Analytical Essay: Shakespeare in Contemporary Society: Love in 'Romeo and Juliet'
Written by Joshua Cabucos, 2015.
Love is an all-pervading force, ebbing and flowing through humanity’s bones. It permeates every single relationship and interconnection; it is the backbone of society that binds us together. But true love is not romantic or untroubled as is often fictionally depicted. It is problematic, indecisive and strays from convention. This is a discussion of love and it’s intrinsic challenges, a theme espied in the 16th century; ‘The course of true love never does run smooth’. Playwright William Shakespeare foregrounded this in his play Romeo and Juliet, telling the story of two doomed and ill-fated “star cross’d” lovers, born to feuding houses in medieval Verona. With love’s obstacles being a key theme, the play’s relevancy remains as potent as ever, particularly for our generation where acceptance, self-worth and depression are major issues today. I believe that “true love never does run smooth” because of humanity’s inherent differences as well as love’s passionate and consuming nature, which overwhelms all logical thought and reason.
Love cannot be perfect because humans are not perfect; every individual and society is uniquely different and, realistically, disparity and incoherence often clash. Such differences and their effects were highlighted by Shakespeare some four-hundred years ago. If Romeo and Juliet is considered the epitome of love, then the feuding houses of Montague and Capulet are a hyper-exaggerated representation of such disparities. In the play, the houses are synonymous with self-identity and, thus, Juliet’s love for Romeo poses the stark question: does one sacrifice their identity, beliefs and values or their ‘true love’? Juliet frequently cites her predicament, “My only love sprung from my only hate… Prodigious birth of love it is to me that I must love a loathḕd enemy… Wherefore art thou Romeo” (1.5.136-139, 2.2.33). I, personally, cannot recall a single relationship where my individual distinctions have not manifested themselves as disagreements or complications. Today, Romeo and Juliet serve only as a reminder that friction is an inherent part of ‘true love’ because we are all different. Humanity’s differences can be seen in the vast array of wars and conflicts in our past which all stem from a clash in beliefs. These differences should not be viewed as an insoluble obstacle but as a challenge and a means for self-development. I am grateful for the diversity of opinion in our society- I have grown immeasurably from it. We, much like Juliet, must question our identities- who and what we want to be- and such questions can only be beneficial. These differences have allowed us to become more accepting as a society, evident in the legalisation of same-sex marriage and the radical decline of mainstream racism. Indeed, there can exist no ‘true love’ of a frictionless nature because we all differ. We may be asked to define our identity or convictions, but this can only lead to personal growth which is far more meaningful than the petty disagreement that preceded it. I challenge you to imagine a world where everyone is identical; there would be no Rwandan genocide or Israeli-Palestinian conflict but there would be no progression either. Hence, humanity’s variance- seen in the Montague and Capulet feud- is the root of love’s coarseness but presents itself such that we can learn and grow as people.
Love does not ‘run smooth’ because of its irrational nature. When infatuated, as Romeo and Juliet obviously were, one is completely absorbed. Love has an impulsive tendency to override rational thinking which often has negative consequences. Romeo’s immaturity and impulsiveness is recognized in his conversation with Benvolio, where he rebuts with, “O teach me how I should forget to think,” thinking he has no control over his emotions. This is echoed in the couple’s perhaps rash decision to be married after scarcely meeting each other, “Is Rosaline, whom thou didst love so dear, so soon be forsaken?” (2.3.66-67). Furthermore, love’s irrationality is seen in Juliet who knows that the marriage is “too, rash, too unadvised” and “too sudden” (2.2.18) yet is willing to risk everything, including denouncing her name and identity as a Capulet (2.2.36). I would like to think that I have never acted irrationally over something I am passionate about, however this would be untrue. I have, in the past, acted absolutely illogically when it came to something I felt strongly about. It is this same passion, seen so commonly in love, that is responsible for many conflicts and disputes in the contemporary world. Negative effects often follow impulsiveness and this is indeed evident in Romeo and Juliet, where Tybalt and Mercutio’s deaths are a direct consequence of Romeo’s impetuousness. Today, the consequences of such impulsiveness could be manifest as domestic violence, divorce or any other of the multiple social justice issues that currently plague society. It could also manifest as an amorously incorruptible bond between two people. This irrationality is summarised in popular TV show How I Met Your Mother, “Love doesn't make sense. You can't logic your way into or out of it. Love is totally nonsensical. But we have to keep doing it, or else we're lost.” Love is overwhelming, irrational and fleeting; one must try their hardest to avert the heat of the moment lest it result in a regretful situation. Love is a gamble because one cannot predict how they will react when consumed by love. Romeo and Juliet’s fateful love story was not ‘romantic’ because Romeo succumbed to his impulsiveness. We can learn from Romeo in that we should think carefully about everything we do and not be influenced by external factors. Therefore, love does consume a person emotionally and cannot be ‘smooth’ because it is unpredictably illogical.
Romeo and Juliet is undoubtedly one of the most renowned love stories to date, masterfully intertwined with moral messages that are still of relevance today. Love, and its imperfect nature, echoes throughout the play. Romeo and Juliet’s belonging to opposing houses symbolize our own disparate characteristics. Through this we learn that every individual is different and, though initially an obstacle, it ultimately serves as a platform for self-improvement and personal progression. Also, love induces irrationality. This is seen in the lover’s drastic, unreasonable and hot-headed actions. The importance of coolness and composition in the heat of the moment is evident here. In the contemporary world these dated themes are still eminent. We are afflicted by our differences, as Romeo and Juliet were. We fight against ourselves for our desires at our cost, seen recently in the Middle East. We are still rendered nonsensical in love, seen in the rising number of divorces or the impulsive decisions we make around relationships. But we always develop; our differences were the cause of our modern accepting society and our over-ardent approaches make us wiser. Truthfully, love is but a fleeting moment in our short lives. Love is not perfect and instead of agonizing over its coarseness, embrace its flaws; in the end love is selfless because it provides the rare opportunity for us to grow as a society.
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