Love and Hate in Romeo and Juliet

Love and Hate in
Romeo and Juliet

By Chris Nayak
Globe Education Learning Consultant

I love you! I hate you!

Have you ever said those words? Did you mean them? Have you had them said to you? How did that make you feel?

In Romeo and Juliet, the emotions of love and hate are the lifeblood of the play. Everything that happens seems to be caused by one, or both, of these two forces.  Shakespeare frequently puts them side by side: ‘Here’s much to do with love but more with hate’, ‘my only love sprung from my only hate’. Such juxtaposition of conflicting ideas is called antithesis, and Shakespeare loves using it. In every one of his plays, this clash of opposing ideas is what provides the dramatic spark to make the play come to life.

But in Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare makes frequent use of a particular type of antithesis: the oxymoron. This is when two conflicting ideas are contained within a single phrase, maybe in just two words.  We use oxymorons in everyday speech:

‘Act naturally’, ‘organised chaos…’

Romeo uses many of them:

‘Cold fire, sick health…’

Later, Juliet joins in:

‘Beautiful tyrant, fiend angelical…’

But this play has many more oxymorons that any other Shakespeare play. Why does he choose this literary technique for Romeo and Juliet?

For me, it’s the perfect way of capturing how you feel when you’re young. The extremes of new and worrying feelings and the fact that you can flip from one emotion to the opposite in a heartbeat.

How can you in one moment having  carefree and happing conversation with your parents, brother or sister or friend and then because of a look or a comment, you are filled with anger and hatred for people you know that you love/ Although it was a long time ago, this is exactly how I remember being as a teenager. And an oxymoron is just that – two extremes expressed in a second. Adults tend to qualify, quantify, and have more shades of grey. Perhaps they grow out of having feelings like this. But for some young people, this is how life is experienced.

Romeo shares this last viewpoint. When the Friar tells Romeo to see the positives in his banishment, Romeo attacks him, saying ‘thou canst not speak of that thou dost not feel’. And why doesn’t the Friar feel this way? Because he’s old, says Romeo. ‘wert thou as young as I…then mightst thou speak’.

The type of love and hate that Shakespeare is depicting in this play belongs to young people, and oxymorons are the way to show it. Of course, some of the older characters feel their version of these emotions (Lord Capulet and Lord Montague join the brawl in the first scene), but Shakespeare’s focus is on the younger generation.

But are love and hate really opposites?

Even though Shakespeare sometimes places them in opposition, maybe they are not as different as we might think. In the play, there seem to be a lot of similarities between people when they are full of love, and when they are full of hate.

Romeo’s describes the hate he feels when Tybalt kills his friend Mercutio as a fire raging inside him. ‘Fire-eyed fury be my conduct now’ he says. The Prince is similar, ordering the families to ‘quench the fire of your pernicious rage’.

But Romeo uses similar imagery when burning with passion for Juliet. ‘She doth teach the torches to burn bright’, he says. ‘Juliet is the sun’, a ‘bright angel’. Juliet also expresses her love in the same way: Romeo is her ‘day in night’.

The author Elie Wiesel once said that ‘the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference’. Despite all the opposites and contrasts in this play, maybe Shakespeare thinks the same.

What do you think?