Themes of Love and Hate in William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet
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Romeo and Juliet is a play about two young lovers, whose love was
destined for destruction from the beginning because of the hatred
between the two families, Montagues and Capulets. Therefore, the
themes of love and hate are very important in the play as the plot is
driven by these two themes. Shakespeare brings out the love between
the two rivals through Romeo and Juliet and their relationships with
the Friar and the Nurse.
I want to argue that in the play, the themes of love and hate are
closely linked. To show this, I have selected some of the most
important scenes in the play, which illustrate the idea that love and
hate are closely bound together. The first example is the chorus,
which is found at the beginning of the play, in the prologue. It is a
short summary of what the play is about. The chorus is in the form of
a sonnet and sonnets were often associated with love in the time of
Shakespeare. However, the words of the chorus seem to emphasize the
idea of hate although there are some words about love.
“From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.” (Prologue, 3-4)
These two lines are about the feud between the families. It shows that
it is a feud, which has been brewing for many years. By repeating the
words civil, Shakespeare is stressing the fact that they are all
civilians but the pride within each family has led them to violence
The play then goes straight from the prologue into a brawl in the
first scene between both houses. It begins with servants from the two
houses but later Tybalt, the son of the Capulets, and Benvolio arrive.
Tybalt, during the brawl, says to Benvolio about the idea of peace,
“As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee.” (1.1.65) These are powerful
words as Tybalt is ranking Benvolio and all the Montagues at the same
level as hell and is expressing extreme hatred. However, by the ending
of this opening scene, the audience is introduced to Romeo, who almost
represents the theme of love in the play. At this moment, Romeo is too
busy pining over his love for Rosaline to notice the brawl and says,
“Alas, that love, whose view is muffled still,
Should, without eyes, see pathways to his will.” (1.1.165-166)
Here, Romeo is thinking of love as Cupid, who though he is always
blindfolded, still manages to make people fall in love. This is ironic
because Romeo and Juliet would never have even considered each other
because of the feud between them. However, they still fall in love, as
when they first met they did not know that the other was their rival
but Romeo is talking about Rosaline when he says these lines, who is
When Romeo sees the remains of the brawl, his pathway of love is
disturbed and he asks not to know what happened. He then says,
“Here’s much to do with hate, but more with love.
Why the, o brawling love, o loving hate,
O any thing of nothing first create!” (1.1.169)
These lines almost sum up the play as Romeo is talking about his
experience of love in the way that it can make him happy and sad at
the same time. It is both love and hate. He is connecting his feelings
to the remains of the brawl he can see in front of him. From this, he
concludes that although their fight was partly because of the hate
between the two families, it is more about the love within each family
that caused them to fight against each other. Where he says, “O any
thing of nothing first create” he is saying that the love/hate
relationship can take many forms and can be created out of nothing,
just as the brawl started because of the servants being arrogant and
boisterous. It is a sad happiness and a serious foolishness, which can
be seen as an oxymoron as though love is bound up in hate and
Shakespeare uses them throughout the play to connect the two themes.
However, the reasons for the brawl are more to do with love and
therefore, love overcomes hate.
Meanwhile, Lady Capulet has come to talk to Juliet about marriage,
with the nurse in the room. This scene provides the idea of parental
love. Lady Capulet’s relationship with her daughter, Juliet, is much
more formal than the relationship between the nurse and Juliet. Juliet
would have probably grown up with the nurse looking after her and
therefore she feels closer to her and finds it easier to talk to her.
The nurse is a lot less formal and her love for Juliet shows through
her character. In the play, she can be seen as the mother figure for
Juliet whereas Lady Capulet is rarely seen with Juliet except in brief
scenes such as this one.
“How stands your dispositions to be married?
Juliet: It is an honour I dream not of.” (1.3.65-66)
The conversation between mother and daughter is very formal and Juliet
answers politely as she does not want to upset her mother. The
marriage would be arranged and with Paris. The marriage is not about
love, it is about what was right at the time. For a girl of Juliet’s
age, marriage was the next step whereas with Romeo, they decide to get
married together out of love.
Later on in the play, Romeo and his friends, Mercutio and Benvolio,
hear about the ball that Capulet is holding. They decide that they
want to go but will go in secret. Romeo is hesitant at first,
“Give me a torch, I am not for this ambling.
Being but heavy, I will bear the light.” (1.4.11-12)
Romeo is being quite tedious and is not in the mood to compete with
Mercutio’s wild character but eventually he is persuaded to go. The
main reason they decide to go in the first place is out of spite for
the Capulets, however, at the ball, Romeo meets Juliet, the love of
“O she doth teach the torches to burn bright.
….Did my heart love till now? Forswear it sight,
For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.” (1.5.41&49)
This is an example of courtly love as Romeo refers to Juliet in terms
of light saying that her beauty is brighter than any fire from the
torches and that her presence lights up a room. He believes it is love
at first sight. This shows that love and hate are connected as he
finds love through hate. When they first speak to each other, it is an
example of romantic love. They speak of love and kissing in religious
terms by referring to ‘pilgrims’, ‘holy shrine’, ‘holy palmer’s kiss’
and ‘saints’. This makes their love more profound and beautiful and it
makes the audience completely forget about the reason for Romeo coming
to the ball in the first place. Therefore, once again, love overcomes
the hatred. Love and hate are also linked together in the words of
Juliet when she finds out that Romeo is a Montague:
“My only love sprung from my only hate,
Too early seen unknown, and known too late!” (1.5.135-136)
Juliet has found the only person she loves from the only family she
hates. The meeting was regretted but it was too late to turn back as
they had already fallen in love. They both fear the consequences of
their love, but without any thought of changing their minds that they
really love each other.
The second chorus is a contrast to the first. It is much gentler and
about Romeo’s love for Juliet.
“That fair for which love groaned for and would die,
With tender Juliet matched, is now not fair.” (Act 2, chorus, 3-4)
It is talking about Romeo’s love for Rosaline, which was once so
strong, has now died away as it does not even compare to his love for
Juliet. It makes his love for Juliet sound strong and powerful as
though it could never be defeated.
This leads on to the balcony scene where Juliet is speaking about
Romeo as Romeo listens in secret from the bushes below.
“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.” (2.2.33-39)
Here, Juliet is saying ‘why are you Romeo?’ meaning why is he a
Montague and not a Capulet as it would mean that it would be
acceptable for Juliet to love Romeo. She asks Romeo to deny being a
Montague and give up his family name but if he does not want to then
she says that she will. Her enemy is not Romeo himself, but his name.
If he leaves his name then he will no longer be her enemy. Her
feelings for Romeo are so strong that she is willing to do anything to
be with him. If it is her name that is coming between them, then she
will give it up. When Romeo finally speaks, Juliet tells Romeo that if
the ‘kinsmen’ find him, they will kill him. However, Romeo replies by
“For stony limits cannot hold love out,
And what love can do, dares love attempt.
Therefore they kinsmen are no stop to me.” (2.2.67-69)
If they found Romeo, they would kill him and therefore he would have
been killed for loving someone and wanting to see them. Romeo is being
courtly and saying that nothing can keep him from being with her, not
even her relatives. He is trying to sound brave for Juliet and his
love for Juliet is much more playful and happier than Rosaline’s,
which was, at times quite depressing. The rest of their conversation
is very passionate and their declaration of love for each other leads
to them making vows and finally their agreement of getting married. To
Romeo and Juliet, their love for each other and for being together is
far more important than what is coming between them, the hatred
between the families.
Another scene in the play where love and hate are closely connected is
the brawl between Tybalt, Mercutio and Romeo. Romeo and Tybalt come
from opposite families and are enemies, however, Romeo’s first words
to Tybalt are: “Tybalt, the reason that I have to love thee…” (3.1.58)
Although Romeo has always despised Tybalt; he treats him as though he
is family on the basis that he is Juliet’s cousin. Therefore, Romeo
loves anyone who is connected to Juliet, even if it means loving
someone he hates.
“…O sweet Juliet,
Thy beauty hath made me effeminate” (3.1.109-110)
Romeo states that Juliet’s beauty has made him not capable of fighting
and therefore, once again, his feelings of love, overpower his
feelings of hate.
On the other hand, the outcome of this scene contradicts the idea that
the play is more about love. When Romeo’s interference between Tybalt
and Mercutio’s fight causes the death of Mercutio, Romeo’s anger takes
over. He becomes impulsive and furious and gets revenge on Tybalt by
killing him. This murder causes Romeo to be banished from Verona and
separated from his love, Juliet. It is hate, which causes Romeo to
kill Tybalt and which splits the two lovers apart.
In Act three, scene five, Capulet tells Juliet that she is to marry
Paris in a few days, however, Juliet refuses to marry him, mainly
because she is already married to Romeo by this time. After a long and
angry speech, Capulet says:
“Thursday is near, lay hand on heart, advise.
And you be mine, I’ll give you to my friend;
And you be not, hang, beg, starve, die in the streets,
For by my soul, I’ll ne’er acknowledge thee…” (3.5.191-194)
Capulet is both threatening and advising Juliet as he is saying that
if she marries Paris then everything will turn out well and he will
still acknowledge her as his daughter. However, if she does not, then
he will throw her out in the streets and he will not care what happens
to her for she will no longer be thought of as his daughter. He says
this partly out of love as he thinks it will make Juliet happy, but
his words are harsh and painful for Juliet to hear from her father. He
is angry that Juliet is disobeying him and does not know how to handle
it as he is surprised. Therefore, I think this scene is about both
love and hate but neither feeling is stronger.
The relationship between the Nurse and Juliet provides a theme of
parental love, as stated before. The Nurse is Juliet’s best friend
but is better described as a mother figure for her as she does
everything any loving mother would do. The Nurse cares for Juliet,
knows exactly when she was born and has fond memories of her
childhood. She also acts like a messenger, when she meets with Romeo
to discuss wedding plans for him and Juliet. Juliet often turns to the
Nurse for advice, saying: "What say'st
thou? Hast thou not a word of
Some comfort, nurse" (3.5.211-212).
few days before Juliet has to marry Paris, the Nurse almost changes
her role and is no longer there to support Juliet with her
relationship with Romeo, but agrees with Capulet that she should marry
Paris. Juliet is outraged and asks the nurse to leave. The fact that
Juliet has gone from looking up to the nurse to never trusting her in
the space of less than one scene shows the nature of love and hate in
the same way that Romeo felt he was in love with Rosaline, until he
met Juliet. The one person Juliet felt she could always rely on is no
longer there to help her and she is devastated. The way Juliet treats
the Nurse also indicates that she is like her mother as she often
treats the Nurse the way teenagers would probably treat their own
mothers. Romeo also has the same kind of
relationship with the Friar. He acts as a father figure throughout the
play. Right from the beginning, this parental love is shown as he
advises Romeo about his feelings for Juliet and tells him to “love
moderately.” When Romeo kills Tybalt, he hides in Friar Laurence’s
cell and the Friar tells him that he has been banished. Romeo becomes
hysterical and thinks that banishment is worse than death. The Friar
tries to talk some sense into Romeo but soon his sympathy turns to
impatience and tells Romeo to spend the night with Juliet and leave in
the morning. The Friar is constantly taking care of not only Romeo’s
problems, but Juliet’s as well, by giving her the sleeping potion.
Although the Friar’s help turns out to cause more problems than solve
them, his intention was good and he can be seen as a caring and loving
character. In the ending of the play, the love between Romeo and
Juliet, which was destined for destruction causes their deaths and
from that, the ending of the
“Capulet: O brother Montague, give me thy
hand. This is my daughter’s
jointure, for no more Can I demand.
Montague: But I can give thee more. For I will raise her
statue in pure gold…
rich shall Romeo by his lady
lie, Poor sacrifices of
our enmity.” (5.3.294-303)
Capulet and Montague make peace with each other after seeing that
their children were so in love with each other that they sacrificed
their lives for one another. The last line means that Romeo and
Juliet’s deaths were because of the hate between the two families, but
it is love that brings them together. Therefore, after analysing the
love and hate sides of Romeo and Juliet, I have come to the conclusion
that it is more about love than hate. This is due to the fact that
throughout the play, love overcomes hate except for a few scenes. In
addition, by the end of play, Romeo and Juliet are in love with each
other so much that they kill themselves, and consequently the parents
forget the hate that they possess for each other.