‘This play is as much about hate, as it is about love.’

11 June 2009

Analyse how the theme of hatred is explored in Shakespeare’s play, discussing how it is represented in the language of the play and could be presented dramatically.


 Hate plays a pivotal role in the play. The long feud between the families (‘from ancient grudge’) and when individuals fight like Tybalt and Mercutio (‘Tybalt, you rat-catcher, will you walk?’) are some examples of where this is shown. Further illustrations are:

                Firstly, the sonnet in the play opens with a short piece of text which describes, summarises and dramatises the love and hatred in the play. Shakespeare describes the key points and themes to the play and summarises the plot. We also know that there is conflict between the two families and that there is a contrasting theme (hatred and love). It tells us about the feud between the families and the fights they get into, the love between Romeo and Juliet (destiny) and how they both die at the end. This immediately introduces the disgust between the families that there is throughout the play. It explores the fact that the two families really loath each other and have always fought. This alone shows us the hate the characters have for each other. You could also say that the themes explored here are an oxymoron as Shakespeare explores both hate and love, two opposites. Also, the love between Romeo and Juliet is forbidden and always includes some thought or action to do with their hate. This could be described as an oxymoron because even when they are with each other, there is still an element of hate between them.  Other language devices used include repetition of the word civil, ‘Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean’. This emphasises the fact that the people are doing wrong and that the hate is everywhere in the public. This could also be an oxymoron because if someone is civil they would not usually draw ‘blood’.  In this sonnet Shakespeare does not say why there is an ancient grudge between the families. This leaves an unanswered question for the audience to contemplate, adding drama to the play because they do not know the cause of the hate. Was it something between two distant relatives which sparked a grudge? Or was it a natural rivalry between to leading families.

 Furthermore, the use of the adjectives fatal, piteous and fearful adds to the effect of hate because they are negative words and can be associated with hate. If we look more closely at the words we can see how they link to other parts in the play. For example, the word fatal means to cause death or to cause something very bad to go wrong. This is reflected in the end of the play by the fact that because the letter was not delivered both Romeo and Juliet died (a fatal mistake). Fearful means to be anxious or nervous about your safety. This fearfulness is reflected a lot in the lay because there a lot of fights where your life is in danger. Lastly, the word piteous means to receive or to cause pity. The fact that Romeo and Juliet died at the end of the play can obtain pity. This could be presented dramatically in a way which would mean that the audience does not know exactly what is going to happen and this makes the play exciting. They know that the two lovers will die and that there will be fights and hate between the families but nothing more.

                There is also another part in the play in which Mercutio is involved in hate. This happens in Act 3 Scene 1 where Tybalt and Mercutio fight. The fight is caused by Mercutio who provokes Tybalt by defending Romeo from Tybalt’s criticisms. Sadly, Mercutio dies at the hands of Tybalt and so with revenge in his sight Romeo fights and kills Tybalt. The fact that this play has many fight scenes shows the interest that the Elizabethan audience had for violence and bloodshed. Any audience likes to see fights and so for a play to be good and worthy of watching it must have violence. Shakespeare would have known this and this is probably why he added so many fight scenes, other than to add drama and to show the contrast in themes. This scene shows that the two houses still have their differences and hate each other. This in the end goes against them with a death on both sides. In this scene we can find hatred coming from both Tybalt and Mercutio. Tybalt shows his hatred towards Romeo before the fight, ‘Romeo, the love I bear thee can afford no better term than this-thou art a villain’. This quote show how much Tybalt despises Romeo even after Romeo explained why he was at the party and that he in fact loves the Capulet (Juliet). It is also very interesting that Tybalt called Romeo a ‘villain’ rather than another name. One would normally associate villain with a criminal or someone who has stolen something, not what Romeo did. Despite Romeo’s excuses, Tybalt still wants to fight him and so attacks Romeo which angers Mercutio. This is when Mercutio fights Tybalt and Mercutio dies.

                The hatred that Mercutio shows is surprisingly towards both the houses. As he is dying he says, ‘A plague on both your houses!’ This tells us that after all his anger towards Tybalt, Mercutio is in fact angry, almost disappointed at both sides. He also seems to make a prediction as to what may happen in the future, which of course does happen, both Romeo and Juliet die. Shakespeare has explored two very different parts of hatred, one for the enemy (Tybalt to Romeo) and one for a friend (Mercutio to his house). This gives a very interesting twist to the plot; we would never have expected Mercutio to be angry at his friend.

This scene could be presented dramatically in a way that would convey the character’s anger. By using an increasingly elevated voice, anger and frustration can be shown. Also, the use of an exclamation mark (which is used in Mercutio’s part, ‘A plague on both your houses!’) emphasises the sentence and further reiterates the anger of the character. Moreover, the fact that they are fighting and one of them dies means that excitement is added to the scene. Furthermore, the language used by Mercutio can be a connotation of many things. The word plague can be associated with death, pain and misery. This seems to be a perfect reflection of what happens at the end of the book: the death and pain that Romeo and Juliet went through and the pain and misery that the houses went through.

                Shakespeare raises the issue of hatred in this section by writing Mercutio’s part in an angry way. Mercutio curses Romeo and everyone else at the scene of his death. Shakespeare also uses a lot of negative words in the text like plague and pain. This also brings more hatred into the play. Shakespeare may have done this to emphasise how passionately both families hate each other. A killing on each side of the family shows that hate is a base for the play. The fighting also builds up tension making the play a lot more interesting and it detracts from the other theme: love. This varies the play and also makes it more appealing.

                In conclusion, this play obviously has more hatred than first impressions give. This hatred is portrayed in a number of ways including the language of the play and how it is spoken and acted. Overall, it seems that every time love surfaces it is drowned with hatred.


  1. I really enjoyed reading this – particularly after my students presented it as their own work! Ah, the power of the internet. So now we have Controlled Assessment from 2010 which will have to be an exam by any other word. Progress? I wonder.

    from Liz Croft
  2. Thanks for this Liz. I’m sorry it was plagiarised, but although I gave it high marks for a timed conditions piece, I wouldn’t say it was a great piece! I agree that the controlled conditions situation seems rather like an exam!

    from francisgilbert

your comment

for students