II. THE MANY FACES OF LOVE IN ROMEO AND JULIET
II.1 LOVE REPRESENTED AS A UNIFYING FORCE
William Shakespeare shows in Romeo and Juliet a man and a woman who go through an overpowering love. This feeling is presented in literature from various angles. Thus, over time, we could find different ideas which highlight the theme of love. In Romeo and Juliet love appears on three stages: love as initiation, love as passion and tragic love.
Love as initiation is captured in the first part of the play. When Romeo goes to the Capulets’ feast, he hopes to see Rosaline, the girl he was in love with. He risks everything when he decides to go there, because a Montague is not allowed to join such a grand event organized by the rival family. He follows his heart and goes there. But he doesn’t want to show his true face, which is part of his identity, so Romeo choses to wear a masque. At that moment, Romeo is “a failed lover, more in love with the melancholy image of himself that failure has engendered than with his presumed beloved, Rosaline”. Even if his intention was to meet Rosaline, Romeo sees a beautiful young girl who makes his heart beat very fast. He doesn’t hesitate and goes to the mysterious girl. It was love at first sight for sure. It is amazing how powerful develops this love at first sight. In the moment they met, Romeo follows the formalities of the Veronese society and his talk resumes only to compliments. Thus, in the first scene of the play Juliet is a young obedient girl, she knows nothing about love and men. Thus, she follows her heart and answers to Romeo’s compliments. The next step they make is sharing a kiss. This first kiss is asked by Romeo and it seems to be given rather than shared. It wasn’t a shared kiss because in Juliet’s head appears the image of her authoritarian father who would never agree the thing that his only daughter, his treasure, shares a kiss with the enemy’s son. Thus, Romeo is Juliet’s first love. In the moment they met, she sees her destiny in a second and follows her heart without hesitation. In time, when love becomes bigger and bigger day by day, kissing is not a sin anymore, but a reciprocal act. This act gives Juliet control and certainty.
What brings the two lovers together is the love of soul which unifies them. They first see each other’s beauty of their souls and fall in love immediately. Their souls are pure and innocent especially Juliet’s, who is just fourteen years old. Juliet is just a child and the idea of experiencing love sounds good for her. Their love in the first part of the play is also spiritual. William Shakespeare reinforces the purity of Romeo and Juliet’s love using religious imagery. Romeo sees Juliet’s hand as a “holy shrine” and he wants just to profane it. The metaphor of the pilgrim highlights the fact that Juliet is the saint icon for Romeo and he is the pilgrim who glorifies her. In the first act this metaphor appears through the lovers’ first kiss: “My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand” (Act I, Scene V, 93). Romeo is ready to touch the “holy shrine” with his mouth and to pray in front of it begging Juliet to “let lips do what hands do” (Act I, Scene V, 101). They feel this unifying force of love from the very beginning of the play, when they don’t know each other but they experience a unique feeling. In the first act, scene V, Romeo and Juliet meet. They both realize the danger of the two houses they expose to, but they don’t give up. They let things flow naturally and believe in their destiny.
Romeo and Juliet see more than their souls, they feel physical attraction. One particular passage shows that Juliet sees Romeo’s body parts and his physical traits: “What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot, / Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part / Belonging to a man” (Act II, Scene ii, 42-44). Romeo also alludes to Juliet’s virginity showing his sexual desires. Their attention focuses more on physical traits because the intimate love-moments unite the body and the soul too. The two lovers experience love “as an immediate and absolute demand, with which there is no possibility of compromise”.
Love as passion is one of the most imposing step of love in Romeo and Juliet. It is characterized by strong attraction between the lovers from the first moment they see each other. Also the existence of obstacles, the Montague and Capulet families and Veronese society could break the connection between Romeo and Juliet. Thus, the two lovers know that their love is stronger than anything and, by breaking some crucial rules of the community in which the two lovers live, love acts as an unstoppable force. Romeo feels now that “is beloved and loves again” (Act II, Prologue, 4). In this euphoria of passionate love, they didn’t think that love could be the one which can bring their death. Moreover, they live every moment at high intensity, as if it is the last moment. At every meeting, Romeo and Juliet touch with supreme love. It isn’t about a kiss anymore but nights spend together. They unify their bodies and unite their souls forever after their wedding. The Nurse supports their marriage: “Go thy ways, wrech; serve God” (Act II, Scene V, 44). They want God’s blessing before having sexual relations. Romeo and Juliet are religious and they know that a communion before the wedding is unacceptable. They feel peace in their souls after God’s blessing. The sexual consummation brings them physical joys which feed their marriage and maintain the passion in their lives. Now that the barrier falls, they feed their passion with romantic moments. Even if Juliet is just a girl in her family’s eyes, she has sexual needs. Moreover, the communion with Romeo makes her mature. If in the first scene she was a young obedient girl, after the marriage she is a woman self-possessed, mature. Thus, in her wedding night, Juliet anticipates that this one will be followed by her death. For Juliet, a short marriage with Romeo is better than a long one with Paris. The passion of love with Romeo will remain in eternity. Though, in a marriage with a person she doesn’t want in her life, the passion transforms in domesticity. This life would bring her sadness, not happiness.
Romeo and Juliet are also separated by circumstances and their marriage is in danger. When Romeo kills Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin, the Prince exile Romeo. But this distance imposed between the lovers is required to check their feelings, and, at the same time, to keep their intensity. Romeo and Juliet know that their feelings are so strong. In these moments they both think what to do in order to be united again. In Romeo’s head there is a fight, the first thing he wants to do when he’ll be allowed to come back in Mantua is to see his lover’s face. Thus, Juliet takes an extreme decision. She proves to be very brave when she decides to drink the potion. Not every girl would drink a potion she knows nothing about. The love transforms in “a consuming love, and in shortening the original time-scheme Shakespeare greatly increases the intensity”. But Juliet’s love makes her do this extreme step because she knows that it’s the only solution if she wants to escape from the unwanted marriage with Paris. So she is tempted to be dead for a short period if it’s worth it. The death of Tybalt opens the series of misfortunes which tortures the lovers. Thus, the love they carry one to another cures their souls and makes them think in a positive way. They look to their future together, and to new developments.
The tragic love starts in Romeo and Juliet with their names. But, “what’s in a name?”. In this Shakespearian love-story, in a name is everything. When she hears Romeo’s family name, “Juliet immediately foregrounds the complex social circumstances that any relationship between them must negotiate.” She is conscious that her love comes from her hate. Romeo also excuses himself: “My name, dear saint, is hateful to myself/ Because it is an enemy to thee” (Act II, Scene II, 55-56). Romeo and Juliet know that the world wouldn’t accept their values and they decide to deny their names, “as though the physical separation did not exist”. Moreover, there may be the names which connect them so much. They could be attracted by the danger their names involve. This unites them more; they want to prove the Veronese society that they can heal the feud just by marrying the enemy.
Friar Laurence is the one who advises Romeo to think twice about his decision to marry Juliet. He is aware of the consequences of this marriage. Thus, Friar Laurence is a religious man. He is sure that the two lovers’ marriage will unite them in front of God and, in consequence, it will end the conflict between two families. Throughout the play, the Friar is very optimistic and really hopes that the young lovers will put an end to their fathers’ feud. Through marriage, the love which acted in the entire play as a unifying force, united Montague and Capulet households. God made possible this union. If they lived their entire love-story in secret, without marrying each other, Romeo and Juliet would have never stop the fray of their fathers.
Romeo has a special relationship with his beloved Juliet, but to highlight this idea, we can make a parallel between him and Hamlet, another Shakespearian character. It is true that they are similar, and we have many reasons to say that “Romeo is Hamlet in love”. Both live in their own world of imagination. Hamlet is detached from everything, while Romeo is absent, but present in his relationship with Juliet. He is completely lost in it. Romeo “is himself only in his Juliet; she is his only reality, his heart’s true home and idol. The rest of the world is to him a passing dream”. Romeo’s entire universe focuses only on Juliet. She benefits of Romeo’s whole attention and eternal love.
Hamlet loves Ophelia. Romeo loves Juliet. Both of these boys love a girl but they are not allowed to be together with her. Romeo and Juliet are forbidden to be in love with each other. They cannot even think that they can ever have a relationship in the eyes of the Veronese society, because Romeo is a Montague and Juliet is a Capulet. Moreover, in Hamlet’s case, he and Ophelia are forbidden to stay together because Ophelia’s father thinks that Hamlet in crazy. Hamlet loves Ophelia, but he does it with ruthless lucidity. He is aware of her mediocrity; he suffers when he attends, from shadow, at the talk between her and the King, Queen and her father, Polonius. In that understanding she offers to report to them all Hamlet’s deeds and words. He also loves and hates her, as being cheated and heart broken in the same time. Hamlet knows that even after her betrayal, when he was heart-broken, he will continue to love her. He sees in Ophelia the woman who falls down. Hamlet is conscious, that she is actually a common woman and not an exceptional one. He wants to change Ophelia into the woman he decides to love, while Romeo loves Juliet as it is, with her good and bad parts. Romeo sees Juliet as he wishes to be, that is why sometimes we “feel that Romeo is in love with the idea of being in love”. For Romeo, Juliet is perfect, she has no defect. He is crazy in love with Juliet’s perfection and beauty and their love prove to be the force which unifies them. Hamlet sees, while Romeo is blind.
In Romeo and Juliet, erotic speeches are mystical-religious. For each of them, the other represents the absolute, a surrogate God whose purpose is to offer happiness. Actually, in their case, happiness is there, in its maximum dimension. They are united by God in marriage. More is not possible, better does not exist. In Hamlet, Ophelia’s death accentuates Hamlet’s tragic side. His hate for her ends with her physical disappearance. There remains just a real and profound love. Ophelia pursues Hamlet down the long road of ages, while Romeo and Juliet go hand in hand. The death of Romeo and Juliet preserves the illusion; they raise their dream by removing it from temporality, even if for that they must kill the idea of being happily ever after. Overtime, not Hamlet and Ophelia, but Romeo and Juliet remain prototypes of absolute love.