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Love, Realistic or Idealistic
William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is a tale of two star-crossed lovers who are placed in the middle of a heated family feud.The nature of this feud leads to characters having different stances on love. The recurring theme of love in the play is channeled through the perspectives of several characters. Benvolio and Romeo emerge as the most prominent of the characters on their depictions of love. Throughout the play their views on love continuously provide perfect foils for one another. Although Romeo should emulate Benvolio’s view on love, he chooses to believe in an unrealistic version of love in which everything is based on a whim.
In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare begins by depicting Romeo’s view on love as if it were an obtainable object, in which it could be considered something physical. Romeo’s first stance on love in the play is that it is completely sexual. This is shown when Rosaline, Romeo’s first love, refuses to have sexual relations with Romeo and he solemnly tells Benvolio,
“Well in that hit you miss. She’ll not be hit
With Cupid’s arrow. She hath Dian’s wit,
And, in strong proof of chastity well armed,...
Nor ope her lap to saint-seducing gold.
O, she is rich in beauty, only poor
That, when she dies, with beauty dies her store.”(1.1 216-224)
Romeo’s reference to Diana, the goddess of chastity suggests that Rosaline wants to remain untouched and pure. This also illustrates that Rosaline is strongly against having intimate relations with Romeo or anyone else. Romeo believes that Rosaline’s beauty is a waste since she is choosing to die a virgin. He is brokenhearted by Rosaline’s rejection because he confuses the feelings that he has towards Rosaline as love rather than what it truly is, lust. This confusion of lust for love is caused by Romeo’s lack of maturity and his age. When Romeo first lays his eyes on Juliet, the daughter of his family's enemy, he instantly begins to profess his love for her,
“If I profane with my unworthiest hand,
this holy shrine,
the gentle sin is this:
my lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
to smooth that rough touch with a tender did kiss” (1.5. 104-107).
In these lines, Romeo uses religious language to convey to the reader his infatuation with Juliet. This religious language illustrates the importance of Juliet to Romeo when he compares her to a holy shrine.
Later on, when Romeo goes over to the Capulet orchard and sees Juliet on her balcony, they begin to speak to one another. He says, “O, wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?/ What satisfaction canst thou have tonight?/The’ exchange of thy love’s faithful vow for mine” (2.2 132-134). At first it seems as if Romeo is using sexual innuendo, but then in the end, by Romeo saying, “The’ exchange of thy love’s faithful vow for mine” (2.2 132-134), it shows that since his affection for Juliet is requited, he begins to think of vows and marriage rather than lust. This portrays that Romeo’s love for Juliet was very different than his relationship with Rosaline, which purely consisted of lust.
Unlike Romeo, Benvolio views love in a more practical manner. He believes that a person should not be obsessed with the concept of love, although he sympathizes with Romeo when Rosaline breaks Romeo’s heart. Benvolio does this by saying, "Alas that love, so gentle in his view, / Should be so tyrannous and rough in proof ” (1.1 175). In other words, Benvolio is trying to say that love presents itself as a whirlwind of emotions when in reality it should be a simple emotion. Benvolio also believes that Romeo should not be controlled by his lust for Rosaline when he says, “ Be ruled by me. Forget to think of her./… Examine other beauties ” (1.1 233-236). Another interpretation of this is that Benvolio believes that if Romeo forgets about Rosaline then he will be at peace instead of being overwhelmed with what Romeo believes is love for Rosaline.
Not only does Benvolio feel this way about love in terms of Romeo’s relationships, but he feels the same way towards the feud between the Capulets and the Montagues. Benvolio believes that the violence between the two households should cease to exist because the feud is unnecessary. When Benvolio and Mercutio walk through the town square they begin to discuss the family feud and eventually, they run into Tybalt and a group of Capulets. Benvolio begins to speak and says,
“We talk here in the public haunt of men.
Either withdraw unto some private place,
Or reason coldly of your grievances,
Or else depart. Here all eyes gaze on us” (3.1 51-54)
In this excerpt Benvolio’s role as an unsuccessful peace maker which is shown through the way he views Romeo’s relationships to the family feud. Benvolio plays the unsuccessful peace maker in this scene by trying to convince Mercutio and the Capulets that they should not duel each other but, if they must then they should choose to fight in a place in which the public eye does not witness it. Benvolio’s overall behavior throughout the novel clashes with Romeo’s because Benvolio thinks things through unlike Romeo who does as he pleases.
Benvolio expresses his realistic depictions on love to Romeo in order to keep his wanton cousin’s views in check. However, Romeo decides to ignore these views to follow his own unrealistic ones. Benvolio and Romeo are perfect foils for one another because their views on love are at complete opposite ends of a spectrum. Although Romeo’s stance on love evolves throughout the play, it still consists of unrealistic ambitions. As a result of these unrealistic ambitions, it leads to the expulsion of Romeo from Verona, and eventually drives to him commit suicide.