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Romeo and Juliet - Themes

This GCSE English Literature quiz takes a look at themes in William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Works of literature always deal with multiple themes. Those which are obvious may obscure for a little while the very subtle. Themes interact with one another so that it can be misleading to talk of a single theme in isolation. Setting, character, plot and dialogue are all important means of developing the themes of a text. Pay close attention to concepts and ideas which arise in different parts of the text; these are its dominant themes. Differing aspects of these themes are developed through different characters and comparing these aspects is a useful method of analysis.

Follow the development of a theme over the course of a text by paying attention to related ideas and the different ways in which these are expressed.

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When you prepare to write about themes, check whether your view at the beginning of a text matches the view you have when you finish reading. Have your ideas changed? If so, challenge yourself to identify exactly when and where in the text your views on that theme began to change.

The themes of a text offer a link through which the author communicates meaning to the audience. Hopefully the audience will be prompted to reconsider its beliefs and ways of looking at the world. If a text makes you think, the author has successfully encouraged you to engage with one or more of its themes. Your views might not always be shared with other readers; you might even find that you disagree strongly with these readers (or maybe your teacher). You shouldn’t worry, of course, because your response to a text will be deeply personal. This personal response is inevitable when you bring your own thoughts, beliefs and experiences into consideration as you read.

Romeo and Juliet deals with themes of violence, hatred, the conflict between age and youth, gender and authority, the weight of familial expectation, and love in its various guises, including that of friendship, as well as courtly, passionate and familial loves. These themes are interrelated and several multi-dimensional characters contradict first impressions of how they relate to a particular theme.

Read the questions below and test your knowledge of the themes of Romeo and Juliet.

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  1. Romeo repeatedly compares Juliet to which of the following?
    Romeo compares Juliet not just to light, but to the brightest sources of light, beginning with his famous line, "But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? / It is the east, and Juliet is the sun." When he opens her tomb, he exclaims that it is filled with her light
  2. Which of the following statements by Capulet's Wife is filled with deadly irony?
    Juliet's mother's unthinking wish becomes dark truth
  3. Which of the following expresses Verona's displeasure with the long-running feud?
    Despite his own hot-headedness, Mercutio's curse reminds the audience that both families share equally in their responsibility for the violence. The citizens in the first scene shout, "Down with the Capulets. Down with the Montagues"
  4. In the Prologue, the Chorus gives a brief summary of the play. Which of the following phrases used in the Prologue does NOT relate to the theme of fate?
    "Misadventure", "star-crossed", and "fatal" are various terms used to refer to fate, and particularly to ill, rather than good, fortune
  5. The opening scene stages a fight which begins with the biting of a thumb by a servant, before drawing in the most senior members of the Montague and Capulet families and ends with the Prince's threat of death. Which of the following themes does this scene NOT introduce?
    The various loyalties and ingrained behaviours would lead to death without the Prince's arrival on the scene
  6. Romeo's sorrow at the beginning of the play is related to which of the following themes?
    When the audience first encounters Romeo, he is sorrowful at Rosaline's refusal to return his love
  7. The imagery of flowers is often used in the play to symbolise which of the following?
    Flowers, besides being Juliet's choice of metaphor for Romeo, symbolise youth, its beauty, fragility and fleeting nature. Flowers also represent hidden dangers and death, as they can be used to make both medicine and poison
  8. Capulet's Wife attempts to stop her husband from joining the fight in Act One, Scene One, saying: "A crutch, a crutch — why call you for a sword?" To which of the following themes does her mockery most relate?
    She mocks her husband by implying infirmity. Interestingly, the stage directions at this point refer to him as "old Capulet", highlighting the contrast between the head of the family and its unruly younger members
  9. Which character frequently recalls the theme of nature as it is related to reproduction?
    Nurse frequently refers to breastfeeding, sex and pregnancy. Her jokes present these aspects of life as natural and expected
  10. Juliet's grave is mentioned throughout the play. With which of the following is it often linked?
    Juliet describes her grave as her bridal bed in the first act of the play and Paris uses the same phrase in the final act

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