Monday, March 28, 2011

Does Shakespeare Believe in Love at First Sight?

This week I’m comparing sonnet 18 to Romeo and Juliet to continue with my theme of love and romance. Within this post I am claiming that Shakespeare himself did not believe in love at first sight. I’m making a few assumptions, but I think you’ll agree that there is just enough evidence to reasonably make this claim.

In an article called “The Imagery of Romeo and Juliet”, Caroline F E. Spurgeon points out a lot of useful information. Romeo and Juliet fall in love immediately and their relationship moves extremely fast; they get married the day after they meet. However, they are both dead three days later. Before their deaths Juliet says of their marriage:

too rash, too unadvised, too sudden,

Too like lightning, which doth cease to be

Ere one can say ‘It lightens’;

The soft, beautiful images of light previously used in the play are transformed to dangerous manifestations of light, such as lightning. Also, the Friar says in regards to their hasty marriage:

These violent delights have violent ends,

And in their triumph die; like fire powder

Which as they kiss consume.

From these lines, it would seem the Shakespeare is not advocating the idea of love at first sight, but more so the dangers of getting wrapped up in this mindset. Comparing these lines to sonnet 18, this becomes even clearer.

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

In this sonnet Shakespeare is describing someone’s beauty (probably a young man’s) and uses words like “temperate”. A website I found defined “temperate” as “evenly-tempered; not overcome by passion.” So, this person’s beauty is found in his temperance or his moderation of passion. It is contrasted with other phrases within the poem, such as “rough winds”, “too short”, “too hot”; his temperance is much more beautiful than the extremities of summer. This correlates back to Juliet’s words of “too rash, too unadvised, too sudden, too like lightning”, and the Friar’s words, “violent delights.”

It seems to me, knowing that Shakespeare’s sonnets were targeted towards a much smaller audience and probably reflected more of his real opinions, that Shakespeare is an advocate of reason, temperance, and moderation, rather than extremities and love at first sight.