Romeo and Juliet - Themes, Context and Settings

Themes - Love

  • Act 1 Scene 5: Romeo and Juliet meet for the first time and realise they are from feuding families.
  • Act 2 Scene 2: Romeo and Juliet, alone after the feast is over, declare their love for each other and promise marriage.
  • Act 3 Scene 5: The lovers make their final farewell after their wedding night.

Courtly love:

  • Romeo sighs at Rosaline's lack of interest in him.
  • He attends the Capulets' masked ball just to catch a glimpse of Rosaline.
  • We also see Paris acting out the forms of courtly love in relation to Juliet.

Sexuality:

  • Such as in the coarse humour of the servants in Act 1 Scene 1.
  • In our first meeting with the Nurse, she jokes that 'Women grow by men' and moments later is encouraging Paris sympathetically and 'seek happy nights to happy days'.
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Themes - Fate and Free Will

  • The prologue introduces the idea of by presenting us with 'a pair of star-crossed lovers'.
  • Both character experience feelings of foreboding and have bad dreams and premonitions of what is to come.
  • Neither of them change their actions and continue to act out of a sense of free will throughout the play - almost challenging the fates in the same way that Juliet challenges her father's authority.
  • When Romeo hears of Juliet's death, he does this outright, 'I defy you, stars!'
  • The prologue introduces the idea of fate being responsible for the tragedy. 
  • Act 1, Scene 4: Romeo senses that attending the Capulet feast will lead to no good.
  • Act 3, Scene 5: Juliet makes a chilling prediction of Romeo's death.
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Themes - Life and Death

  • The young men of Verona are swift to draw their swords and bloodshed ensures.
  • As a result, the play is set against young lives being cut short and we witness the loss of Tybalt, Mercutio, Paris, Romeo and then Juliet.
  • It is the older characters that are more philosophical about death, 'we were born to die.' 

Examples in the play:

  • Act 3, Scene 1: The violent and bloody deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt take place in the street.
  • Act 4, Scene 5: The Capulets react to Juliet's feigned death.
  • Act 5, Scene 3: Verona sees the deadly consequences of the Capulet-Montague feud.
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Context - Historical

The playwright:

  • Shakespeare born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564.
  • 25 years working in London as a writer, actor and theatre manager.
  • Romeo and Juliet published in the earlier phase of Shakespeare's dramatic career.
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Context - Social

Patriarchal Society

  • A society ruled by men, and where fathers are of prime importance.
  • Common is Renaissance times and Capulet exemplifies this in the play.
  • Capulet has ultimate power over his wife and daughter.
  • The male head of the household would hold all family wealth and land.
  • Girls expected to grow up to become wives and mothers. 
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Context - Social

The Family Feud

  • Learn that Romeo and Juliet come from warring households.
  • Never told what the quarrel was about, only that it's bitter enough for a man like Tybalt to be always prepared to fight a Montague.
  • The instant attraction between lovers immediately plunges them into the bitterness of the family feuding.
  • The love of a man and a woman is made to seem wrong simply because they are trapped between two violently quarrelling families.
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Context - Cultural

Young Love

  • Juliet is 14 and Romeo a couple years older.
  • Even with the different life expectancy of sixteenth-century Europeans, this was still rather young for marriage.
  • Paris' interest in marrying Juliet has a dramatic purpose, giving urgency to the story and even possibly forcing Juliet into considering marriage to Romeo on their second meeting.
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Settings

  • Shakespeare chose Italy as the setting for a number of his plays.
  • Italy was regarded as a wealthy and romantic country.
  • Italy was also a place where they believed murderous feuds and passionate love affairs were commonplace.
  • Romeo and Juliet set in northern Italy, in the city of Verona and in Mantua.
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