How are love and death linked in Romeo And Juliet?

RomeoAndJuliet14-2015

In the prologue of the play, William “Spoiler-alert” Shakespeare tells the audience that Romeo and Juliet love passionately and then take their lives. From the very beginning, love and death are closely linked.

In English, we have only one word for this indefinably large topic of love; whether you are referring to your cat, your brother, your girlfriend or that delicious plate of nachos. Similarly, the indefinably large topic of death is irreverently mentioned in our everyday life; my phone died, I died laughing, my dog died, I would have died if he’d seen me. In this play, Shakespeare uses these two words with a range of meanings and they are closely linked. Here are a few examples of ways that LOVE AND DEATH are linked in the play.

As lovers:

In Romeo’s very first scene, he says he is dead because Rosaline (his love) is not reciprocating his feelings (1). Bit of an exaggeration there. After Juliet first kisses Romeo at the party, she tells her nurse that she will stay forever single and die alone if she can’t have him as her husband (2). There is risk of death even having Romeo visit Juliet at her balcony (3). Death is love’s obstacle for these two characters from the start. They were certainly going to struggle for a happy ending.

Among friends:

Mercutio, Benvolio and Romeo are best buddies among the Montague clan. They would do anything for each other. The fight that takes place when Tybalt interferes with this bromance is not only the death of Mercutio but the death of trust, a friendship group, a cousin and a best mate. At the same time, it is the beginning of the end. It is Romeo’s love for Mercutio that drives him to seek revenge. In his reactive rage, Romeo tells Tybalt that they must fight until one or both of them are dead (4). He wasn’t lying.

In the family:

Tybalt’s murder is painful for his tightly knit Capulet family. They loved him dearly and Lady Capulet begs the death sentence for Romeo in retaliation for Tybalt’s murder. Lady Cap then tells Juliet that she plans to have Romeo murdered not knowing that Juliet has married him the day before (5). Although Juliet’s nurse has lost her best friend in Tybalt, she continues to help the lovers meet up that night because of her love for Juliet. Love is complicated right?

Death-mark’d Love:

Sure, the Capulets and Montagues become Facebook friends at the end of the play and the riff is resolved but wasn’t there another possible outcome? What drove these characters to such extremity? I think Shakespeare wanted us to talk about the link between love and death and maybe that’s why this play is still so popular. These topics need discussing as much now as they did 420 years ago… and here we are. Go Shakespeare!

xx Anna

(1) Romeo: “She hath foresworn to love; and it that vow do I live dead that live to tell it now.”
(2) Juliet: “Go, ask his name – If he be married, my grave is like to be my wedding bed”
(3) Juliet: “the place death if any of my kinsmen find thee here”
(4) Romeo “Either thou, or I, or both must go with him”
(5) Lady Capulet: “I’ll send to one in Mantua, where that same banish’d runagate doth live, shall give him such an unaccomstom’d dram that he shall soon keep Tybalt company.”

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