Yes! I think Romeo & Juliet’s love is absolutely real!
I know what you’re thinking: “Hang on. Romeo and Juliet meet, fall in love, get married, and die within four days. How can you fall in love in such a short time?”
I think in order to answer this question, we need to have a look at how we define love. This is not an easy assignment. Even when looking at dictionary definitions, love is a hard concept to define succinctly. One definition is “a strong feeling of affection”, another one is “a feeling of warm personal attachment, as for a parent child or friend”. The problem is that there are many different forms of love, and that we all experience these emotions in different ways and with varying intensity.
At the end of the day, it comes back to personal opinion. Shakespeare isn’t here to ask, and even if he were, I’m not sure that he would have the answer. This is the beauty of art. It is about interpretation.
However, when making up your mind, there is really only one place to look for evidence, and that is within the text.
Here are some clues:
Romeo and Juliet confess their love to each other in the famous balcony scene.
When Juliet asks Romeo what satisfaction he can have tonight, he replies:
Th’ exchange of thy love’s faithful vow for mine.
To which Juliet replies:
I gave thee mine before thou didst request it.
So it’s clear that the pair believe that they are in love. And who are we to argue?
I know what you’re thinking: “Isn’t Romeo in love with another chick at the beginning of the play?” Fair point. However, since taking on the role of Romeo, I have looked into this, and formed my own theory. I think Romeo’s feelings towards Rosaline, when we first meet him, are ones of lust, not love. I think he is looking for love. He is a passionate teenager who desperately wants to fall in love so that he can escape the violence that plagues Verona. The way that Romeo talks about Rosaline; however, indicates that he is more interested in being physical with her, than he is in love.
When discussing Rosaline with his cousin Benvolio, Benvolio asks:
And she hath sworn that she will still live chaste?
She hath, and in that sparing makes huge waste.
Romeo and Benvolio are discussing Rosaline’s sexual experience, while she doesn’t want anything to do with Romeo. The boys are objectifying Rosaline. I don’t think Romeo would speak about Juliet in this way. When talking about Juliet, Romeo uses more respectful and loving phrases, such as:
What light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief,
That though her maid art fair more fair than she.
He is likening Juliet to the sun and saying that the moon is jealous of her brightness and beauty. What amazing language! This indicates to me that Romeo is experiencing a strong love that he has never felt before, and has to find new ways of articulating his feelings.
So, after looking at the text, you will be able to make up your own mind as to whether or not Romeo & Juliet’s love is real. I’ve found some examples for my theory. Do some detective work yourselves and see if you can find some more evidence! Post it on our Facebook page. I’d love to hear your thoughts! #behindthebalcony
So here lies that age old question, is Romeo and Juliet’s love real? Or is just teenage lust and infatuation?
Since I’m playing the character of Juliet, I thought I’d examine this question on Juliet’s behalf – and anyway who can really comment on Romeo’s view on things – we all know about his obsession with the ever-chaste Rosaline.. I shudder to think that what he felt for her in any way resembled the love he has for Jules! So I won’t go there, might leave that one to Sam…
But this love that Juliet is overcome by – it is a pretty powerful force that she is met with. Being rather sheltered in her youth, Juliet most likely has had limited contact with people who weren’t in the Capulet crew, and this would mean (…one would hope) that she’s not yet experienced any kind of romantic feelings towards another person. It’s safe to assume, however, that she is familiar with this concept of ‘love’ and the various sub-topics that stem from it, from the copious amount of time she has spent listening to the ramblings of her bawdy and uncensored Nurse.
I think, until the night of the Capulet party and possibly as a result of her mother encouraging her to ‘think of marriage now’, Jules’ interest in finding a love buddy has been non-existent. But once she has learnt that she will very quickly have to start considering marriage, I’d say she becomes open to examining this handsome young stranger a bit further than just as a yucky boy in the school-yard. I wish I could tell her, keep looking Jules! Don’t stop here, this one isn’t going to end well, trust me! But it’s too late – once the pair have locked eyes, exchanged a wee sonnet and Cupid has worked his magic, the love lit between them cannot be blown out.
But how do we know that it’s real love? Well, how do we ever know if love is ever ‘real love’? I would argue that if it’s the kind of love that makes you lie to your entire family, take a suspicious-looking substance that is supposed to ‘put you to sleep’ for 42 hours, and ultimately take your own life, it’s probably in the ‘real’ category. Juliet is a smart, intuitive and ‘headstrong’ young lady (as her Daddy calls her), she wouldn’t go through all that for someone she has a little teen crush on.
I mean maybe if she’d made it past the hardest teenage years she might have had been able to see that there was an alternative to her and Romeo’s radical actions, but nevertheless, this love for Romeo that so consumes her becomes her life force for the brief time that she gets to experience it – it is the most alive she has ever felt, and she even gives her life in order to preserve the magic love between her and her husband.
So from Jules’ end, I’d say that the love she has for Romeo is just about as real as it gets!
Over and out,
Said my 15 year old self.
No, that’s a lie. I didn’t really “hate” him; I just didn’t “get” him and what he was harping on about. When I was in high school, I had some great English and Drama teachers. I remember studying Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Macbeth, King Lear probably even a Sonnet or two. English was even one of my favorite subjects in school. But Shakespeare? Nope. Nadda. No deal. The groans and sighs from the students as his plays were being handed out in class were almost unanimous. Being a bit of an English nerd, I didn’t mind too much. I remember liking the stories but the actual language itself remained a big fat mystery. Shakespeare was something old and outdated that young people (like myself back then) had no use for and were being forced to learn…
So how did I get from thinking I hated Shakespeare to working for one of Australia’s leading theatre companies touring Shakespeare to schools?
I went to a school where most of the kids were from homes that had English as a second language or languages other than English. Most of these kids were also first or second generation Australians with parents who had migrated from another country. Shakespeare’s works were not something many of us grew up with around the house. And furthermore at my school, Sports was the Arts and English’s biggest competitor; and it often dominated with our attention and appreciation.
So I left Shakespeare as a boring,incomprehensible old fart with my signed/graffitied school uniforms, old textbooks and letters on colourful Morning Glory stationary (which is like a Japanese Typo) as I farewelled high school.
Until I went to university. Here, I studied Shakespeare from an acting perspective. Not having to approach it as a compulsory English text, I realized that I had forgotten something so simple yet so essential. I had forgotten to play.
I always loved playing when I was a kid. What kid doesn’t? And actors are constantly playing- we ‘re imagining, role playing, “acting”. Our “textbooks” are even called “plays”!
This is what I ignored when studying Shakespeare in English class. My sense of play. Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be enjoyed and performed, not just read sitting down but feeling it in your body and allowing your sense of play to discover what else the words could mean. Also looking up every complex and important word I didn’t understand in a dictionary specifically for Shakespeare (even those words you think you might know as their meaning may have changed from Shakespeare’s time to now) helped enrich my understanding of what these characters were saying. Once I did all this work and research, I then let it go. So now, when hearing the lines again, the musicality and richness of the words washed over me.
Even now, I am always feeling a small sense of pride and excitement when I discover something new about the lines. A new possible thought behind them which in turn can bring a new delivery to them, a new meaning. And trust me, I am still learning and still have so much to learn. You then start to realize that his stories are not so different to those contemporary novels we read today. There’s a reason why his works are being made and remade and re-imagined. They still speak to us today because his characters feel and express emotions we still have today: love, jealousy, betrayal, lust, anger, revenge, alienation.
Plus Shakespeare’s legacy can be seen all around us. He has had such a huge influence on our language. Shakespeare invented close to 1700 words (give or take); Words such as
assassination, aerial, bedroom, bump, countless, excitement, gossip, lacklustre, quarrelsome and watchdog. Phrases such as: “A fool’s paradise”, “a sorry sight”, “all that glitters is not gold”, “fight fire with fire” ,“fair play” and “send him packing”.
Working for Bell has made me look back on this journey I’ve had and renewed my appreciation for the Bard. My struggle with understanding Shakespeare in school is a huge reason why I love this job. I get to bring Shakespeare to schools across the country; allowing students to engage and access his work in a fun and entertaining way.
Isn’t it amazing how language can be your friend or your foe. It can add to feelings of inferiority, alienation, resentment if we can’t find a way in; and on the other hand, make us feel confident, open and proud when we do. The more we understand the language we are dealing with, the more we appreciate and open ourselves to feelings of achievement and wonder. Kind of like when you order something in another language for the first time successfully.
Lucky for us Shakespeare isn’t another language. It’s literally English. Just remember to have fun and play. Do your research and you’ll master it.
That’s what I would say to my 15 year old self if I could. And also to stop spending so much money on those adorably cute stationary pads with the animals on them. Your friends you see everyday in class don’t need hand written letters telling them you’ll see them at school tomorrow Alice.
Spend it on something more important. Like gelato. Which I will do right now. Thanks Alice. You’re welcome Alice. (Insert fist bump)
— Team Ariel