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:
And the continuance of their parents’ rage,
Which, but their children’s end, nought could
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:
O any thing, of nothing first [create]!