Whether it is the 1500s or the new millennium, love is still essentially the same although with some differences in customs. Romeo and Juliet is the very epitome of love in Shakespeare’s time. Marriage in Shakespeare’s time mostly served as a union of two parties interested in acquiring property, money or political alliances. Few ever married for love. Most girls were married at 14 or 15. In Shakespeare’s famous play, Romeo and Juliet, the readers are able to see the significance of age in marriage. Juliet’s mother, Lady Capulet, demonstrates the fact that it was possible to marry off a daughter at the extremely young age of 14 years old.
Juliet is 13 when the plays starts and Lady Capulet is already in great haste to marry her off. Therefore, she feels it very important to talk the matter over with her daughter immediately: … younger than you, Here in Verona, ladies of esteem, Are made already mothers. By my count, I was your mother much upon these years that you are now a maid– (I. iii. 69-73) Lady Capulet felt that it was high time Juliet be married. Romeo is about 16 in the play. Shakespeare uses the ages of Romeo and Juliet, to point out the characteristics of young lovers.
Many of the young lover’s actions are due to their young age. The play depicts young love as fickle, dangerous, rash and probably has a tragic ending. Throughout the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, various types of love are portrayed in Shakespearean society. Shakespeare argues that in society there are several different types of love, the interchangeable love and the love based on appearances, but only true love is worth having. The first type of love is the interchangeable love of Benvolio. According to Benvolio, a man should love a woman for only the duration of their relationship.
If their relationship should end, the man should feel no grief. If the woman rejects the man initially, he should still feel no grief. In either situation, the man should simply start a relationship with another woman. “But in that crystal scales let there be weighed/ Your lady’s love against some other maid/ That I will show you shining at this feast, /And she shall scant show well that now seems best” (I. ii. 103-106). Benvolio’s definition of love shows the audience two things about Benvolio and the general view of most males in those times: he is a womaniser and he has never before experienced true love.
Men, especially young men were almost encouraged to be fickle, they seem to be constantly falling in and out of love. All the mothers would choose a man who was attractive and had a suitable position in society for their daughter. Lady Capulet, as well as the Nurse, believes love comes from appearance, both physical and political, and has nothing to do with emotion. She shows this when she speaks favourably of Paris’s looks and his nobility. Females were seen as fragile and were treated delicately. Males regard women more as property than as an individual. Paris has a similar view of love.
He loves Juliet for her appearance and nothing else. He doesn’t even know what kind of person Juliet is, only that she is attractive. Most males were very selfish and only thought of themselves, especially in regards to females. In a relationship, everything is about them. At Juliet’s death chamber, Paris shows how selfish his love is. When he believes Juliet is dead (in Act IV) he seems sorrier for his own loss than for Juliet’s parents’ loss. He loves Juliet as much as he can love anyone, but his love cannot be considered true love because of his selfishness.
Throughout the play, the audience sees what is defined as true love in Shakespearean society. This love is the deep, all consuming love that carries with it feelings of trust and commitment, the love that is exemplified by Romeo and Juliet. The definition of true love, which Shakespeare provides, shows that all the other characters’ definitions of love leave a lot to be desired. Marriages had a great deal to do with one’s inheritance and it was of great importance to a family’s well being and, in many cases, survival.
This was not the concern of Romeo and Juliet; they only married for love. There were two major forms of courtship in Shakespeare’s time. First, and most commonly, parents and friends were the matchmakers. They selected the possible spouse, performed careful examination of his economic prospects, and then brought the couple together to find out if there were any strong feelings of dislike between them in order to ensure that the couple would get along well in marriage. In Romeo and Juliet this was the case. Paris was chosen by the Capulets as a suitable husband for Juliet.
Parents did not advocate “forced” marriages because the best marriages were those that were equally consensual and desired by both parties. Children had a certain amount of freedom in choosing their mate. Because a daughter’s only real future lay in marriage, she had less freedom over her choice in a husband. Her family had to make sure she would be provided for. Juliet’s parents had hoped she would develop a liking for Paris but even though she was opposed to the marriage they decided to marry her off anyway. The second form of courtship was handled mostly by the parties involved.
A man attracted to a certain woman would ask her family for permission. If the man was both financially and personally acceptable, permission was granted and courtship continued with visits, gifts, and expressions of love. This did not happen in Romeo and Juliet although it might have had Romeo not been from the house of Montague. Wooing required men to continuously spout romantic poetry to their love interest and do things to impress them. Conversations between men were often crude and were filled with sexual puns. Men composed sonnets to their loves and comparing them to angels, doves etc.
Metaphors and smiles were also used frequently in conversation, especially ones about women. For true love to be classified as true love, the man had to think of his love constantly- Romeo thought of Juliet all the time. When one lover dies, the survivor shouldn’t want to live either- Romeo and Juliet killed themselves when they thought the other was dead. When love is made public it rarely survives but that wasn’t the case in Romeo and Juliet. Their love was only made stronger. Their love was all the more precious and cherished because it was so difficult to attain.
Shakespeare’s time period marked a time where marriage was an important aspect of people’s lives. The ways in which people were matched and married was very evident in Romeo and Juliet. The procedures to inheritance are an important aspect of marriage in that it gives people a better understanding of the reasons behind the way marriages were handled around the Renaissance era. Romeo and Juliet still has a compelling effect on its readers today because it focuses on the sincerity of the heart, often defying basic rules of society, even in modern times.