Trying to give explications on the great play of William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, 1597, from the view of a director, the play’s written script and its actual performance should be contrasted and compared. Of course, original text could be helpful on how the play might be staged, and, ultimately, some suggestions should be provided on what is this play about. Similar to Franco Ziffirelli’s motto “great love is the great antidote of the great hate,” my own theme of this play as an overall message should be firstly proposed, making some implicit things, such as love and hostility, viewed explicitly and analyzed thoroughly in the current research.
Accordingly, the theme of the play can be described as the hostility of “two households” in Verona, Montague and Capulet, who try to attack aggressively the lovers, Romeo and Juliet, who preserve loyalty to their true kingdom of love. Therefore, not love simply must be regarded as relevant in the play, but rather the hostility of two households, which arises between them, trying to destroy the sweet feeling of the young lovers. Then, focusing on the summary of the plot and also sub-plots, both with its outcomes for the proposed theme, it should be concerned that “ancient rage” was the most powerful motive for action throughout the play for both minor and major characters. Here, Shakespeare shows his constant shifts from comedy to tragedy, and the development of the minor characters, who are able to conduct the supporting atmosphere for the protagonists. The star-crossed lovers present a stable opposition to the hatred, being able to forget about rage in a flame of their swift and passionate love; however, due to the star-crossed fate or simply by chance they were doomed for the mutual suicides. To force a thesis, some researchers put an emphasis on solely love when treated the play, such as, for example, Lawrence Edward Bowling, and some suggested that not only factor of love may be objectified in the whole play, such as Thomas Honegger; but, on the contrary, it should be stated that simply hatred/rage/hostility of the clans was an fundamental factor which determined the development of the relations between the lovers because their love from the beginning contradict strongly with the whole situation within the families. This situation gives a powerful impact on extremely impulsive process of mutual relationship of Romeo and Juliet.
Therefore, a quite extravagant thesis should be forced that the lovers’ strongest sympathy is initiated by the powerful hostility/rage/hatred between the clans, which statement is presented in the prologue of the Act 1 in such a way: “Two households… / From ancient grudge break to new mutiny… / From forth the fatal loins of these two foes / A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life; / Whose misadventured piteous overthrows / Do with their death bury their parents’ strife. / The fearful passage of their death-marked love, / And the continuance of their parents’ rage…” (Act 1, Prologue) Therefore, as prologue puts it, two households descended their “mutiny” long beforehand, but “a pair of star-crossed lovers” “bury their parents’ strife” “with their death;” as a result, great love is determined and initiated by the great hatred, and thus great hostility is defeated by the great passion of the lovers, the conjunction between two principal motives in the dramatic plot of the play is unquestionable.
The hostility between the clans in Verona influenced a lot on a very character of the relations between the lovers, determines its doomed and swift process. Accordingly, in Act 1, Scene 5, Romeo asks rhetorically: “Is she a Capulet? / O dear account! my life is my foe’s debt”; (Act 1, Scene 5) which phrase is responded by Juliet in such words: “My only love sprung from my only hate! / Too early seen unknown, and known too late! / Prodigious birth of love it is to me, / That I must love a loathed enemy;” (Act 1, Scene 5) finally in the corresponding scene, Romeo mourns that he belongs to the Capulet’s enemies, Montague, that is why: “By a name / I know not how to tell thee who I am: / My name, dear saint, is hateful to myself, / Because it is an enemy to thee; / Had I it written, I would tear the word.” (Act 1, Scene 5) So, it is clearly seen from the proposed in-text citations that fact of their dangerous identification is among the most impressive ones throughout the play’s lines, for example, “…my life is my foe’s debt,” “…I must love a loathed enemy,” and “…because it is enemy to thee…” Moreover, to sum up this key point for the analysis of the hostility as a ruling principle for driving the plot in Romeo and Juliet, it must be summarized that for both Romeo and Juliet their descent creates a big problem. This is the reason why they are tried to overcome such troubles between the families; additionally, the hostility plays a key role in the plot as a stimulus of the tragedy.
Then, hostility of the clans in the play must be treated as a factor of identification gap (i.e. lack of positive identifications) between the protagonists, which enables them to gain new quality of the feeling, love. However, creating somehow intellectual, mental, and sensitive gap, hostility constructed a good basis for the sensitive inflammation of the lovers, so they cannot accomplish another identification. Specifically, in Act 2, Scene 2, Juliet claimed pathetically: ‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy; / Thou art thyself, though not a Montague. / What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot… / Belonging to a man. O, be some other name! / What’s in a name?” In general, this hostility between the clans helps her to be fulfilled by the impression of her lover, without other actual representations, and this predominantly romantic motivation conducts a new field of emotional meaning and dramatic co-action between the lovers.
Afterwards, it can be concluded with the suggestion of a strong impact, which the hostility makes on the whole proceeding of the divine-like feeling between the lovers, being vice versa annihilated by this true love. Such examples illustrate how hostility determines this feeling in both negative and positive manners: firstly, love is burnt as an outlet for the permanent rage, being able even to destroy that dishonorable context of revenge; secondly, hatred itself forces the lovers to improve their mutual sympathy rapidly under the dangerous possibility of lethal outcome, and, ultimately, hostility as identification gap (that is, existential emptiness of identification) represents a good basis for the strong feeling between the protagonists.
Bowling, Lawrence Edward. “The Thematic Framework of Romeo and Juliet”. PMLA (Modern Language Association of America) 1949, 64 (1): 208–220.
Gibbons, Brian (ed.). Romeo and Juliet. The Arden Shakespeare Second Series. London: Thomson Learning, 1980.
Halio, Jay. Romeo and Juliet: A Guide to the Play. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1998.
Honegger, Thomas . “‘Wouldst thou withdraw love’s faithful vow?’: The negotiation of love in the orchard scene (Romeo and Juliet Act II)”. Journal of Historical Pragmatics. 2006, 7 (1): 73–88.
Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. New York, NY: Simon & Brown, 2012.