Knowledge of themes in Romeo and Juliet are essential to allow you to discuss the play to any level of satisfaction. This slideset deals with the main themes of fate and love as well as secondary themes such as conflict and violence, and age.
From the very opening of the play, the audience know that Romeo and Juliet will be a tragedy.
The two protagonists of the play are "star-cross'd" and their relationship is completely controlled by fate.
The mechanism of fate works in all of the events surrounding the lovers: the feud between their families; the horrible series of accidents that ruin Friar Lawrence’s seemingly well-intentioned plans at the end of the play; and the tragic timing of Romeo’s suicide and Juliet’s awakening.
Romeo and Juliet is essentially a tragic love story.
The play opens with Romeo's unrequited love for Rosaline but it is Romeo and Juliet's intense romantic love that drives the plot of the play.
Many characters, such as Mercutio and the Nurse, see love as purely physical and sensual.
Lord and Lady Capulet's intentions of forcing marriage on Juliet show the understanding of love in this time period.
Conflict and Violence
Conflict is evident in the play from the prologue, when we hear about the feud between the two families.
There are two brawls that are acted out in the play, but from the Prince's reaction to the one in the first scene, it is clear that there have been many more before this.
The entire play is filled with violent imagery. There are several threats of violence and Romeo and Juliet often speak about suicide. In Act 3, Scene 3 Romeo brandishes a knife in Friar Lawrence’s cell and threatens to kill himself after he has been banished from Verona. Juliet does the same just three scenes later.
The last scene of the play is particularly violent as the audience sees three deaths.
Figures such as Mercutio and Tybalt embody the traditional views of masculinity at this time. They are constantly ready to brawl and speak highly of themselves.
Romeo's sadness at the beginning of the play is seen as feminine, while his more sociable self is properly masculine. After refusing to fight Tybalt, he is worried that his love of Juliet has made him feminine.
Lord Capulet giving away Juliet to Paris is a typical happening at this time.
It is clear that it's the men of the fighting families that carry on the feud, not the women. At the beginning of the play, Lord Montague and Lord Capulet enter, and only their wives prevent them from attacking one another.
One of the play’s most consistent visual motifs is the contrast between light and dark imagery.
Romeo often describes Juliet with light imagery, including the sun and angels.
In Act 3, Scene 2, Juliet beckons the darkness when Romeo has to leave because it has been a sanctuary for the couple, "if love be blind, / It best agrees with night".
Youth and Old Age
Romeo and Juliet's youthful passion conflicts with the values of their feuding parents and their more mature advisors.
It is the older generation in Romeo and Juliet who continue the feud and prevent the younger generation from being together.