Love in 'Romeo and Juliet'

Claire Danes And Leonardo DiCaprio In 'Romeo + Juliet'
20th Century Fox / Getty Images

The play "Romeo and Juliet" has become forever associated with love. It's a truly iconic story of romance and passion—even the name “Romeo” is still used to describe enthusiastic young lovers.

But while the romantic love between the titular characters is often what we think of when we consider the love theme in "Romeo and Juliet," Shakespeare’s treatment of the concept of love is complex and multifaceted. Through different characters and relationships, he portrays some of the various types of love and the different ways it can manifest.

These are some of the expressions of love Shakespeare threads together to create the play.

Shallow Love

Some characters fall in and out of love very quickly in "Romeo and Juliet." For example, Romeo is in "love" with Rosaline at the start of the play, but it is presented as an immature infatuation. Today, we might use the term “puppy love” to describe it. Romeo’s love for Rosaline is shallow, and nobody really believes that it will last, including Friar Laurence:

Romeo: Thou chid'st me oft for loving Rosaline.
Friar Laurence: For doting, not for loving, pupil mine.
(Act Two, Scene Three)

Similarly, Paris’ love for Juliet is borne out of tradition, not passion. He has identified her as a good candidate for a wife and approaches her father to arrange the marriage. Although this was the tradition at the time, it also says something about Paris’ staid, unpassionate attitude toward love. He even admits to Friar Laurence that in his haste to rush the wedding, he hasn’t discussed it with his bride-to-be:

Friar Laurence: On Thursday, sir? the time is very short.
Paris: My father Capulet will have it so;
And I am nothing slow to slack his haste.
Friar Laurence: You say you do not know the lady's mind:
Uneven is the course, I like it not.
Paris: Immoderately she weeps for Tybalt's death,
And therefore have I little talked of love.
(Act Four, Scene One)

Friendly Love

Many of the friendships in the play are as sincere as Romeo and Juliet’s love for one another. The best example of this is in Act Three, Scene One, where Mercutio and Romeo fight Tybalt. When Romeo attempts to bring peace, Mercutio fights back at Tybalt's slander of Romeo. Then, it is out of rage over Mercutio's death that Romeo pursues—and kills—Tybalt:

Romeo: In triumph, and Mercutio slain!
Away to heaven, respective lenity,
And fire-eyed fury be my conduct now.—
Now, Tybalt, take the “villain” back again
That late thou gavest me, for Mercutio’s soul
Is but a little way above our heads,
Staying for thine to keep him company.
Either thou or I, or both, must go with him.
(Act Three, Scene One)

It is out of friendly love for his companion that Romeo acts out.

Romantic Love

Then, of course, is romantic love, the classic idea of which is embodied in "Romeo and Juliet." In fact, maybe it is "Romeo and Juliet" that has influenced our definition of the concept. The characters are deeply infatuated with one another, so committed to being together that they defy their respective families.

Romeo: By a name
I know not how to tell thee who I am.
My name, dear saint, is hateful to myself
Because it is an enemy to thee.
Had I it written, I would tear the word.
(Act Two, Scene Two)

Perhaps Romeo and Juliet's love is fate; their love is given a cosmic significance, which suggests that the universe plays a role in the creation of deep romantic love. Despite their love being disallowed by the Capulet and Montague households, they inevitably—and irresistibly—find themselves drawn together.

Juliet: Prodigious birth of love it is to me
That I must love a loathèd enemy.
Act One, Scene Five)

All in all, Shakespeare presents romantic love as a force of nature, so strong that it transcends expectations, tradition, and—through the combined suicides of lovers who cannot live without one another—life itself.