Themes and Motifs in Romeo and Juliet:

Sweet Sorrow

In the Prologue the Chorus explains that two families of Verona are enemies, and that "From forth the fatal loins of these two foes / A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life; / Whose misadventured piteous overthrows / Do with their death bury their parents' strife (Prologue 5-8). Thus, from the very beginning, we know we're going to see a spectacle of intertwined love and hate. [Scene Summary]

Before he meets Juliet, Romeo is desperately in love with Rosaline, who doesn't return his love. Speaking to Benvolio, Romeo expresses his feelings in a string of paradoxes about love, starting with, "O brawling love! O loving hate!" (1.1.176). His love is "brawling" because it makes him sad, as though it were his enemy. His hate (of his situation) is "loving" because he loves Rosaline despite her indifference. [Scene Summary]

At Capulet's feast, to keep Tybalt from attacking Romeo, Capulet resorts to threats and insults. Tybalt's only choice is to shut up and leave, which he does, but not before making a promise to himself that Romeo will pay. He says, "I will withdraw, but this intrusion shall / Now seeming sweet convert to bitter gall" (1.5.91-92). Later in the scene, when Juliet finds out that Romeo is a Montague, 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 last part of the Prologue to Act II, the Chorus comments on the lovers' problem. He says that they are "Alike betwitchèd by the charm of looks, / But to his foe supposed he must complain [of the sweet pain of being in love], / And she steal love's sweet bait from fearful hooks" (2.Prologue.8). Because they are foes (or supposed to be), he can't vow his love to her, and she can't meet him anywhere. "But passion lends them power, time [lends them] means, to meet / Tempering extremities with extreme sweet" (2.Prologue.14). "Extremities" means "extreme hardships," and "tempering" means "diminishing," but the lines suggest that their meeting will do much more than diminish the pain of their hardships; it seems that the hardships are part of the reason why they will taste "extreme sweet." [Scene Summary]

As dawn approaches, after she has pledged her love to Romeo, and he to her, Juliet bids him farewell with the famous words, "Good night, good night! parting is such sweet sorrow, / That I shall say good night till it be morrow" (2.2.184-85). [Scene Summary]

The song of the lark, announcing the coming of dawn, ends Romeo and Juliet's one night of married happiness. Romeo must leave and Juliet mourns the sorrow that is brought by the beautiful song of the lark. She says, "It is the lark that sings so out of tune, / Straining harsh discords and unpleasing sharps. / Some say the lark makes sweet division; / This doth not so, for she divideth us" (3.5.27-30). To Juliet, everything about the lark's song becomes a metaphor for their separation. The easy harmony of the melody, which is like the harmony between the lovers, is now forced discord; the lark's sharps are not thrilling, but painful; the "sweet division" (variations on the melody) only divides them from each other. She goes on, "Some say the lark and loathed toad change eyes, / O, now I would they had changed voices too! / Since arm from arm that voice doth us affray [frighten](3.5.31-33). It was a popular notion that the beautiful lark had ugly eyes, and that the ugly toad had beautiful eyes, so people said that the lark and toad must have traded eyes. Juliet wishes they had traded voices, too, because the toad's ugly voice would be a more fitting one to frighten them out of each other's arms. Not only that, but the song of the lark is "Hunting thee hence with hunt's-up to the day" (3.5.31-34). "Hunt's-up" is horn-blowing, singing, or other noise-making to awaken hunters to the joys of charging over the countryside on their horses. Also, the first morning after the first night, newlyweds were awakened with a "hunts-up" so their friends could cheer and joke about their night of joy. Juliet is saying that the lark is singing a "hunts-up" to the day, but the day, instead of bringing joy, will hunt (chase) Romeo away. Seeing the sky get ever lighter with each passing minute, Romeo sums up the sad irony of the situation: "More light and light; more dark and dark our woes!" (3.5.36). [Scene Summary]

Moments from his own death, Romeo remembers that he has heard "How oft when men are at the point of death / Have they been merry! which their keepers [caretakers] call / A lightning before death" (5.3.88-90), and then says, "O, how may I / Call this a lightning?" (5.3.90-91). He's asking himself how what he's feeling at the moment, preparing to die and looking at his wife among the corpses of other Capulets, can be called a lightning. Answering his own question, he finds that he can be happy that his Juliet is still beautiful. And he can be happy that he will be with her forever. He says, "O, here / Will I set up my everlasting rest, / And shake the yoke of inauspicious stars / From this world-wearied flesh" (5.3.112). "Set up . . . my rest" is a phrase used in a card game; a player would "set up his rest" when he was done taking cards and ready to bet on what was in his hand. And "everlasting rest" means what it still means -- death envisioned as eternal peace. Romeo will take his chances on death with Juliet. [Scene Summary]