Romeo and Juliet

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Individuals vs. Society Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Love Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Individuals vs. Society Theme Icon
Language and Word Play Theme Icon
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LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Romeo and Juliet, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Individuals vs. Society Theme Icon

Because of their forbidden love, Romeo and Juliet are forced into conflict with the social world around them: family, friends, political authority, and even religion. The lovers try to avoid this conflict by hiding, by escaping from it. They prefer the privacy of nighttime to the public world of day. They volunteer to give up their names, their social identities, in order to be together. They begin to keep secrets and speak in puns so that they can publicly say one thing while meaning another. On the morning after their marriage, they even go so far as to pretend that day is night so they won't have to part.

But no one can stop day from dawning, and in the end Romeo and Juliet can't escape the responsibilities of the public world. Romeo tries to stop being a Montague and avoid fighting Tybalt, but fails. Juliet tries to stop being a Capulet and to stand up to her father when he tries to marry her off to Paris, but is abandoned by her mother and the Nurse. Romeo is banished from Verona by Prince Escalus, who embodies political law. Finally, to preserve their love, Romeo and Juliet are forced to the ultimate act of independence and privacy: suicide.

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Individuals vs. Society Quotes in Romeo and Juliet

Below you will find the important quotes in Romeo and Juliet related to the theme of Individuals vs. Society.
Prologue Quotes
Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes,
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows,
Doth with their death bury their parents' strife.
The fearful passage of their death-mark'd love,
And the continuance of their parents' rage,
Which, but their children's end, nought could remove,
Is now the two hours' traffic of our stage;
The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.
Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Romeo, Juliet
Page Number: Prol.1-14
Explanation and Analysis:

The chorus which opens Romeo and Juliet echoes the chorus of ancient Greek tragedies, a troupe of masked performers who explained, summarized, or contextualized aspects of the play. In the case of Romeo and Juliet, the chorus first places the action in Verona at a particular time (after an “ancient grudge” and during a “new mutiny” between two noble families). In the next sentence, this chorus narrows its scope to the play’s protagonists – the “star-cross’d lovers” who will die because of the play’s events. Finally, it tells the audience that the play, the “two hours’ traffic of our stage,” focuses on these lovers’ deaths “and their parents’ rage,” which could only be quenched by the deaths of their children. By framing their summary this way, and placing their description of Romeo and Juliet in the middle of descriptions of their parents, the chorus emphasizes that Romeo and Juliet live within a social context that precedes and succeeds them. This Prologue also informs us that these “lovers” are “star-cross’d” and their “love” is “death-mark’d”; amorphous forces – fate, love, and death – will control the action as much as the characters and actors.


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Act 1, scene 1 Quotes
Abraham: Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?
Sampson: I do bite my thumb, sir.
Abraham: Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?
Sampson (to Gregory): Is the law of our side if I say ay?
Gregory: No.
Sampson: No, sir, I do not bite my thumb at you sir; but I bite my thumb, sir.
Related Characters: Samson and Gregory (speaker), Abraham (speaker)
Page Number: 1.1.47-52
Explanation and Analysis:

The play opens with Sampson and Gregory, two armed servants of the Capulet noble family, walking on the public streets of Verona. They come into contact with two other citizens of Verona: Abraham and Balthasar. As a servant of the Montague household, Abraham confronts Sampson and begins a quarrel that will escalate into physical fighting and swordplay. This scene is somewhat humorous ("biting one's thumb at someone was considered what flipping someone the bird is today), as the characters awkwardly insult each other while trying to stay on the right side of the law. Yet even in the first scene of the play, we witness how these two households' feud affects the rest of Verona. It does not merely occur within these households' residences, but it even influences the atmosphere of Verona's most public spaces. The most private disagreements will turn public in the drama. 

Act 1, scene 4 Quotes
Romeo: I dream'd a dream to-night.
Mercutio: And so did I.
Romeo: Well, what was yours?
Mercutio: That dreamers often lie.
Related Characters: Romeo (speaker), Mercutio (speaker)
Page Number: 1.4.53-56
Explanation and Analysis:

Romeo, Benvolio, Mercutio, and several other maskers and torch-bearers are walking through the streets to the Capulet’s household, in order to attend their feast tonight. As they travel, they engage in witty banter that still informs us about the characters’ emotional states – particularly because Romeo seems determined to remain somber and refuse to join in the others’ revelry. Romeo, for instance, divulges that he had a dream which makes him harbor trepidations about attending this feast at all. Romeo’s friend Mercutio, who was actually invited to the feast because he is unrelated to Romeo and the other Montagues, wittily refuses to tolerate Romeo’s attitude. After claiming that he, too, had a dream, Mercutio wittingly says that he learned “that dreamers often lie” in this dream itself. Yet, Mercutio is not merely mocking Romeo here; this comment also alludes to his larger skepticism about love.

Act 1, scene 5 Quotes
My only love sprung from my only hate!
Too early seen unknown, and known too late!
Related Characters: Juliet (speaker), Romeo
Page Number: 1.5.152-153
Explanation and Analysis:

As the guests are leaving her house’s feast, Juliet decides to find out who Romeo is. She first asks her nurse who two other gentlemen are and then finally asks her one of the most significant questions of the play, the question of Romeo’s identity. The notion of fate is at play even in Juliet’s question; right after she requests that her nurse ask for Romeo’s name, she says that, if Romeo is married, her “grave” will likely be her “wedding bed.” The nurse never mentions if Romeo is married, but his identity as a Montague, “the only son of your great enemy,” is evil enough, spurring Juliet to give this eloquent exclamation. With these lines, Juliet arrives at the emotional contradiction at the heart of the play: she loves a man whom her parents hate. This play will juxtapose such opposites, manifesting the tumultuous, contradictory feelings of the jilted Petrarchan lover.

Act 2, scene 2 Quotes
O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I'll no longer be a Capulet.
Related Characters: Juliet (speaker), Romeo, Montague
Page Number: 2.2.36-39
Explanation and Analysis:

It seems that Juliet cannot forget Romeo either; she begins to speak to herself about him, while he watches from below. As Juliet ponders aloud, she does not only ask why her love is a Montague, her family’s rival household; she asks why ("wherefore" means "why") he is “Romeo,” inviting us into a broader discussion about the power and purpose of naming and language in general. Can verbal expression truly rearrange bonds between individuals? Juliet claims that Romeo could “deny thy father and refuse thy name”; in other words, Romeo could genuinely separate himself from his family through spoken words and through refusing to own the name they gave him. Through marriage, Juliet could certainly do this; if she marries Romeo (and he is “sworn my love”), then she will legally as well as emotionally “no longer be a Capulet.” Juliet will continue to reflect on this theme as this scene, one of the most famous love scenes in all of drama, continues. This reminds us that much of love comes from words and wordplay.

'Tis but thy name that is my enemy; —
Thou art thyself though, not a Montague.
What's Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? That which we call a rose,
By any other word would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title: — Romeo, doff thy name;
And for thy name, which is no part of thee,
Take all myself.
Related Characters: Juliet (speaker), Romeo
Page Number: 2.2.41-52
Explanation and Analysis:

As Juliet continues to dwell upon this theme of love and language, the audience can realize the extent of her emotional upset. She presses further, even saying that Romeo “art thyself” and is “not a Montague.” Although Romeo may be embedded within the societal network of the Montague family, his physical body is his own; his identity as a Montague is not a “hand, nor foot, / Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part / Belonging to a man.” Juliet starts to repeat herself, again urging Romeo to refuse his name: “O, be some other name!”; “Retain that dear perfection … without that title”; “Romeo, doff thy name.” Such repetition must come from a tumultuous state of mind. Despite her emotional furor, through, Juliet inspires a larger conversation about naming, language, and societal identity in general with her famous “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, / By any other word would smell as sweet” observation. (i.e. does language affect even our senses? Science suggests it actually does, but that's another question.) She closes this soliloquy by wholly giving herself to her lover: “Take all myself.”

I take thee at thy word:
Call me but love, and I'll be new baptis'd;
Henceforth I never will be Romeo.
Related Characters: Romeo (speaker), Juliet
Page Number: 2.2.53-55
Explanation and Analysis:

Romeo finally reveals his presence, after Juliet has declared her love for him on her balcony. His reply echoes the same themes which Juliet mentioned: love and language, individual and society. Romeo claims that he can “be new baptis’d,” if Juliet will “call me but love.” Of course, he cannot truly baptize himself, as this ceremony is performed by a social figure—a priest who is invested with authority by human society and by the Christian God, who himself expresses his love in covenants: solemn agreements which can be delivered through language. Romeo himself provides the first possible solution to the two lovers’ difficult situation; it is not surprising that, for “star-cross’d” individuals with “death-mark’d” love, such an idealized solution is an impossibility.

Act 2, scene 3 Quotes
For naught so vile that on the earth doth live
But to the earth some special good doth give;
Nor aught so good but, strain'd from that fair use,
Revolts from true birth, stumbling on the abuse:
Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied;
And vice sometimes by action dignified.
Related Characters: Friar Laurence (speaker)
Page Number: 2.3.17-22
Explanation and Analysis:

Friar Lawrence, the wise and aged priest who nevertheless harbors a dedication to helping these intemperate “star-cross’d” lovers, is gathering herbs in the early morning, shortly before Romeo comes to him for guidance. For the friar, elements of nature (“herbs plants stones, and their true qualities”) inspire reflection about the nature of good and evil: no natural creation wholly belongs to one of those two categories, and a substance’s relative goodness or evilness depends on the way it is used. This echoes the moral ambiguity of the play; did Romeo and Juliet die because of their own actions or were their parents culpable for their suicides? It also reminds us that any one individual cannot fully belong to such an explicit moral category. Even the Capulets and Montagues cannot wholly hate each other, because two of their individuals love each other.

Act 3, scene 1 Quotes
Romeo: Courage, man; the hurt cannot be much.
Mercutio: No, 'tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church-door; but 'tis enough, 'twill serve: ask for me to-morrow, and you shall find me a grave man.
Related Characters: Romeo (speaker), Mercutio (speaker)
Page Number: 3.1.99-102
Explanation and Analysis:

Mercutio receives a wound from Tybalt during their fight, and it is indeed mortal, although Romeo claims it isn't as he attempts to inspire courage in his friend. Mercutio is under no such delusion; his dark pun that he will be a “grave man” tomorrow (a man who is somber or a man who is in a grave) demonstrates his acknowledgment of his true condition. Mercutio is ever the realist, about his own life and about others’ lives. Mercutio will die, and he will become a victim of the feud between the Capulets and Montagues, although he does not belong to either family. This indicates the extent to which these two households’ rivalry affects the larger society of Verona.

Act 3, scene 2 Quotes
Come, gentle night, — come, loving black brow'd night,
Give me my Romeo; and when he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of Heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night,
And pay no worship to the garish sun.
Related Characters: Juliet (speaker), Romeo
Related Symbols: Light/Dark and Day/Night
Page Number: 3.2.21-27
Explanation and Analysis:

Before the Nurse enters and informs Juliet that Tybalt has died, Juliet speaks alone in the Capulets' courtyard about her desire for Romeo. She urges the night to "come" so that she can meet Romeo under the cover of darkness, as forbidden lovers do. As she passionately continues speaking, Juliet visually imagines Romeo's head existing in the night sky, illuminating the world with his fairness. Juliet's vision of Romeo serving as an image for the whole world to behold is imaginative, and it also suggests an inner longing to make their love less secretive. She dreams that night could become a force which allows the world to view her love, instead of the only time when it is safe enough to seek out her lover's company. 

Act 3, scene 5 Quotes
Wilt thou be gone? it is not yet near day.
It was the nightingale, and not the lark,
That pierc'd the fearful hollow of thine ear;
Nightly she sings on yond pomegranate tree.
Believe me love, it was the nightingale.
Related Characters: Juliet (speaker), Romeo
Related Symbols: Light/Dark and Day/Night
Page Number: 3.5.1-5
Explanation and Analysis:

The nightingale has a rich tradition as a symbol in medieval romances, and it is fitting that Juliet references this creature when she attempts to convince Romeo that it is not yet day and their night of love-making is not over. Although Juliet was earlier willing to acknowledge the separation between day and night (when she said she would say good-bye until night became day), here she conflates the two. It is now day, but Juliet situates herself and Romeo within a fictitious night. This indicates how the lovers’ situation has grown more desperate, which Juliet also suggests herself, with her description of “the fearful hollow of thine ear”—both lovers are afraid of the coming day, and what it may bring.

Is there no pity sitting in the clouds
That sees into the bottom of my grief?
O sweet my mother, cast me not away!
Delay this marriage for a month, a week,
Or if you do not, make the bridal bed
In that dim monument where Tybalt lies.
Related Characters: Juliet (speaker), Lady Capulet, Tybalt
Page Number: 3.5.208-213
Explanation and Analysis:

Romeo finally leaves Juliet’s room when her Nurse warns her that Lady Capulet is coming. Lady Capulet arrives with “joyful tidings” that will hopefully ease the woe that Juliet (supposedly) feels for Tybalt’s death: Juliet is to marry County Paris next Thursday. Of course, to Juliet, this news is the opposite of joyful. She reveals her love for Romeo to her mother and father, who refuse to acknowledge her desire to marry him. Her father swiftly leaves, and Juliet here appeals to her mother. She begs her mother to not cast her away, although Juliet has already figuratively cast herself away from her household during conversations with Romeo. Juliet practically suggests that her mother might merely delay this marriage to County Paris, before more ardently and imaginatively asking her mother to make her bridal bed with County Paris a tomb—reflecting her earlier phrase, upon first seeing Romeo, that the grave should be her wedding-bed.

Act 4, scene 1 Quotes
Or bid me go into a new-made grave,
And hide me with a dead man in his shroud -
Things that, to hear them told, have made me tremble -
And I will do it without fear or doubt,
To live an unstain'd wife to my sweet love.
Related Characters: Juliet (speaker), Romeo
Page Number: 4.1.85-90
Explanation and Analysis:

After Juliet suggests that her bridal bed with County Paris and her tomb should be conflated, she finds herself making a similar suggestion as she pleads with her ally the Friar Laurence for assistance. Shortly before she makes this exclamation, Juliet was forced to discuss her impending marriage with both Paris and Friar Laurence, and this encounter has likely added to her constant emotional tumult, to produce the desperation she describes here. Yet Juliet also expresses a sort of strength through her desperation; she will do what she must “without fear or doubt” because she fosters such a passionate regard for Romeo. It is moments such as these that have made Romeo and Juliet two of the most famous lovers in history, as they are so renowned for their ability to resist their surrounding society.

Act 5, scene 3 Quotes
O true apothecary! Thy drugs are quick. — Thus with a kiss I die.
Related Characters: Romeo (speaker), Juliet, The Apothecary
Page Number: 5.3.119-120
Explanation and Analysis:

In Juliet’s tomb, Romeo believes that his lover is dead, along with Tybalt, and near to Paris, whom he has just killed and lays in this grave as well. Romeo delivers a lengthy soliloquy, beginning by describing Juliet’s beauty (her quality which first attracted his notice) and claiming that death has not slighted her appearance in any way. Romeo also makes peace with Tybalt; even his last declaration of love to Juliet is contextualized by others, and by the greater society in which they exist. Finally, Romeo drinks the poison, which swiftly begins to kill him, urging him to say that the apothecary was “true” in selling him an effective poison. The natural substances – which, as Friar Laurence earlier reminded us, can either work for good or for evil – here are fulfilling the purpose which Romeo hopes they will fulfill.

Yea, noise,then I'll be brief;
O, happy dagger!
This is thy sheath; there rest, and let me die.
Related Characters: Juliet (speaker)
Page Number: 5.3.174-175
Explanation and Analysis:

Romeo’s drugs were “quick” to kill him, and Juliet decides to make her last moments “brief” as well, because she hears “noise” from the broader society outside the tomb. She makes her own body the dagger’s “sheath” for the dagger, stabbing herself. Like Romeo, she kills herself because she believes that her lover is dead. However, here Romeo is truly dead; earlier, Romeo falsely believed that Juliet had died. This unfortunate accident of fate places a harsh dramatic irony over the tragedy. Morbidly, though, the two lovers’ similar deaths connects them for the audience. And they even share the same last word – “die” – which affirms the power of death to connect the two lovers.

For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.
Related Characters: Prince Escalus (speaker), Romeo, Juliet
Page Number: 5.3.320-321
Explanation and Analysis:

As Prince Escalus ends the play, another figure finally acknowledges the intimate association between the two lovers; he refers to Romeo as “her Romeo,” thus belonging to Juliet. Yet he also recapitulates their story as a story with the most woe, and thus language allows him to circumscribe the lovers’ narrative with his own words. The broader society of Verona, which is led and symbolized by Prince Escalus, is personified in the play both after and before Romeo and Juliet appear. This places the play’s love story within the sphere of broader forces – of human society, of spiritual dominion, of secular fate – that conspire to form the final outcome.