“These violent delights have violent ends,” says Friar Laurence in an attempt to warn Romeo, early on in the play, of the dangers of falling in love too hard or too fast. In the world of Romeo and Juliet, love is not pretty or idealized—it is chaotic and dangerous. Throughout the play, love is connected through word and action with violence, and Romeo and Juliet’s deepest mutual expression of love occurs when the “star-crossed lovers take their life.” By connecting love with pain and ultimately with suicide, Shakespeare suggests that there is an inherent sense of violence in many of the physical and emotional facets of expressing love—a chaotic and complex emotion very different from the serene, idealized sweetness it’s so often portrayed as being.
There are countless instances throughout Romeo and Juliet in which love and violence are connected. After their marriage, Juliet imagines in detail the passion she and Romeo will share on their wedding night, and invokes the Elizabethan characterization of orgasm as a small death or “petite mort”—she looks forward to the moment she will “die” and see Romeo’s face reflected in the stars above her. When Romeo overhears Juliet say that she wishes he were not a Montague so that they could be together, he declares that his name is “hateful” and offers to write it down on a piece of paper just so he can rip it up and obliterate it—and, along with it, his very identity, and sense of self as part of the Montague family. When Juliet finds out that her parents, ignorant of her secret marriage to Romeo, have arranged for her to marry Paris, she goes to Friar Laurence’s chambers with a knife, threatening to kill herself if he is unable to come up with a plan that will allow her to escape her second marriage. All of these examples represent just a fraction of the instances in which language and action conspire to render love as a “violent delight” whose “violent ends” result in danger, injury, and even death. Feeling oneself in the throes of love, Shakespeare suggests, is tumultuous and destabilizing enough—but the real violence of love, he argues, emerges in the many ways of expressing love.
Emotional and verbal expressions of love are the ones most frequently deployed throughout the play. Romeo and Juliet wax poetic about their great love for each other—and the misery they feel as a result of that love—over and over again, and at great lengths. Often, one of their friends or servants must cut them off mid-speech—otherwise, Shakespeare seems to suggest, Romeo and Juliet would spend hours trying to wrestle their feelings into words. Though Romeo and Juliet say lovely things about one another, to be sure, their speeches about each other, or about love more broadly, are almost always tinged with violence, which illustrates their chaotic passion for each other and their desire to mow down anything that stands in its way. When Romeo, for instance, spots Juliet at her window in the famous “balcony scene” in Act 2, Scene 2, he wills her to come closer by whispering, “Arise, fair sun”—a beautiful metaphor of his love and desire for Juliet—and quickly follows his entreaty with the dangerous language “and kill the envious moon, Who is already sick and pale with grief.” Juliet’s “sun”-like radiance makes Romeo want her to “kill” the moon (or Rosaline,) his former love and her rival in beauty and glory, so that Juliet can reign supreme over his heart. Later on in the play, when the arrival of dawn brings an end to Romeo and Juliet’s first night together as man and wife, Juliet invokes the symbol of a lark’s song—traditionally a symbol of love and sweetness—as a violent, ill-meaning presence which seeks to pull Romeo and Juliet apart, “arm from arm,” and “hunt” Romeo out of Juliet’s chambers. Romeo calls love a “rough” thing which “pricks” him like a thorn; Juliet says that if she could love and possess Romeo in the way she wants to, as if he were her pet bird, she would “kill [him] with much cherishing.” The way the two young lovers at the heart of the play speak about love shows an enormously violent undercurrent to their emotions—as they attempt to name their feelings and express themselves, they resort to violence-tinged speech to convey the enormity of their emotions.
Physical expressions of love throughout the play also carry violent connotations. From Romeo and Juliet’s first kiss, described by each of them as a “sin” and a “trespass,” to their last, in which Juliet seeks to kill herself by sucking remnants of poison from the dead Romeo’s lips, the way Romeo and Juliet conceive of the physical and sexual aspects of love are inextricable from how they conceive of violence. Juliet looks forward to “dying” in Romeo’s arms—again, one Elizabethan meaning of the phrase “to die” is to orgasm—while Romeo, just after drinking a vial of poison so lethal a few drops could kill 20 men, chooses to kiss Juliet as his dying act. The violence associated with these acts of sensuality and physical touch furthers Shakespeare’s argument that attempts to adequately express the chaotic, overwhelming, and confusing feelings of intense passion often lead to a commingling with violence.
Violent expressions of love are at the heart of Romeo and Juliet. In presenting and interrogating them, Shakespeare shows his audiences—in the Elizabethan area, the present day, and the centuries in-between—that love is not pleasant, reserved, cordial, or sweet. Rather, it is a violent and all-consuming force. As lovers especially those facing obstacles and uncertainties like the ones Romeo and Juliet encounter, struggle to express their love, there may be eruptions of violence both between the lovers themselves and within the communities of which they’re a part.
Love and Violence ThemeTracker
Love and Violence Quotes in Romeo and Juliet
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.
Oh, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope's ear,
Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear.
So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows
As yonder lady o'er her fellows shows.
The measure done, I'll watch her place of stand,
And, touching hers, make blessèd my rude hand.
Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight!
For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night.
You kiss by th’ book.
But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun!
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.
'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.
I take thee at thy word:
Call me but love, and I'll be new baptis'd;
Henceforth I never will be Romeo.
O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon,
That monthly changes in her circled orb,
Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.
Romeo, the hate I bear thee can afford
No better term than this: thou art a villain.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
O true apothecary! Thy drugs are quick. — Thus with a kiss I die.
Yea, noise, then I'll be brief;
O, happy dagger!
This is thy sheath; there rest, and let me die.