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Romeo and Juliet : Themes

Mrs. Kaiser's Class - Exploring Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet

Theme of Light

Scholar Caroline Spurgen once wrote, "The dominating image [in Romeo and Juliet] is light, every form and manifestation of it" (Shakespeare's Imagery, 310). When Romeo initially sees Juliet, he compares her immediately to the brilliant light of the torches and tapers that illuminate Capulet's great hall: " O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!" (1.4.46). Juliet is the light that frees him from the darkness of his perpetual melancholia. 

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Theme of Sex

In the hormone-charged atmosphere of Romeo and Juliet, it seems that pretty much everything is about sex. 

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Theme of Art and Culture

Romeo and Juliet is chock full of poetry, especially love poetry. The first time the couple meets, their dialogue forms a perfect Shakespearean sonnet. The famous balcony scene?

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Theme of Death

Freud argued that human love was propelled by two opposing drives: eros, the desire for love, and thanatos, the desire for death. 

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Theme of Foolishness and Folly

"Wisely and slow – they stumble that run fast," a priest warns an impetuous young lover in Romeo and Juliet.

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Theme of Exile

Romeo and Juliet is not necessarily a political work, and so, in the play, exile is a purely personal matter. Romeo and Juliet, the children of warring families, carry out a clandestine love affair. 

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Theme of Love

The Central Themes of the play are developed by contrast and center on love. In the first and second scenes, three different kinds of love are depicted.

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Theme of Destiny

As critic Bertrand Evans points out: "Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy of unawareness" more so than any of Shakespeare's other plays. "Fate, or Heaven, as the Prince calls it, or the "greater power," as the Friar calls it, working out its purpose without the use of either a human villain or a supernatural agent sent to intervene in mortal affairs, operates through the common human condition of not knowing.  

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Theme of Hate

Love and hate are usually thought of as opposites, but in Romeo and Juliet, love and hate are two sides of the same coin, as two children from warring families (the Capulets and the Montagues) turn their hatred of each other into an insatiable passion. 

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Theme of Youth

"Youth in this play is a separate nation," writes literary critic Frank Kermode. In the play, Romeo and Juliet's youthful passion conflicts with the values of their feuding parents and their more mature advisors. 

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Theme of Gender

Machismo rules the day in Verona, the city where Romeo and Juliettakes place. Male honor –and male sexual posturing – are sources of both the play's humor and its final tragedy. 

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Theme of Fate and Free Will

The play goes out of its way to suggest that Romeo and Juliet are destined for tragedy. After all, the Chorus tells us in the opening Prologue that the "star-cross'd lovers" will "take their life" and Shakespeare foreshadows the lovers' deaths throughout the play.

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Theme of Family

The conflict between family and the individual is played out in the most extreme fashion possible in the play, as two children from warring families fall in love and have to choose between their families' expectations and their passion for each other. Romeo and Juliet choose passion.

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Theme of Time

Early in the play, Romeo is painfully aware of the passage of time as he pines for Rosaline: "sad hours seem long" (1.1.159). Mercutio is the first to address the problem of "wasted time", and after his complaint, a sudden shift occurs and time quickens to rapid movement. 

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Theme of Love

Romeo and Juliet are two of the most famous lovers in history, but some people doubt that their historic love lives up to its reputation. 

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Theme of Transience

Romeo and Juliet's love gains its power from the play's constant reminders that life, love and beauty are ultimately fleeting. Romeo and thirteen-year-old Juliet fall in love at first sight, marry within twenty-four hours of their first meeting, and die in each others' arms only days later. Their passion for each other is so all-consuming that it seems impossible that it could have been sustained any longer. 

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Theme of Marriage

Romeo and Juliet marry for love, a choice that is standard today. But in the world of the play, marriage for love, rather than money or social position, was a radical and dangerous choice.

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