not in her consideration any more, since she firmly believes that Romeo will understand her forwardness and not reject her “true love’s passion”. When Juliet is haunted by nightmarish fantasies and cold fears before drinking the potion, it is the trust in rejoining Romeo that gives her courage: “Romeo, I come! this do I drink to thee.” Second, they both seek death unhesitatingly when they think the other one is dead. When Romeo hears the grave news that Juliet is dead, he does not collapse under extreme grief as he once does or utter streams of sorrowful laments like Juliet’s relatives do, but calmly takes action to rejoin his wife. At this point, Romeo is not the Romeo that is inclined to express his feelings in elaborate conceits and rhetorical phrases, but has acquired a new emotional depth that is sincere and admirable. Third, there is no jealousy to Romeo’s love. When Romeo kills Paris, Paris entreats him to “Open the tome, lay me with Juliet.” This request does not arouse Romeo’s jealousy; rather, he pities Paris for having the same doomed love for his beloved Juliet: “O, give me thy hand, /One writ with me in sour misfortune’s book! /I’ll bury thee in a triumphant grave.” Their love is selfless, intense, and almost religious. In this sense, it can be defined as nothing but true love.

 

It could be said that the love between Romeo and Juliet is precipitated and intensified by the feud between the two houses, the misunderstanding of the world, the brutality and fickleness of fate and chance. Were there no feud or misunderstanding or fickle fate, their love may take a more moderate and lasting note, yet it won’t be a brilliant tragedy as such. As the two young lovers lie dead in the tomb, it seems to suggest that a love with such passion and intensity as theirs cannot be tolerated on earth, and that they can only unite in heaven, because its sacredness borders on celestial love, and this love could not be realized by mortal humans. Only when they die can they fulfill their inevitable fate and in the meantime transcend it.

 

The story of Romeo and Juliet is full of graphic and figurative language, as well as the richness, vividness and variety of the imagery. Nowhere in Shakespeare is there more lovely poetry than in Romeo and Juliet, and there shines forth a tender beauty of love. Perhaps it is not really important to argue whether the love between Romeo and Juliet is true and credible. It is enough to enjoy and lament, to think and hope. In a realistic world, people need this transcendent love that defies all authority, death, and even fate to make them believe in true love, to retrieve their long-lost passion and selfless love. There may be a few things that could be polished to make the play more realistic. However, Shakespeare’s plays are not made up of a coherent story, correct and accurate in all its details, believable in all its incidents. They are made of contrasts, compassions, effective scenes and dramatic moments. It is because of this that his play is full of variety and incident. To appreciate a play like Romeo and Juliet we need to forget our modern tastes and surrender ourselves to a romantic tale of love which does not belong to our ordinary everyday world of cause and effect. Shakespeare neglects realistic details in order to explore, poetically, themes and situations which may be called “realistic” in a deeper sense. Because of his poetry and his insight, we do not doubt the truth of the love that is shown in the play. The story of Romeo and Juliet has been, and will be forever chanted as a legend of love. After all, love is such a mysterious and elusive thing; it is not to be analyzed or judged, but to be experienced with heart and soul.


(Original work by the author Helen; first published on China Daily blog at 22:49, Dec 14, 2015)

 

About Author: Helen, having master’s degree of English Language and Literature in Shanghai International Studies University, currently a freelance translator in Shanghai. Loves reading and writing and everything related to languages. If you would like to forward this blog, please contact the author at helenriver1414@sina.com

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)


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Reply Report Igo 2015-12-15 11:34
Very nice.

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