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Valentine By Carol Anne Duffy English Literature Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

Romeo and Juliet is a well-known tragedy by the playwright William Shakespeare that was written in the late 16th century. It is a story of how the children of two rival families meet and instantaneously fall in love. Carol Anne Duffy’s modern day poem ‘Valentine’ much like ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is very firmly themed around the strong feeling of love but is a more controversial love poem in which Carol Anne Duffy compares love to strange objects such as an onion. In my essay I will compare ways in which this theme is presented to the reader and discuss both writer’s ideas and attitudes to love.

Romeo and Juliet is possibly the most famous classic love story there is. But there are many types of love that the play refers to. True love is the most obvious and this love is communicated between the two main characters in the play; Romeo and Juliet. The first sign of true love is through love at first sight where Romeo says of how Juliet ‘doth teach the torches to burn bright!’ Imagery is used here by Shakespeare to evoke a mental image of natural light shining from Juliet. This light imagery emphasises Juliet’s beauty and how to Romeo, she is the only one he sees in the room. To a reader, this immediately puts both Romeo and Juliet in isolation signifying such intense, physical feelings and attraction on Romeo’s behalf. In modern society, some may view this as sexual love or lust but love at first sight was accepted by Elizabethan society. Juliet also uses light imagery to express how she sees her relationship with Romeo in the famous balcony scene (Act 2 Scene 2). She describes it as being ‘too like the lightning’ suggesting that it is moving too quickly. However, Juliet may have used this to describe Romeo as her light in a dark sky and a ray in a dark world. This representation used by Shakespeare could imply what his ideas were of the Elizabethan world that he lived in.

In Act 1 Scene 5, we also see Shakespeare’s use of religious imagery to experience a deeper connection as Juliet is shown to also be overwhelmed by Romeo as she accepts his offer of a kiss by ‘[letting] lips do what hands do’; pray. By this, Shakespeare is writing as Romeo to ask for their lips to meet, like hands may do in a prayer and for Romeo to fulfil the physical feelings felt by him earlier in the Act upon first seeing Juliet. The use of these religious overtones here indicates that the love shared by Romeo and Juliet can only be described by such spiritual and religious terms. Though it seems that it is only Romeo who uses religious overtones by calling Juliet his ‘dear saint’ and describing how he is willing to worship her, we also see this imagery used by Juliet in Act 2 where she describes Romeo as being the ‘god of her idolatry’ almost opposing religion by defining Romeo as her God to worship.

Both Romeo and Juliet express true love through one of its strongest ways; death. For both characters, it is either to live with the other or if that is not possible (which it isn’t because of the feud) then to simply die. This idea of fate and tragedy is presented to the audience in the play’s prologue where these two characters are described as ‘a pair of star-crossed lovers [who] take their life’. This quote at the beginning of the play will have given the impression of no hope and unchangeable tragedy to an Elizabethan theatre audience as they delve deeper into the story.

This technique of using death to symbolize love is shown by Shakespeare when Romeo’s addiction of true love draws him to go into the Capulet garden and find Juliet on her balcony. It is here where Romeo tells Juliet that he would rather face death than have to live and deal with Juliet’s rejection, ‘My life were better ended by their hate than death prorogued, wanting of thy love.’ Romeo use of this quote is to almost show commitment and willingness to sacrifice anything for Juliet and to open up his true feelings; even though a modern audience may see these sudden feelings as overly exaggerated due to love being seen as something that grows over time by many people now and not something that can occur within a few hours. This illustrates the differences in social, cultural and historical views on love from the Elizabethan period in which Shakespeare lived and the present world.

Shakespeare’s use of language and structure in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ contributes and further enhances the feelings involved in the play to an audience. An example of this is Shakespeare’s use of sonnets. This poetic form commonly featured 14 lines and was written in iambic pentameter to give structure and flow. Sonnets were also poems of the time that symbolised love. This sonnet form in is shown after the wedding night where Romeo has to leave but he in so in love that he tells Juliet he will risk getting caught and stay, ‘I have more care to stay than will to go Come, death, and welcome! Juliet wills it so.’ Again this quote expresses how Romeo puts Juliet and her happiness before death. This language and structure is used by Shakespeare along with its relation to love and death give the quote a true portrayal of the emotions involved between Romeo and Juliet.

What true love also does to both these character is change them. In Juliet’s case, it gives her strength to disobey obey her parents. This was unheard of in the Elizabethan era as woman had very limited rights despite the fact that the monarch at the time was indeed was a female monarch (Queen Elizabeth I). In Juliet’s time, daughters were expected to obey whatever their parent’s command was, whereas today, teenagers have more control over their own lives and opinions. Juliet’s love for Romeo gives her the strength to deny the marriage proposal to Paris and face any consequences that came with that. Juliet says of how, ‘He shall not make me there a joyful bride,’ and she ‘will not marry yet’ but when she does, ‘It shall be Romeo,’

In contrast, Act 1 Scene 3 shows how obedient Juliet was before meeting Romeo. She shows this when the subject of arranged marriage with Paris is brought up early in the play. Juliet speaks of how she will not ‘endart [her] eye’ any further than her parent’s consent gives strength to make it fly.’ Here Juliet does more than just agree with her parents, but she further elaborates by explaining how she will not like him any more than her parents would like her to. This again demonstrates how deeply in love both Romeo and Juliet were with one another as Juliet challenges her parents’ word.

Another way love presented in the play that also helps express how true Romeo and Juliet’s love was and illustrates how Romeo changes when meeting Juliet is Courtly love or Petrarchan love. Courtly love was love from afar. It is little known of today but it is clearly shown to us by Shakespeare in the play that this love was a common idea in his time. This form of love is demonstrated through Romeo and his infatuation and obsession with Rosaline early in the play. As the audience, we never meet Rosaline and only discover the ‘depth’ of Romeo’s so called love for her. In Act 1 Scene 1, Romeo expresses how he sees Rosaline as being, ‘rich in beauty’ when Romeo first appears in the play. Before seeing Juliet, Romeo was obsessed with Rosaline as was often found ‘with tears augmenting the fresh morning’s dew’ and ‘[locking] fair daylight out’. This quote displays Romeo’s depression as his ‘love’ for Rosaline was never returned.

Courtly love in this play helps the audience understand the intensity of Romeo’s feelings upon seeing Juliet. It is like he totally forgets about Rosaline when he says, ‘Did my heart love till now? … For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.’ This implies that Romeo’s short, courtly obsession with Rosaline was nothing in comparison to the emotions he now feels looking at Juliet. This will have left any Elizabethan audience puzzled and thinking of how Romeo is just love’s fool. What we do learn about Romeo now is that he was not in love with Rosaline but instead was in love with the idea of being love but experiences love at first sight when he sees Juliet. From this we learn that Romeo and Juliet change after meeting one another. Meeting Romeo gives Juliet strength to go against her parent’s word and meeting Juliet makes Romeo forget about Rosaline. Shakespeare’s use of courtly love is to elevate and display the depth of love shown between Romeo and Juliet.

The use of these many features by Shakespeare give a modern day reader an image of a ‘perfect, heavenly match/relationship’, one that many people long for today where one is willing to give their lives for one another but one that will have been more believable to an Elizabethan audience because of their ideas of love and how someone can fall in love. Such impressions illustrate the changing views of love throughout history in different cultures. However this also helps demonstrate the power that love has had over time because of how humanity can form an emotional connection with it so easily whether it is fiction or not which explains why Romeo and Juliet has been so popular, even 400 years after it was written. Love is something that everyone can relate to whether they have experienced it or not and this is why Romeo and Juliet has been so influential and significant to many readers across the world in either a historic and modern world.

Valentine is a poem written in 2010 by Carol Anne Duffy, the current poet laureate. The poem expresses Duffy’s unusual point of view on love. This is clear from the title and the first line in the poem. The title ‘Valentine’ is almost misleading as a reader goes on to read the first line where Duffy explains how it is ‘not a red rose or a satin heart’. Duffy uses this sentence along with its aloneness below the title to set the tone of the poem of defying tradition.

Duffy’s poem is formed around the extended metaphor of an onion. To many people, Duffy’s comparison may be seen as very controversial initially as she replaces giving a ‘red rose’ with giving something bizarre like ‘an onion’. However, Duffy uses her cleverness to explain how she used the extended metaphor of giving an onion as something that is more special due to the deep meaning it holds to her and its similarities to love. An example of this is how Duffy describes how an onion can ‘blind you with tears Like a lover’. Using this language feature of a simile allows for a connection to be built between an onion and love by explaining how an onion that makes you cry is like the pain caused by love can make you cry. Tears are often something that is provoked by either happiness or sadness. This illustrates the ups and downs of a relationship that a lover is involved in. The word ‘blind’ can also refer to how love can blind someone in love, making them unable to see anything wrong in their lover. Tears are used here as a physical barrier to not being able to see and also to refer to the ups and down faced by in a relationship.

Carol Anne Duffy also goes on to other links between her onion and its message of love to the reader. Duffy suggests how the layers of an onion can represent a wedding ring, ‘Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding ring’. The word ‘shrink’ from platinum loops to a wedding ring could possibly convey Duffy’s view on marriage. Maybe Duffy is implying that an onion and its loops are more valuable than a wedding ring as it has to shrink and reduce down in size, like marriage may shrink passion and love in relationship. Many may view this as Duffy insulting marriage which may suggest why she is unmarried. But, this distinctive thinking is what matches with the tone of the entire poem; that of slightly defying tradition and going against what people have never questioned. In this case it is marriage, but as discussed above it was traditional valentine gifts.

Duffy explains her view and these similarities and previous controversy for many readers changes to an understandable connection and reasoning for Duffy’s view of why she would use the extended metaphor of ‘an onion’. This view may suggest and give a reader an impression of Duffy’s personality, of how she may look at objects very differently with critical thought.

The language used in Valentine helps make the poem more personal to a reader as Duffy uses the words ‘I’ and ‘you’ rather than talking in 3rd person. This gives the impression that these feelings have indeed been experienced by Duffy. When looking at the structure of Valentine, a reader can say that the structure and form of the poem is very irregular with single lined verses, lines of different lengths and single words followed by full stops. Where Shakespeare uses the traditional love poem structure of a sonnet, Duffy chooses not to. Again, this expresses how Duffy is being different and opposing what is seen as normal for the style of a love poem. It shows a difference between Shakespeare’s writing and attitudes to Duffy’s more controversial poem by the use of the word ‘Not’ to achieve effect. This is because Shakespeare merely presents love in Romeo and Juliet but Duffy both presents and expresses her view on love in Valentine.

Despite the differences in both writers’ attitudes and ideas to love, the play and poem also have many similarities. A similarity in content is through the use of light imagery. It is used in Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ to signify beauty and also views on society by Shakespeare but it is also used in Duffy’s ‘Valentine’. In the poem, this light imagery is represented through how an onion ‘promises light’. This light can be seen as Duffy expressing the good things that make up a relationship as light is related to good just like darkness is often related to all things bad. In this case, the light is ‘like the careful undressing of love’. Duffy is literally ‘undressing’ and taking a different viewpoint to express her thoughts on love through explaining all things she believes are good and bad about a relationship. We know this as she goes from talking about this ‘light’ to telling readers of how love can make you ‘blind’.

However the major similarity between both ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘Valentine’ is how they both involve defying common social views and structure in different contexts. Shakespeare expresses this through the characters Romeo and Juliet where they defy their family structures, the Montague’s and the Capulet’s, in order to be with one another. Juliet also goes against her parent’s word and both Romeo and Juliet speak of how they would idolise and worship each other which oppose religion and Christian tradition as idol worship. Duffy challenges ‘normal thought’ throughout her poem to achieve effect and communicate her views to a reader. Even the structure of ‘Valentine’ is very different to any love poem which is usually written as a sonnet like it is written by Shakespeare.

I believe both Shakespeare’s and Duffy’s techniques of exploring love in different times and contexts are very effective on a reader or an audience. Duffy’s ideas and presentation of this theme of love can be seen as appealing due to its more unique approach. But, because Duffy’s views are different to that of modern society it can also be seen as less influential than Romeo and Juliet’s presentation of this ‘perfect couple’ to audiences and readers throughout history. Love in Romeo and Juliet is easier to relate to for anyone because most people in life long for their ‘romeo’ or their ‘juliet’ and it is only a presentation of love, not a totally different view of love. It is because of this Romeo and Juliet has been so popular in many forms of entertainment including theatre and now even movies.


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