For this final Romeo and Juliet project, I drew my inspiration from traditional tarot cards, which are used by fortune tellers to predict what will happen to a person. In tarot cards, the simple details are the most essential parts: a snake can stand for revenge, a star stands for guidance, and fire stands for destruction. I decided to do tarot cards as one, it gave me room to be creative and interpret the characters/events as I imagined them, and two, it allowed me to add symbolism and depth to the characters. Below are my reasonings for why I did what I did.
Section One: Characters
Romeo and Juliet: I
The focus of this card is Romeo and Juliet kissing on the balcony as they did in the book. I wanted to make this card relatively simple and free of any intricate details, as the main focus should really just be the characters. I added some symbolism in the colors of their clothes: Juliet’s dress is red (the Capulet color) and Romeo’s shirt is blue (the Montague color). However, I also added in some hints of purple, which happens to be the color you get when you combine red and purple. It was meant to symbolize how their love brought the two houses together (well… eventually). The roses that surround them are probably the most symbolic part of the card. Roses stand for beauty and love, but in tarot cards, when you consider the thorns, it stands for how to achieve new hope, we must first endure the sting of the thorns. It also shows how we have to appreciate beauty before it’s gone. Romeo and Juliet had to die before their families could come together, so I thought the rose would be a nice way to express that.
I based Mercutio’s card off of three things: his Queen Mab speech, his characteristics, and his role in the play. For Queen Mab, I tried to make the background like it was “dreamy,” with his “head in the clouds,” as his rant about dreams before the party was his longest and one of the most important lines of speech. There are also six dominoes behind him, with the first one knocked over, and the rest are falling. This symbolizes how his death was basically a tipping point: once he died, it lead to everyone else’s deaths (six of them), hence the dominoes. He is also holding two swords because he was the type to fight before he thinks, especially when he took up that fight with Tybalt. Around his shoulders, he’s wearing the …things… a joker would wear around their neck because he was one of the few consistently humorous characters. They are red to signify his connection to the Montagues through Romeo.
Tybalt is arguably the most hot-headed character in Romeo and Juliet. From the initial brawl between the Montague and the Capulets, to him raging when he sees Romeo at the ball, to Mercutio’s death, he is constantly looking for a fight, so I based the card on that. First, the two clouds above his head- first, clouds mean a message from the divine. Knowing that, a crown means judgment: basically that all those who sin will ultimately have their final “judgment” (which is appropriate, as Romeo kills him). There’s also a diamond, which stands for money but also greed (as he only wanted to avenge the Capulet name). Fire stands for two things: destruction (which Tybalt certainly caused) and the measure of one’s purity through their actions, which goes back to the whole divine message. I also just had to add a cat, because Mercutio is constantly called the Prince of Cats. Finally, the symbol behind him is the symbol of chaos, except made out of knives.
Benvolio’s main role in the play was to act as a peacemaker. While he might be unsuccessful, he is always trying to make peace between the Montagues and Capulets (especially in the beginning fight scene), so I based my card off of that. His clothes have mostly purple tones, which, again, is red and blue combined, or the two families coming together. The two stone columns are meant to symbolize strength and finding a middle ground. Numerology is actually very important in tarot cards, so I paid close attention to the amount of a certain object I put on the card. There are also olive branches behind him, which universally signify peace. He’s also holding an ankh, which is an ancient Egyptian symbol of life and prosperity, which is at least what he tried to achieve. The two sunflowers at his feet stand for looking away from the dark things and instead towards the light.
The Nurse: V
While the Nurse does not have as many speaking lines as the previous characters, I thought she was definitely one of the most important characters in terms of Juliet’s character and how the plot moves. I always imagined her as this little old nun, so that’s how I drew her. It also appears as if she’s in a church. Both the stained glass and the two columns (like Benvolio’s card) behind her have hints of both red and blue. This was meant to symbolize how she was committed to the Capulets, but since she was so in love with Juliet, she still helped with her affair with Romeo Montague. This ties into the meaning of the stained glass itself, as it stands for how our mental vision can change according to our perception. Because she works for the Capulets, she should by extension hate the Montagues, but her perception changes since she loves Juliet who loves a Montague. She’s also holding a book with the pages flying away, which represents her old memories of Juliet and how they’re drifting away from her because of death.
Section Two: Themes
Love At First Sight: VI
Love at first sight is one of the main and most prevalent themes of the book, and it’s what Romeo and Juliet are remembered for. In this card, they are the main focus, and all they are looking at is each other. Drawing away from the whole red=Capulet and blue=Montague thing, their clothes are red because red is generally symbolic of passion, desire, and love, which is what Romeo and Juliet experience. I also added two arrows, which stands for how love is often represented by Cupid and Cupid’s arrow in the book. They meet on an eye, which I added mainly because of Friar Lawrence’s quote: “Young men’s love then lies/ Not truly in their hearts,/ But in their eyes.” In the background, there is a sun in the middle of them, which in tarot cards stands for new beginnings, and going full force into something, which is certainly what Romeo and Juliet did.
“Fate” cards are common in tarot card packs, so I drew my inspiration from the traditional fate cards but packed in a load of my own symbolism. I’ll work clockwise around the card. The cloud again stands for a message from the divine, which is commonly associated with fate. The two angel wings in the cloud represent “rising up to heaven” which… many of the characters end up doing. The moon then deals with new stages of life but also power- the moon has constantly guided humans and it even controls the oceans. Fate is also a kind of power that is completely beyond our reach. The ocean in the middle of the card symbolizes an extreme amount of depth and mystery. I based the hanging stars off of a quote Romeo said early on in the book before the party: ““I fear…/ some consequence yet hanging in the stars…/ By some vile forfeit of untimely death.” So, I literally drew hanging stars. Even throughout the book, Romeo constantly mentions stars as some kind of fate, like when he learns Juliet is dead and he says “I defy you, stars!” Next, the ocean’s vastness shows how we can’t really control everything in our lives, which is a defining factor of fate. I mainly added the ocean because of the quote: ““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.” The sunset stands for new possibilities and new things on the horizon, although they might be unknown. This really symbolizes how Romeo and Juliet went into their affair blindly and without much direction. The lion on the bottom is a paradox in tarot cards- both a savior and destroyer, just like Romeo and Juliet’s deaths. While it brought their families together, they now have to deal with knowing that their hate killed the two lovers. The fortune ball by itself universally stands for fate and looking into the future, but I also added smoke going around it because of the quote “Love is a smoke raised with the fume of sighs.” The “smoke” of Romeo and Juliet’s love basically blinded them from being able to see the future, in which they would die. Finally, the two hands reaching out to each other is supposed to be a play off of Michelangelo’s painting The Creation of Adam, except with Romeo and Juliet. The fortune wheel behind them is common in fate tarot cards. It is divided into nine sections, which happens to be the number of fate. Written on them are Viking symbols, starting clockwise from the top of the left hand, they are: constraint, separation, partnership, joy, possessions, the self, wholeness, fertility, and gateway. They all stand for different aspects and themes of the book.
Hate and Revenge: VIII
Hate and revenge is one of the main themes of Romeo and Juliet, and other than fate, it’s the main driving force of the death of six characters. I tried to keep this one simple and uncluttered. The crest in the middle is the combined crest of the Montague and Capulet families shaped into a heart, which obviously represents Romeo and Juliet’s love. The background is black because black is associated with death and evil. The blood dripping on the top stands for the “bad blood” the two families have with each other but also the blood that was shed because of their hate. The snake on the bottom is a universal symbol for revenge.
Youth and Age: IX
While often overlooked, youth and age is a major theme in Romeo and Juliet. The two kids, Romeo and Juliet, are in a conflicting battle with their parents, whether it be Capulet forcing Juliet to marry Paris, or just the general hate the parents foster between each other. However, the two kids in the book lack that kind of hate, and it shows the contrast between the two themes. The children’s lives are eventually sacrificed to their parent’s hate. While the skull in the middle stands for age, it also stands for humanity’s mortality and how not everything can be forever. The skull shows how all things eventually change, for the better or for the worse. The flowers growing out of the skull are meant to represent the “youth” side- while the adults nurture them, they still grow up to be independent from the adults’ beliefs, just like the flowers are. The infinity symbol, or the lemniscate in tarot cards, symbolizes how things are forever. While on one hand, it may be a good thing, it is also a sign that the consequences of our actions can be infinite- for example, the hate that the “age” side had, had infinite consequences on the “youth.”
The final tarot card of the set is death. Death is constantly in the forefront of the play, and it is always being foreshadowed in some way or another. Eventually, six characters all die. The empty hourglass in the middle basically means that “time ran out,” hence the roman numerals. The bottom of the hourglass is a poison vial, which Romeo used to commit suicide. The roses enveloping the poison again stands for how we must endure the pain before we can get to the good things, and it shows how while everyone in real life might have been opposed to Romeo and Juliet’s love when they were alive, they are together in death. The upright cross stands for when they were alive, while the inverted cross stands for when they died. The hands at the bottom are similar to how the hands looked in the fate card, which was meant to symbolize how their death was all fate.
Overall, this project was very enjoyable as it was fun to explore the characters and the play while doing art! Hope you enjoy, leave some comments if you wish.
Special thanks to tarotteachings.com that helped me understand the meanings behind tarot cards.