Philip Weller caricature
Philip and Weller hugging

Welcome to my web site, now under development for more than twenty years.   
-- Philip Weller, November 13, 1941 - February 1, 2021
Dr. Weller, an Eastern Washington University professor of English and Shakespearean scholar for more than 50 years.

Themes and Motifs in Romeo and Juliet:


In the Prologue the Chorus explains that two families of Verona are enemies, and that "From forth the fatal loins of these two foes / A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life; / Whose misadventured piteous overthrows / Do with their death bury their parents' strife (Prologue 5-8). The "cross'd" in "star-cross'd" means hindered, frustrated, thwarted, and defeated. Such will be the love of Romeo and Juliet, because of the stars. [Scene Summary]

Inviting Paris to his feast, Capulet says that there he will see "Earth-treading stars that make dark heaven light" (1.2.25). He means that the ladies (Juliet among them) will be so beautiful that they will shine like stars come down to earth. [Scene Summary]

After Mercutio's "Queen Mab" speech, Benvolio says that if they don't go into Capulet's soon, they will be too late. To this, Romeo replies:

I fear, too early: for my mind misgives
Some consequence yet hanging in the stars
Shall bitterly begin his fearful date
With this night's revels and expire the term
Of a despised life closed in my breast
By some vile forfeit of untimely death.
But He, that hath the steerage of my course,
Direct my sail! On, lusty gentlemen.   (1.4.104-113)
This is a foreshadowing of what actually happens in the rest of the play. A fateful chain of events ("consequence hanging in the stars") does begin its appointed time ("date") that night, and that chain of events does terminate the duration ("expire the term") of Romeo's life with premature ("untimely") death. But, despite his premonitions, Romeo does go into Capulet's house. [Scene Summary]

Standing in the shadows below Juliet's window, Romeo sees her and is about to step forward and speak, but then says to himself, "I am too bold, 'tis not to me she speaks / Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven, / Having some business, do entreat her eyes / To twinkle in their spheres till they return" (2.2.14-17). This is a beautiful way of saying that Juliet's eyes are like stars. He had thought that her eyes spoke, and he is now saying that they are speaking to the stars, and that the stars are speaking to them. According to the astronomy of the time, each of the planets and all of the stars were embedded in transparent spheres which revolved around the earth. It seems to Romeo that two of the brightest stars have decided that they need to leave their spheres for a while, and that they are asking her eyes to twinkle in their places while they are gone.

Still comparing Juliet's eyes to stars, Romeo asks himself what would happen if the two stars traded places with Juliet's eyes. He decides that the brightness of her cheek would outshine the stars, and that "her eyes in heaven / Would through the airy region stream [shine] so bright / That birds would sing and think it were not night" (2.2.20-22). [Scene Summary]

Waiting for Romeo and speaking to the approaching night, Juliet says,

Give me my Romeo; and, when I shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.        (3.2.21-25)
Some editors print "when he shall die" instead of "when I shall die," but "I" makes perfectly good sense. Juliet believes that when Romeo comes to her in the night he will be with her forever, even after her death, shining like stars in the night. [Scene Summary]

In Mantua, when Balthasar delivers the news of Juliet's death, Romeo's response is swift and simple: "Is it even so? then I defy you, stars!" (5.1.24). In an instant he has made his decision. He is defying fate by refusing to mourn. He will win a victory in his struggle with the stars by joining Juliet in death. [Scene Summary]

Moments before he kills himself, Romeo gazes upon Juliet and says, "O, here / Will I set up my everlasting rest, / And shake the yoke of inauspicious stars / From this world-wearied flesh" (5.3.109-112). "Set up . . . my rest" is a phrase used in a card game; a player would "set up his rest" when he was done taking cards and ready to bet on what was in his hand. And "everlasting rest" means what it still means -- death envisioned as eternal peace. Romeo will take his chances on death, where he hopes to be at peace, his body free at last from the doom of the baleful stars. [Scene Summary]