Love is a universal language that may be interpreted in several different ways. According to St. Paul, the criteria stated in the bible passage 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 must be followed in order for one to have true love. In William Shakespeare’s classical tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, love is the dominant theme; Romeo and Juliet’s romantic love being the most significant. This story revolves around the fast-paced relationship between Romeo, the young heir of the Montagues and Juliet, the daughter of the Capulets. Because of an ancient feud amongst the two families, Romeo and Juliet are forced to keep their relationship hidden causing their love to end in just a matter of days. St. Paul’s standard of love defines itself to be: patient, truthful and honest.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hope, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7) The above quote is a very specific description of love according to St. Paul. Although Romeo and Juliet have one of the most iconic love stories to date, it is often wondered if their love lived up to its reputation and the question still remains as to if they were ever truly in love. Based on the standards specified in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, Romeo and Juliet were not in love because they did not practice patience, they dishonoured their families and friends, and they were egotistical.
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The virtue of patience was not demonstrated in the relationship between Romeo and Juliet. At the beginning of the play, Romeo is heartbroken over a girl named Rosaline who does not share mutual feelings for him; however, as soon as he sees Juliet he loses all of the emotions he has for Rosaline and they immediately fall in love. After Romeo and Juliet’s second encounter that night, they exchange vows of affection and Romeo insists that they get married even though Juliet is skeptical. She says, “Although I joy in thee, I have no joy of this contract tonight. It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden” (Act II: ii: 116-118); however, Romeo is eager to have her hand in marriage and asks, “O wit thou leave me so unsatisfied?” (Act II: ii: 125). If Romeo had truly loved Juliet he would have been enduring and waited until she was fully prepared to exchange her vows with him.
Juliet also does not follow Paul’s criteria that state one must have patience. This is shown in the following quote where she insists that Romeo professes his love for her or she will be upset. Does Dost thou love me? I know thou wilt say “Ay,” And I will take thy word; yet if thou swear’st Thou mayst prove false: at lovers’ perjuries, They say, Jove laughs. O gentle Romeo, If thou dost love, pronounce it faithfully. Or if thou think’st I am too quickly won, I’ll frown and be perverse and say thee nay, So thou wilt woo, but else not for the world. (Act II:ii:90-97) If Juliet had been truly in love with Romeo she would have waited for their relationship to progress and not insisted that he professed his love for her. Juliet shows that she must have her own way and does not show patience.
In addition, St. Paul states that love “does not dishonour others”. In this play, Romeo and Juliet are forced to defy their loved ones’ wishes in order to be together which essentially leads to the dishonour of both family and friends. In the following quote, Juliet wants Romeo to deny his family for her love and if he will not so do, she will no longer be a Capulet if he solely swears that he loves her. 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. (Act II:ii:33-36) Romeo also defies his loved ones when he abandons his friends Mercutio and Benvolio to go see Juliet outside of the Capulet’s orchard. Even though Romeo hears their calls he does not respond. Frustrated and annoyed, Mercutio begins to tease Romeo but Romeo only responds to himself saying, “He jests at scars that never felt a wound”, meaning that Mercutio’s opinion does not matter because he has never been wounded.
Not only does Romeo dishonour his family and friends, but he also disobeys his ruler, Prince Escales. Romeo is exiled from the city of Verona after he kills a Capulet named Tybalt. The Prince proclaims that if Romeo is seen within the city, he shall be murdered; however, he takes the risk and visits Juliet. He is willing to disregard the orders of the Prince and put his life in danger in order to stay with Juliet for one more night. In Act III: IV: 17-18, he says to Juliet, “Let me be tane, let me be put to death, I am content, so thou wilt have it so.” Furthermore, Romeo and Juliet’s love was self-seeking. Neither Romeo nor Juliet takes into consideration the harm that they may cause by getting married, given the fact that their families are sworn enemies. Not only did their relationship end in their own deaths but it also contributed to the deaths of others.
Romeo demonstrates selfish behaviour when he continues to pursue Juliet despite the fact that he was putting his life and the lives of his family in danger. For example, Romeo’s mother, Lady Montague dies of grief because of her son’s exile. This is learned in Act V: iii: 210-211 when Montague announces “Alas, my liege, my wife is dead tonight; Grief of my son’s exile hath stopp’d her breath” Another scene where Romeo exhibits selfishness is when he hears the news of Juliet’s death. He does not take time to think about the situation; instead, he immediately decides to commit suicide. He disregards the advice of his servant Balthasar who advises him to have patience. Instead, Romeo says “Well, Juliet, I will lie with thee tonight. Let’s see for means. O mischief, thou art swift To enter in the thoughts of desperate men!” (Act V: i: 34-36). Had he been levelheaded and evaluated the situation at hand, he could have talked to Friar Laurence and discovered the truth. Instead, he thought solely of himself, and as a result, both his and Juliet’s lives ended tragically.
Juliet also shows acts of selfishness when she fakes her own death. She is so self-absorbed that she does not think to discuss the matter with her parents and neglects to consider their opinions. She only thinks about how she feels and not of how her family and friends feel. If her parents had disagreed with her decision to be with Romeo she could have left and lived how she pleased. In conclusion, it is clear that Romeo and Juliet’s relationship did not follow the criteria stated in St. Paul’s description of what true love is. They decided to live for each other’s love but died for it too. Perhaps if they had been more patient, honourable and thoughtful, they could have had a long-lasting relationship. Romeo and Juliet were so concerned about each other that they did not bother to consider the consequences of their actions and the effect they would have on their lives and on the lives of their loved ones. Because their love was selfish, impatient and self-centred, it did not follow the criteria of love and they did not have true love based on the description St. Paul provides in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.