Themes and Motifs in Romeo and Juliet:


In the opening scene of the play, Benvolio asks Romeo, "who is that you love?" (1.1.199), but Romeo artfully avoids mentioning Rosaline's name, as though to name her would bring his high-flown love down to earth. [Scene Summary]

Capulet gives his servant a list of guests who are to be invited to his feast, but the servant stares in puzzlement at the piece of paper he's holding and says to himself,

Find them out whose names are written here! It is
written, that the shoemaker should meddle with his
yard, and the tailor with his last, the fisher with
his pencil, and the painter with his nets; but I am
sent to find those persons whose names are here
writ, and can never find what names the writing
person hath here writ. I must to the learned.--In good time!   (1.2.38-44)
The Clown has everything mixed up. The yard belongs to the tailor and the last to the shoemaker, not the other way around, and it's the fisherman who uses a net and the painter who uses a pencil. As for writing, that's completely beyond him. He will have to ask one of the "learned" what's on the list. Just at that moment he spots two young gentlemen who are likely to know how to read and exclaims, "In good time!" The two young gentlemen are Benvolio and Romeo. Romeo reads the list of names for the servant, asks who all these people are, and learns that they are all to be guests at Capulet's feast. Then the servant adds, "if you be not of the house of Montagues, I pray, come and crush [drink] a cup of wine" (1.2.79-80). So it turns out that most anyone is welcome, so long as his name isn't Montague. [Scene Summary]

Shortly after the first meeting of Romeo and Juliet, Juliet asks the Nurse to find out who Romeo is. She says, "Go ask his name," and while the Nurse goes on her errand, Juliet says to herself, "If he be married. / My grave is like to be my wedding bed" (1.5.134-135) . She means that if Romeo is married, she will probably die unmarried, because she will never marry another. As it turns out, the problem isn't that Romeo is married; it's his name. When Juliet learns his name she exclaims, "My only love sprung from my only hate! / Too early seen unknown, and known too late! / Prodigious [ominous] birth of love it is to me, / That I must love a loathed enemy" (1.5.138-141). [Scene Summary]

In the first balcony scene Juliet's first speeches are all about Romeo's name. She says, "O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore [why] art thou Romeo?" (2.2.33). Of course she's not actually speaking to Romeo (she has no idea that he is there), but she is so much in love with him that she's asking why he must be "Romeo," a Montague. She asks him to "Deny thy father and refuse thy name"(2.2.34), so that he will no longer be a Montague, or -- if he won't do that -- if he will just swear he loves her, she will give up the name of "Capulet." Hearing this, Romeo asks himself if he should speak now, or listen some more. Before he can quite make up his mind, Juliet says more about his name. It is only his name that is her enemy, she says to her imagined Romeo, and if he would change his name, "Thou art thyself, though not a Montague" (2.2.39). In other words, if he changed his name, he would still be himself. And "Montague" isn't a hand, foot, arm, or face. There's actually nothing in a name, she says, because "That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet" 2.2.43-44), and "So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd, / Retain that dear perfection which he owes [has] / Without that title [name]" (2.2.45-47). Once again, she asks Romeo (still without knowing that he's there) to give up his name, " And for that name which is no part of thee / Take all myself" (2.2.48-49). Hearing this, Romeo speaks so Juliet can hear him and says, "I take thee at thy word. / Call me but love, and I'll be new baptized; / Henceforth I never will be Romeo" (2.2.49-51).

Later in the same scene, after Romeo and Juliet have pledged their love to each other, they both refer to his name again, this time in a very different way. After they have agreed to be married the next day, Juliet is called by the Nurse from within the house. Juliet says farewell to Romeo and goes in, but as soon as he steps back into the shadows of the garden, she reappears. Apparently she has gotten rid of the Nurse, but she still needs to be quiet, and calls out, "Hist! Romeo, hist! O, for a falconer's voice, / To lure this tassel-gentle back again!" (2.2.158-159). A "tassel-gentle" is a male falcon which can be owned only by a prince, and "hist" is a falconer's call, but a falconer would use a loud voice, which Juliet can't do. She's calling "hist" in that hoarse whisper which we use when we want to be heard, but only by the right person. She says, "Bondage is hoarse, and may not speak aloud; / Else would I tear the cave where Echo lies, / And make her airy tongue more hoarse than mine, / With repetition of my Romeo's name" (2.2.161-163). She is in "bondage" because she is in her father Capulet's house; if she weren't in bondage she would call so loud that her cry would tear through the walls of the nymph Echo's cave and make Echo hoarse with calling Romeo's name over and over. In short, she'd like to make the name of her beloved ring out to the farthest corners of the Earth.

Hearing Juliet's hoarse whisper, Romeo thinks it is the sweetest sound he has ever heard. He says, "It is my soul that calls upon my name: / How silver-sweet sound lovers' tongues by night, / Like softest music to attending [listening] ears!" (2.2.164-166).[Scene Summary]

When Romeo comes to Friar Laurence very early in the morning, the Friar guesses that Romeo has not been to bed and asks if he has been with Rosaline. Romeo answers, "With Rosaline, my ghostly father? no; / I have forgot that name, and that name's woe" (2.3.45-46). In the remainder of the scene Friar Laurence makes it clear that he thinks Rosaline was only a name to Romeo, and that her "name's woe" (Romeo's hopeless love for her) was not real love. [Scene Summary]

On the streets of Verona, when Benvolio says, "Here comes Romeo, here comes Romeo" (2.4.36), Mercutio makes a jest about Romeo's name: "Without his roe, like a dried herring: O flesh, flesh, how art thou fishified!" (2.4.37-38). Romeo's name without his "roe" is "me O," as in "O, me O, woe is me"; and a person who is wasting away looks as thin as a fish without roe (and a "dried herring" is the thinnest). Mercutio's point is that Romeo's obsession over Rosaline is making him waste away, so that there's nothing left but an "O me." However, Romeo (who is now secretly engaged to Juliet) joins Mercutio in an exchange of jests, so that Mercutio exclaims:

Why, is not this better now than groaning
for love? Now art thou sociable, now art thou
Romeo; now art thou what thou art, by art as well
as by nature, for this drivelling love is like a great
natural, that runs lolling up and down to hide his
bauble in a hole.   (2.4.88-93)
In Mercutio's opinion the real "Romeo" is one of the boys. Little does he know that Romeo's transformation is due to his new love for Juliet. [Scene Summary]

When the Nurse brings the news that Romeo has killed Tybalt, Juliet's heart seems to turn against Romeo, but she soon changes her mind. Amazed, the Nurse asks, "Will you speak well of him that kill'd your cousin?" (3.2.96), to which Juliet answers, "Shall I speak ill of him that is my husband? / Ah, poor my lord, what tongue shall smooth thy name, / When I, thy three-hours wife, have mangled it?" (3.2.97-99). She feels sorry for Romeo because of what she has said; she asks who will speak well of him if she speaks ill of him. She is the one who knows who he really is, even if others give him a bad name. [Scene Summary]

Romeo cries tears of despair after he learns of his banishment from Verona. Friar Laurence tries to talk him into a better mood, and then the Nurse comes in and says that Juliet is weeping, too. Romeo asks, "Spakest thou of Juliet? how is it with her? / Doth she not think me an old murderer, / Now I have stain'd the childhood of our joy / With blood removed but little from her own?" (3.3.93-96). He is afraid that because he has killed Tybalt, Juliet will hate him. That same fear is clear in his next questions: "Where is she? and how doth she? and what says / My conceal'd lady to our cancell'd love?" (3.3.97-98). The Nurse answers, "O, she says nothing, sir, but weeps and weeps; / And now falls on her bed; and then starts up, / And Tybalt calls; and then on Romeo cries, / And then down falls again." (3.3.99-102). We know that Juliet is also crying over Romeo's banishment, but Romeo thinks it's "As if that name, / Shot from the deadly level of a gun, / Did murder her" (3.3.102-104). Then Romeo draws a sword or knife and asks the Friar where in his body his name lives, because he wants to cut it out. Saying this, he tries to stab himself, but is stopped.

Romeo seems to be using the word "name" in two senses. His name, Romeo Montague, is the the name of an enemy of the Capulets, and his name (reputation) as the murderer of Juliet's cousin also makes him hateful to Juliet. Or so he thinks in his despair. We know that Juliet understands the difference between Romeo's name and Romeo's reality. [Scene Summary]