The Chorus suggests two images of love: romantic "star-crossed lovers" and tragic "death-mark'd love." In case we think that Shakespeare is hinting at a balanced view of love, the notes to the side of my Hundsness edition suggest I consider star-crossed lovers "doomed." Did Shakespeare?
"Alas that Love, so gentle in his view, should be so tyrannous and rough in proof!"
I do not mean to write an analysis of the play, nor of its characters. It matters little then who spoke the above words and in what context. Their pure content - if there can be such a thing - is what interests me. Is love really tyrannous and rough as experience in opposition to her gentle apparition? If so, is this necessarily something to be sorry for?
As I glance up (I am writing my train of thought on a commuter train), I surprisingly find my neighbour reading Sun Tzu's Art of War. I have read Machiavelli's. Is that where Shakespeare got his inspiration for Verona's ancient grudge? Are Romeo and Juliet some tragic incarnation of the Greek gods who sat in judgement for the purpose of bringing an end to the slaughter that began in Agamemnon? Is love a sacrifice thrown to the wolves?
"Alas that Love, whose view is muffled still should without eyes, see pathways to his will!"
That seems to ring truer in my ears. Love is certainly muffled. Blind is too extreme. It has vision, but love refines its object by blurring it. We cannot see our lover's vices as clearly because we attach ourselves to their virtues so strongly. It is the attachment which is key. There is no distance in love .
"O brawling love, O loving hate, O anything of nothing first create! O heavy lightness, serious vanity, misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms, Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health, still-waking sleep that is not what it is! This love feel I, that feel no love in this."
Here it is impossible not to take note of the context - quest for pure meaning be damned. This has no pure meaning outside of the unhappy situation of a great love unrequited. Unrequited love is in essence a self-contradiction if love can only exist where there are at least two.
"For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them."
Had Benvolio cited Matthew, Romeo might have denied God. He certainly would not deny Juliet. Does this mean that Love is irrational or simply stubborn? Are we going too far ascribing such perfect contours to love - pure or "true" love. If "true" love is an abstraction not to be found in Romeo's heart - isn't such a love...heartless?
"Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs, Being purged, a fire sparkling in lovers' eyes; being vexed, a sea nourished with loving tears, What is it else? A madness most discreet, a chocking gall and a preserving sweet."
Abreast love in Shakespeare; Mole, Rat and Toad are likewise dancing round my mind...
Note: The painting is of course Klimt's The Kiss.