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If we analyze modern culture—and by this broad term I mean mostly literature: prose, poems, short stories, song lyrics, blog posts, and so on—we will see that perhaps the most debated and frequently raised topic is love. “What is love?” Haddaway questions in his famous song, and I totally understand his curiosity: despite thousands of years of research, so to say, philosophers, poets, writers, and many other smart people tried to figure it out, but failed. Only nowadays psychologists can give us a hint, a semblance of an answer, but still it is mostly a negative definition: “love is not this, love is not that.” This is important: during the course of centuries, love has been tangled with a number of misconceptions, many of which remain widespread even now.
What misconceptions am I talking about? Without thinking: love from first sight; eternal love (when both partners love each other until death tears them apart); love in which none of the partners ever feels bored or angry with his or her spouse; love so overwhelming that both partners could sacrifice their lives for each other without question, and so on. All these extremes come from the major confusion of love and emotional (or, in some cases, sexual) addiction. Unfortunately, this confusion has persisted for centuries, and thus was described by numerous talented authors. And perhaps the most famous among them is William Shakespeare; being a wise and observant man, he described numerous cases of emotional addiction, many of which are now seen as examples of true love.
How many times have you heard the expression “like Romeo and Juliet?” Usually, this phrase is said with admiration or approval when describing a seemingly beautiful relationship. However, not too many people think over Shakespeare’s tragedy in a critical manner. People mostly remember the story of love so strong that even the centennial rivalry between families and all kinds of obstacles could not stop Romeo and Juliet from loving each other, and dying together. For some reason, passion described by Shakespeare is seen as something valuable, pure, and inspiring. But, if we analyze “Romeo and Juliet” a bit deeper, we will notice a number of problems that can bring these two down from their pedestals.
To start with, the surrounding in which both lovers grow up is a dysfunctional environment. Juliet is a thirteen years old virgin, and Romeo’s age is not known, although based on his actions, we can assume that he is rather young as well. Their families are at war with each other, which implies the atmosphere of hostility in which the characters were raised; moreover, Juliet is meant to marry a man who is way older than her. In Shakespeare’s times, many people did not see anything wrong in marrying teenage girls. It was kind of normal, but this does not change the fact that Juliet did not want to marry that older man—whom she would meet for the first time right before the wedding ceremony, by the way, at a party held by Capulet.
In his turn, in the beginning of the play, Romeo is disconsolate about Rosaline, some former lover of his. He has no idea that just in a couple of hours he will meet Juliet, and his mind is mostly occupied with thoughts of Rosaline. To distract him, his friends decide to bring him to Capulet’s party—secretly, of course, as Romeo’s family is Capulet’s worst enemy. During the party, Romeo meets Juliet, and completely, instantly forgets about Rosaline, instead falling in love with Juliet on the spot. They exchange a couple of words, then kiss (note that these two have just met), and Romeo leaves. Juliet is already ready to die for her new love. On the same night, Romeo and Juliet meet again, confess their feelings to each other, and decide to get married; it needs to be emphasized once again, that all this occurs within a couple of hours after their first meeting. It must also be noted that speeches about graves, deathbeds, dying for love, and so on are made by the characters on any occasion, every now and then. Nowadays, this kind of behavior is called “suicidal tendencies driven by emotional addiction.”
What happens next is well-known. Romeo gets banished from the city for killing Tybalt; when Juliet hears this, her first question is whether Romeo has killed himself. When learning that he has not, and that he has been banished instead, Juliet immediately returns to her favorite subject: “I’ll to my wedding-bed; And death, not Romeo, take my maidenhead!” No second thinking, as if she could not even think of other possibilities to cope with the loss of a loved person (if this affliction can be called “love”) rather than committing suicide. The rest you know well: Juliet takes a potion that makes her appear comatose; Romeo sees her unconscious, thinks she is dead, and poisons himself; then Juliet, after seeing his breathless body, does the same.
No one forced the young couple to do this; no one leaned them towards suicide. Their decisions came from an unhealthy addiction. It could be caused by various reasons. For example, Romeo might be lovesick after being separated from Rosaline, and put too much of his emotional resources in the relationship with Juliet; Juliet could develop her suicidal tendencies due to the atmosphere she was raised in, due to the emotional violence towards her (the fact that her family destined her to marry an older man whom she did not even know). Also, I think that Shakespeare did not idealize his characters; on the contrary, I think he intended to show how much harm a dysfunctional relationship such as Romeo’s and Juliet’s can cause—and if you analyze the tragedy carefully, you will also see that this relationship indeed was dysfunctional. Therefore, I think it is important to learn to distinguish between light constructive feelings of care, and intense romantic addiction, which can lead to unforeseen consequences.
- Shakespeare, William. “Romeo and Juliet: Entire Play.” Romeo and Juliet. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Feb. 2017.
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