Romeo and Juliet – is it really a love story?

William Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ – perhaps the most well-known love story of all time. A tragic tale of young love, of intense feeling and all-consuming emotion, where the depth of their devotion and affection for one another ultimately leads to their untimely deaths. Naïve and ingenuous is the label ascribed to those who believe the love between Romeo and Juliet is real, to those who listen to their claims of undying love and are moved by their passion and care for each other, to those who read the elaborate soliloquys and fall victim to the beautiful and eloquent language used. Yet why do some stain these claims of undying love with scepticism and taint the purity of their feelings with controversies?

This cynicism has stemmed from various aspects of the play, most notably through Romeo himself. In Romeo’s very first appearance, he laments about his feelings of unrequited love for Rosaline, Romeo is overcome with sadness and is said to spend much of his time alone, wandering about in despair. Yet upon meeting Juliet he declares, ‘Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight! For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night’, as if he hadn’t just been completely in love with another woman days before. This apparent fickleness points to an emptiness beneath the words of eloquence Romeo so frequently uses, and from this fickleness, other arguments have arisen. It is clear Romeo is easily consumed by what he feels, yet rather than viewing this as love, many interpret Romeo’s attitude towards Juliet – and indeed Rosaline to begin with – based purely on lust. Perhaps Romeo’s sudden disregard for Rosaline shows he is driven by this physical desire, viewing both women through the way they look, and falling in love before even knowing them. As Friar Lawrence points out, ‘Young men’s love then lies / Not truly in the hearts, but in their eyes.’, highlighting Romeo’s changeable nature depending on what he finds to be most beautiful. Romeo’s comments can be interpreted, though perhaps not intentionally, as nothing more than attempts to objectify and place the women he meets on a pedestal to be admired like a piece of artwork, to marvel at its beauty. This raises the question as to whether, had the pair not died, Romeo would have moved from Juliet to another. The time scale in which their love story unfolds within further shows this, they fall in love, get married, and die for one another within a matter of days. Is this the signs of true love? Many would say not, instead showing the unhealthy dependency the pair have towards each other, overcome by passion not love, a dangerous passion that leads them to their deaths.

Although this cynicism has some validity in its argument, Romeo and Juliet’s relationship is first and foremost based upon love. This scepticism is born from the incapability to believe in ‘love at first sight’, though ‘love at first sight’ perhaps does not exist in the same cliché way as in romcom movies, where two character’s eyes meet from across a crowded room, and they stare wistfully at each other’s faces, it is clear the love Romeo and Juliet share is based on a similar premise of deep emotional feeling. Their first interaction shows their love is based on so much more than just passion and desire, so much more than simply being carried away and consumed by the excitement of young love. In their first conversation they are presented as equals, Juliet is not reserved or withdrawn but rather matches Romeo’s teasing, taking control of the conversation and showing Romeo she has the power to turn him down. Romeo gets the kiss he has been asking for, but only because Juliet gives it to him, showing her strength of character, that this is not a relationship based on Romeos lustful desires, where Juliet is coy and subject to Romeo’s admiration of her beauty alone, but one where they are both intellectual equals. Though their relationship progresses quickly, this enthusiasm and passion is not in replace of love, but rather encapsulates the beauty of their bond and the excitement of young love.

Romeo and Juliet – a story of intense love and passion, of tragedy and death. But is it really a love story? Absolutely. The depth and true feeling behind their interactions, and their exchange of words is evidence enough that their bond extends beyond physical desire and passion alone, that the feelings they have – though overpowering and intense, and ultimately the cause of their demise – are true and real.

Photo by Atharva Dharmadhikari on Unsplash

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