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Essay: Themes of indecisiveness & impulsiveness in Romeo & Juliet

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“More fiasco results from indecision than wrong practices”. This concise quote aptly encapsulates one of the most pivotal themes present in the acclaimed play Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. The play, which focuses on the journey of two star-crossed lovers from rival families, has an ever-increasing number of underlying themes emerging as the play progresses. One such theme is of indecisiveness and impulsiveness, which is reiterated numerous times by Shakespeare through different characters to elucidate the constant inability of characters in making decisions and sticking to them. Shakespeare cleverly utilizes irony and metaphorical language to accentuate the theme of indecisiveness and impulsiveness throughout Romeo and Juliet.

Shakespeare skilfully uses dramatic irony and metaphor to display Romeo’s youth and how it contributes to his indecisiveness. In the very beginning of the play itself, Romeo is shown to be conversing with his cousin Benvolio, where they are discussing Romeo’s infatuation with a member of the Capulet family named Rosaline. After she turned down Romeo and chose to remain chaste, he is in a state of despair, since he believes that “when she dies, with beauty dies her store.”. Benvolio later states to Romeo that if they are to go to the Capulet party, many other women will be present there and that “I will make thee think thy swan a crow”, cleverly using a metaphor to explain to Romeo that the woman, in this case Rosaline, whom he thinks is as attractive as a swan, will seem like a crow to him when he sees the other women at the party. However, Romeo replies by stating “I’ll go along, no such sight to be shown” implying that he does not believe that he will see any woman more beautiful than Rosaline. In these lines, Shakespeare astutely implements dramatic irony, since the reader is already aware from the prologue that Romeo would fall in love with Juliet upon seeing her at the party, however the characters in the play are not yet aware of this. This indicates to the reader that in his young age, Romeo is extremely impetuous and often changes his mind on something in an instant, such as with Rosaline and Juliet. This eventually becomes a recurring theme throughout the play, not only with Romeo but with other notable characters as well.

Shakespeare highlights the indecisiveness of the Nurse about Romeo and Juliet’s relationship through metaphor and simile. When the Nurse first learns of the growing romance between Romeo and Juliet, she is initially supportive of it despite him belonging to the Montague family, stating that “his face be better than any man’s”, “his leg excels all men’s” and that he is “as gentle as a lamb”, remarking positively on both his physicality and his personality. To Juliet, the Nurse had always been a motherly figure who would guide her through her childhood and adolescent years before she grew up to be a mature woman ready for marriage, because of which receiving the Nurse’s blessing was extremely important to Juliet. However, in the aftermath of the duel between Tybalt and Romeo which ended in the death of the former, the Nurse has a sudden change of heart about Romeo, and is now encouraging Juliet to marry Paris, a kinsman of the Prince, who is extremely wealthy and handsome. The Nurse expresses her new opinion by stating that Paris is “a lovely gentleman” and “Romeo’s a dishclout to him.”, showing a stark contrast in her opinion on Romeo, who is now held in an incredibly low regard by the Nurse. In this situation, while the Nurse may believe that she is keeping Juliet’s best interests at heart, Shakespeare’s usage of metaphor and simile implies to the reader that amid all the ensuing chaos, Juliet desperately requires the guidance of the Nurse, however, the Nurse herself is being indecisive about Romeo which further complicates Juliet’s situation; this further accentuates the significant theme of indecisiveness and impulsiveness and how it transforms the progression of the play.

The indecisive behaviour of Lord Capulet on the matter of Juliet’s marriage is brilliantly explicated by Shakespeare with literary techniques such as metaphor and nature imagery. In the very beginning of the play, Capulet engages in a conversation with Paris about him receiving Juliet’s hand in marriage. However, Capulet is initially strongly against the idea of marrying his only daughter at such a young age. He states that Juliet “hath not seen the change of fourteen years”, going on to use nature imagery by stating “Let two more summers wither in their pride” and “Ere we may think her ripe to be a bride”. In these lines, metaphor is used along with nature imagery is utilized to imply that once Juliet has aged a few more years, Capulet may consider her marriage. However, after Paris replies with an alliterative sentence “Younger than she are happy mothers made”, Capulet changes his decision within the blink of an eye. He replies to Paris “woo her, gentle Paris, get her heart”, implying that he would now be willing to support Paris’ marriage to Juliet, even though he was against it only a few moments prior. The obvious impulsiveness displayed by Lord Capulet in this conversation with Paris is displayed by Shakespeare cleverly, showing that indecisiveness is present not only among the youth, but also among aged characters such as Lord Capulet.

The impulsive and paranoid behaviour exhibited by Juliet on the idea of her death is expertly expounded upon by Shakespeare with techniques such as hypophora and religious allusion. Shortly after learning of her marriage to Paris, Juliet is distraught over not being able to spend her years with Romeo. While engaged in a conversation with Friar Lawrence, Juliet suddenly pulls out a dagger, and threatens to stab herself, alluding that “God joined my heart and Romeo’s, thou our hands”, and that she would rather kill herself than marry another man. However, the Friar talks her out of it and devises a clever plan where she would fake her death by drinking a sleeping potion. Later, when she is about to drink it, she questions herself “What if it be a poison, which the friar subtly hath ministered to have me dead,” since she believes that because of the Friar being a religious man, he would not have wanted to marry the same woman twice by stating “Lest in this marriage he should be dishonored / Because he married me before to Romeo?”. However, she directly answers her own question by saying “Yet, methinks it should not” since according to her “He hath still been tried a holy man” and a holy man like the Friar would never commit such a sin. Throughout this dialogue and the previous conversation with the Friar, it is made evident to the reader that like many other characters throughout the play, Juliet is extremely indecisive and frequently questions her own decisions, which eventually culminates in the downfall of both her and Romeo.

In conclusion, one of the most essential ideas in the play of indecisiveness and impulsiveness is adroitly underscored by Shakespeare with the assistance of various literary techniques such as irony and metaphorical language.


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