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