The play Romeo and Juliet is an early creation of the well-known playwright, William Shakespeare, who lived between 1564 and 1616. This time was known as the Renaissance period, and it was mainly literary. The prominence of his work made him among the best during his time. The context for the drama is the city of Verona, somewhere in Europe. This particular play is a love story that ends in tragedy since both main characters die at the end of the play. As such, many people often dismiss it as a mere sad story, it encompasses other aspects apart from love and death such as power, violence, and societal classes. Therefore, there is much more than meets the eye when it comes to the play Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare et al 5).
The English renaissance time was well known for three main literary forms; drama, poetry, and prose. Most of the writers who existed during this time were called humanists since they voiced the need for freedom from the feudal rule in their literary works, Shakespeare was no exception. The feudal rule refers to the system of rule that existed in medieval Europe that was based on land ownership. The people needed freedom from this system of governance since the large landowners often mistreated the commoners. Shakespeare incorporates this in his play by using an example of the two feuding families, the Capulet and the Montague family. Both families are rich and powerful, but they have an ancient grudge against each other such that any meeting between members of either family resulted in quarrels (Shakespeare et al 7).
However, even with the conflict between their families, Romeo and Juliet still fall in love and try by all means to maintain their affections even at the risk of losing their families in the process. Their love faces opposition from all both sides due to the placement of their families and the power that each wielded. This was the main cause of opposition against them. Differences in class and family feuds are important in at this age as seen by Juliet’s father who is happy after Paris makes a request for his daughter’s hand since he is from an influential family. Shakespeare shows the harm that these classes may have on innocent people, in this case, Romeo and Juliet whose lives are ruined. As such, his stand against the feudal system is clearly brought out in this play. In addition to this, it also shows how generational conflict affects the lives of the two main characters in such a dramatic way (Shakespeare et al 9).
The patriarchal structure in Verona is rather particular. This is because the most powerful person is the prince. This is proven by the fact that he offers a directive that if anyone from either the Capulet or Montague family causes disturbance they would be punished. The fact that he can inflict punishment on already powerful families shows his power. Immediately beneath the prince are the feudal families such as the Montague and Capulet family. The rest of the families were working-class people who worked in the large tracts of land belonging to the feudal families. From this structure, it is evident why Juliet did not have ample options with regard to a marriage partner. This is because; she could not marry from a class beneath her own. As such, she either needed to marry from her class, which was impossible due to the feud her family had with the Montague family, or marry from above it. Therefore, Paris’ offer of marriage was very good news to Juliet’s father. Due to her situation, Juliet knew that her marriage would not be that of love but rather of convenience. This is probably the reason she did not want to let go of her love for Romeo, which would restore her to her previous ‘loveless state’, so to speak (Shakespeare et al 18).
The political and economic realities of Verona are crucial in understanding the relationship between Romeo and Juliet. One has to know the families that they hail from to comprehend why everyone was against their relationship. As noted before, the two families were in conflict due to an old grudge. Their economic status is also important since they are both wealthy powerful families. As such, if the families did not have a disagreement, the couple would have most certainly been a suitable one since they were both from the same societal class. However, due to the grudge and the power that each family had; this relationship would have most probably never succeeded (Shakespeare et al 5).
Mercutio and Romeo are two very different characters with varying opinions on love. However, it is important to note the one similarity that they held the fact that they believe in love. Both characters believe in the existence of this unexplainable emotion, but their opinions on this are what differs. Romeo believes in a fanatical version of love as is seen with his self-wallowing in the first act. He has feelings for Rosaline, who does not respond to his affections. This saddens him, and he spends his time blaming love for his predicament. This shows Romeo to be passionate, in that he believes in love fully. Mercutio, on the other hand, appears to be more level-headed than Romeo. He believes that love can be tamed, and it does not have to rule the heart as Romeo believes. This is proven by his responses to Romeo in the last act when he is plagued with sadness (Shakespeare et al 4).
The theme of life and death is well represented in this play. A connection exists between these themes and passion whether it is love or hate. An obvious connection between violence and hate but one has to analyze this play further to understand the relationship between love and violence. At the moment that Romeo first sees Juliet, he is fleeing from Tybalt, who intends to kill him for attending the feast. Therefore, both love and hate are expressed in this case in equal proportion showing the relation between them. As the play continues, several instances of death are seen such as when Romeo and Juliet (separately) brandish knives before Friar Lawrence saying that they will kill themselves if ever they are separated. Nevertheless, the ultimate representation of death occurs when both Romeo and Juliet commit suicide at the end of the play. In their opinion, death is the only way that they can preserve their love which is true because they are not afraid of death. Their love is so passionate that they go against everything in order to ensure it survives, however, since they cannot survive without each other they opt to be together in death as they were in life (Shakespeare et al 34).
This play brings focuses on several themes the most notable being love, social status, and death. Romeo and Juliet have defied all odds in order to fight for their love which is considered forbidden due to the obstacles that exist between them. However, just after they are united with each other and think that the problems are far behind them, death strikes taking them both away. This play is an outstanding work of art that apart from being entertaining is also thought to provoke in that it questions the validity of the decisions that the young couples made. I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if the ‘star-crossed lovers’ made different choices, would their extraordinary love truly have stood the test of time?
Shakespeare, William, Barbara A Mowat and Paul Werstine. The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2011. Print.