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How Does Shakespeare Present Love in 'Romeo & Juliet' and a selection of Sonnets?

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How does Shakespeare present love in 'Romeo & Juliet' and a selection of Sonnets? Shakespeare presents love as empowering, everlasting, enduring true love which contrasts the superficial, fickle Courtly love and objectifying sexual love. Juliet was powerless at the beginning of the play, but through her true love of Romeo, she is empowered to overcome the limits of women in the Patriarchal society. She achieves a perfect, gender­equal relationship, like that of Sonnet 116. However, Courtly love is mocked for being both immature and futile in
Sonnet 130 and when Romeo despairs about Rosaline, then he demonstrates that Petrarchan love is superficial and futile when he forgets about her. On the other hand, the spiritual love between 'Romeo & Juliet', defined by religious imagery, mirrors the everlasting ability of the beauty of the Fair Lord in Sonnet 18. Finally, Mercutio’s sexual love and objectification of women, similar to the Eros in Sonnet 128, contrasts with the devotion of the star­crossed lovers and highlights their impeccability. Juliet’s love of Romeo is empowering, letting her break free from the restrictions of women in society at the time which she is initially bound by. Earlier in the play at Act 1 Scene 2, Paris and Capulet debate about the fate of Juliet as if she were merely marital property, with Paris pointing out that “younger … are happy mothers made.” She is belittled further when Capulet speaks of her as “my child” and “ripe to be a bride”, using the possessive adjective “my” to indicate ownership. Juliet’s name is not mentioned at all in the scene despite the fact they are discussing her future, which gives the idea that her marriage is more important to these men that Juliet herself. It could be argued the referring to her as “my child” and “she” gives her little importance compared to Paris, whose name is actually mentioned. The attitudes of the
Patriarchal Society are made clear when Paris casually remarks that children under thirteen can be successful mothers, which would be considered outrageous currently for the reason that Paris seems to wish to have sex with Juliet as soon as possible. It was rare in
Shakespeare’s time for girls to reject the man who wants to marry them because the marriage was chosen by the families. Parents would actually pay large sums of money or livestock, known as a dowry, for the suitor to take away the bride in the 16th century, giving the idea that women were a large burden for a family. Notwithstanding, the playwright demonstrates her powerlessness when she is apparently not “ripe” to be married, using a word best suited to a fruit commodity, rather than a person. On the contrary, although Juliet’s marriage and children are discussed objectively, it could be argued that her father is being protective of her because “the Earth hath swallowed all my other hopes but she” ­ all his other children have died, relatively common in that era. The discussion contrasts with the message on the perfect, spiritual relationship between lovers in Sonnet 116, where Shakespeare decrees how love should be the “marriage of true minds”, where “true” implies a genuine, returned adoration whereas Juliet would have had no choice. He also notes that love is “not Time’s fool” and the personification highlights some intelligence of love. However, Juliet’s hypothetical marriage to
Paris would be arranged in “two summers”, clearly at the mercy of time. On the contrary, Juliet’s love for Romeo empowers her to sever ties with and remove herself from her family as her relationship between her mother and then her nurse breaks down. In

the 16th Century, the only way to challenge the views of one’s parents was to commit suicide or run away, thus Juliet had a commanding role in Act 3 Scene 5 when she declares to Lady
Capulet “It shall be Romeo, … Rather than Paris”. The fact that she does not cover up the message in elaborate language and that it is said so concisely suggests she does not wish to co­operate with her mother at all. However, her father still presides over her when he viciously shouts at her afterwards, but only until she abandons the nurse, who she describes as a
“wicked fiend” ­ false friend. This is because children of that age would have been cared for from birth by a nurse, and just as deserting one’s nurse was a significant act, this is a turning point in the play when the lovers go into hiding. Tragically, as was the only way to disagree about marriage, Juliet later commits suicide for the sake of love which she foreshadows at the end of the scene: “If all else fail, myself have the power to die.” Somewhat ironically, love makes her most powerful after her death when rival Montague says he will erect “her statue in pure gold”. At the same time, Shakespeare presents Courtly love as immature and futile, mocking
Romeo’s elaborate language at the start like he parodies the Petrarchan Sonnet in Sonnet
130. During a long self­reprimanding speech, Romeo describes love as a “smoke made with the fume of sighs.” The use of words with such negative connotations may express his inner depression, which presents him as childish because he has never really achieved anything with his unrequited love of Rosaline, so should feel no attachment when she vows to be chaste. Shakespeare further ridicules the hero of the play when he blames love itself for his lack of success rather than Rosaline or himself. In Scene 4 Romeo is still depressed, twisting the words of Mercutio that while his dancing shoes have soles, he has a “sole of lead”. Lead, an extremely dense metal, is a metaphor for how weighed down he feels as he creates such a sad idea from the jubilant dancing proposed. Lead also is high poisonous, possibly implying that the love between him and Rosaline has soured and is effectively dead. It could be argued that the playwright may have made Romeo and immature at the start in order for him to develop into a heroic, matured lover. Alternatively, it could be that Romeo’s love of Rosaline was fake and he was in fact more in love with love itself. This exhibits to the audience of the play just how inexperienced Romeo is and that his love at the start of the play is pointless and superficial. Putting the beloved higher than the lover, typical of Petrarchan Courtly love, is also performed in Sonnet 130, when the Bard defends his mistress from being “lied with false compare”. Furthermore, he mocks the ideas of Petrarchan sonnets by negatively describing love and beauty, to such an extreme as the “breath from my mistress reeks”. The word
“reeks” is a very hurtful way of describing a woman one admires compared to the exaggerated metaphors and conceits of Francesco Petrarcha, which write about woman in impossible divinity. This technique is used because Shakespeare believes love should be judged on personality, not just beauty. Furthermore, another example of this is the unflattering description of her as “Coral is far more red than her lips' red;”. The sea plant, whose hue is far from normal for lips, is an unrealistic comparison for Shakespeare, and he likely thinks that a perfect romance should be equal and realistic.

Likewise, the attraction between 'Romeo & Juliet' is often compared to being spiritual and religious, mirroring the immortality and superiority of beauty in Sonnet 18. At the first meeting between the lovers, religious imagery is used by Romeo to persuade her to kiss him, using words such as “pilgrims” for lips, “saint” for lover and “sin” for kiss. This seems to suggest that their relationship is enduring, everlasting and powerful because it is being compared to God, who possesses these qualities. This holy comparison also gives the feeling that their relationship is elevated, which makes it more true love compared to Petrarchan Courtly Love.
In that type of love, only the woman is put on a pedestal, demonstrating the superiority of true love in 'Romeo & Juliet' where they are of equal importance. Similarly, in Sonnet 18 the poet praises the beauty of the Fair Lord by describing it as an everlasting “eternal summer” and talking of their love enduring by not “wandering in his [Death’s] shade.” These elaborate time based metaphors highlight the importance of a long lasting, spiritual true love when compared to superficial attraction because love is considered as an emotional bond. Everlasting true love and the idea of romance after death is mirrored at the end of 'Romeo & Juliet', where tragically their true love can only be fulfilled in heaven after both their suicides. This ending could have affected contemporary audiences differently, who being devout Christians would have understood that the love between the star­crossed lovers would live on in heaven. Thus, their end appears to be perhaps less spiritual nowadays for modern audiences because the couple cannot live on, which could make the ending sadder. Nevertheless, in Shakespeare's day the Church was a formidable force, controlling what people thought, did and owned through its social, financial and political influence in the country. This may be why in the play both Romeo & Juliet seek advice from Friar Lawrence, who somewhat ironically forces their affection to rest in heaven after his cunning plan goes amiss. Without doubt, Shakespeare uses Mercutio’s views on sexual love, similar to the Eros found in Sonnet 128, to highlight its difference from Romeo & Juliet's true love in the rest of the play.
In Act 2 Scene 1 Mercutio teases Romeo for his love of Rosaline, saying he will “sit under a medlar tree, And wish his mistress were that kind of fruit”, with a “medlar” being a fruit bearing a close resemblance to the female sexual organ. The playwright uses Mercutio to contrast his sexual objectification of women with Romeo & Juliet's true love, which reveals the lack of affection in this Eros whilst also making the romance between the couple­to­be stronger.
Mercutio’s laddish banter and erotic puns provide breaks from the seriousness of the star­crossed lovers’ love and the abundant death in the rest of the play. To put it another way, the audience would this find very amusing and could easily relate to it. In addition to
Mercutio’s differences from the lovers, he completely agrees with the Patriarchal society which so opposes Juliet’s empowerment from her romance. For that reason there are more disagreements between Romeo and Mercutio in the play, often symbolic of their opposite views about love, such as in Act 1 Scene 4 where after Romeo declares “I dreamt a dream tonight”, Mercutio says he has as well: his dream is “That dreamers often lie.” Dreams relate to spiritual being and hope but Mercutio clearly contrasts this in his humourous but blunt reply. Similar to the innuendo found in the play, Sonnet 128 talks lustfully about sexual arousal.
“O’er whom thy fingers walk with gentle gait, Making dead wood more blest than living lips”

refers to both playing the harpsichord and physical touching or lust, with the double meaning of “wood” adding more innuendo just like Mercutio’s puns. The juxtaposition of “living” and
“dead” highlights the poet’s jealousy of the contact the instrument is getting. He is left longing for attention because the love is unrequited, mirroring the failure of Romeo to attract Rosaline of which Mercutio jests. The poet also wishes “To be so tickled [like the keys] they would change their state”, which obviously appears to contain sexual imagery. He desperately wishes to be touched and is again jealous of the instrument’s keys but his lust is never actually achieved. Although Romeo and Juliet are not chaste, Eros isn’t the most important part of their relationship however the lust of Romeo is still fulfilled. Looking back at the play, the fact that Romeo ignores the teasing and escapes to Juliet is symbolic to the power and endurance of true love. It could be argued that the death of Mercutio later in the play in a fight which Romeo refuses to accept is similar to that ­ Romeo’s maturity wins over the foolishness of Mercutio like how the devotion of true love triumphs over childish lust. Alternatively,
Mercutio may have been killed because his humour was becoming too popular in the play, threatening Romeo’s place as the main hero. The ideas of Mercutio were commonplace in the
16th century, where women were mostly valued just for children and cooking, typical of a
Patriarchal society. Love was viewed by Mercutio (and the Elizabethan male population) as an accomplishment rather than an affection like Romeo & Juliet, which helps make their love special and captivating to the audience of the play. Ultimately Shakespeare presents love as two deep dichotomies: true love ­ empowering, enduring and everlasting and Courtly love which is superficial and fickle with sexual love which so objectifies women. Although the Sonnets could be thought as are mostly just ideas where no physical scene is created, they do provide a good insight into how the Bard presents love and are a useful comparison to the interlinked forms of love in the play. Thus, true love superiority is highlighted by the imperfections of other forms of love like to inequality of Petrarchan love and the lack of devotion in Eros, despite the tragic end of the star­crossed lovers. Nevertheless, to borrow a Shakespearean phrase: “The course of true love never did run smooth.”

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