31 May 2013

How does Shakespeare present Love in Romeo and Juliet in Act 1 GCSE, IGCSE Essay


The love affair of Romeo and Juliet is at the centre of the play against a background of hate, which dominates the Prologue. In this, the ‘star-crossed lovers’ seem tiny and rapidly extinguised in the ‘fearful passage of their death-marked love’. This is young love of ‘children’ - as a coming of age story - and it is also doomed.

The dangerous nature of love is continued when we first hear of Romeo from Benvolio and his father. Romeo is seen to suffer as a typical Petrarchan lover and we would immediately link this to the ‘fearful’ mood of the Prologue. It’s a shock to discover he’s dying of love for Rosaline, which immediately establishes his theatrical vision of himself as the unrequited lover. The semantic field of morning, freshness and spring in ‘fresh morning’s dew’, ‘bud’ and ‘sweet leaves’ highlights his youthfulness and is contrasted with imagery of ‘night’, ‘black’ and ‘portentious’ ‘tears’ which is claustrophobic, suffocating, extinguishing light. 

Romeo is isolated, shuts himself in his room ‘steals’ away and ‘makes himself an artificial night’ as if he’s dressing a stage set for a painful love affair. Shakespeare’s own children would have been about thirteen when he wrote Romeo and Juliet, so you could argue this is a pitch perfect rendition of a typical, moody teenager. There’s a theatrical element to it, like his bombastic, hyperbolic speeches that are thick with oxymorons: ‘feather of lead’, ‘brawling love’ ‘loving hate’ where language becomes as tangled as his thought processes. Romeo’s language is full of the semantic field of weight, as if love is a burden pressing him down, in phrases like ‘soul of lead’, ‘love’s heavy burden’. He dramatises the saying ‘love hurts’: saying that it’s ‘rough’ and ‘pricks’. Romeo seems to be in lust rather than love and it’s the unrequited element that’s driving him to distraction, that his lady won’t even ‘ope her lap to saint seducing gold’. This is typical of Carpe Diem love poerty like Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress and Edmund Waller's Go Lovely Rose where the poet urges his lady to sleep with him. Shakespeare seems to be gently mocking Romeo for making bad poetry, imitating the emotions and postures of Petrarch, as theatrical, not true love. Romeo’s big speech ends with the almost comical oxymoron ‘this love feel I that feel no love,’ which implies, this may be ‘no love’ after all. To crown this, Benvolio then laughs at him, making it hard to take him seriously. Romeo’s nature then is to love immoderately and we see this develop dangerously when he meets Juliet and his love is requited.

Initially Juliet is presented as being on the cusp of womanhood but too young to marry. Lady Capulet says ‘my daughter’s of a pretty age’, but Capulet resists. He says ‘my child is yet a stranger in the world’, emphasising her innocence and insists she’s not yet ‘ripe’. This links to the spring-like imagery used for Romeo by his father. Capulet associates his daughter with his ‘hopes’. Juliet is a good and obedient daughter who seems to think of no ‘will’ of her own but of her parents’ desire. She says, when asked it is an ‘honour’ that she ‘dreamed not of’, and seems lukewarm. She will only ‘endart mine eye’ as far as her parents wish. She’s moderate, and calm: ‘I’ll look to like if looking liking move’. What’s most shocking about the play is Juliet’s sudden disobedience to her parents’ wishes and her transition from innocent girl to determined woman: this is a true coming of age. She urges Romeo to greater caution, and brings him back to more spiritual thoughts: saying lips should be used in ‘prayer’, and later she asks sensible logical questions about ‘how’ and ‘wherefore’ Romeo came from, and continually stresses the dangers ‘if they do see thee they will murder thee.’ She fears he may be only ‘flattering’ her and fears his constancy ‘like the moon.’ But she is ultimately as carried away as he is.

Romeo and Juliet use religious imagery, which shows the spiritual dimension to their love in sharp contrast to the spiritual/erotic image of ‘saint seducing gold’ which Romeo uses earlier, transforming his false passion, through poetry into something sublime. Together, they repeat the words “pilgrims” and “prayers”, echoing each other’s language. This echoing effect shows the sympathy between them as their relationship develops. They craft an original sonnet together with fresh imagery not like the cliches of someone else’s feelings. Unlike a normal sonnet this blends with actions, of touching hands ‘palm to palm’ then touching lips, so the imagery is shown - dramatised. In the volta, Juliet shifts into the kiss, then they kiss again, showing that they’ve crossed the line.

This isn't finished either, alas! It's about 800 words long. You'd need to talk more about the balcony scene, I think.