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Literature/Meaning of a Shakespearean phrase



I was wondering if you could explain the meaning of a phrase used in Romeo and Juliet. I am referring to the phrase "a love that could never be". I've heard people say that it means that the love could never exist. However, I think it's referring to a tragic love that DOES exist between two people.

Would you please verify whether the phrase "a love that could never be" was indeed used in reference to Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare, and then explain the meaning of the phrase for us?

Thank you,

Hello Aly,

This exact phrase does not actually occur in "Romeo and Juliet". It is a phrase that refers to some idea of destiny, and destiny isn't a real thing (although of course some people may choose to believe in it anyway, for various reasons). So the phrase only has meaning in a particular context in a particular story, which may or may not be about destiny. The meaning will have to depend on what the given story is about and which perspective on destiny that story has. Ideas about destiny usually occur in romantic stories, where it is popular to say that two people in love are destined for each other. It is part of the romantic tradition of believing that there is only going to be One True Love in the life of each person. But if you are more realistic, and believe that it is possible to be truly in love with several people during your life, then there isn't any particular romantic relationship that is "destined" to happen (or not happen).

"Romeo and Juliet" is indeed a story about "star-crossed" lovers, whose respective familial circumstances make a relationship extremely difficult for them - so difficult that it may be said to be doomed from the on-set, and thus a love that could never be. What the phrase means will depend on the angle you look at it from. If you choose to understand the story as Romeo and Juliet deciding to be together no matter what (even in death, if they can't escape the circumstances that stop them from being together), then you could interpret the phrase as referring to a tragic love that does exist, and maybe will continue to exist for them in the afterlife, if there is such a thing. But in most cases, the phrase will refer to an impossible love. It is impossible because of difficult circumstances, and not because the two people can't or don't love each other. A lot of things are just standing in their way, and these things can't be surmounted - and so their love cannot have a happy ending. This is not about destiny, but about the actual social circumstances, which happen to have tragic results for the relationship of Romeo and Juliet (and others in similar situations). There are many similar stories from virtually every culture in the world about how various obstacles are standing in the way of a young couple's pure and happy love. Love, like everything else, generally needs to be socially acceptable to the people of the given community or society, or it is going to have a hard time existing.

This is the best reply I can give you. I hope it satisfies you.

- Tue Sorensen


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Tue Sorensen


I am an authority on the complete works of Shakespeare, and can answer any questions relating to his plays, poetry and life. I specialize in interpretation, double-meanings and translation into modern language.


I was a top-rated Allexperts expert on this same subject several years ago.

Former member of the Danish Shakespeare Society, as well as an active participant in the scholarly SHAKSPER mailing list.

Three years of studying English literature at the University of Aarhus, Denmark

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