Themes in Romeo and Juliet

Themes are the recurrent ideas underlying a creative piece. These central ideas enable readers to view a certain piece from various angles to broaden their understanding. Shakespeare has skillfully explored diverse themes such as loyalty, the contrast of love and hate, violence, greed, and insanity in his tragedies. “Romeo and Juliet” is perhaps Shakespeare’s most significant contribution to various themes. However, instead of portraying a pleasant romance, this timeless play presents tragic themes governing human life.

Theme #1: The Abiding Quality of Romantic Love

Although presented as a short-term expression of youthful passion, Romeo and Juliet’s love for each other ultimately wins over every form of social constraints. The abiding quality of their selfless love is an essential theme of the play. It serves to reinforce the claim that if authentic lovers cannot be united in this world, they can certainly be together in the life hereafter.

Theme #2: Individual vs. Society

The conflict between individual desires and social institutions is a recurrent theme in “Romeo and Juliet”. The young lovers’ struggle against their respective families is the most important theme. By opting for individual fulfillment as opposed to social traditions, both Romeo and Juliet refuse to follow the commands of their families. They illustrate the triumph of an individual’s will over social customs. On a metaphorical level, this courage highlights the threat that young love poses to the absurd social traditions.

Theme #3: Violence

The theme of violence also plays a significant role in the play. Usually, blind passion, hatred and desperation are some instances of violence given throughout “Romeo and Juliet”. Tybalt kills Mercutio though it was not intentional. In order to avenge Mercutio’s death and in a moment of desperation, Romeo kills Tybalt and Paris. Both murders are classic examples of violence. The blind love of Romeo and Juliet that motivates them to commit suicide is another example. These examples show that violence has a vital role in this tragedy.

Theme #4: The Overarching Power of Patriarchy

In “Romeo and Juliet”, most of the significant decisions are made by the men of the two families, the Capulets, and the Montagues. Lady Capulet and Lady Montague’s views are not important. It is clearly displayed by their silent declaration of their husbands’ ideas in the play. It is Lord Capulet who selects Paris as his daughter’s future husband. Then forces Juliet to abide by his decision. Perhaps the most blatant example of the rule of men in the play is the feud between Lord Capulet and Lord Montague. Although their wives do not harbor any ill-will toward each other, the two Lords force their families to support them in their pointless dispute and keep up their enmity against each other.

Theme #5: The Theme of Death

Death is a theme that lurks throughout the play. In many ways, “Romeo and Juliet” shows the journey of the two lovers from their initial, love-filled meeting up to their death. Thus, death serves as the tragic resolution of various conflicts. For instance, Romeo’s conflict with Tybalt ends with the latter’s death. Moreover, the two young lovers’ conflict with the hostile social conformity ends with their untimely deaths. These tragic losses make the entire play as if it is only a play of deaths.

Theme #6: The Inevitability of Fate

The inevitability of fate is another important thematic concern of “Romeo and Juliet”. The phrase, “star-crossed” refers to the fact that the two lovers were destined to die from the beginning. Hence, aside from a string of poor choices made by the two lovers and their families, the power of fate governs the end of the play. Friar John’s inability to deliver the letter to Romeo on time was inescapable fate and a deadly blow. The letter would have informed Romeo that Juliet was alive. It is the most fatalistic moment in the play that drives Romeo to commit suicide.

Theme #7: Marriage

The institution of marriage is another important theme in the play. Contrary to popular beliefs, marriage is not shown as a good institution in the play. The play emphasizes the idea that though marriages of the Capulets and Montagues are socially approved, it lacks a soul. On the other hand, the union of Romeo and Juliet is authentic and yet condemned. Moreover, the political motive behind Friar Lawrence’s approval of Romeo and Juliet’s marriage highlights that in the Shakespearean era, marriage was seen as a means to ensure political strength.

Theme #8: Ideological Divide Between the Young and the Old

The ideological divide between the younger and the older generation is also a repetitive theme underlying the play. The impulsivity and youthful exuberance of Romeo, Juliet, Mercutio, and Paris serve as a strong contrast to calculating, the political foresight of Lord Capulet, Lord Montague, and Friar Lawrence. The tragedy of the play is in the fact that both the older and younger generations are unwilling to compromise and end the disagreement for good. They are not willing to resolve their pointless dispute.

Theme #9: The Absurdity Underlying Family Feuds

The absurd legacy of rivalry between the Montagues and the Capulets brings chaos that is shown later in the play. Although the actual reason for enmity between the two families remains undisclosed, it is shown that they are unable to reconcile with each other. It also shows that they have no credible reason for continuing the enmity between them.

Theme #10: Revenge

In addition to violence, revenge is another destructive element that sustains the action of the play. Hence, it makes an important theme of the play. However, the tragedy carrying the cycle of revenge neither guarantees a good end nor does it lead to poetic justice. For instance, Romeo kills Tybalt in order to seek revenge for Mercutio’s murder. This rash action of Romeo is not tried in the court. Moreover, several other actions that require resolution are not brought to the law. Therefore, revenge seems to have the upper hand.

Ms. Gumbs English Literature OCS 2019-2020

Romeo and Juliet: Act 5

Act 5, scene 1

  • Romeo is told of Juliet’s death from Balthazar who is his servant. Romeo and devastated by the news,
  • He buys some poison from an apothecary (a person who prepares and sells medicines and drugs) and returns to Verona to visit Juliet’s tomb.

What do we learn in scene 1?

  • Romeo believes that Juliet is really dead.
  • Friar Lawrence did not get the message to Romeo in time.
  • Romeo has purchased poison to kill himself.

Act 5, scene 2

  • Friar John reveals to Friar Lawrence that because of an outbreak of disease he was stopped from leaving Verona. As a result, Romeo did not get the message letting him know that Juliet isn’t really dead.
  • Friar Laurence worries about what may happen since the message was not delivered to Romeo. He then quickly hurries to the Capulet tomb.

What do we learn in scene 2?

  • Friar Lawrence went to collect Juliet because he knew that Romeo did not get his message.

Act 5, scene 3

  • Paris visits Juliet’s body to mourn her death. He is disturbed by Romeo, they fight and Romeo kills Paris although he doesn’t realize who it is at the time.
  • Romeo then goes to see Juliet’s body, takes the poison and dies.
  • Friar Lawrence finds Juliet just as she is waking up but she refuses to come with him. A noise frightens Friar Lawrence and he leaves Juliet behind. Juliet takes Romeo’s dagger and kills herself.
  • The Prince arrives and discovers the dead bodies in the tomb and the Capulets see Juliet with a knife wound. Finally, Lord Montague arrives and tells us (the readers) that Lady Montague has died.
  • The Friar returns to tell everyone what has happened. Capulet and Montague agree to end the feud that has taken so many lives with Lord Capulet saying.

What do we learn in scene 3?

  • Paris is deeply upset by Juliet’s death because he really cared for her. When he is mourning in the tomb, Romeo kills him by mistake.
  • Friar Lawrence leaves Juliet in the tomb when he hears a noise.
  • Romeo and Juliet both take their lives, fulfilling the destiny described in the prologue.
  • The families find their bodies and agree to end their feud.

Why is Act 5 important?

  • Act 5 marks the resolution of the story.
  • Romeo and Juliet both die, believing the other to be dead, and their families agree to a truce after witnessing so much death.

Questions to be asked to aid discussion:

  • (At the end of parts 8 & 9) Notice how Friar Lawrence behaves throughout Act 5. Why does he go to the tomb and how does he react to finding Paris and Romeo there? Why do you think he leaves Juliet and runs away? He blames himself at the end of the play and claims he is responsible. Do you agree or disagree with him?
  • (At the end of parts 8 & 9) Take note of the clues that Shakespeare gives us about the setting of the Capulet tomb. Romeo claims that he could not see Paris. That suggests that the tomb is dark. How else does Shakespeare create a picture for the audience of how it feels to be in the Capulet tomb?
  • (At the end of parts 8 & 9) Look closely at the resolution/end of the play. Who instigates ending the Capulet and Montague grudge? What do you think the most important facts about ending the grudge were? How do they intend to remember Romeo and Juliet?
  • (At the end of parts 8 & 9) How many people have died and what are their relationships to the Prince, Lord Capulet and Lord Montague? Why would Shakespeare include this reconciliation? How does it make the audience feel at the end of the play? Why is this important? This play takes place over a very short timescale, lasting no more than five days. What is the impact of this?

Act 5 Journal Questions

The exercise is to be completed and emailed to BEFORE 27 MARCH 2020. REMEMBER to put your name in the assignment

  • Have you ever had a friend or family member make a terrible decision? What was the cause of the terrible decision? Could the decision have been different if the person had been more patient or thoughtful? Why or why not? (Romeo, scene 1) (5 marks)
  • Have you ever been frightened by things you imagined? What did you imagine? Why was it so frightening? (Friar Lawrence, scene 2) (5 marks)

Ms. Gumbs English Literature OCS 2019-2020