The Plays of Shakespeare: A Thematic Guide

By Victor L. Cahn | Go to book overview

Love and Romance

In Shakespeare’s plays, again as in life, romantic love takes many forms. In some cases, the bond is pure and seemingly inevitable, while in other instances, feelings are more bewildering. Yet the emotional attraction of one human being to another remains the most universal of themes, and Shakespeare allows us to see this force in all its wonder.

His most celebrated portrait of love, and the most famous in all literature, is Romeo and Juliet, in which the plot springboard is the ever-popular story line of love at first sight. Other elements, however, contribute to create a drama of astonishing impact. One reason for its power may be found at the very start, when the outcome is clearly laid out:


The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love,

And the continuance of their parents’ rage,

Which, but their children’s end, nought could

remove…

(Prologue, 9–11)

From this point on, references to death permeate the text, so that no matter how intense the love between these two young people becomes, we remain conscious of looming tragedy.

Such is the case even when we first hear of Romeo, who is described by his friend Benevolio, then by his mother Lady Montague, as wandering alone in the early morning and late at night (I, i, 116–129). He could be a figure from a comedy, for he is presented as a stereotypically infatuated Renaissance youth, an impression confirmed by Romeo’s first statements about the immediate object of his affection, Rosaline:


Why then, O brawling love! O loving hate!

O any thing, of nothing first [create]!

-171-

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The Plays of Shakespeare: A Thematic Guide
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction xi
  • Acting 1
  • Appearance versus Reality 9
  • Clerics 23
  • Commoners 35
  • Cynicism 45
  • Divine Right 53
  • Fate 63
  • Fathers and Daughters 71
  • Fidelity 81
  • Fools 89
  • Forgiveness 99
  • Gender 107
  • Generations 117
  • Honor 127
  • Innocence 135
  • Intoxication 143
  • Justice 151
  • Language 161
  • Love and Romance 171
  • Machiavels 187
  • Madness 199
  • Male Friendship 211
  • Marriage 219
  • Money 229
  • Mortality 237
  • Nationalistic Pride and Prejudice 245
  • Nature 255
  • Order 263
  • Politics 273
  • Power 285
  • Reason versus Passion 295
  • Revenge 305
  • Supernatural Phenomena 315
  • The Tragic Flaw 325
  • War 335
  • Conclusion 345
  • Further Reading 347
  • Index 349
  • About the Author 362
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