Love’s Dream (Romeo and Juliet)

Love’s Dream (Romeo and Juliet) September 17, 2019

Beware a love or a life based on mere dreams. 

God may speak in dreams, but so do devils. A good man knows a godly dream commands to virtue with prudence. Devils or our own passions stir us to quick, irrational behavior that has no time or patience for reason, virtue, or prudence.

True love may come with dreams, but true love is never based on a dream, too uncertain to base the most important decisions of life. Too often we deceive ourselves that what we wish, our passions, or rapidly gained desires are love and this false love can call up dreams, though never dreams that match God’s revelation or best reason.

Shakespeare warns of such delusions, the false love dream, in his Romeo and Juliet. 

Romeo and Juliet is a great many things: a picture of what love is not, a demonstration that woe is not romantic, and a caution waiting to end familial strife when someone dies is unwise, and not ancestral to YAF. Romeo and Juliet’s rapid “romance” and marriage is unwise, but Romeo, in particular acts on fantasy and dreams. The love between the pair is in contrast to the faithful love of the Biblical dreamer Joseph: he lived by the law, acted reasonably, but dreams drove him to mercy (to accept Mary) and to flee the wrath of Herod. His prudent act to flee to Egypt immediately fit the facts as this enabled his little family to escape the slaughter of the babies in Bethlehem.*

Romeo goes from a dreamy love of “fair Rosalind” to Juliet quickly, because dreams need not be tied to a real future. Shakespeare has Romeo’s friend Mercutio warn him:

ROMEO I dreamt a dream tonight.

MERCUTIO And so did I.

ROMEO Well, what was yours?

MERCUTIO That dreamers often lie.*

Such dreams, Murcutio claims come (symbolically) from fairy the Queen Mab, a midwife, who brings to birth in the night desires of the sleepers. Some are pleasant, granting in sleep simple desires, but still insubstantial and unconstant. In the end, Mab’s dreams, if brought into the day, make a mess. Of such dreams, Mercutio warns:

I talk of dreams, Which are the children of an idle brain, Begot of nothing but vain fantasy, Which is as thin of substance as the air, And more inconstant than the wind, who woos Even now the frozen bosom of the north, And, being angered, puffs away from thence, Turning his face to the dew-dropping south.**

The living dream of passion overrides all reason. Dreamy love pushes us to make “the thin” of substance substantial, but this cannot be done. The living dream of the balcony scene between Romeo and Juliet has this lightness, thinness to it. This is not the love of Joseph and Mary or the enduring passion of a mature couple:

JULIET But to be frank and give it thee again. And yet I wish but for the thing I have. My bounty is as boundless as the sea, My love as deep. The more I give to thee The more I have, for both are infinite. Nurse calls within I hear some noise within. Dear love, adieu.—Anon, good Nurse!—Sweet Montague, be true. Stay but a little; I will come again. Exit

ROMEO O blessed, blessèd night! I am afeard, Being in night, all this is but a dream, Too flattering-sweet to be substantial.***

The culminating dream of the play comes when Romeo is in exile and all is about to go smash. He is not worried, because dreams have flattered him:

If I may trust the flattering truth of sleep, My dreams presage some joyful news at hand. My bosom’s lord sits lightly in his throne, And all this day an unaccustomed spirit Lifts me above the ground with cheerful thoughts. I dreamt my lady came and found me dead—Strange dream, that gives a dead man leave to think!—And breathed such life with kisses in my lips That I revived and was an emperor. Ah me, how sweet is love itself possessed When but love’s shadows are so rich in joy!****

“Reality” or what he thinks is reality wakes him up from the false love dream, but this reality is also a fiction. Romeo hears that Juliet is dead and goes to Verona to kill himself. He is not capable of thought, prudence, or investigation. This nightmare, Juliet dead, easily deceives him, because a man accustomed to living by dreams in a thoughtless manner will be easily swayed.

The good dreams that come from God and our better nature build on our desires for virtue. They spur us to act and give us hope in doing good. They fit the facts and do not hide from confirmation in history.

May all our loves, especially our love of God, be based in reality with sweet sleep and wonderful dreams. May we never live by Mab’s dreams or our own delusions.

Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.


*Note that the dreamers in the play, and many actors, make frequent use of rosemary, a herb symbolizing love, faithfulness, and (also) death. Most significantly the plant is linked to the flight of Mary to Egypt. She places her cloak on the rosemary bush to dry and the flowers are changed to the blue of her cloak. In 2.2 Friar Lawrence points out the mixed use of any herb:

Many for many virtues excellent, None but for some, and yet all different. O mickle is the powerful grace that lies In plants, herbs, stones, and their true qualities, For naught so vile that on the earth doth live But to the earth some special good doth give; Nor aught so good but, strained from that fair use, Revolts from true birth, stumbling on abuse. Virtue itself turns vice being misapplied, And vice sometime’s by action dignified.

The rosemary that might be a sign of the pure enduring love of the Mother of God and of holy marriage is turned toward death. Joseph saved Mary by his godly dreams ground in the Law of God, the community of faith, history, and experience. Romeo destroys Juliet (with her cooperation) through his dreamy refusal to listen to anything other than their passions.

**Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act 1.4

***Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act 2.1

****Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act 5.1


Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!