Romeo and Juliet

what is the theme of love and death?

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Though Romeo and Juliet is arguably the most archetypal love story in the English language, it portrays only a very specific type of love: young, irrational, passionate love. In the play, Shakespeare ultimately suggests that the kind of love that Romeo and Juliet feel leads lovers to enact a selfish isolation from the world around them. Romeo and Juliet eschew their commitments to anyone else, choosing to act selflessly only towards one another. Sexuality does pervade the play, both through bawdy jokes and in the way that Romeo and Juliet anticipate consummating their marriage, but it does not define their love. Instead, their youthful lust is one of many reasons why their relationship grows so intense so quickly. Throughout the play, Shakespeare only describes Romeo and Juliet's love as a short-term burst of youthful passion. In most of his work, Shakespeare was more interested in exploring the sparks of infatuation than long-term commitment. Considering that no other relationships in the play are as pure as that between Romeo and Juliet, though, it is easy to see that Shakespeare respects the power of such a youthful, passionate love but also laments the transience of it.


In Romeo and Juliet, death is everywhere. Even before the play shifts in tone after Mercutio's death, Shakespeare makes several references to death being Juliet's bridegroom. The threat of violence that pervades the first acts manifests itself in the latter half of the play, when key characters die and the titular lovers approach their terrible end. There are several ways in which the characters in Romeo and Juliet consider death. Romeo attempts suicide in Act III as an act of cowardice, but when he seeks out the Apothecary in Act V, it is a sign of strength and solidarity. The Chorus establishes the story's tragic end at the beginning of the play, which colors the audience's experience from the start - we know that this youthful, innocent love will end in tragedy. The structure of the play as a tragedy from the beginning makes Romeo and Juliet's love even more heartbreaking because the audience is aware of their impending deaths. The journey of the play is the cycle from love to death - and that is what makes Romeo and Julie so lasting and powerful.