Romeo and Juliet

by: William Shakespeare

Love

1
Alas, that love, whose view is muffled still,
Should without eyes see pathways to his will (1.1.)

Romeo begins the play in love with Rosaline, but his language in these opening scenes shows us that his first love is less mature than the love he will develop for Juliet. This couplet combines two ideas that were already clichés in Shakespeare’s day: “love is blind” and “love will find a way.” The clichéd expressions and obvious rhymes which Romeo uses to express his love for Rosaline would have been ridiculous to a contemporary audience, and Benvolio and Mercutio repeatedly make fun of them.

2
My only love sprung from my only hate,
Too early seen unknown, and known too late!
Prodigious birth of love is it to me
That I must love a loathed enemy. (1.5.)

Juliet speaks these lines after learning that Romeo is a Montague. The language of Romeo and Juliet insists that opposites can never be entirely separated: the lovers will never be allowed to forget that they are also enemies. Significanly, that Juliet blames herself for seeing Romeo “too early.” Everything in this play happens too early: we learn what will happen at the end in the opening lines, Juliet is married too young, and Romeo kills himself moments before Juliet wakes. In Romeo and Juliet, love is a force which can—and does—move too fast.

3
With love’s light wings did I o’erperch these walls,
For stony limits cannot hold love out (2.2.)

Juliet wants to know how Romeo got into the walled garden of the Capulet house: these lines are his response. For Romeo, true love is a liberating force. Love gives him not just wings, but “light wings” and the power to overcome all “stony limits.” Romeo answers Juliet’s serious and practical question with a flight of romantic fantasy. Throughout the play, Juliet is more grounded in the real world than Romeo. For her, the freedom that love brings is the freedom to leave her parents’ house and to have sex.

4
My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite. (2.2.)

Here Juliet describes her feelings for Romeo. Like Romeo, Juliet experiences love as a kind of freedom: her love is “boundless” and “infinite.” Her experience of love is more openly erotic than Romeo’s: her imagery has sexual undertones. Juliet is always more in touch with the practicalities of love—sex and marriage—than Romeo, who is less realistic. Where Romeo draws on the conventional imagery of Elizabethan love poetry, Juliet’s language in these lines is original and striking, which reflects her inexperience, and makes her seem very sincere.


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