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Romeo & Juliet: Love or Lust?

The tragic romance of Romeo & Juliet is believed by many to be one of the greatest examples of true love in literature. But do those believers notice the distinctions between love and lust? If Romeo & Juliet’s love is truly is the amour everyone believes it to be, why is there an abundance of evidence suggesting that they weren’t in love at all? Shakespeare asks “Was there ever a more tragic love /than of this Romeo and Juliet?” If Romeo & Juliet were truly in love, this question need not be answered for they had no real love between them, only infatuation and lust, which is the very reason why the tale is considered a tragedy.

Teenagers over the past 400 years have remained relatively the same; their hormones start to rage, and soon enough the biggest thing on everyone’s mind is having sexual relations with a member of the opposite sex. Romeo and Juliet were no different; they are not chaste little angels. Their speech in the play is extremely sexual at some points, with Juliet even at one point complaining she has yet to enjoy the rewards of marriage, in a blatantly sexual soliloquy. “Gallop apace…/ lovers can see to do their amorous rites…/It best agrees with night…/O’ I have bought the mansion of a love/ But not possessed it; and though I am sold,/ Not yet enjoyed.” (Act 3 Scene 2 1-30” She proceeds on about how impatient she feels at the coming of the night, when she shall see Romeo, and presumably enjoy her “reward” at that time. Now, that might be the attitude of a newly married wife who has known their husband for a while, but remember Juliet meet Romeo only the day before. Come to think of it, the whole relationship seems rather rushed…

Juliet and Romeo married each other 2 hours after meeting, which is not enough time to decide to spend eternity with each other. Romeo does not even know Juliet exists 5 minutes before he kisses her for the first time, 5 minutes before he sees her, he proclaims to be heartbroken over Rosaline, the beauty who had his heart in her grasp at the beginning of the play. He is so terribly upset about Rosaline, he even goes as far as to say that if he sees anyone more beautiful, his eyes are lying and to let his “tears become fires/ And eyes burned.” (Act 1 Scene 2 88-91) Romeo then proclaims his love for Rosaline, and spots Juliet from across the ballroom, forgets about Rosaline entirely and then proceeds to proclaim his undying love for Juliet, whose name he does not even know at the moment. The story could have easily been “Romeo & Rosaline”, or “Romeo & the Dish Maid” for that matter, seeing as how quick he is to decide he’s in love. He was obviously not really in love with Rosaline, so how can one argue he was with Juliet?

That being said, Romeo & Juliet are extraordinarily selfish, and rarely, if ever factor each other into matters of life and death. Romeo kills Juliet’s cousin Tybalt without a single thought about the repercussions that could affect his relationship with Juliet. He does think about it after Tybalt is dead, and then threatens to take his own life. Friar Lawrence manages to talk him out of it, and brings up the fact Romeo did not. “Draws his dagger/ Art thou a man…/ Hast thou slain Tybalt? Wilt thou slay thyself? / And slay thy lady too?” (Act 3 Scene 3 124-134) Juliet, surprise surprise, also threatens to kill her self without considering her loved one, and again, Friar Lawrence intervenes. It may have seemed romantic at the end when they kill themselves over each other, but in reality its not. Neither of them said anything about seeing each other in heaven. They just wanted to end their own “sorrow”, if that’s even what it was. They might both be alive if Romeo hadn’t acted on impulse and been selfish upon seeing Juliet’s “dead” body, which brings the next issue up.

Romeo and Juliet were both acting on impulse throughout the play which to no surprise is one of the characteristics of lust. Everything they do is at the drop of a hat; getting married, faking death, murder, lying and finally, killing themselves. The whole play, the entire tragedy is a result of acting on impulses. The fact that the play is a tragedy has nothing to do with their family’s feud whatsoever; it’s a tragedy because Romeo & Juliet weren’t in love, just filled with lustful infatuation and a desire to express it. At the end of the play, the Prince of Verona says “For never was a story of more woe/ Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.” (Act 5 Scene 3 334-335), which is very accurate, but not for the reason most people believe.

The play was only a tragedy because the characters brought to life by Shakespeare did not follow the script he wrote them. The characters of great writers have an eerie way of doing as they please, and the tragedy of Romeo & Juliet is no exception. Shakespeare may have intended the play to be one of true love, but it isn’t. It was a play about the damaging results of confusing lust with love, which may or may not have been what Shakespeare had actually been trying to achieve.



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